Scott Jaime, a 40-year-old Colorado ultrarunner, captured first place in what is known as the country’s most difficult 50-mile race.
In winning the Zane Grey Highline Trail race on April 24, Scott covered the distance in 9.40:55 to eclipse runner-up Steven Moore of Austin, Texas by about four minutes.
Running 50 miles was nothing unusual for Jaime — a member of the Pearl Izumi Smith racing team — who last year won the Squaw Peak 50 in eight hours, five minutes — the eighth fastest time in the history of the race.
Jane Larkindale, a 35-year-old resident of Tucson, was the first Zane Grey female finisher in 10.52.16.
The annual race drew 94 runners to the Rim Country, but only 74 finished.
Among those to suffer the heartbreak of not completing the event was 42-year-old Karl Meltzer who won the 2002 Zane Grey 50.
He was forced to withdraw after breaking his arm in an accident in which he fell backward when hit by a tree branch.
Fortunately, Payson resident Martin Szekeresh was near the scene to take Meltzer to Payson Regional Medical Center where he was treated for the break.
Szekeresh is the only Payson resident to have ever participated in the Zane Grey and for the past several years has volunteered to help run the event.
The oldest finisher this year was 62-year-old Wayne Coates of Sonoita and the youngest was 22-year-old Nick Coury of Tempe.
In athletic jargon, the Zane Grey 50 is considered a trail challenge ultramarathon event, or one longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon and on routes strewn with severe course obstacles.
The most common distances for ultramarathons are 50 and 100 miles.
The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) organizes the world championships for various ultramarathon distances, including 50K, 100K, 24 hours and ultra trail running. The events are sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The Zane Grey race was first run in 1990 just one year after an article in Arizona Highways magazine featured the trail saying that it would take four to seven days to hike the entire distance.
“Little did the author know that the following year, six runners would run it in less than one day,” Szekeresh said.
In the inaugural run, Truman Long was first in 6 hours, 5 minutes. Andrea Felton won the women’s division in 8 hours, 35 minutes. The race began at the Pine trailhead and ended at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.
The only race an Arizona runner won occurred in 2002, when Dennis Poolheco, then a 40-year-old resident of Glendale, took the event in 8 hours, 47 minutes. Born near Winslow, Poolheco is a Native American member of the Hopi Nation.
In 2004, 34-year-old Dave Mackey of Colorado set the course record of seven hours and 51 minutes.
Among those runners who have been a fixture in the race is Karsten Solheim who competed three years ago as a 70-year-old.
He endured his greatest challenge in 2005 finishing the race after dark and in the rain.
The son of the man who invented the putter with a “Ping,” Solheim finished the 2006 run, his 11th, in 14 hours, 53 minutes.
Solheim is almost always among those volunteers who shows up days prior to the race to help clear the trail of down and dead trees and brush washed up by spring rains and winter snow melt.
The Zane Grey traditionally begins about 3:45 a.m. when runners are shuttled to the start line near the Beeline trailhead of the Highline Trail.
According to Szekeresh, the course runs west to east “through scenic Tonto National Forest on a rugged trail with plenty of dead trees to climb and streams to cross.”
The Highline (TR31), one of the most popular hiking trails in Arizona, is actually 51.4 miles long.
“(The Highline race course) starts at an elevation of 5,400 feet, peaks at 6,800 and ends at 6,000,” Szekeresh said.
Event organizers, including Szekeresh, set up aid stations at various trailheads along the course where runners can pick up water, sports drinks and snacks.
Also, if runners do not reach the aid stations by a predetermined time, they must withdraw from the race.
Entrants have the option on the day prior to the race giving drop bags to race marshals who place them at various locations on the trail. In the bags are changes of shoes, socks, shirts and flashlights. Each participant also usually outfits himself with a fanny pack that includes energy bars and water.
Since the inception of the run volunteers from the Payson Ranger District, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue unit and local amateur radio communication operators are on hand to oversee the race. The race, Szekeresh said, could not be held without their support.