[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
The Mogollon Monster is a 100 mile, point-to-point race near Pine, AZ, put on by Aravaipa Running. I first heard about the race years ago when a buddy of mine mentioned it, but I hadn't thought about it since. After I dropped out of Kodiak and straightened out some lingering injuries, I knew I needed to try another hundred. Mogollon was a six and a half hour drive and a $400 registration fee away. I signed up first, then did a deep dive into the course, which was absolutely as advertised: rugged, technical, remote, demanding. This recap won't be altogether comprehensive or detailed because I don't remember much and the course details are already available here.
The course travels up and down the Mogollon rim six times. On paper, the course doesn't look terrible-the climbs are never longer than roughly 2,000 feet, and the elevation never goes above 8,000. My breathing never felt strained, even at the highest elevation points. But I have never seen or experienced rockier or more technical terrain. The course made the mountains here in Southern California look and feel like a cake walk.
The race started at 6 a.m., and 163 people started. 108 would finish, 54 would drop, and one guy missed the 38 hour cutoff by a minute and forty seconds. The first 11 miles were arguably the most runnable. The race started with a gentle climb that faded into a smooth single track that eventually wound downhill to the bottom of the rim. I still had a liter of water at the first aid station, so I ate some potatoes, drank some electrolytes, and kept going.
I chatted with a lot of different people in the first 30 miles or so- a few guys from Albuquerque, a guy from New York, another from San Diego. As with most ultras, there were far more men than women and the only other woman I encountered was about 40 miles in. We got lost in conversation and ended up missing a turn, which we only realized when someone behind us yelled, "you're going the way!"
Sometime Saturday morning, it started raining hard. Some people got stuck in a hailstorm, but I luckily missed the hail and was treated instead to a cooling rain. Other runners told me that last year, it was extremely hot so rain of any sort seemed better to me. I arrived to the first crew access point at mile 26 sopping wet. The rain cleared up and returned again later that afternoon, only this time, I wasn't so happy to see it. I was hoping to change into warm, dry clothes before nightfall, but there would be no point to warm clothes if the rain persisted.
There was crew access at miles 26, 45, 53, 60, and 84. At mile 53, I changed into warm, dry clothes. At mile 60, I sat down in a folding chair and said, "Mike, I don't think I can do this." I had been feeling nauseous since the last aid station. I threw up one of my caffeinated Spring Energy gels and even water was making me queasy. Mike was giving me no pity though, and tore a blanket away from me, handed me my poles, and sent me off into the night. As I ran down the rim yet again, I fantasized about sleeping in a big, soft, king-sized bed. I imagined my cat with me, and how warm and comfortable I would be, whenever this race was over.
I didn't have a pacer, and the night slowed me down considerably. The battery in my headlight died early, but it's a hybrid and I came prepared with backup triple A's. I added three brand new batteries and an hour later, it was dying again. I added three more, and an hour later, the light was blinking, telling me the battery was dying. I was frustrated and more than a little annoyed-I'd come prepared, or so I thought. A woman working at an aid station gave me three more batteries, and I kept my headlight dim, supplementing with a tiny, LED flashlight I normally keep in my glove compartment, but added to my pack, just in case.
I awkwardly carried my little light in one hand, and both poles in the other, and made my way through the night. I randomly chatted with some people who passed, or who I passed, but never for long. A few hours before dawn I was battling sleepiness and started seeing things. At first, it was minor-a branch that looked like face, or a rock that looked like a bear. The later (or earlier) it got, the more intense my hallucinations grew. I saw dozens of giant teddy bears amidst the Ponderosas. I saw giant, colorful dice. I saw what I thought was a police officer in full uniform with bright red hair, "Is this the right way?" I asked, before realizing he probably wasn't real. "You don't actually exist," I told him.
By the time the sun was rising, I was over 70 miles into the race. My nausea was still bad, and I resorted to eating Spring Awesomesauce and drinking Coke. At the mile 80 aid station, I ate a pancake and felt it immediately creep back up. From mile 80, the course descends and then ascends in what everyone told me was, "the last big climb." Sure, I thought, but there has to be more climbing (and there was). At mile 84, I saw Mike again and dumped my headlights and jacket. I changed my shoes, as the rocky terrain had torn apart my Altra Olympus. I put on a new pair, drank some Coke, and ate some potato chips.
Mile 89 was the last official aid station, and the last 12.5 miles to the finish were just as tough as the rest of the course. First we descended 1,800 feet on a rocky trail that led to (you guessed it) another climb. It was getting hot by now, and the last 10 miles felt long. My watch died at mile 92, and I was left to guess how far I had to go, which may have been for the best. The trail ended eventually in a park in the city of Pine, where there was cold water and Otter pops. The trail leading to the water and Otter Pops seemed to go on forever. Just when I thought, "this must be the bottom," I'd turn a corner and see runners ahead of me, winding their way down another trail.
After the water stop, we ran through a giant culvert and then through town for about 2 miles to the finish line. I ran with another girl those last two miles-she was finishing the 42k and if it hadn't been for her, I probably would have walked it in. We hugged at the end, and I was reminded of what I love so much about this sport. I had only just met her, but she was incredibly kind and wholly supportive.
When I crossed the finish line, there were a handful of spectators, a few curious locals, and Mike, pumping his fist in the air. If I'd had any energy left, I might have cried. He was there the whole time at every crew check in, rubbing my legs, forcing me to eat, telling me not to quit and reminding me that I could finish.
A day after the race, I was cleaning out my pack and found another headlight with fresh batteries buried a the bottom. How ironic, I thought.
There's not much to say about the course that hasn't already been said. It's technical, yes. It's rocky pretty much the whole time. There are parts that are overgrown, parts that are washed out, and parts (up and down) that are extremely steep. In some sections at the bottom, there were ferns taller than I am. I fell more than once, and wasn't surprised about it.
P.S. Mogollon is a Hardrock qualifier. You can read more about qualifying for Hardrock here.