Race Report: Cocodona 250
May 3–7 2021
Cocodona 250 was my second run in the 200+ mile distance. My previous effort was Moab 240 in October 2019.
Rock Springs to Cottonwood Creek
The race started out in the fun and very runnable Black Canyon Trail, I was in the third wave of runners starting at 5:20am.
I was worried about going out too fast but the group I was in had a really nice conversational pace. In front of me were brothers Doug and Drew Watson, and immediately behind me were Bill Dittman and Jeff Rifkin. We all ran well and didn’t push too hard.
I really enjoyed the conversations with the other runners and we took advantage of the cooler temps to make progress.
This section has some really pretty single track trails that move between the saguaro cactus and beautiful rocks, and the views as we climbed were our first reward an the sun rose.
Cottonwood Creek to Lane Mtn
At the first aid station the volunteers were all reminding everybody to fill up with water.
I decided to fill up with six liters! I used an UltrAspire Epic XT pack at the beginning of the race because it had a lot of storage and would easily accommodate so many full water bladders.
The race was suggesting runners carry at least 3L, I heard Jamil Coury said he’d be carrying 4L, and I thought “if Jamil, who is from here and is used to the heat is carrying 4L, I’d better bring more!” So in addition to my four 600ml chest bottles, I also brought two 2L bladders to fill. I figured better to have too much.
One downside was it took me a long time to fill the bladders and bottles and get myself ready to go. I also grabbed some sort of homemade turkey sandwich thing from the aid station to eat on the way out.
I also left with ice in my ice bandana. It wasn’t very hot yet, but i knew it would be soon.
My pack was very heavy leaving with all that water, but I hustled a little to try to catch up with the runners from my wave I had been with before the aid station. After a while I caught up with Drew and Doug.
The trail was more like an old Jeep road, but even still it was so rugged. Big rocks and steep climbs. It climbed up one mountainside then descended the other, only to climb again to the next ridge. The climbs were strong, the descents were more runnable.
I’m a fairly strong climber, and as I pressed up the steep climbs I left Drew and Doug.
The trail seemed to have been recut by a dozer very recently and it was easy to follow. There was mostly no where else to go. I stopped to refill my chest bottles with one of my 2L bladders, and Andrew Kleinke said hi and introduced himself as he passed. I quickly caught up with him after my bottles were filled and we traveled together for a while.
I cannot say enough about the climbs, they were long, exhausting, and a little demoralizing. I would see the top above us and I would say “we’re going up there?!”
Eventually we descended into the area of Milk Ranch at mile 26, an area shown in one of Jamil Coury’s videos. As predicted, there was no water to filter from, the stream shown in Jamil’s April video had gone dry.
Runners were already starting to suffer in the heat. One runner was sitting in the shade in the doorway of the little house, I learned later that more than one runner used the little house as a refuge from the sun and heat.
As we climbed up I chatted with Jonathan Alsip, a young runner doing his first 200.
I started seeing runners paused on the side of the trail, struggling with low water supplies. I passed Pam Reed as she was giving water to a shirtless runner that later I heard people refer to as “Dave from Florida”.
I saw my friend Ben Light resting in the shade so I stopped to refill my chest bottles with my second 2L bladder. Ben was running low with about six miles left to the next aid so I shared about 500ml of water with him. Kerry Ward caught up with us and Ben and I followed him up the trail.
While we had been climbing and descending and climbing all day, soon the really big climbs started.
My pace slowed in the heat, and the climbs steepened causing more slowing, but still I passed more runners including Coree Woltering. Seeing world class runners on the same course as me was fun, but I didn’t enjoy seeing them struggle.
I passed another runner who said he’d been out of water for five miles, and we still had three miles to go to Lane Mtn. I was sad I didn’t have water to share.
Everyone was suffering in this section. Lots of runners were taking breaks in the cover they could find in the upper stretches of the trail.
About a mile before the Lane Mtn aid, I came across a volunteer at an impromptu water stop, helping people who were out of water make it to the aid station.
Lane Mtn to Crown King Saloon
After leaving Lane Mtn it was a relatively short downhill run on a dirt road into Crown King.
I had a good pace, trying to let the hill do the work while not getting too excited and overdoing it. I was excited to see crew and take a break.
Crown King is a visually stunning location and the Saloon makes you feel like you’re in the Wild West.
The Aid Station food options were PB&J or Bean roll-ups. What? No burgers or quesadillas? I asked my crew to go back and ask again, but they came back and said that’s all there was. Disappointing.
I got cleaned up and refreshed, ready for the night run ahead.
Crown King Saloon to Battle Flat
I left Crown King on a dirt road that soon began climbing. A neighbor shouted “where ya from?” I stopped and talked to him for a minute. I loved that he was so interested in us.
On the climb up I passed a couple runners including the famous Sean Nakamura. It was gorgeous here. The views were made extra beautiful by the late afternoon light of the soon to be setting sun.
We began a descent and I saw Bill Dittman again, he was running with Nicole Ederle. I passed them and met Todd Scott from Michigan. We had a great chat and ran together down the smooth dirt road. Suddenly Sean Nakamura flew by at an incredible pace. Nice downhill work!
Scott Ramey from Omaha joined us as we continued down. The downhill seemed to go forever making for effortless running as we chatted away.
Eventually the sun went down and darkness took over. By this point we were on the Senator Highway, which we’d heard a lot about. It was flattish and smooth. Progress to the next aid station was steady, it was so nice to have had the long break from climbing after the traumatic second section. The aid station didn’t have much to eat, but everyone was having ramen so I joined the party and had a cup too.
Battle Flat to Kamp Kipa
After a brief refresh at the roadside Battle Flat AS, I left with Todd Scott.
I saw a runner off the side of the road having a sleep. I was happy to see that runner embrace the trail map, but it was too early for me to be thinking about sleep.
After about 2 miles we turned off the Senator Highway for single track.
I was pushing to go a little faster, so Todd bid me a see ya later and I took off. I passed Sean Nakamura again as well as another runner and this section began in earnest.
At the Battle Flat AS we talked about the climbing of this next section. There was indeed much climbing, some of it very steep.
Since it was dark I found this section very confusing. I saw lights high in the distance, were they runners? Were they close? We ran along fence lines, and it was windy so assumed we were exposed, but I felt fairly sensory-deprived. I saw runners ahead and to the right, but it seemed my trail went to the left. I was so confused but I stayed on trail.
We passed through many gates, and all the while we climbed. Some descents, some reprieves, but then another climb.
We left single track and returned to dirt road. Surely we were approaching the camp for the next aid station. But it took forever to get there and I kept consulting my Gaia GPS app to confirm I hadn’t missed something.
Temperatures were pleasant the whole time. It was windy, but I was comfortable in my outfit of headband, t-shirt, arm sleeves, and shorts.
Kamp Kipa to Camp Wamatochick
Several runners were already around the fire at Kamp Kipa, including Kerry Ward who passed me a few miles back, but I don’t remember who else was there. I started with a break on a bucket toilet situated behind some RV trailers. It was on a slight slope and as I sat on the seat I was terrified I would fall backwards. Food options were again limited, so I asked for Ramen, but the broth was just lukewarm and the noodles were crunchy. I didn’t finish it.
Soon it was time to go and Jeff Rifkin, who ran the first section with me, left right behind me.
This section started on gravel roads leaving the camp and through mountain neighborhoods, then proceeded mostly on the Senator Highway. Course marking was sparse through here and I kept my phone out for a long time to verify the turns.
I ran for a bit with Jodi Semonell. Jodi’s friend Scott had told me earlier about her stumble at mile 5 that gave her a large cut on her leg, so she updated me on how it was doing. Every Aid Station she had the medics check her bandages, it was so inspirational to see a runner push through a challenge like that.
I was alone again by the time the course left the Senator Highway. There we joined a really nice flowy and winding single track trail that brought us into Camp Wamatochick.
At Camp Wamatochick I was reunited with crew for the first time since Crown King. It was cooling down a little more, so I bundled up in blankets as I sat with crew and we prepared for the next 9 mile section.
Camp Wamatochick to Whiskey Row
Out of Camp Wamatochick we left on dirt single track then quickly weaved through some mountain neighborhood roads where I joined Van Patterson from Phoenix. We left the neighborhood onto a dirt road that descended a while. I found this section of movement difficult. I could only run for short bursts, even on down hill. There was a lot of walking. I was a little tired.
The sky was getting lighter. I love seeing the sun rise during these long runs, it gives a boost to both the mind and the body.
Eventually the course joined some gorgeous winding single track. It was just as the sun was spilling through the trees so it was extra beautiful. The trails eventually dumped us into civilization and the course wound through neighborhoods on paved streets. The little bits of Prescott we ran through were cute, a happy welcome as the course downhilled it’s way toward Whiskey Row.
The area around the AS was relatively quiet as I arrived. Following race instruction I crossed at crosswalks and waited for walk signals, then I ran up to the AS. I saw just ahead that Jamil and his pacer Kevin were just leaving.
I checked into the AS. What’s to eat? Surely some breakfast burritos or something substantial? No. I sensed a troubling trend that the AS food was not what we runners were expecting.
I crossed the street to where my crew was set up and recovered for a bit. I spent a bit of time chilling out, it was nice to take the break.
Whiskey Row to Iron King
I finally left at 8:35 am and I was surprised by how much it had warmed up. We were going to do a half marathon through Prescott and Prescott Valley, passing Watson Lake and crossing through the Granite Dells.
I caught up to Jeff Rifkin and we walked for a bit. He was planning to walk a lot today because of the heat. I was already thinking it was warmer than I expected. I ran ahead, but soon I was lost in the easy in-town running and stopped paying attention to course markers and I missed a turn.
Back on course I caught up to Bill Dittman, who was also walking to conserve in the heat. I knew he was smart to do this, but I wanted to move a little faster, so I jogged on. I caught up with Scott and Jodi who were also running, and then we went together a couple miles toward the lake.
Bill caught up and then passed us, and soon I joined another runner from Washington. Justin Lange from Spokane and I picked our way though the granite rocks. It was slow going in this section, but it was fun and a visual feast. A beautiful place to explore.
Eventually I left the park and joined Bill for a death march along an old rail-bed-now-trail to bring us to the Iron King AS. It was exposed, and so hot, and I had run out of water. My crew had promised McDonalds for me at the AS, I couldn’t wait to get there and drink all the things.
Iron King to Fain Ranch
I left Iron King alone on a trail that seemed to disappear into nothing. The trail went across a flat field, and if it weren’t for the flags I couldn’t see where it was taking me. Eventually it took me to a gate, and the course left the field for a sidewalk.
Then this section followed a road to the edge of town, where tow yards and FedEx Freight buildings hide out. This was one of the more soulless parts of the course.
Then through a gate onto the Fain Ranch property. Flat and windy and dry, we trudged across ranch lands for a long long time.
There was a runner ahead of me, and I finally caught up with him when the course crossed under a highway. It was Justin Lange from Spokane!
Justin and I discussed where we were supposed to go. I showed him on the course map we should go through the culvert in front of us to get under the highway, but Justin saw footprints going towards an underpass to the north, so he went to try it.
As the course crossed the range, we hit the 100 mile point of the course, marked by a sign.
This part of the course wasn’t interesting, no disputing that, but how else do we get to Mingus Mtn from Prescott? It didn’t bother me, I just kept moving.
Fain Ranch to Mingus Mountain Camp
After leaving Fain Ranch we had a little more ranch land to traverse, but before long we were starting to climb a gentle slope and after crossing a gate the course moved to a gravel road.
Next I turned off the road onto a trail that began the actual climb up to Mingus Mountain.
Apparently this trail is used as a part of the annual man vs horse race, and while I was moving strong, the slowest equine challenger would have surely bested me.
The climb became more and more beautiful the higher the trail went. And the higher it went the steeper it got.
This climb might have been a thing of concern if I hadn’t been brutalized by the day 1 climbs in section 2 and the night 1 climbs in section 4. But I was used to big climbs now, and this was less difficult and more beautiful than those previous efforts.
I hit the top of the Mingus Mountain climb just as the sun was beginning to set. The beautiful golden hour sunlight streamed across the hill tops and into the trees. It was absolutely lovely.
But after the trail ended, I wasn’t to the AS yet. I still had a long hike on forest roads to finally reach the aid station.
Crew parking was quite a walk from the AS, so first I checked in with the volunteers and then I walked down to the parking area. Leah had brought pizza, so I ate, she worked on a niggling pain on my right leg, then I had a 15 minute nap.
Mingus Mountain Camp to Jerome Historic State Park
At 9:30pm I started to hike out of the AS. At the same moment I ran into Scott Ramey and Pam Reed, so we three left together. Gabe Peterson joined our group and began the descent.
“This is not a trail” was said multiple times by members of our group as we descended. The trail was super steep and incredibly rocky with footing not always sure. Frankly it sucked.
Eventually the course merged into what appeared to be a road, or what used to be a road. Our group of four split up as Scott announced he wanted to leg it to Jerome. I joined him. The elevation profile showed a slight decline for about 4 miles. But in reality the road seemed to gently climb. Where are we going?
This road was so confusing, because it seems to be going up not down, we could see the towns of Jerome, Clarkdale, and Cottonwood, come into view then leave, then come back again. It was like we were going around in circles, circles that didn’t seem to match the elevation profile.
The surface of the road was often painfully rocky. It was flooded in a few places, which seemed weird, but always it was rocky. I started to imagine taking off my shoes at the next AS to find my feet like ground beef. Our feet hurt so bad and we weren’t having fun.
Eventually the road began a descent, which was hope-giving, and after the longest rockiest segment, we started to see multiple race signs admonishing us to be quiet with “SHHHHH!”
Unfortunately the point where we left the rocky road and entered the streets of Jerome was actually far below Jerome, which meant we immediately had to climb up another steep hill.
Scott and I turned off our headlamps to be respectful to the residents of the town, and we didn’t speak to each other. We even seemed to control our breathing to be extra quiet.
After a while a human form moved ahead of us in the darkness. In the hushest of tones the volunteer asked us to cross the street and walk up the hill on the sidewalk.
After more quiet climbing we reached another volunteer in the dark who in the same way instructed us to cross the street to the other side to continue on the sidewalk.
Finally we reached the center of the small town and a third volunteer showed us where to go to find the aid station. It was all so weird.
I had visited Jerome previous to the race and thought it a cool place, and I was excited to return. It is so interesting, and beautiful. But the rules were to be quiet and take no photos or videos. I don’t know why the town didn’t want us there, but I couldn’t wait to leave.
Jerome Historic State Park to Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Leah paced me out of Jerome, it was fun to have her join me for part of the course. As we approached the edge of town, the rest of my crew — my parents — slowed to wave us good luck. Dad forgot the rules, rolled down his window and cheerfully shouted “have a good time!”
“Shhhhhh!” I admonished, then Leah and I laughed — quietly of course.
As soon as the course left the edge of town we crossed a gate then the trail steepened. It was an old service road I guess, but mostly it was rocks and broken glass. So much broken glass.
The course meandered across various dirt and rock fields and ditches and eventually dumped us onto a road and we ran down through the neighborhoods of Clarkdale.
After a short road run, the course went back on trail and we eventually crossed the Verde River. It was a short crossing, getting our feet wet as promised. The trail took us into the State Park and we had some really nice single track winding to the aid station.
Dead Horse Ranch is a nice state park, and a great aid station. Real bathrooms, parking close to the AS, and it is beautiful.
When I arrived I asked about food. I was told they had just stopped making tacos to do oatmeal instead. But maybe they could still make me a taco. Yes please, a taco! Thank you! Ain’t nobody wants oatmeal. I was deeply grateful for this taco and I inhaled it.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park to Deer Pass Trailhead
I had to deal with a blister and I seemed to be a the aid station for a long time, so by the time I left, I felt like I was behind all the familiar faces I’d been running with.
The sun was up and the temps were rising. My breathing struggled with lung mucus so as I out of the park I conducted a beautiful cacauphony of hacking and coughing and spitting as I pushed myself to run.
Soon after leaving the state park we joined the Lime Kiln Trail and the landscape was immediately different than what I’d seen the previous 135 miles. The ground was white, and red, like the baby of the moon and Mars. The vegetation was completely different than we’d been seeing in then other side of Mingus Mountain. I marveled at the variety of scenery this course handed us.
I pushed to run to try to catch up to other runners. Because it was warming up, I was worried to not overdo it, so kept an eye on my heart rate and kept it low as I ran a mild and comfortable pace.
Eventually I saw runners ahead and I caught up. It was Kerry Ward and his pacer Miles Jay. I had met Kerry at the start line, and we’d crossed paths on the trail a few times, but we hadn’t actually run together yet. I slid in with these guys and we chattered while we ran and it was delightful.
The trail was winding desert single track. There were slight elevation gains and losses, a nice rolling trail that joined and left double tracks and roads, but all of it mostly exposed.
Soon we could see the red rock walls of Sedona in the distance. I was thrilled we’d be able to see it in the day light.
The three of us caught up to Bill Dittman and then us merry four ran together along the desert trails to the Deer Pass TH AS.
Deer Pass Trailhead to Sedona
This section is 16 miles, and on this day it was hot. I started to think about how I was going to need to carry more water. I got a reprieve, though, because the AS volunteers told us there was a water and ice drop six miles into the section, at the edge of town next to the high school. Perfect! I can easily get there then refill.
The trails out of Deer Pass were rolling double track and dirt road. Lots of climbing and descending but none of it big. The trail turned single track, we crossed a highway and then there was more climbing.
Despite the heat and the climbing, I was having the time of my life. The views of Sedona were starting to peek, and I felt like I was in heaven. I was running and feeling great. I kept thinking how I was at 150 miles, but I had never felt this good.
The single track descended and we found ourselves at the water and ice drop. Kerry and Miles were ahead and I arrived at the drop just behind Bill. David Byrnes was also at the water drop, plus two other runners I didn’t know. I refilled my bottles and chomped on ice. It was wonderful!
The trail crossed a road and a local offered me a popscicle. I was giddy.
These trails were magic. Wonderfully runnable grades that went out to picturesque turns that delighted us with views of Sedonic rock formations. I was having a blast. I passed Jodi and shared with her my glee.
The single track descended into town and we ran behind condos and apartments. Then the climbing started for the loop around the airport. This single track trail works its way up and then circles the airport giving us constant views of rocks and cliffs.
On the climb up the airport loop I caught up to Kerry and Miles and eventually Bill Dittman was with us too. Us four went around the airport and then descended into Sedona for the last little stretch to the in-town aid station.
We used the back door into Sedona, clearly the town didn’t want us bothering the tourists. Our route took us off the trails from the airport loop onto a road for a short bit, but then shifted us to a small trail that went to a culvert and various weird trails in the trees alongside a dry drainage that felt more like a meth market than a running trail. To be clear: I saw no drugs or users, but I nervously expected them as I rounded each bend. Where on earth is the church with the aid station?
I was feeling great and had run much of the last weird trail system. I was anxious to see my crew. I ran up the short sidewalk incline and arrived at St James Vianney.
Sedona to Huntley Tank
After eating and resetting at the aid station, it was past time to get moving. I had arrived at this aid station on a bubbling bouncing high, but I was leaving with anxiety. The runners I wanted to be with were ahead of me, how far I didn’t know. As I ran on the trail I had breathing problems like I’d had leaving Dead Horse Ranch. I was hacking up mucus like crazy and I tried to get my breathing back into rhythm.
Surprisingly I caught up to Kerry Ward and his pacer Miles after just a mile or two, and I was happy to be in their company again. This part of the course was really pretty as we were just up against the rock cliffs of Sedona. To make it more visually arresting, the sun was going down too. Even though the sun was going down the temperatures remained high as the red rocks radiated heat out to us.
It got dark and soon we found ourselves getting tired as we wound around the warm rocks. Kerry and I laid down for a ten minute snooze, but I don’t think we actually slept. This section of the course was twisty with lots of little ups and downs. We ended on the rocks on a sketchy section that looked like we were on a cliff. The steps on the trail where very tall for my short legs, but then the course worked its way downhill away from the red rock cliffs.
This section of the course was relatively easy moving, but in the dark Kerry and I weren’t feeling it. Our spirits waned as we grew more and more tired. We stopped a couple times to eat, but we were excited to get to the aid station to reset.
Huntley Tank to Black Tank
We were excited to get to Black Tank, because our crews were waiting there. Unfortunately Miles’ pacing duty ended at Black Tank, which was a bummer. He was Kerry’s pacer but I enjoyed his company very much. The course in this section was along dirt and rock desert roads, sometimes surprisingly rough roads.
We paused a couple times for Kerry to have a 5 minute nap. Even though I was tired I wasn’t wanting to sleep there. I decided to wait to sleep at the next aid station. While Kerry had a trail nap, Miles and I turned off our headlamps and marveled at stars. Out here in the desert the stars really come out.
It felt like it took forever, but we finally arrived at Black Tank aid station. I laid down in the crew vehicle for two hours. The sky was bright when I woke up, which was simultaneously encouraging, but also disorienting. It took a few moments for me to understand where I was, what I was doing, where I was going.
A medic looked at my feet. They were generally ok though I had a small blister on a small toe so it applied some thing to it. I wasn’t quite a awake during that interaction.
I heard that Kerry was awake and getting ready to go, so I got moving to be sure I could leave with him.
Black Tank to Turkey Butte
The sun being up meant we could now see what was around Black Tank. Wow it was beautiful! There was green vegetation and flowers, and the nearby hills had some greenery too. The problem with night running is you miss these views. I was so happy to be continuing in the day light so we could appreciate what was around us.
Pam Reed left Black Tank at the same time and the three of us chatted as we moved away from the aid station. The conversations amongst runners were often the same, and if we were just leaving an aid station we were probably complaining about the food. Bean rollups and ramen just don’t pack the caloric wallop we need when running 200+ miles.
The course was on a road away from Black Tank, and moved towards the edge of a plateau. We could see plainly where we were heading: the road would soon switchback beneath power lines and climb up onto the plateau. It looked like a big climb.
Kerry and I powered up the climb, talking some but not too much. It was about 8am, and the temperature was already rising. When we got to the top of the climb we stopped for a moment to savor the views and eat something, then we started running along the road.
From here to the next aid station was all gravel road. It followed a ridge line and at one point had incredible views on both sides. To the right we were looking at the back side of the rocks and formations of Sedona, and to the left the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. The views were arresting.
Even though the top of the plateau was forested, the road we traveled was still largely exposed. The road climbed and fell but the individual ascents and descents weren’t too bad. A bunch of runners seemed to be in this area together: Kerry Ward and me, Scott Ramey, David Riedeman, Thor Johansen, and Shelby Farrell with her pacer husband.
We were still a couple miles from the Turkey Butte aid station when we saw Thor again and he told us he had been out of water for a little while and Kerry shared some of his. This section was hot and exposed with a lot of constant and long rolling up and down, and we all would have done well to carry more water.
A little less than a mile from the aid station we found a cattle pond close to the road. Kerry, David Riedeman, and I stopped and refreshed a little with it. We didn’t drink or filter from it, but I splashed it on my neck and the back of my knees, and dipped my hat into it. Kerry soaked his shirt in the water and we walked away feeling a little cooled down.
The closer we got to the Turkey Butte aid station the more I felt a hot spot under my right forefoot. I stopped at the medical tent, drained the forming blister, and the medic taped me up. The volunteers at Turkey Butte were the best, so friendly and fun. I ate loads of watermelon and berries and brownies. They refilled all my chest bottles, even adding ice to them, I ate the bean rollups and lastly had my ice bandana filled with ice.
Turkey Butte to Cinder Pit
Kerry left a couple minutes before me from Turkey Butte and I told him I would catch up. I had a hard time finding my rhythm once back on the road. My right foot was now taped up to fight the blister on the bottom, but every step hurt. I soon learned that it felt better to run than to walk, so I ran a little bit and caught up with Kerry.
The forest road we followed had lots gentle ups and downs and was relatively easy-going. I got ahead of Kerry and I thought I heard his feet on the ground behind me, but it was actually the sound of the shifting and melting ice in my ice bandana. After a while of running lightly along the road I caught up to David Byrnes and when I turned to talk to Kerry I realized I’d inadvertently dropped him.
David and I chatted away together, power hiking and running when it felt right. Even when we were walking we made a good 16 min/mile pace.
Eventually the heat started to get to me and I could feel nausea heading my way. In hindsight I wished I’d carried more water capacity for these sections. I was getting dehydrated as we approached Cinder Pit.
At Cinder Pit the amazing medical staff checked my foot and re-taped the blisters.
I relaxed and ate with my crew, drank a bunch of water, and then I slept for 30 minutes. Our plan was to have me and Kerry leave Cinder Pit by 5pm.
Cinder Pit to Fort Tuthill
The course continued along the forest road, straight and nearly flat for a few miles. We caught up to Pam Reed and talked with her and her pacer Ernie for a while.
Near Rogers Lake the course turned off the road onto single track that climbed up and over a number of hills but the climbs and descents were pretty gentle and runnable. We hit the top of Woody Mountain as the sun was setting and it was so pretty.
These single track trails were fun to run, but as it got dark I had no sense of what was around us. I shone my headlamp around but it all I saw was darkness. Temperatures were cooler than the previous nights, and I wondered how cold it would actually get up here at the higher elevations of the course.
As we neared Fort Tuthill, my blistered foot was hurting more and more, but worse I was again feeling increasingly nauseous. Kerry and I talked about our options, which I knew had to include some sleep.
A realization appeared: both of our crews had hotels in Flagstaff. That meant we could stop for the night, leave the course from the aid station and get cleaned up, fed, and rested up before the final 35 mile push to the finish. The Cocodona race rules permit racers to leave their trackers at an aid station and leave the course, something I didn’t expect to avail myself of, but this felt smart.
In a Hampton Inn a sat in a tub soaking my sore feet, drinking quart after quart of delicious ice water to rehydrate, and enjoying a burger with fries. Leah cleaned up my feet, I elevated them on a stack of pillows and slept for almost three hours. The blisters looked a lot better after the bath and sleep, I felt much better after rehydrating and the nausea was gone.
By 2:45am we were back at Fort Tuthill and the medical team was taping me up for then last 35 mile push. I also had a bite to eat, a store-bought sandwich my crew gave me and also a small bowl of pasta and meatballs from the aid station. Nice to see something other than PB&J and bean rollups.
Kerry arrived and just after 3:30am we were back out on the course.
Fort Tuthill to Walnut Canyon
Out of Fort Tuthill the course crossed a mix of gravel and dirt urban trails that passed near neighborhoods. As the sun rose and illuminated our world we passed Van Patterson, joined the Arizona Trail and came to an end of Walnut Canyon. At this point we also caught up to Jodi Semonell and her pacer.
The trails in the Walnut Canyon National Monument were beautiful. The trail had a couple decent climbs but was mostly very runnable.
We caught Thor Johansen and David Byrnes as we approached the Walnut Canyon aid station. It was a nice downhill into the aid station and we used it to our advantage.
The energy at the aid station was electric. Crews were cheering, and runners were quickly making preparations for the next two sections, it felt like a race!
Walnut Canyon to Mt Elden
The run to Mt Elden was quite nice across mostly flattish trails that were completely runnable. The single track wound through the sparse trees in flowy bends clearly cut for cyclists.
We crossed through culverts beneath the freeway and then ran along the shoulder of the historic Route 66 before rejoining the AZT.
The whole approach to Mt Elden was nice trails, with the mountain getting closer and the looming knowledge that soon we’d face the tough climb to the highest point on the course.
We turned right onto the Mt Elden trail and a sign announced it was 2.6 miles to the top. We wouldn’t be going exactly to the top, but that was fine, we still had 9 miles after the next aid station anyway.
Poles out, we started the big climb. The trail up Mt Elden features large rocks that often serve as giant steps. My short legs felt a little disadvantaged trying to keep up with Kerry. We pushed a strong pace and passed Jordan Wirfs-Brock and her pacer. We passed hikers too, many of whom cheered us on because they knew what we were doing.
We approached the saddle near the summit where the course took the right fork to head to the aid station and my legs were fatigued. I worried I pressed too hard on this climb, would I have enough juice left in me to get down? I didn’t let myself worry, there was only one path forward and I would take it with everything I had.
Kerry wanted us to do a fast turn through the AS but I asked that we stop for a minute. I wanted fresh water in my bottles. This aid station was apparently offering ribs to eat! I don’t eat ribs, but I also don’t dislike them, so I asked to have one before we left. It was great!
Jordan and her pacer approached the aid station which meant we had to get out. On somewhat tired legs at 9000 feet above sea level we hit the trails.
Mt Elden to Finish
We started on a tiny climb on single track, then the course emptied us onto a gravel road that would descend the mountain.
I took it gingerly and Kerry was patient. Then David Byrnes flew by us. David was clearly having the time of his life, I wish I’d grabbed a photo. “I like how he’s not fighting the hill,” Kerry said.
I offered Kerry should follow after David, but my partner of the last few days said he’d stick with me. What a gift! So I did my best to return the favor and channel my inner downhill-running-David Byrnes. Let the hill take me down, don’t brake with my legs, be effortless, don’t destroy my quads. With these goals in mind the pace increased while the effort remained low.
We caught up to and passed another runner, Nate Smith, and then the course turned off the dirt road back into single track.
We rolled along up and down through the forest on this nice single track heading toward Buffalo Park. We kept an eye over our shoulders to make sure no runners were going to overtake us. We were putting a buffer between us and Nate and whoever might be behind him.
In Buffalo Park we saw a runner beginning a workout in the opposite direction so coming right at us. His face was familiar, in fact I had seen him hanging out at Fort Tuthill the night before. It was Jim Walmsey! “Hi Jim,” I said as I passed, he having no idea who I am.
The course descended out of the park on a wide gravel trail, and our pace quickened. No one was behind us still, and we were getting close to one mile to go to the finish.
Upon leaving Buffalo Park the course put us in sidewalks, indeed the remainder of the course would be on roads. There was a gentle uphill to a light where we would turn left and have our final all-downhill last mile. I jogged up this hill and Kerry talked me down, “let’s walk up hill, there’s nobody coming behind us.”
And then, after four and a half days of running, there was only one mile to go.
My legs felt amazing, my feet felt good. It is incredible how a body that has run 254 miles can feel fresh and capable of continuing. We ran down the hill, with an easy quickness.
We stopped for a red light with 0.7 miles to go. I was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk “like a caged lion” Kerry said. It was true, I was ready to go.
The light turned for us to cross and I sprinted ahead. My friend Floris met us at that stoplight to take some photos and video of the finish, and his presence must have given me extra cause to show off. We were flying at a crazy pace, and I couldn’t sustain it. We weren’t racing to the finish, so this speed was unnecessary, but it felt good and was fun. We dialed it back a little and found ourselves at a left turn two blocks from the finish.
We had discussed how we would finish. Kerry had been I the last starting wave, 30 minutes behind me, so even if I crossed the line before him, he was was already 30 minutes ahead of me in the race. That, and out of respect for this man I’ve followed for years and now consider a good friend, I asked that he go across the finish line first.
On the corner we stopped and embraced. We hugged and thanked each other for the shared experience of the last few days, I think we both shed a tear of joy and love and mutual respect, then Kerry ran off to the finish.
I smiled and stood on the corner for a moment. No runners were immediately behind, I wasn’t in a hurry. Wow. What had we done! After all the struggle, all the climbing and challenges with water and food, after journeying across desert and mountain here I was about to bring it to an end.
I walked the last block with a smile. I was so pleased with this achievement.
I ran a little as I approached the alley entrance to Heritage Square, then I got to see the finish. Look at the crowd! There’s my partner and crew chef Leah. My mom and dad, so many cameras were trained on me crossing the line.
The announcer called my name as I came across, and the crowd’s cheering was a gift of love and wonder. I hugged and kissed Leah and she presented me my buckle. Wow. We had come so far and now it was over.
UltrApsire Epic XT
UltrAspire Zygos 4.0
PATH projects Graves PX shorts
Topo Athletic UltraVenture shoes
Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter
LEKI Carbon Vario Trail poles
Injinji Trail socks
PATH projects Badlands hat
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
PEARL iZUMi Sun Sleeves
Petzl MYO RXP headlamp
UltrAspire Lumen 800 Multisport Waist Light
This was a tough course, it took out a lot of strong runners, some of them early in the race. Finishing this so strong was a huge boost of confidence for me. Success early in the race meant carrying enough water, and that was indeed what was needed the whole time. I felt worst in sections 18 and 19 when I wasn’t drinking quite enough.
The race itself had problems with not enough water drops and too-limited aid station food options. These are inaugural issues I expect the race to address next time.
Cocodona 250 was a difficult journey from the Sonoran Desert to Flagstaff, incorporating many physically challenging climbs and mentally challenging traverses. Athletes who take and on survive this race should feel good about themselves no matter where they finish in the standings.
Thank you Jamil Coury and Steven Aderholt and the entire Aravaipa Running team for dreaming up and realizing this adventure. It was an honor to participate in the inaugural run of this event, I am happy beyond words I was able to be a part of this moment of ultra running history.