The Mogollon Monster 100 is a special race for myself and Jeremy. Saturday, September 16th would be the sixth annual racing of the Mogollon Monster in Pine, Arizona and my nerves were through the roof. This time with the anticipation of toeing the line in my first 100-mile endeavor. The course has acquired a reputation of unparalleled views and incredible single track, but also unrelenting, technical trails that will beat you down everywhere you turn – and climbing – lot’s and lot’s of climbing. More than a few times have we heard runners finish with a, “what the F@#k was that?!”
What better 100-mile race with which to start than MOG 100?
In 2012 my older brother, Jeremy and I started this beast of a race. Admittedly, the Monster likely never would have made it beyond a grand idea without Jeremy’s incredible persistence and action. The amount of time, money, and resources (and patience from his wife, Jen) spent to get this 100-mile race from inception to the starting line is nothing short of amazing. I’m sure many a race director knows the feeling. These first four years were filled with plenty of lessons on how to improve our race. It was a true grassroots effort as we implored anyone that would listen to us to come up to the Mogollon Rim and help us pull this thing off. Many of these friends, coworkers, and family still in the stage of, “run 100 miles? I don’t even like to drive that far!” We couldn’t have done it without them.
But even with the hiccups, it was growing. We gained some notoriety after our 2013 race when we became one of seven races (at the time) to be a Hardrock 100 qualifier. Flash forward four years to 2017 and this race has shown resiliency that only a Mogollon Monster slipping through the Ponderosa Pines could endure. We made the incredibly difficult call to cancel the 2014 race midway through when a violent storm streaked through our course; we buried the Monster shortly after our 2015 race when it was decided we could no longer dedicate the time & energy necessary to do this race justice; and in stroke of luck, Jamil Coury and his company, Aravaipa Running, approached Jeremy to take the reins and ensure this race lived on in 2016 and beyond.
So, back to 2017. Following our pre-race briefing and our yearly rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner playing over the loud speaker, we all looked out over the rim that each of the 75 runners were about to tackle. The energy was palpable and the nerves were through the roof. Did I put in enough training? Why is my left leg hurting now- am I hurt?
It was a beautiful September weekend and one of our favorite things about this race has always been the hometown feel it permeates. As Jeremy and his family had moved to Bar Harbor, Maine in March this was quite literally a homecoming. At each aid station, hugs and laughs were exchanged. We never rushed through any aid station and always tried to spend a couple extra minutes with our wives and kids. My wife, Jeanine, Jeremy’s wife, Jen, and our good friends Cesar and Jeanna, spent hours waiting (and driving) with our kids just to catch us for a matter of minutes. Crewing is not an easy job but one that I am very grateful they were willing to take on for our race.
For me, I was most concerned with the miles following the 50 mile mark. Very few, if any, stories I had heard from 100 mile races included happy times beyond that point. Additionally, Jeremy and I had said all along that we were hoping to run the entire race together but both of us knew how difficult something like this could become. However, as we got our hugs from Michael & Kimberly Miller and left the Houston Brothers aid station at mile 50 and switched on our head lamps for the long night ahead, we both felt strong.
We didn’t make it far before another runner caught up to us asking to tag along through this section in the night. We would now be a team of four as we had already picked up our good friend, Jay, who would pace us through the night on this 35 mile stretch exploring the incredible Cabin Loop. Four or five miles into this section, we came across a woman named Andi who asked to join our crew as we traversed the Barbershop Trail on our way to the mile 56 aid station.
We had run with a number of runners throughout the race already but little did we know that Tobias, Andi, Jeremy, Jay and I would actually spend the next 10+ hours through the night and all the way through the Highline Trail on our way to mile 88 and the finish. The banter was fantastic as Andi brought her Tennessee drawl and impressive 100 mile stories to the table. Tobias brought his dry Swedish humor to the pitch black trails and Jeremy, Jay and I talked about anything and everything. When one of us would kick the pace to a jog, everyone else fell in line. When one runner wanted to walk, we all walked. We stuck to the plan: never run up a hill, always jog the downhills and use your judgement on the flats. We never felt like we were going fast but at some point in the middle of the night, Jay made us aware that we were, in fact, on pace to finish before noon. None of us responded with much excitement- there were a lot of hours and miles to go.
We made it off the rim before 5 a.m. and saw the sun rise as we started our final trip on the Highline toward the finish. Tobias and Jeremy leading the way, I could hear them talking and picking runners off the trail as we kept our steady pace over the technical terrain- “I just saw two more runners on the crest of that hill, let’s go.” We parted ways with Andi here but Tobias was cranking along and led the way into Geronimo at mile 88 before 8 a.m. having passed at least 8 or 9 runners. I slugged some fresh hot coffee from Cesar, high fived our kids and made quick work of the aid as we crossed the creek on our way to our final climb in the race, West Webber.
West Webber is a heart breaker. A damn soul crusher. When Jeremy had originally designed this course, you would climb the 1.5 mile, ridiculously steep trail of switchbacks to the top of the rim at mile 100. When you finally crest the rim climb, you would be greeted by an unmanned table with water jugs and maybe (hopefully) a box with some Gu’s in it. Then you would go right back down the rim on the way to the finish. The climb could have easily been skipped when the course was made. We could have celebrated your 100th mile up there. But this was the Monster. You were going to dig down deep here and have to give it everything you had to get this buckle. (Truthfully, we probably couldn’t get enough volunteers up there :-)) This year, with the addition of a 105K and 35K distance, West Webber/Donahue would be a full aid station and it was fun to pass some of the 35K runners knowing we had made it.
Jeremy and I actually felt pretty good and we were surprisingly still running the downhills that led to the Webber climb. We powered up this climb and made our way down the Donahue Trail that we had scaled nearly 27 hours prior. The finish was everything I had envisioned it to be each time I watched another runner finish his or her 100 mile journey in years past.
We swept our youngest kids up into our arms while the older ones anxiously awaited just before the finish line cheering us on and eventually crossing under our handmade, metal Mogollon Monster sign in 28:32. Together. Jamil handed me my first ever 100 mile buckle with a handshake. A handshake that, ironically, was extended to Jamil by my brother in 2012 as Jamil became our first ever finisher. It was a simple twist of fate and could not have been sweeter.
I would be remiss to not specifically thank a few people here. Jeanine, for being so patient with my training. More than a few days I was gone until the late afternoon and then probably not worth a whole lot when I got home. She never once doubted my finish. Jamil, Hayley, Jubilee, Erin, Pati, and everyone else with the Araivaipa family who makes these events so great. The invaluable amateur HAM radio guys, our medical team, the countless volunteers who spent entire weekends up on the rim, and Michael Carson who, for the second weekend in a row, spent his entire Saturday night with me. This time running who knows how many miles to try and capture on camera the journey that Jeremy and I were afforded. All photos here are courtesy of Melissa Ruse and SweetM Images– amazing as always.