By Maggie Guterl
What makes someone want to run 250+ miles through the Arizona Desert? Adventure of course. There was a huge sense of adventure especially being the first group to run this course during the Inaugural Cocodona 250. Before even lining up to start I had this immense sense of gratitude for this opportunity. I intended to make the best of every mile and get to the finish line appreciating all of it, the highs and the lows. Even though all the time goals went out the window at some point during the four and a half days I was out there, I succeeded. This success was largely attributed to my crew and pacers. These long efforts are rarely ever a solo achievement.
A Guide to Surviving the Cocodona 250
Rather than make this a personal narrative, since this is the first year anyone has run this course I figured a guide on how I got to the finish would be a useful jumping off point for future “Cocodoners”?? Based on the community-submitted questions on Instagram, you wanted to know: what did I eat, how much did I sleep, and what gear did I bring? I will answer all these important queries and more.
Before I start though, I wanted to acknowledge my crew and team of pacers that helped get me to the finish. Can you do it without pacers and crew? Yes. Aravaipa has great aid stations and volunteers but it is way more fun to tackle with friends.
My main crew was two of our Tailwind Trailblazers; Amy Margolis and David Wilson. They live part time in their van, which they brought along to crew me for the whole course… that felt like such a luxury, especially when I got to nap in it! Kyle Curtin, one of our Tailwind athletes as well, filled in on crew duty AND pacing! The rest of the pacer team was; Nicole and Zach Bitter, Tailwind athlete Courtney and her husband Kevin (do they need last names?) and Brian Tinder!
Nutrition and Hydration
Ask any ultramarathoner and they will tell you this is the most important part of ultrarunning, especially when you go farther and farther. I had my nutrition pretty dialed I would say. Because of the extreme heat my plan was to rely on mainly Tailwind during the first day and then incorporate real food as the temps declined. However, every day felt hotter than the last so I stuck to mostly Endurance Fuel and topped off at crew stops with Recovery Mix.
The second section of the course (Cottonwood Creek to Lane Mountain), we were warned, was long (about 22 miles), hot, exposed, and steep. It had about 8,000 feet of climbing until we reached the aid station. And this is only the first 50k. We were advised to take 3L of fluids with us, which I did. I am guessing it took about seven hours to complete that section, and I was without fluids for the final two and half hours. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 32 I was very thirsty and depleted. I chugged a ton of water and then more when I got to Crown King. Taking extra electrolytes is not something I worry about when I am drinking just Endurance Fuel, but since I chugged about two-ish liters of water between Lane Mountain and Crown King, I really threw my electrolytes off. Later in the day, I was nauseous and dry heaving.
So the takeaway: don’t run out of fluids, and if you are going to deviate from a complete fuel like Endurance Fuel, you better pay attention to your electrolyte intake. I like Endurance Fuel for the “no-brainer” aspect and so after I got my electrolytes back under control I just went back to using mainly Endurance Fuel. I did run out of fluids almost every daytime section so my advice to you is always take more fluids than you think you will need. Especially if it’s hot!
As for solid food, I didn’t have much of an appetite until closer to Flagstaff but my go-tos ended up being mashed potatoes (of course) and an occasional Cream of Wheat. One in a while I would try a noodle soup cup. Everything tasted pretty bland but it was important to try and eat what I could when I did see my crew. I remember a hot Chocolate Recovery Mix hitting the spot after a particularly cold spot coming into Camp Wamatochick.
Main Nutrition Tips:
- Bring enough fluids
- Keep your calories, electrolytes and water balanced
- Fuel consistently
It was surprising to me to see so few people utilize the good ol’ cotton T-shirt trick made famous by Pam Smith during her 2013 victory at Western States. I grabbed a 100% white cotton T I had gotten when Courtney attempted the CT last year. It fittingly featured a bearded Courtney and said “Run Courtney Run'' (Forrest Gump reference, obviously). If you can keep the shirt wet, it will stay wet longer than tech material and keep your core temp muc cooler. I never felt super overheated on day one, just really thirsty from having no fluids for so long. I opted to keep the sleeves on the shirt to help with sun exposure. I filled an ice bandana from the get go at the first aid station even though the temps were still mild. The ice slowly melted and kept my shirt wet.
I left Crown King unprepared to ascend up to 7,400 feet after dark at Kamp Kipa. The trail section from Battle Flat to Kamp Kipa is some of the slowest, loosest, rockiest trails I have ever run, albeit beautiful (hit the end of it at sunset). I was still wearing the damp cotton T-shirt and by the time I arrived at Kamp Kipa it was night I felt pretty close to hypothermic. Andy Pearson saved my butt by giving me his extra long sleeve (he also had a jacket because he’s smart like that). I may still be at that aid station if it wasn’t for Andy.
So, another takeaway: don’t leave the aid station thinking you will be back to see your crew before it gets too cold. Not in this race. Things can take way longer than you think and the extreme heat of the day makes it that much harder to stay warm once temps drop.
What to Wear:
- Cotton shirt
- Ice bandana and fill it whenever possible
- An extra layer for when the temps drop. Even if you are slowly dying at the moment from heat exhaustion. In fact, especially if you are dying a slow death from heat!
Having the right gear sure does help. Some of it is more important than others. I have grown to love my trekking poles. I use the Leki brand. They are super light and really strong. They help save your legs for the long term so in a race like this even where the grades aren't always super steep I prefer to rely on them to help get me to the finish. I have gotten used to using them over many winters of training for Barkley. I would suggest training with them if you plan to use them in the race.
One piece of gear you can’t survive without is a pack. I used the Salomon ADV Skin 12. It’s a great pack for when you don’t have aid for long periods of time. I used the same pack the whole race. I opted to carry all my water using 500ml flasks. So my combo of 3L of water was 6 of those flasks. I just like being able to disperse the weight. A bladder might be a good option for that long hot section in the beginning, but the flasks worked well. I was able to customize the water capacity on the fly.
Foot care is so imperative. I think the feet are probably the one body part that will consistently give most everyone issues at some point in a race this long. I kept my feet lubed heavily with Trail Toes and I used Drymax hiking socks as my go to sock. I changed my socks and shoes more often than I was planning since it was taking me much longer to get from crew spot to crew spot. I left my socks off when I napped once at Jerome to just let my feet air out and cool down. I think that little break for my feet helped immensely.
For shoes, I wore the Altra Lone Peaks to start. Shoe brand is totally a personal preference, but I ended up switching to the Altra Olympus which is a much more cushioned shoe. The rocks were really beating up my feet and they were much happier with the switch. I would recommend a higher cushion shoe for this but that’s just me.
To keep myself awake at night a bright headlamp is a must. My pacers all wore the Kogalla waistlights. They are so bright they basically make your headlamp obsolete. If I could keep my eyes flooded with the bright lights I was able to keep my eyeballs from rolling around in my head.
Lastly, for sun; sunscreen, hat and sunglasses were imperative. I have several amazing styles of Goodr sunglasses. You don’t need super expensive fancy sunglasses. I had a hat at all times. I usually prefer the backwards hat but actually felt cooler when the sun was off my face so I kept it brim forward from day two on. My crew never let me leave without making sure I had a coating of sunscreen. I used the spray kind because I just feel like it's a quicker application. 30 SPF proved strong enough for me.
- Leki Poles
- Salomon Pack
- At least six x 500ml soft flasks
- Trail Toes lube
- Drymax hiking socks
- Altra Olympus
- Kogalla waist light
- Sunscreen, Hat, Goodrs
This is the big question. When to sleep? One I didn’t know the answer to. What did I learn? That your sleep needs will probably be different every time. I had no plan for sleep going into this other than when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more I would just take a short nap. Maybe I would try to lay down once for 20-30 minutes by the third night. Well, I was exhausted late on night one. I took several two minutes naps and those worked just fine. But by the second evening before sunset I was totally exhausted. I lay down for a recharge after enduring a second day of extreme heat and climbing. I crawled into the van for a 20 minute nap which Amy suggested I add on 10 minutes after and I didn’t argue. I emerged from the van just as the last bit of light was diminishing. I was groggy still but I ate a bit of soup and mashed potatoes and headed out into the night with my pacer Zach Bitter. I ran two sections (about 19 miles total) feeling refreshed and strong. After picking up Kyle Curtin at Deer Pass to head to Sedona I think I took a few more two minute naps which actually worked quite well.
I would eventually take a very unplanned nap just after sunset heading into the third night at Turkey Butte. It was like I hit a wall of exhaustion and delirium. That helped propel me to Cinder Pit well into the third night of running. This was uncharted territory for me and it was by far the roughest night. With my new pacer Brian Tinder in tow, I would lay down for multiple two minute naps none of which did any good. Finally Brian suggests I just take a 20 minute nap right there on the trail. So I did. That was what got me through until day. Brian sat in the dark listening to the coyotes while I comfortably slept on the side of the trail nestled among the pine cones.
I did take a few more two minute naps during the day before I got to Walnut Canyon. I tried consuming whatever caffeinated nutrition I had but once we got within about 21 miles of the finish, we went all out on caffeine. My crew loaded me up with Colorado Cola Endurance Fuel. I had a coffee and Kyle Curtin gave me half a Redbull.
In all I would estimate I had about 90 minutes of actual sleep. A 30 minute nap, two 20 minute naps and several two to four minutes naps. That was more sleep than I thought I would need but I think each time I got a longer nap it paid off dividends in my overall forward progress.
This being said, I am not sure I have the best sleep plan. Some runners opted for 60-90 minutes and probably had to sleep fewer times than I did.
My personal sleep advice:
- If short naps stop working take a longer one
- Keep a fluid sleep plan. Conditions will warrant different amounts of sleep.
- Short naps can help supplement the long ones.
It will get hard. You will doubt yourself. But relish every minute of it good and bad because it’s a gift to be able traverse the state through such beautiful scenery on your own two feet. When you are done you get to run through an awesome finish line awaited by your friends and family. You get a rad bronze belt buckle and bragging rights for the rest of your life. So just focus on putting one step in front of the other and don’t worry about how slow or fast that is. Just keep moving forward and enjoy the journey.