by Buddy Teaster
April 29, 2006
I’ve often heard people threaten to “open a can of whoop-ass” on someone. And I wondered where they got the whoop-ass to put in the can. I’m sure there are other places, but I can tell you for sure that one place for whoop-ass canning is in Payson, Arizona at the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50 mile.
So much of an ultra, for me anyway, takes place inside my head, that to do a report seems almost impossible. So I thought I’d just pass along some highlights of what, thanks to a few days of recovery, is already becoming a better run than it was the day after.
My moods swung up and down just like the course profile, though sometimes in direct counterpoint. This is a very demanding course because of the altitude change to 6000-7000 feet, the mid-day heat and the pretty relentless up and down. When Matt put it in the context of it took longer to do the Zane Grey 50 than the first 50 miles of Leadville, knowing we had 50 more to go, that summed up how difficult it was.
Having friends as support and crew, in this case Brandon Wert from Tuscson and Julianna Crownover, is a beautiful thing. It’s a little weird to talk about intimate in that context but it is in many ways and I love it. They ask questions that would make me blush in any other setting. Of course, the fact is that there are families behind families in supporting what it really takes to run ultras. I know I never appreciate my own wife and children enough for what my running imposes on them. And friends like Matt Crownover, who was the instigator of this whole thing, to talk with before and after is a treasure.
Of course the trail is beautiful. What’s not to like about the high desert? Gorgeous blue skies, the Mogollon Rim, open meadows and pine forests. The drive from the Phoenix airport takes you from concrete to scrub to saguaro to pine forest. Pretty spectacular, and a pleasant surprise for me who thought there was Phoenix, the desert and not much else till you got to the Grand Canyon.
The race director and his team get big points for being organized, for a great pre-race dinner and high-quality schwag. This was definitely a race that delivered more value than the cost of the $80 entry fee.
The main thing about this ultra, maybe any ultra, is what I learn about myself and this one was no different. The pain, the exhilaration, the camaraderie, the solitude are points along the path. The more I can come to embrace them and what they each bring, the more I get out of the experience. Sometimes that means sitting down on a rock and cussing. Other times, it means gritting my teeth and repeating “relentless forward progress.” But at the end, the satisfaction of knowing that, with a lot of help and support from family and friends, I did it, all blurs together in a way that ultra runners understand in a unique way.
Too soon to know if I would go back for this one again, I’m still not walking downstairs with much pride, but I highly recommend it for the beauty of the setting and the physical and emotional challenge.