Back at it.
Payson resident Honey Albrecht couldn’t wait to get back in action after COVID-19 canceled last year’s big race.
Albrecht, 61, the manager at Rim Runners in Payson, was one of 49 ultra runners who signed up to compete in last month’s 31st Zane Grey Highline Trail Endurance Run.
She is the oldest woman finisher in the history of the 50-mile race that starts at the Pine Trailhead and ends at the 260 Trailhead near Christopher Creek.
“I’m 61 and there’s a couple of women 57 years old that ran it in the past,” she said. “I’m the only idiot that keeps running it.”
Well, the person she calls an “idiot” is someone who’s been inspiring other distance runners for years.
Her 14 finishes in about 17 entries in the race is another record for women.
She’s just one of the avid ultra runners who travel to Rim Country for the race. Most come from outside of Arizona for one of the most difficult 50-mile races in the country. But COVID-19 restrictions led to the field being narrowed from more than 100 participants most years. Race officials took more Arizona participants this year, asking people not to travel from out of state because of the restrictions. Only 23 of the 49 runners who started this year’s race were from out of state, with 26 from Arizona.
Only six of the 17 participants for the first race in 1990 finished.
The race had an average finishing rate of 71% according to Wikipedia after the 2019 race, making it one of the more difficult 50-mile ultra marathons in the country.
Forty-two of the 47 who started the race this year finished, including Albrecht, who crossed in 12 hours 22 minutes and 04 seconds.
Runners climb more than 10,000 feet and descend more than 9,000 feet during the race.
“It’s just so pretty, so rugged, so beautiful,” she said. “It’s in Arizona and I’m a native of Arizona. I love that race. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship.”
Race director Joe Galope plans to expand the race from 50 miles to 100 kilometers (62.2 miles). That was to happen last year before the race was canceled and it just wasn’t logistically possible this year. So, the plan is to change the distance for the 2022 event.
The number of participants dropped from 128 in 2019 to 49 this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.“
Albrecht plans to compete in the new Pinal Peak 50K in Globe on May 29. She’s stayed active competing in several ultra races over the last 12 months.
“This year I’ve done more than I normally do to just taking advantage of feeling good,” she said. “Coming up next week will be my fourth ultra in a calendar year.”
She’s training for the Mogollon Monster 100-Mile Race in September, which also begins at the Pine Trailhead. She last finished that one in 2018.
She’s pleased with her effort in the most recent race.
“It actually went really good,” she said. “I took almost an hour off my time from the last time I ran it, which is crazy. I think the last time I did it was 2019. It went surprisingly well.”
She enjoyed the conditions.
“It was perfect weather,” she said. “Some people thought it was warm but I thought it was beautiful.”
Galope has served as race director for the Zane Grey Highline Trail Endurance Run since 2009. He hopes to get back to a larger field of participants next year.
“To put on an event like this with such small numbers is not sustainable,” he said. “We did it for the participants. But people are so tired of not being able to do an event, (so) that’s why we put it on but hopefully we’ll be back to normal next year.”
Charlie Ware of Tucson, 35, won the race in 7 hours 47 minutes and 42 seconds. He held more than a one-hour cushion over runner-up Seth Rutt, 34, of Jackson, Wyo., who finished in 8:50.21.