A 33-year-old Tucson man with years of long distance running experience, overcame the elements, including unusually high temperatures, to win the 23rd Annual Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-Mile Endurance Run.
Catlow Shipek finished the run in 8 hours, 32 minutes — a time that didn’t threaten the course record of 7 hours, 51 minutes.
The race began at 5 a.m. April 21 at the Pine Trailhead and ended many hours and miles later when runners crossed the finish line at the 260 Trailhead east of Christopher Creek.
Of the 126 runners who entered, only 84 finished; the last crossing the finish line at 9:27 p.m. — 16 hours and 27 minutes after the race began.
Because of the difficulty of the course, the Zane Grey run has built a reputation as the toughest 50-mile ultra-marathon event in the country.
Shipek is no stranger to the strains and demands of long distance running, having competed in March in the Old Pueblo 50-miler and in 2011 at the Flagstaff Marathon and the Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run.
Paulette Zimmer, 29, of Scottsdale was the first female finisher touring the rugged course in 10 hours, 12 minutes.
The female winner of the 2011 Zane Grey, 36-year-old Andi Felton of Scottsdale, had to withdraw from Saturday’s race after falling and hitting her head.
Karl Meltzer, 44, of Sandy, Utah, a two-time former Zane Grey winner and a first place finisher in 32 100-mile races was third in 9 hours, 25 minutes.
Two years ago in the Zane Grey, Meltzer had to drop out after falling and breaking his wrist.
Second place honors overall were garnered by 25-year-old Michael Carson of Gold Canyon who was clocked in 9 hours and 9 minutes.
The youngest runner in the race, 18-year-old Everett Carroll of Flagstaff finished in 12 hours, 28 minutes.
At the end of the race, he told Payson resident Martin Szekeresh, who has long helped stage the Zane Grey, that he had run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim and is sure, “The Zane Grey 50 is way harder than the Grand Canyon.”
Szekeresh believes the Zane Grey record time was not threatened this year because of the unusual heat on race day.
“Ultra runners must know their body and its limitations and on a hot race day in the mid 80s, these limits are stretched,” he said. “There is little shade on the Highline Trail, so runners must consume a lot of fluids and take salt or electrolyte tablets.”
The Highline (TR31) — one of the most popular hiking trails in Arizona — is actually 51.4 miles long.
It starts at an elevation of 5,400 feet, peaks at 6,800 and ends at 6,000.
Prior to the race, event organizers — including Szekeresh — set up aid stations at various trailheads along the course where runners can pick up water, sports drinks and snacks.
Entrants have the option on the day prior to the race of placing drop bags 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.
The rigors of the Highland Trail 50-Mile run include many uphill climbs over hard-to-find paths.
Also, if runners do not reach the aid stations by a predetermined time, they must withdraw from the race.
The trail, which lies entirely in the Tonto National Forest and runs from just south of Pine to several miles east of the community of Christopher Creek, was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1979. The Forest Service and many volunteers including several runners have worked countless hours over the years to restore, maintain, clear and mark this scenic and historic trail.