Here is how Mogollon Monster 100 race directors Jay Danek, Jeremy and Noah Dougherty describe the race on their website “This is a VERY technical course in many areas…In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this is THE MOST technical 100 miler out there…That coupled with the additional mileage to a traditional 100 mile race, the terrain, moderate elevation, and intense Arizona sun, this race will certainly take its toll on each runner…To be very clear, this is an extremely hard, remote, rugged, and difficult 100 plus mile ultramarathon.” Reading that description, I know it’s like those funny signs you see at trailhead that you think are intended for other hikers or runners. Nope, this applies to ALL the runners, experienced, new, young, old, crazy…
For those of you with ADHD (like me) here’s the short version of my race report. Believe the RDs. This is a ROCKY, technical, long, scenic, ROCKY race and one I highly recommend if you like rocks (I have a big collection of them, usually in my shoes), hills and a challenge. The Mogollon Monster is a well-organized and executed race with outstanding volunteers, support, course markings and bling. And if you go: do your homework, prepare for a range of weather and trail possibilities and enjoy whatever Jeremy, Jay, Noah and Mother Nature throw at you. It all makes for a tougher run and a better story.
So if you want the LONG LONG version (kind of like the race) of MY particular race (because it is all about me). Here it is.
It is the ‘before’ that is the hardest part. Once on the start line the job is simple. Simply to run. …All I could do is run the best race… -with my heart and soul, as well as my head and legs. -Lizzy Hawker
Running 100 miles is never simple but Lizzy Hawker sums up my Mogollon run perfectly. The hardest part was getting to the start. The race wasn’t easy but I ran my best and loved every (well almost every) one of the 2,081 minutes I was out there.
Although I’ve done a number of ultras, signing up for Mogollon was a decision I agonized over for over a year. I wanted a Hard Rock qualifier but in 2014 was not willing to give up doing my 10th Leadville 100. Deep down I was afraid of a harder, longer, different race. But after spending the summer climbing 14ers and exploring new mountain runs, pacing Rocky Mountain Slammer Sheila Huss (yes I’m dropping names) at Bighorn 100 and Hard Rock and reading Travis Macy’s book The Ultra Mindset I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone.
Even though Mogollon is just 5 weeks after Leadville, I signed up, booked my plane ticket, found a cozy guesthouse in Pine on AirBnB and then focused on finishing Leadville before tackling the details of “the Monster”. Although I finished Leadville, it definitely showed that I was in need of a new race. Even with my best season of training I finished close to the cutoff and didn’t feel my heart was in the race.
So what did I do in the weeks before Mogollon? I got a recovery IV (hours after finishing Leadville, which I highly recommend). I constantly asked Abby McQueeney Penamonte a million recovery questions. I hiked. I ran. I did some heat training. I slept as much as I could. And of course I obsessed over details of flying and packing poles, drop bags, airline/guest house/rental car, directions, weather. Luckily my friend Carol put me in touch with Nadine Haluszczak (eventual 2015 Mogollon Monster female champion and course record holder) who was willing to answer my questions and ease my mind. Carol and Nadine also worked very hard to set me up with a pacer for 35 miles of the run through the night.
Friday afternoon we landed in 102 degree Phoenix and picked up our rental Prius (for some reason this was not the crew car I envisioned for Kurt) . The road to Pine had saguaro cacti, elk grazing and bugling and our pre-race dinner stop: Sonic burger and fries. Not my usual well-planned pre-race 100 meal. After picking up my bib # and admiring the shiny finisher’s buckle we headed to our guesthouse just 3 minutes away. It was the ideal place to stay and our host, Susan greeted us with ice cold water and homemade pumpkin bread. I rechecked my clothes, shoes and drop bags and was in bed by 8PM.
On race morning I ate a light breakfast of coffee and gluten-free almond french toast. At the start Nadine introduced herself. Nice to have a familiar face on the course (even though she’d be miles ahead of me). I spied Kirk Apt (legendary Hard Rock finisher) and another InkNBurn ambassador who stood out in his unique “muscle” shirt. After Jeremy (I think it was Jeremy) gave some race directions (follow the yellow tape not the red, don’t get lost in the 6-foot tall grass, be nice to hikers and volunteers…) he played the National Anthem which brought tears to my eyes. We were all ready to run!
Start to Pine Cabin- This section of trail had gentle climbs and with lots of trees and smooth red dirt. We settled in and everybody seemed chatty and happy. Even the first climb up to the rim with its switchbacks was pleasant. I was enjoying the climb and soaking in the cool. I made sure to start snacking (on Fuel 100 Electro-Bites) as I climbed. I reminded myself to drink a lot and take in food about every hour. Carol was at the aid station which made me happy.
Pine cabin to Dickenson Flat – Heading out from Dickenson Flat I finally felt relaxed. The trail was not as gnarly as I imagined. The weather felt warm but there was a cool breeze and shade. I focused on the positives, remembering to stay present. On the road I made friends with Steven from Dallas, TX. Chatting made these road miles fly by and I enjoyed hearing about my buddy’s training and races. Based on his training he predicted his finish time to be 28:07. (Steven did finish in 35:43)
Dickenson Flat to Geromimo – This section of trail did get sandy and steep but luckily it was a downhill. Picking my way through the rocks I smiled for the race photographers. It was also encouraging to see runners here & there. I followed Jennifer from Boulder who was moving well down the hills and like me, stopped at a few springs to soak clothing (or my HPRS buff) to keep cooler. I was managing my water and snacking on Fuel 100, salt tabs and occasional licorice candy. I noticed I was getting scratches from blackberry bushes and yucca and both my skirt and shirt had snagged but I considered them “battle wounds” from the day. I fondly thought of my friend Abby and knew she’d be proud or my scars. I also knew when I returned to this section on Sunday at mile 87, Kurt would love the blackberries. These happy thoughts made me smile.
Geronimo to Washington Park – At Geronimo the kind volunteers put ice in my pack and I munched more potato chips. This next section was pretty hot and exposed but I was careful to pay attention to my heart rate and walk in places to keep it low. I thought of Travis Macy’s book, The Ultra Mindset about how I could write my own story in my mind and did so here. Although it was hot, my mindset was positive, recalling how I’d heat trained and was prepared for the warmth. It worked.
Lots of lizards skittered around but thankfully no rattlesnakes. A few folks ahead of me ran out of water and were drinking directly from the trickles of streams. I find my Dallas friend who is chatting with a runner whose black cat tattoo reminds me of Black Cat fireworks (Yep, the heat was already making wild connections in my brain). The black cat runner says he’s suffering from the heat. We walked/ran into AS together. All the runners with Garmins said this was at mile 30 (course map says 28.4) my Strava had stopped working. I was thrilled to see Kurt and was feeling good so I filled my pack with ice and water, got soaked down with ice water, dumped my phone and some of my food from my pack and ate some chips. Kurt warned me about the upcoming climb being gradual to the top but then rocky and steep like Mt. Morrison. I was excited for this climb.
Wash Park to Houston Brothers – On the gradual part of the climb I saw a group of older hikers stopped in the shade. They cheered and were so encouraging! When I reached the steep section (45% grade, NO joke) I was grateful I’d climbed Mount Morrison near home. It had prepared me to keep my footing on loose rocks and choose a line and climb with reckless abandon. I chose the rocky ascent rather than the smoother higher trail because the rocks afforded more grip. I loved the work of climbing. When I reached the top I was greeted by the kind ham radio operators who did race tracking. The next section to aid was mainly road, gradual uphill, normally something I dreaded but after the rocky climb I smiled and settled into a trot.
Houston Brothers to Pinchot Cabin- At Houston Brothers Carol helped me by filling my pack with ice (I’d been drinking well) and her sunny energy was contagious. This part of the run, the cabin loops were perfect for running. There were times I wanted to walk, to take it easier but I kept repeating a mantra I had come up with earlier “WWAD?” (What would Abby do?) I’d come up with this because my friend Abby, one of the toughest trail runners I know (who had won the Women’s Grand Slam in 2013)Towering pines and hundreds of ferns lined the single-track trail. Before I realized it I was climbing up to Pinchot Cabin aid station.
Pinchot Cabin to Washington Park – This section also passed quickly. The sun was starting to set and I was anxious to get back to Washington Park to see Kurt and pick up my pacer, Josh, a local runner who had graciously volunteered to pace me 35 miles through the night. Gingerly picking my way down the powerline trail again was more challenging in the dark and I felt relieved to make it down without slipping on the sandy rock. I arrived at Washington Park energized for the most difficult part of the race.
Washington Park to Hell’s Gate – When I arrived at Washington Park my main goal was to be sure I had good lights and LOTS of caffeine for the night ahead. Kurt helped me change my shoes, fill my pack and check for lights, a jacket and snacks. Josh was patiently waiting while I tried to do 5 things at once, exhibiting signs of extreme ADHD. I finally got everything done and we headed out and up the trail. This section had me the most scared of the entire race and I knew if we conquered this climb back up to the rim I’d be more confident about finishing the race. Having Josh with me made the night an adventure. Even hearing the bull elk obviously close to the trail didn’t startle me.
The grass was indeed as tall as described and in many places we tripped over hidden rocks, huge trail steps or even the edge of the trail. Josh was patient about finding the markers and the search kept me very alert. Even the times where we seemed to have lost the trail, I did not ever feel concerned or discouraged. We reached the appropriately named Hell’s Gate with a sigh of relief to be through what we thought would be the worst part of the grass.
Hell’s Gate to Buck Springs – The vertical climb up to the rim was interesting. Josh commented that he didn’t think we really were on a trail. We joked that the RDs had just sent someone out with some reflective tape and had them mark a random way up through the grass up to the top of the canyon. The one disconcerting thing was that even in the dark I could tell there was a drop off if we stepped off the “trail” and Josh slipped sideways several times, making me a little nervous.
At the rim we were greeted by orange flashing lights and a nice, flat trail leading to the road and 3.3 miles to Buck Springs.
Buck Springs to Pinchot Cabin – Running through the night was disorienting but even felt even more after the brain drain of searching for trail markers. I was alert but noticed I was having mild hallucinations. Every so often I’d spy a dragon, a lady in old-style dress complete with a bonnet, a flying donkey and even an upside-down dump truck. I was kind of enjoying the distraction that continued through the rest of the race. Josh and I moved steadily through this section passing a few other runners. At Pinchot Cabin the fire was inviting but after eating some grilled cheese we ran out into the warm night. Not having a watch I wasn’t sure what time it was but started to wonder about cutoffs and didn’t want to waste time.
Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers- Since I had run this section during the day I had a sense of what to expect and this was encouraging. We ran a long flat section that paralleled a fence and then the trail steadily rolled gradually up. With the prospect of daylight and getting back to Kurt I was picking up my pace a little (very little). Climbing felt really good and as the sun rose and we climbed up to Houston Brothers I noticed I’d left Josh behind. Worried he was bonking I offered him some food but he wanted to wait for the aid station. Calculating the distance I had left, I told him my plan to refill my pack and keep trotting down the road while he ate. He seemed relieved to sit at the aid station to eat some solid food.
Houston Brothers to Washington Park – On my own I trotted down the road playing a “game” I always did with my pacers. I wanted to get as far ahead before Josh caught me. It didn’t take him long but it kept me moving with purpose. After the smooth road we turned to run down the powerline trail for the third time. I sent Josh ahead to let Kurt know we were coming and to tell him I only needed a tank top and a bandaid.
Washington Park to Geronimo – With a huge smile I ran into Washington Park and found Kurt. Although I knew I had sand and pebbles in my shoes I didn’t want to risk taking them off and then having my feet swell before the final 20 miles. We tried to put a bandaid on a small blister on my heel but my calves were covered in SO much dirt that even KT tape wouldn’t stick. Kurt exchanged keys with Josh and we left him sitting contentedly on a cooler behind us. I rang the bell signaling my final time through Washington Park and started off for the final 20 miles!
With 20 miles left and Kurt beside me I started to relax which sounds good but was actually bad, very BAD. For the first time all day I lost my focus and my spirits started to dip along with my pace. I was still hallucinating and spied Bigfoot in the shape of a stump, a lounge chair with beer in the cup holders and a little girl lying under a bush. Every time I’d ask Kurt if he saw these things he’d ask if I needed caffeine to get rid of the visions but I was kind of enjoying them. Kurt picked some blackberries along the way and they tasted sweet but still didn’t get me moving any faster.
Kurt encouraged me to run and I’d try for a few steps and then stop. Not wanting to walk the next 20 miles to the finish, in my head I kept an ongoing dialogue about how well I was doing, how I could run and kept asking myself, “WWAD?”. It worked a little but this 10 mile stretch took me almost 5 hours! Even though we were at mile 97, we had 10 miles to go and neither Kurt nor I wanted to spend 5 more hours out on the trail. Something needed to change!
Geronimo to the Finish – When we arrived at the aid station the workers were saints. They poured water on my head, fed me pumpkin pie and filled my arm sleeve with ICE! Ice became my super power. With my ice I was invincible and was going to power to the finish. Kurt and I thanked the volunteers and left for the 2 mile approach to the last KILLER hill. Savoring my ice and thinking of every icy thing I would enjoy once I finished (ice cold limeade, an cold shower, ice cream, popsicles..) I focused on steady climbing and once in awhile even left Kurt behind if he stopped to take pictures. When we reached the top, I let out a cheer!
From here the volunteers had promised no more hills. They were true to their word. They didn’t mention that many of those downhill miles were on the rockiest trail I’d ever seen. Kurt and I laughed and said, “This is NOT a trail, it’s a rock garden.” We reached the Pine Trailhead where the race had started and entered a silver culvert. Walking through this made me feel dizzy! It felt like I was walking through a fun house barrel. Emerging from the culvert onto the highway I was thrilled to be back on the road. (Hard to believe I would ever be excited to run on a paved road!)
As exhausted as I was, I remembered to savor the final stretch to the finish. I had made it in 33:41! I got my buckle, hat and then sat down and ate a hamburger. It felt good to sit down to empty all the sand out of my shoes!
I can’t say enough great things about this race! Thank you to Jeremy Doughtery, Jay Danek, Noah Doughtery and all the dedicated volunteers for staging such a quality event. It was apparent they thought through every detail and went out of their way to be sure runners had every chance for a positive experience. I also want to thank Kurt Hardester for helping me get to the start and finish line, Carol Tichio for making sure I got a pacer and helping me out on the course, Nadine Haluszczak for giving me course descriptions and helping with pacer ideas and Josh Motter for driving from Phoenix to pace a complete stranger and be sure I didn’t get lost in the dark! I also have to thank all those folks in FRUR in Colorado for supporting me from afar. Having the energy of all my Colorado runner friends kept me focused and upbeat throughout the entire race.