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  • Writer's pictureNathan Moody

Mogollon Monster 2019

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

In many ways, this race report can be summarized by saying that I finally succeeded in not screwing up and sabotaging my chances of success like I did the last time I ran this course. There are a few things I learned along the way and I want to incorporate them into future races and so I want to document them here. The big take-away is that in a 100 miler, there isn't a silver bullet. No one thing, if done right, guarantees success. Instead, it seems that a dozen or so things need to go right. And even then, success isn't guaranteed. Ultras mimic life to a degree and that’s part of the appeal of the sport.

Calm before the storm: sunset after a shakeout run in Pine, AZ Friday evening

The context for me and this race started in 2017, when my experience at #MOG100 miler was painful and humiliating. My performance then wasn’t even worthy of its own race report, because it can be summarized by saying I made nearly every mistake possible and it left me very discouraged. I resolved to not make the same mistakes and returned this year wanting to redeem my experience on this beautiful course. Months ahead of the race it seemed like a wonderful goal: return to where you experienced defeat.

Photos of Mogollon Rim

As the weeks ticked down to the race, however, I felt the anxiety building because it began to sink in that having a big failure again would be super discouraging a second time, and now my entire family was crewing me. I did not want to have a meltdown in front of them and felt the pressure to do well, given all the sacrifice they put into coming and serving me. Anyway, these pressures occupied my thoughts on race day and in the final week. One of the first key things that happened was a conversation with my coach during taper week. She gave me the framework I needed to not just try, but to succeed.

Family (crew) at South Rim of Grand Canyon while I was somewhere around Washington Park

The strategy is not novel: don’t get ahead of the race and stay on top of the basics. That’s essentially it. Additionally, I focused on having fun. I had run Zane Grey earlier in the summer and that gave me a chance to start wrapping my head around the climbs and terrain that had left me busted up in 2017. I learned to enjoy the rugged climbs of the rim and the uniquely janky terrain offered up on the course. This earlier experience prepared me to enjoy this run instead of seeing it as a battle from the beginning. The race seemed to unfold around several key decisions or developments throughout the day and I will try to explain them one at a time.

At the start of the race, I made the decision that I would run the speed that maximizes my running economy and would not chase people or place, but I also would not slow down just to stay behind anyone. If others went ahead, I resolved to be happy for them and not chase them. This really worked and put me in the right head space. I got to know almost everyone I ran with in some way or another. This also added to the joy: I settled in to the notion that I was not fighting people during this race, I was fighting my past performance. Around mile 25-30 I had the honor of sharing some quality miles with new friend and fellow New Mexican Tony Russ. We discussed his race strategy, his home town, the beauty of the course, and a few details of his 400+ mile journey to face the Monster. This experience left me in awe and I carried it with me through the rest of the race. The narrative that replayed in my mind from then on is that I have no good excuses for not doing my absolute best in this race. If Tony can muster the strength and will to run 400+ miles and THEN run a tough 100 miles in lead position for a while (in sandals!), all for a good cause, then I can show up and at least commit to do my best.

Fellow New Mexican Tony Russ at mile ~300 on the way to #MOG100 (credit: Tony Russ)

These early factors had a big effect on me and set the stage for my entire race. The first 29 miles flew by, feeling like a long run on fresh legs in some of the best terrain on the planet. I stayed religiously on top of my nutrition and hydration and started to settle in for the climb up Powerline Trail (45% grade) just after the first pass through Washington Park. The vibe at this aid station was superb, with volunteers eager to help. I am usually a ‘keep-to-myself’ person at aid stations, preferring to find a quiet spot to sit down and work through my drop bags alone. The eagerness and helpfulness of the aid station volunteers caused me to realize this is an opportunity: I decided to ask boldly for help. Specifically, I (jokingly) asked the aid station workers if they could be my crew. Two jumped to attention and said “how can we help!!?” I showed them and then asked for help like this from then on.

This brings me to another key factor in my race this year: simplification. Instead of complicated to-do lists for aid stations, this time I just had two Salomon flasks at each allowed drop bag location (each pre-filled with powdered nutrition) and a bottle of pickle juice. My routine was simple and the same at each drop bag location: load the gels, fill the two Salomon flasks, down the pickle juice, and get out of there. Those simple procedures allowed the aid station workers to help me without any of us getting confused. For the rest of the race, I asked for and gratefully received this kind of help. Thank you aid station workers and volunteers!!

Powerline Climb (credit: Aravaipa Running)

I remembered the big climb up Powerline and enjoyed it this time, making my way to Bear Canyon nearly 1 hour ahead of my predicted pace (based on a forecasted 22:48 finish). I was slightly nervous about being that far ahead of my predictions but felt fresh and like I was doing the right things so far. By mid afternoon, I was back at Washington Park again and had a humorous interaction with a volunteer who was certain I was just arriving at Wash Park for the first time. When I showed him that my watch registered ~43 miles on the clock he checked with the ham operators and let me head toward Buck Springs.

At Buck Springs, I loaded my headlamp, did the flask swap, and got out of there. About 15 minutes into the descent from the AS, I realized I made my first big mistake: I forgot to load any of my gels!! This meant I had only 270 calories for the next 1.5 hours. Looking back, I now realize that numerically this wasn’t exactly a crisis. My fueling strategy called for 260 cal/hr and so it wasn’t that bad that I missed the gels. But in the moment, I panicked and thought this could be what throws my stomach off. I developed a strategy: pick up the pace a little to get to the next aid station (and food) sooner than forecasted; I ate all my gum hoping it had some calories to give me, I took all my salt pills (knowing there were some ahead at the next AS) hoping that the gelatin casing had a few calories, and I carefully sipped the 270 calories of Perpetuem to make it last. This strategy worked and got me to the next AS, Pinchot Cabin, hungry but still holding onto my fueling strategy. I resisted the temptation to eat quickly, using Jason Koop‘s proven advice to nibble/sip not gobble/guzzle.

The run from Pinchot to Houston was filled with anticipation because this is where I pick up my pacer and see my family for the first time since the start line. The magic of night running had set in and I was enjoying every minute. The moon peeked through the clouds every so often and the crickets and cool breeze made the miles go quickly. During this and previous segments, Blake Blankenship and I traded positions off and on. He was running well and I was super impressed so it occurred to me to tell him this and encourage him. In the dark of night, it was just he and I, so I imagined that we were pacing each other, rather than racing each other. Functionally, this was true even though we were each running our own pace and effort and not trying to follow each other. We pulled into Houston almost at the same time (he slightly ahead) and I was so elated to see my wife and crew chief Daniela, my two boys, and my pacer Siva. My youngest boy was so happy he ran and jumped into my arms despite the crew chief’s strong objections. This really lifted my spirits and mentally prepared me for the remainder of the course.

Pacer Siva Chakravarti (photo credit

Siva and I set off in the night and Blake was quite a ways ahead of us. We settled into a nice ~8:45 min/mile pace for the descent into Washington Park and conversation was pleasant, covering many topics. After a while, we saw Blake’s headlamp ahead and before we knew it, it was time to navigate down the sketchy Powerline trail again, but now in the dark. We all hammered down it without injury and rolled into Washington Park in good spirits. I explained the drop bag routine to Siva and we worked through it quickly with aid station volunteers. Blake mentioned that we should try and push for the original (2012-2015) course record. He also offered me a Gu Rocktane gel and I gladly accepted it (remember I spent miles missing those gels). I was impressed with his camaraderie and trail ethic and made a mental note to emulate it myself. At this point, I had lost track of where we were relative to course record and so I said yes let's push each other and if one of us gets it at least we both had a part in it. Blake said he needed a little more time at Wash Park, so I said he would catch me at the mile 94 climb (he is super strong on the hills) and headed out.

After Wash Park, Siva and I hit the steeps again, hiking, climbing, jogging, running, depending on the rapidly varying terrain. I began to notice that Siva was struggling a couple of miles after we left Wash Park and I said let's just settle into a steady march to get up these climbs. He stepped off trail for a moment and I asked if he was ok, thinking he needed only a bathroom break. After waiting for about 3 minutes, I called for him and heard nothing and didn’t see his headlamp. I got a little worried, unsure what to do next. I started to get stiff and decided to keep moving since he knows several Aravaipa personnel and the general course. Turns out, he ran into serious trouble after about 10-11 miles and had to work out some problems of his own. After our debrief at the finish line I learned that his saga was worthy of its own race report, which made me even more appreciative of the miles we ran together.

Anyway, it was now just me and the moon and a 105K runner every once and a while. Geronimo AS came and went quickly and I made sure to thank everyone there. Near mile 94, I recognized the big climb and silently welcomed it, knowing it is the final challenge before the finish. At this point, I had 94 miles of proof that I wasn't going to have a repeat performance of 2017 and it encouraged me greatly. I remembered the steep steps and switchbacks from 2017 but was elated to be tackling it early in the cool of the night instead of well after dawn. It was so steep, however, that I began to rethink my decision to not bring poles this year. A couple switchbacks into the steep part, I saw two perfectly sized dead wood sticks laying a couple meters apart and made another key split-second decision: grab them! I used these sticks to crank hard up the hill and felt like I had new legs. The extra help up the hill was just what I needed and I arrived at Donohue AS in no time.

I remembered the volcanic rock boulder field ahead and resolved to not trip on the way down. To take it fast, slow down a bit. I enjoyed the descent, focusing on my form and seeing the lights of Pine twinkling below. I did bash my right big toe once and it hurt like maybe I did damage. That faded though and I settled into a nice cadence but noticed quite a bit of pain everywhere, something I hadn’t yet experienced in this race. I remembered Tony again and how he is working through the course somewhere behind me with close to 500 miles on his feet(!!). A visual picture emerged in my mind: I pictured (as silly as this sounds) that I was tip-toeing around puddles of ‘pain’ on the trail, similar to how you might avoid puddles of water. Doing so messes with your foot placement and form and many runners know it's just better to step into the puddles and not waste effort dancing around them. I did this with the pain: I imagined stepping into “puddles” not avoiding them and just surrender to the sensation, similar to how you surrender to the fact that your shoes are soaked for the first time in a race. You eventually just accept it. After about 10 minutes of this, it seemed to give me a new gear for the final stretch and not long afterward I saw what I thought were golden lanterns decorating the trail somewhere. Turns out they were the orange parking lights of a Tacoma or similar truck in the start line parking lot and I was told I was on the road!

I took off and made my way through that tunnel under route 87 and into town enjoying and appreciating these final steps in the race. The best experience for me in ultra-running is seeing my family and this was no exception. I was greeted by Jamil and then my two boys who ran the last bit with me into the finish line and then by crew chief Daniela. After sitting down, I was a little incoherent and took a while to gather myself before thanking Noah and Jamil for such an awesome experience. I waited to congratulate Blake and Mike for their strong (second and third) place finishes before taking off to our cabin to shower up. I also got to see Siva and hear of his adventures! My next concern was to make sure I was at the start line when Tony Russ came through. He came in at around 30 hours and I was again very honored to have a discussion just as he came in and told him that regardless of place, he WON Mogollon and had inspired many, including myself.

Tony Russ at finish line reflecting on what just happened (credit: Aravaipa Running)

This race was special because of the adventure involved, new friends made, and especially because I was with my family when I returned to a place of previous failure and this time saw events unfold differently. I know from experience that future races, and life itself, will not always work out this way but it is nice when it does. So many people to thank for this experience: my family for crewing and supporting me; my coach Corrine Malcolm for patiently preparing me; all the volunteers and coordinators who selflessly served us runners on the course; Tony Russ for setting the bar and inspiring me; Siva Chakravarti for pacing me; Noah, Jamil, and Aravaipa running for putting on such a stellar race; Santa Fe Functional Medicine for their nutritional and supplement support; and Suunto/Salomon for their pro-dealer support.

Blake and I at finish line (credit: Daniela Moody)

My boys meeting me at the finish line (credit: Daniela Moody)

Mogollon Monster 105 Mile Course

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