Tony Russ didn’t want to settle for another 100 miler when he signed up for the 2019 Mogollon Monster. The 35-year-old had done the race before and has many other ultras on his resume. His ultrarunning friends had all done long, multi-day adventures from FKTs to stage races.
Now, it was his turn to try something different and a tad crazy.
He came up with a plan where the start of his ultra was actually the end of an even greater journey. For a few years he had been mapping out a route between his house in Pinos Altos, New Mexico, and the start line of the Mogollon race in Pine, Arizona. His concoction of paths became a 400-mile adventure through woods, canyons, and four national forests before he even began his 100-mile ultra.
After all that planning, Russ decided that this summer was the time to take on this particular trip. Here, he shared with Runner’s World what it took to complete his 500-mile run, including what he ate to fuel himself, how he dealt with major injuries and navigation issues, and how he manages all those miles while running in sandals.
Tired of the senseless violence taking place across the country—particularly the shooting in El Paso, Texas, in August—and the hateful rhetoric in politics, Russ wanted to use his running to make a difference. He created a nonprofit called Run Towards a Better World and dedicated his entire journey to raising money for the El Paso Shooting Victims Fund and No More Deaths
The late adjustment had Russ take off later than anticipated, but he was on his way to the starting line located in Coconino National Forest in Pine.
The Long, Lost Warmup
The first two days went off without a hitch. The trails he ran were familiar because he normally ran them around his home. But on the third day—which happened to be his birthday—Russ took a rough turn.
More specifically, Russ took a wrong turn. He said he ended up at the bottom of a canyon without a clue of which way he was supposed to go. He bushwhacked and climbed a canyon wall to see if he could get a better vantage point or find a road, but any way out seemed to lead him back to the canyon.
For five hours, Russ was lost on a 10-mile stretch. When he finally found a trail, it started to get dark.
“I had run out of water, I was surrounded by tall rock spires, and I didn’t think to bring a headlamp,” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘This is just a really great birthday,’ when I saw a light coming toward me. My crew that was with me, none were runners, so I knew it wasn’t them. Then the man called out to me.”
, an organization that provides water along the border for migrants.
With two months of planning, Russ scheduled to take off on the morning of September 3, shooting for about 50 miles a day before the race on September 14. Ideally, the 50 miles per day would give him more than enough cushion to rest a bit during the 400-mile warmup and a few days to spare before the race began.
However, before his trip even started, there were issues. At 7 p.m. the night prior to his departure from Pinos Altos, New Mexico, a friend who was supposed to crew him for the first few days canceled.
“I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’” Russ told Runner’s World. With the trip now in jeopardy, Russ called friends to inquire about crewing the next morning on September 3. In a panic, he pleaded to a friend in Tucson, Arizona, who was going to crew Russ at the end of his journey. Three and a half hours later around midnight, that friend arrived and the trip was back on.
It turned out to be a guy who had run with at Mogollon Monster two years prior. The man had met up with Russ’s crew to celebrate his birthday and was out looking for him.
“He was my angel that day,” Russ said. “We finished the last two miles, and I was greeted by my crew and birthday pizza and doughnuts. I had only done 40 miles, but I wanted to celebrate, so I stopped to hang out.”
By day four, the trip started flowing, and his eight-day plan was back on track. While he ran, he consumed tons of food with a focus on pizza, eggs, and potatoes. He supplemented with things like Chia Squeezes—baby food—and Gold Fish crackers.
When he finally arrived in Coconino National Forest on day eight, Russ said he was worn out. His body, specifically his feet, had taken a beating. His ankle was swollen twice as big as normal and a nagging pain radiated in his Achilles. With three days to rest before the race, he got it checked out.
“I went to a chiropractor in Phoenix, and she said I might have some minor tears on my Achilles and that my ankle was swollen, but it should hold up for the race,” Russ said. “My Achilles did bug me a bit, but not enough to stop me.”