The given in the equation that is the Zane Grey 50-mile endurance run is that it’s not for couch potatoes or those who favor a sedentary lifestyle. It is, however, for those who enjoy robust challenges that test both will and dedication.
Obviously, there are plenty who enjoy those types of endeavors as evidenced by the fact registration has already reached its maximum of about 130 entrants.
Among those participating this year is Arizona Republic sports reporter and columnist Bob Young who has a second home in Payson.
“I have tried to do as many of the local races as possible - including the Mountain High Games trail runs and mountain bike rides, the Tour de Payson bike ride in 2010, the Inner Geek 10K and the Payson Triathlon - to support the events and the people behind them,” said Young. “That was the reason I targeted this race.”
The 24th annual event begins at 5 a.m., Saturday, April 27 and follows the Zane Grey Highline Trail passing near Camp Geronimo, Washington Park, Hell’s Gate Canyon, the fish hatchery and See Canyon.
The race might be the Rim Country’s best-kept secret, even though it’s one of the most legendary events on the nation’s ultra-run calendar.
Martin Szekeresh is probably the only local who knows much about the race, having previously entered it. He’s also worked as a volunteer host for several years. Szekeresh says runners describe the Zane Grey Highline Trail as the “toughest 50-mile trail race in the country” and claim it’s more demanding than most 100-mile ultra-marathons.
“The trail is very rocky in long stretches,” Szekeresh said. “There are several water crossings and a lot of downed trees to climb over.”
The trail is marked with metal diamonds nailed to trees, but more than one runner has lost his way and been re-directed by rescue volunteers.
One of Szekeresh’s responsibilities during past races was to help set up aid stations at points 8, 17, 25, 33 and 44 miles into the race.
The aid stations are stocked with water, electrolyte replacement fluid, fruits and other foods.
Prior to the race, some of the runners place “drop bags” at the aid stations and other locations along the course. The drop bags often contain first-aid kits, clean socks, flashlights and food. Well-supplied drop bags often are the difference in runners calling it quits and finishing, Szekeresh said.
One of the toughest obstacles runners must overcome in the rugged journey is “avulsions” or tearing of the skin on feet and legs.
“When it comes to those, the motto is ‘if the bone ain’t showing, you got to keep going.’” Szekeresh said.
“It is an endurance contest between your body and the mountain trail,” said Szekeresh. “No matter who you are or how good you’re running credentials, sometimes it just isn’t your day and you DNF (Did Not Finish).”
He cites 20-year-old Dakota Jones of Colorado as a runner who has suffered the heartbreak of Zane Grey.
During the 2011 race, he dropped out after 33 miles.
“Later in the year he finished second in the Hard Rock Hundred at an average elevation of 11,200 feet, then set a new Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to rim unofficial record in a time of 6 hours and 53 minutes,” Szekeresh said.