The Mogollon Monster 100 (pronounced mugee-yawn) takes place in the heart of Arizona’s pine country and is named after the 2,000 foot geological ridge known by the locals as the backbone of Arizona. Many sightings of a big-foot like creature have been reported in this rugged backcountry. Hence the monster moniker.
Going into this race I was resolved to deal with the rugged terrain it’s known for, but with very little insight and lots of naivety. The website states in no uncertain terms the difficulty of the course:
"This is a VERY technical course in many areas, specifically the Highline Trail, Donahue and the soon to be revered, Myrtle Trail. This is one of the most technical 100 milers in North America."After reading this I thought, well, ok, that sounds like a challenge. I’m in. Thinking, like any red blooded ultrarunner, that if I could handle Wasatch Front, Angeles Crest, or Bighorn, all 100-mile Hard Rock qualifiers, I could handle this. I pulled the trigger and signed up for the Mogollon Monster.
Learning how to ride a bike by reading is different from actually learning how to ride a bike by, say, riding a bike. Just as I now realize learning how difficult Mogollon Monster is by reading is different from, say, learning by running it. Which leads me to the next verse from Don McLain’s famous song Vincent:
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
[I] would not listen, [I] did not know how
Perhaps [I’ll] listen now
There were sections of this course the reduced me to a quibbling, pathetic little boy forced to ride his bike without training wheels. When I realized the Monster doesn’t negotiate with spoiled whiners, I had to make a decision: put up or shut up. So I stumbled on, through the horrendous rock strewn Highline trail and soul stealing climbs. One small step, trip, stumble, in front of another small step, trip, stumble. There were sections of the climbs that poles where useless, because it was too steep. A belay and a carabiner would have been more useful.
The runner’s manual was about the size of a Tolstoy novel and read like a chapter from Lewis and Clark, with directions of the course down to 10 o’clock and 3 o’clock turns, Y-in-the-road warnings and detailed landmark distances. Useless intel unless you were carrying the novel and a reading light with you. The course was marked pretty well with a few gaps along the long dirt road sections when runners need confidence markers.
At one point at night I thought was following the trail quite well in the dark with my head and waist lamps lighting the way. But then found myself staring at a dead end of creek bed with 6-foot walls on either side of me. Wait, what? Traveling into random creek beds wasn’t unusual for me on this night.
More useful was the manual’s warning of lightening strikes during the run, which kept me alert, if not a little paranoid:
Lightning strikes in Arizona kill people every single year. In June 2015, a group of 7 people were hiking near Pinchot Cabin [on the course] and a young woman was killed by lightning just standing by a tree. Just because we’re not at 14,000 feet and in Colorado doesn’t mean you can’t die. The weather can hit extremely fast, and when it does during monsoon season, it hits very hard.
|From the runner's manual|
I heard some on the course talking about the beauty of the course, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The red cliffs reminded me much of the Grand Canyon views I’ve seen during my rim to rim to rim runs. But like the rose flower, beauty has a way over covering up the pain that lies beneath.
Running Mogollon Monster was like having humble pie thrown in my face. The years of machismo that had been building up my ego from running some 30 ultra’s was vanquished faster than receiving electroconvulsive therapy. I walked to the starting line full of myself, but crossed the finish line in spite of myself.