Under the Radar Races: Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs

AJW profiles the Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs, and its marquee event, the Zane Grey 50 Mile, in Arizona, as part of a series celebrating under the radar races.

By on February 9, 2024 | Comments

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This article is the second in an 11-part series in AJW’s Taproom celebrating under the radar races.]

Rising nearly 2,000 feet above the desert floor in central Arizona, the Mogollon Rim dominates the skyline east of the sprawling metropolis of Phoenix. Dotted with massive rock outcroppings and rich forests of ponderosa pine, “The Rim,” as it’s called locally, is a popular escape for Phoenicians seeking relief from the summer heat.

In addition, since 1990, The Rim has been the home of the Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs. The routes traverse the historic Highline Trail, a National Recreation Trail, which was established in 1870 as a route to allow travel between homesteads, and for kids to get to school in Pine, Arizona.

The weekend’s marquee event, the Zane Grey 50 Mile, has hosted a who’s who of ultrarunning luminaries over the years, including Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball, Karl Meltzer, Dave Mackey, Diana Finkel, Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, and Ian Torrence.

2021 Zane Grey 50 Mile - two runners

Runners approaching the finish of the 2021 Zane Grey 50 Mile. All photos courtesy of Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs.

Held each year in late April, the Zane Grey 50 Mile has undergone several iterations over the years, as it included a 100k option a few times, and was formerly held on a point-to-point course. Today, the race features a modified out-and-back course, beginning and ending at the Mountain Meadows Ranch in Christopher Creek, Arizona.

The race is 100% singletrack and includes beautiful vistas of rim canyons, brushy hills, and distant mountains. A portion of the trail between the Washington Park Trailhead and the Pine Trailhead is also part of the 800-plus-mile Arizona Trail. Rocky and rutted for many miles, the Highline Trail will test any trail runner’s mettle.

I recently caught up with Zane Grey race director, Joe Galope, to talk about his event. In terms of the obstacles for putting on the race, Joe had this to say:

“Trail stewards have maintained and improved the trail over the years, but in doing so, have lengthened the trail. While we appreciate all they have done for the area, it has affected the race course. Additionally, the ecosystem of trail running has significantly changed over the years, which has generated obstacles with putting on the event.”

2017 Zane Grey 50 Mile - aid station

Volunteers working an aid station at the 2017 Zane Grey 50 Mile.

He elaborated, “The saturation of competing trail running events, some on the same month or weekend, not only draws from the market of runners, but also from the pool of volunteers and resources needed to put on an event.”

For years, Zane Grey has been known for its low key, community-centered vibe, and Joe says that is by design: “We limit the total number of participants of the event, which gives the race a sense of community. We recognize that for some participants this may be the most challenging thing they ever do.”

He went on, “The race wants to make sure that every participant feels like they are special for having accomplished such a challenging event, and also wants their day to be an awesome experience. We do that by having veteran ultrarunners as aid station volunteers and staff.”

As a veteran race director for over 25 years, Joe has just about seen it all, but he still looks forward to race day every year.

He said, “I most look forward to seeing the joy not only on the finishers’ faces, but also their families’ faces at the finish line. It’s a shared experience through the months of training, the day crewing out on the trail, and persevering through the challenge… and finally reaching their goal.”

This year’s Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs, which will add a marathon distance, will be held on April 27, 2024, and there are still spaces available in both distances. If you want to enjoy a classic old school race with a Wild West vibe, come out to The Rim and run this spring.

Bottoms up!

2010 Zane Grey 50 Mile - start

An early start for the 2010 Zane Grey 50 Mile.

AJW’s Beer of the Week

That Brewery logoThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from That Brewery in Pine, Arizona. That Knotty Nut Brown Ale is a rich British style brown ale, that is slightly sweet and uniquely brewed with pinecones, giving it a delicious piney finish. If you make it to the Zane Grey 50, be sure to stop by That for a taste.

Call for Comments

  • Have you done the Zane Grey 50 Mile or any of the Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs, and, if so, what did you think?
  • Does this kind of low-key event appeal to you, or do you prefer bigger races?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.