Cocodona 250. Finding Hope in the Arizona Desert.

The Cocodona 250. The Big Show. When Ashlee had treated me to an entry for this 2nd year race, I was floored. I had always dreamed of running a 200 and after watching Cocodona 250 on the live stream last year, I knew I had to do it.

The field assembled this year was by far the most competitive field ever at a North American 200 miler. I was in many ways the rookie, coming into a sea of experienced runners with FKTs, long multi-days and 200’s. My training in the build-up to Cocodona was my best ever. I felt more prepared than ever with working with Anthony and Lindsey of Staxtrax. They had my nutrition dialed for race day as well as a strength training regimen that had me resilient and solid.

With the recent fires, the course was changed in the first 60+ miles as well as adding an interesting out and back section at Munds Park. With less gain at 27k ascent and equal descent, it was going to be a faster race this year that might play into my strengths.

The Revised 2022 Cocodona 250 course.

Cocodona is a really cool race. With Aravaipa putting on extensive live coverage, it was a huge draw to run the race so people at home could actually follow my journey in real-time. It gave me a lot of comfort knowing that everyone could follow along. As the only 200 miler to have such extensive runner tracking and live coverage spanning 100 hours, its unlike anything else out there.

Maggie Guterl gave me intel on the course saying it was “really rocky” but I did not seem phased by rocks. I mean, New England and the East Coast has plenty of rocks. I felt prepared. But little did I know that the rocks would be my downfall.

I flew out to Phoenix while my wife and crew mastermind, Ashlee had driven our Kia Telluride out from Rhode Island the week prior. I cannot stress how much I love her and how selfless she is. Without her, I would not be able to do what I do. We were able to meet up together and visit with a friend: Mackenzie from Endicott, NY who lives in Tucson now and we got settled for the adventure that lay ahead. It was very hot in Phoenix but I was excited to run through the deserts and this new terrain I just would never get to do back out East.

I received my big #10 at the race check-in and then it was off to Prescott for the start of the race. My Dad would be joining us for the journey as a part of the “Lobster & Mobster Crew” (That was the cool t-shirts we wore for the race”.

I love how they place your state in the corner!

We head to Prescott about an hour and a half away and it was so cool getting up to 5,300 feet above sea level. I could feel a little of the change in pressure. We stopped at Whiskey Row, where I would be running through at mile 60 of the race. We went to some of the local saloons and shops. We saw a bunch of the Cowboy hats, ate some delicious BBQ and also took a shot of Whiskey because I did not think I would have the stomach come race time.

Hanging out in Prescott with my one and only–Ashlee
Up through Skull Valley past mile 48

We got settled into our hotel and prepped for race morning. The race would start at 10am at the local Keubler Park north of town. We would then doing a 60 mile loop around Prescott before hitting Whiskey Row and continuing on our journey.

Race Morning: Came and I was ready to go. I felt prepared and settled to give it my best effort. It was going to be warm but not unbearable with temps near 80 degrees. I had all of my T8 apparel which is light, breathable and chafe-free so I had no worries there. I would be covering up wearing sun sleeves and sun gloves during the day to make sure my arms and hands would not burn in the sun.

It was cool hanging out with all of the runners and the start atmosphere felt like a Ragnar Trail Event. The vibe was really chill and fun. We then approached the start line after 2 hours waiting to make sure everyone had their spot trackers. I settled in the line of runners and then off we went. It was so cool to get started and I just followed the flow of the runners. I soon worked my way up to a pack of runners with Chad Trumbo( who I raced with at Cayuga Trails), last year’s winner Michael Versteeg, Eric Senseman, Dominic Grossman and a bunch of others like Mike McKnight. We had a nice crew going. It was already getting warm but I felt good. I noticed the pace was HOTTT. 9 minute and 10 minute mile averages. I was thinking dang if we keep this up, we will finish this thing in 36 hours. But the excitement and flow of runners kept me locked into this pace.

I go through the first few aid stations and get my bottles topped-off and get cooled down. I see my Dad at the next one and I eat a hummus sandwich and take my Spartan Hydrate Tab. Off I go after a few minutes to Skull Valley. I run with Mike Mcknight for some time here and Jose Sosa. We hit some tough climbs and finally the altitude is affecting me. I have to tone down the pace. I get to the top and then Sarah O passes me. I decided to match her pace and I hit the downhill on a nice dirt road hard. We are running low 8 minute pace.

After a ferocious pace for Day 1, I needed to Re-group.

We roll together for a long while as we head to the mile 48 turnaround at Skull Valley. At one of the aids, my stomach is upset from the pace, altitude and sun exposure. I try to eat some pickles and I puke them up.

Once at the Skull Valley Turnaround, I took 5 minutes to refuel drinking my first Ucan Protein shake. It felt nice and settled and soon learned I needed to make a switch to Liquid calories exclusively.

I struggled on the long climb out of Skull Valley. Lots of Hiking here. At the top into the next aid, I connected with Sarah O again and we ran together. As the sun was going down, we had one more climb up to 6,700 feet. I really struggled on this climb. But eventually I was able to catch back up and I ran with Sarah all throughout this section. I thought I was was lost as I was only 3 miles from Whiskey Row. I stopped a bunch to check my bearings, knowing I struggled the last 14 miles with keeping any gels down except for my Ucan Edge Gels. We descended down the mountain into some neighborhoods and I saw my first Javelinas just chilling in the neighborhood.

I was dry-heaving coming into Whiskey Row. Sarah went ahead. Once I made it to the aid, it was 10pm–a similar split to a Hellgate time. We spent a good hour getting my body reset. I was rolled out, ate broth, tried to get the calories in. I had a protein shake and soon realized with this was going to be my main hope. If I could stomach anything, it would be my Ucan protein shake that had 1000 calories and all the essential fats, oils, proteins, carbs I needed. After getting tuned-up, off I went into the night. As I made my way to the Granite Dells, I was able to pick up my pace and soon, I was connected with a bunch of runners. I eventually connected back with Sarah O and we ran together. I now had my trekking poles and would be using them the rest of the way. The poles really helped through the Granite Dells with all the rocks. I soon came into the next few aid stations working with Sarah and her pacer. I napped at the Fein Ranch and then headed out to Mingus Mountain as the sun was just coming up. This section was confusing and technical because of all of the cactus needles which Sarah had her foot poked at in the night section through the ranch land.

I ran and walked a lot of this, getting my mind right for the Mingus climb. I ran in my Norda trail shoes during the day and did a sock and shoe change to the Kailas Fuga 3 Pro for the Overnight. My plan was Norda 001 in the day and a pair of Kailas shoes at night. My hope was I tried to mix things up with my feet to get a different feel and stimulus going as sometimes a gear change revitalizes your system. Soon Mike McKnight and Pacer: Ben Light caught up to me which I had no idea they were behind me and we worked together to navigate this difficult stretch. The Flags disappeared and soon we were using our phones to meander through the grassland. It was kind of comical. Mike was dealing with stomach issues which I had fought in Day 1 to now have an iron stomach. My stomach would not bother me the remainder of the 250 miles. It was cool to connect with these two and learn more about them. Once we got through the ranch, it was a dirt road that I ran while Mike tried to stop to eat a Keto Brick.

I then hit the trail and the climb up Mingus solo. This climb was long and tough. Lots of rocks but the early morning sun was not making it hot for us. Once at the top of the climb, I could feel the pressure of the altitude some as we were up near 8k. Nice smooth Dirt roads the remainder of the uphill climb to the aid station at Mingus Camp.

Once there, I hung out at the main aid station, eating watermelon slushies made by Jubilee, an Aravaipa Race Director legend of Javelina and others, talked with Shelby who won the Speed Project for Ladies and was a Cocodona finisher last year. It was a fun time seeing everyone. Mike McKnight came in maybe 15-20 minutes after me. I went to the car and refueled some more. Then headed out to Jerome.

TO JEROME–Where the trail starts to bite: Now 100 miles in, this was when things started to take a turn for the worst. My feet tender but not battered, I then hit the most difficult descent of this race down Mingus. The trail was exposed, littered with large rocks the size of my chest where one bad step to the left, would be a plummet some 2,000 feet down. This section was the only “real” scary section for me. I took my time here going maybe 20 minute pace down. After a quick pee break, Mike and Ben Light came down to me. I then decided to latch-on with them. We hung out some more for many more miles until the dryness of the morning started to get to me. Mike and Ben would push the downhills, and I would run the uphills to catch up. We would leap-frog doing this pattern until finally after passing a few runners, Mike pushed hard on one downhill that I just could not match. It was here from the rocks and the descent that my feet started developing some severe hot spots. I also banged my big toes a couple times and I could feel something bad developing.

Once finally down onto the dirt roads, it was only 3 ish miles to the Jerome State Historic Park. Let me tell you about Jerome. What a funky town. Nestled up on the hill-side of Mingus, it was a true cowboy town. I even had some locals in town ask me where I was running from. They gasped when they heard I was 110+ miles into a 250 mile foot race across Arizona.

I hit the aid around 1pm or so and it was getting toasty. It was great to see Ashlee and my Dad. It was here we wiped down my feet but did not do a sock change. The next 20 miles would be a nice long descent to Cottonwood and would be the low elevation with runnable portions. My feet had a blister or two but they were small. Nothing to worry about-so it seemed. My Big toes looked a little swollen from banging them around but I was still moving well.

Heading to the Jerome Aid Station

After a short re-stock, I was off. I was chasing Josh Locke and his pacer through the roads, some neighborhood sections and then the worst descent ever. I hit this exposed rocky section filled with beer bottles, broken glass, and shale-like dagger rocks. It was so hostile through here, my feet just got decimated. Every step was painful. The rocks smashing my feet, my heels, you name it. I described this section as a drunken sailor trying to tip-toe around a parlor in a hurricane. Yeah, it just doesn’t work. I smashed my feet hard through this section knew my feet were in bad shape but I was still too far from the aid station.

By the time I made it to the bottom, I tried to pick up the pace. It was toasty. The dirt road soon became town streets heading down to the Verde river crossing. It was a fun section where I used my phone to make sure I did not miss any turns. I had some encouragement out there as one woman was tracking me and told me it was only a few more miles to the creek. I made it to the creek and that water was sooo nice. I should had taken-off my shoes and socks here. I major mistake as the silt from the river, went right into my shoes. It was here that the left ball of my foot started to get a blister under the pad. I picked up my pace and passed Joshua Locke and put together some mid 8 minute miles to the aid station. I was now in the desert. Cactus everywhere, big mountains all around in the distance, and a sky as clear and blue as could be. It was now around 4pm or so. I did my pee sample for science and had my feet looked at. They looked BAD! Blisters under my toe nails had formed, blisters around my other toes, and blistering on the pad of my foot. There was not any medics at this aid so I had to keep pushing on. We changed my socks here and off I went to the Deer Pass Trail Aid near mile 130. This 13 mile section was where I struggled. My feet hurt bad. It was runnable in the white sandy silt of the canyon as we hung around 2-3,000ft sea level. It was an oven through here but I felt decent. Just doing my best to combat the dry conditions that Sap the moisture out of a East Coaster like myself. I averaged a lot of 10-13 minute miles here. Eventually with about 5 miles to go, the Third Place Male: Matt Smith Passed me. I just could not keep up with my feet now burning.

I finally made it to the aid station at Deer Pass Trail as the sun was going down. I was feeling pretty defeated at this point. 130 some miles in and my feet were hurting. I needed a nap (20 minutes) because the heat and dryness drained me in that last section. We took maybe 40+ minutes here before setting out towards Sedona. At the aid, it took me another 15 minutes to find the course as the aid station volunteers helped me navigate as it was “pitch black” out there. With no pacer and the light of my headlamp, I set out to Sedona.

Sedona was a major section for me. I knew if I could reach Sedona in one piece, I could push myself to the finish. Plus Sedona was always such a magical place from my childhood. There is a special energy/mystical power to Sedona. I cannot describe it but it feels warm and floaty. This would be about a 15 mile stretch.

I had to stop a couple times to make sure I was following the course as the markers were hard to see on the silty sandy trail. I soon lost grip on a slope I thought was flat and fell hard onto my right hip. I bruised my hip, my knee, scraped my chin to where I thought I needed stitches and my hands. It was a wake-up call.

After my wake-up call, I tried to push on. It was hard. I soon crossed a road and then up the mountains we went. I passed one runner at the top and he looked like a zombie. His Pacer just getting him to move forward. I kept on my fast hiking and running pace into the night. Eventually, I found myself at the airport and into the airport loop. This loop seemed to go forever and it was here that the cool of the night was amazing. I felt alive. Something about the Sedona magic made me crush this section. Lots of fast miles. I did get turned around once, but course-corrected quickly. After looping through the Airport loop, you end up by some homes and a park way high-up-where I was able to see downtown Sedona from the mountain top. Lots of descending and going uphill then more descending. My feet hurt but I somehow pushed through the pain here.

I fueled well through here; eating lots of Ucan Edge Fels, Egels, Ucan energy, Spring Energy gels and lots of water. My headlamp died in this section but luckily I had a back-up.

Finally I hit the road sections of Sedona. I hammered the road sections and then they take you back onto a trail. This trail section was tough to follow at night. I had to stop a lot to make sure I was on track. You even go under a cool tunnel. Then I hit the church and finally the Sedona aid station.

It was around 2-3am at this point. I felt alive. Lucid and strong. We got my feet looked at here, I refueled some more and had to carry my essential “cold weather gear” as this next section was a 16 mile stretch to Schnenbly Hill and then another 10.5 to Munds Park before seeing my Lobster Mobster Crew of Ashlee and my Dad. This was the initial ascent onto the Coconino Plateau. From Sedona to Schnenbly Hill was my favorite stretch of the race. I went back out into the night. It was this 3 am to 5am stretch that was hard. 2 nights into the race and this is where your mind tries to play tricks. It was chilly here but I felt right at home. 40’s at night feels amazing if you ask me. The wind whipping around. Finally just as the sun started to light-up the sky around 5:30am, I was to the river and to Casner Mountain climb. First I hear rushing water. Then I get to the gorge and it is like out of Ithaca, NY. Water everywhere, lush greenery. It was an incredible park. They had some water stashed here, so I filled up my bottles. Took a bathroom pit stop at a porto-potty and down I went. Running through the red rocks and lush greenery was like out of a scene of Tomb Raider. There was a big river crossing here and it felt nice to get the sore feet wet.

Welcome to the Casner section!

The Casner Climb was a beast, But I was ready. This was a technical climb that went on forever. Up and Up and Up. I managed a strong pace and the altitude was strong. Once at the top, the views into the Sedona Valley as the sun was coming up was insane. By far the most impactful part of the run thus far.

I pushed onward now to Schnebly Hill Aid mile 161. I was now on dirt roads. I had to walk and run a lot of it as the 7-8k altitude was making me have to go slow. This section felt like forever until finally I hit the aid after crossing the highway. You know it is a great thing when you see a sign “To Flagstaff”. I hit the aid and sat down immediately. F2 Lauren Jones from Atlanta was there with her pacer. We talked some and hung out. I needed to use the bathroom so she headed out after our 20 minute break. I then shortly went out. She was moving strong and I lost sight of her. This next 10.5 mile stretch was nice and runnable to start and downhill. I opened up my stride. Then half-way through, it became hot and rocky. I was like what the heck type of road was this?! No car could drive on this. As the sun started to bake through the ponderosa pines , my ball of my foot was on fire. My blisters now must had grown 10-fold.

By the time I made it to Munds Park, I was hot and bothered. My dad met me and we walked into the aid after a 40 minute 2 mile split.

Munds Park would be where my race would take a drastic turn.

THE CRUX OF MY COCODONA–Munds Park to the Finish:

My feet were on FIRE here. I sat in the medic tent for awhile while Lauren got taped up. I was here for probably 2 hours. This is where I lost my placing from 6th-7th to about 12th. The blisters were bad! After getting all bandaged up-I proceeded to haul it through the turn-around section. People were telling me it was like a 12 mile section but actually turned into almost a 17 mile section. I did not bring enough water and finally at the turn-around, I was out of fluids. I used my gels to keep my palate wet. But I was back into cotton-mouth again. I called my Dad to come and meet me as the last 3 miles were torture. I was dehydrated as the sun was getting lower in the sky. I finally met my dad and walked into the aid again. Got my feet looked at, napped, and drank that protein shake and ate other solid foods like salted potatoes. I needed another reset.

It was now dark when I headed out again from Munds Park-Some 187 miles into this race.

After not seeing Sarah O since the ascent to Mingus, it was cool to see here again as I was death-marching back to Munds and she was heading out.

With broken feet, I went into the night. Most of the runners were either past the Kelly Canyon aid mile 205.5 or was sleeping at Munds. So as the only runner in this 18 mile section and it would be a full 26 before I would see my crew again, this was a BIG moment for me to try and close any gaps on the runners ahead. I ran down the road into town, past a bar and up into the neighborhoods. I then entered a park and soon into the Ponderosa pines. It was an eerie stretch. The course did not make a lot of sense and I had to keep my phone out almost the whole time not to miss a turn as the markers I could not find. As I went up in altitude well past 7,000 feet, I felt it. My pace soon became a slumber once past mile 12. The white pine trees–a sea of them in the darkness was a little scary but I never felt frightened. I was always in the moment, moving forward. A lot of the sections through here felt the same-like deja vu. As the miles wore on, and the night wore on into the witching hour of 2am, things took a turn.

Sleep Deprivation–I learned from this race that I do not hallucinate. I do not really see things that are not there. My mind is able to distinguish what is real and fake quickly so faces in the trees etc evaporate as soon as I see them. But what does happen to me is as a lucid dreamer, I lose touch with my own reality. Reality becomes dream and dream becomes reality. Like the Movie “Inception” my mind now is my fortress for which I have to escape from and connect back into the natural world. It started with losing focus on the ground around me, like having blurry vision. Then the altitude felt to me like a current of a river or stream, pushing me back with every step forward. I could feel pain when my feet hit the rocks but It did not fully register. I was becoming a zombie. But my mind was alive. It was in full “fight or flight” mode. I looked at my miles and my once 15-20 minute miles soon became 30, 40, 50 + miles. Time felt suspended. I was dreaming in my mind that I was watching myself run through this section of Cocodona, as if I had already run it, and was fighting through the crux of the quest. The reality was of course that I was still in it. I would stop on my trekking poles and close my eyes for a moment, just to refresh my body. These were only a minute or two. I kept pressing on. I knew I was still out there when my watch would beep. I would look and it would show mile 14, 15, 16. I am almost there. Then I was losing it. I sat on a jet black log, Stary sky, in the land of the ghost pines and I pull out my phone. It was then that I witnessed race winner Joe McConaughey finish Cocodona. I snapped to-realizing I was still in the race. Off I kept going. I could hear the cars off the highway meaning I was close to the aid. Then it became quiet again. I ate some Spring Energy to maybe fuel to stay more alert. Like walking on the moon, I would walk a few steps and then stop, a few steps and stop.

I went #2 out there and used my beanie as toilet paper as my wipes I left with my crew. 1 mile to go. That last mile took me forever. Possibly 1 hour and 4 minutes to go 1 mile. The last .4 to the aid station–close to 50 minutes. Every step was agony. This must be what summiting Mount Everest is like. Ashlee and my dad messaged me telling me I was so close. .3 miles away, .2, you are almost there. That boost lifted my spirits.

I felt lost. Lost in the darkness of my own mind, my own fortress. Once I went .3 more miles, would an aid station actually be there? I started to lose hope. Finally, after fighting my inner demons, I made it to a campground. The fire glowing in the desert night. Some people told me “You Made it!” “Welcome to the Aid Station” was all I heard. Was this a hallucination? I hid behind some bushes, just making sure these people would not just evaporate away. I met them and came into the aid. What a relief. I talked with them in gibberish as I was not lucid. I ate chicken nuggets, had some coke. Then I asked them to wake me up in 20 minutes. I slept for 2 hours. In this moment of pure despair, I found Hope. Hope from my wife and father, Hope from my crew, from the universe alerting me of Joe’s finish, and Hope from myself; that I had what it takes to get this thing done.

From 4:30 to 6:30am, I awoke. A few people passed me in those two hours. And soon Dominic Grossman was rolling into the Kelly Canyon aid–Mile 205.5. This was the farthest I have ever gone. The night was brutal. The altitude was now just a bad nightmare. I felt acclimated. What I learned on this journey is whenever I napped, I was able to acclimate to the altitude perfectly. It was strange but a great learning for future races.

I talked with Dom and got my feet redone. New bandages and all. I texted Ashlee and told her I was on my way. Now around 7am I had about 8 miles until the Ft Tuthill Aid. It was a gorgeous morning. Just to make sure I was actually running this race, I threw a rock in the air when I thought it. And then proceeded to do something foolish. I had to go #2 again and did off the trail, digging a hole and covering it. Then with the sharp rocks off the trail, now used them and my hand to wipe myself. This was going to cause chaffing. My T8 Commando underwear did amazing in preventing chafe but this was something that could not be solved by great gear. I was still running this race! I proceeded now to pick up my pace. 8-11 minute miles all the way to the aid station. I was moving. My bum was now on fire. Not good Cole!

I roll into the Ft Tuthill aid needing Desitin, an outfit change, roll out, protein shake etc. Ashlee and my Dad are dialed to get me out of here fast. I talk with Chris Thornley the owner of Squirrels Nut Butter and he gives me a “to-go “stick. That product works wonders. I should had bathed myself in it and reapplied throughout the race, I failed there as I only did a few times and conservatively. My coaches Anthony and Lindsey are on the phone sending me words of encouragement. I headed out like a rocket to the next aid Walnut Canyon. The trails were fairly fast through here and I was hoping I was going to see a pack of runners any moment. I was moving well. I had visions of passing runners. I crossed over Lake Mary road, a famous training ground for Marathoners in Flagstaff.

I continued to press on. In moving fast through here, the dryness at the high elevation started to get to me. My lips already like leather. I soon was out of fluid with about 5 miles to go. I ran with a runner up a climb and cotton-mouth began to settle in again.

Another TOUGH MOMENT.

I was getting dehydrated and fast. In the heat of the day, without water, I began to panic. I called Ashlee to tell her my situation. She said I was maybe 4 miles away. My tracker had me at about 3. The trail was rocky and I could muster only 20 minute miles here. I kept going. I would occasionally stop in the shade. Eventually, I needed to do something. I thought drinking my own pee might suffice. A biker then came by and gave me some of his water. It was soooo refreshing. I soon felt like new again. He was an ER doctor and lectured me about the desert heat- all while Ashlee was on the phone. He must had thought I was crazy. He sped off. I then was able to run. 3 miles soon became 1. My Dad became a pacer and was on his way to me. We soon met up past this canyon. Then Race Command called me and told me they could send medics to make sure I was ok. I talked with them and said I got into the hole some but a person on the trail bailed me out, A Trail Angel. You see any other aid from my crew or race support would had DQ’d me. But a random person helping me was in this dire situation allowed as a one-off situation. I was 230 miles + into this race too so a DQ would had been gut-wrenching. It was a hairy situation at the aid station before my arrival but I got there, lucid and alert. Medics looked at me, asked questions, got my vitals which were fine and cooled me down. I ate some hummus and avocado sandwiches and felt immediately better. My positive self-talk, telling myself to be “as cool as a cucumber” and thinking of being cold was a great mental moment to push through the fatigue and suffering. It actually worked.

The photos from this incident soon went “Cocodona Viral”–A lesson of not underestimating the conditions out there.

It was at this aid that I set out once more. The next stop: Mt. Elden, the highest point of the course. Nick who was at the aid volunteered to pace me to the finish. I was so happy to have the company, after 230+ miles alone except for the occasional runner I would link up with.

Now feeling cooled down, we made our push. This is where our journey takes an unexpected turn. At the aid station, I was telling everyone all about this last climb as if I had run it once before. I said I ran up this during a Ragnar. It was not until the next day, that I was crazy for thinking that. I had never step foot on this part of the course except Buffalo park, 15 years ago. But how did I have sight of every detail of the climb up Elden? I directed Nick as we pushed the climb really well. I hit every step only to catch my breath for a few seconds periodically. We managed to crest the top of Elden just as the sun was going down, which was our goal. Nick did amazing keeping our pace honest in the long lead-up to Elden. And once there, I ferociously attacked the climb. I do not know how I managed such an effort after fighting such severe dehydration. I had some guardians out there looking after me.

After the last few bends, we are now on the backside of Elden heading to the aid. Headlamp time, but not for me. Remember I had literal sight of the course in my mind as if it was replaying a movie. Every rock, every bend, every footfall-was perfect. I navigated the rocky summit in perfect darkness with no headlamp. I could almost see the trail like it was daytime. 2 more bends in the trail and a white tent with Christmas lights would appear. They had moved the aid station to a different spot this year too I learned which made no sense how I knew its exact location and its set up. We hit the aid and yup, White Tent and Christmas lights right across this one bend.

Wow. I am going to finish this thing. That wave of emotion took over me. After 3.5 days of literally living only for forward progress and existing for only Cocodona, I was going to close this insane and monumental vision-quest in less than an hour.

I talked with everyone and put on some layers. It was cold up there like 36 with the wind but I am used to the cold. It did not really bother me. I had some ramen, was interviewed and then the Live stream came on. Peter Mortimer, the 2nd place finisher at Cocodona last year brought me a Modelo. When Pete brings you a Modelo, you can’t say NO. So I took it and chugged it. I needed to refuel. Man that Modelo was grand. Liquid Luck like from Harry Potter. I emptied my bottles as I needed to be as light as possible to the finish. 8 miles all downhill awaited me to eternal glory (more Harry Potter themed verbiage here). My wife saw me on the live stream and tried calling me. My phone was in my pack so I did not answer. Finally after everyone seeing me having a party up on Elden with the Modelo, I grabbed my phone and talked with Ashlee–she told me to get moving as Adrian was coming. I hung up, told Nick we have to get moving soon. Then Sarah O came into the aid. Ok time to go I told Nick. I chugged the rest of the beer and tried to grab my headlamp. It was buried in the bottom of my pack as we had to carry tons of supplies. I also had about 4.5 Liters of fluids just to make sure I was ok. I could not grab it so I told Nick I would have to follow him.

By 83:14 race time we descended the mountain. By only the camera light on my phone, we flew.

Was it the Modelo, was it the spirits of passed loved ones, was it a new super power? I felt no pain. Every step was powerful, was precise, and we were flying to the finish. Whatever it was, it was sheer magic. My body was in perfect concert with the land. I was Arizona and Arizona was me. It really was what I think a super hero feels like.

I had dreamed of finishing a big epic race this way. Like a track sprint, I was virtually moving at an all-out pace. With Nick as my beacon and my phone light as my flame, I had the spirit of a phoenix rising from the ashes in me. The first few miles are dirt road. We quickly fly down this. My watch cannot get exact pace jumping from 14 minutes to 10 to 4 to 6 to 7. Nick said our first mile was 7:10. We got faster. Much Faster. We had to have been sub 6 through here. Down we went. Every step I made in the darkness was as if in the day. No wasted energy. I was over-dressed, starting to sweat out my Modelo. But I could not lose focus. I had to stay in the moment. Like I had the past 83 hours.

The course then takes a turn onto trail. I heard Pete and Maggie talk about how it was a tough section. Nick missed the turn but I yell to him ahead to turn left. I stop at the flag and look at my phone and we are back on course. Now this trail was lumpy with rocks and little rock hopping sections. I nailed every step at low 7 pace through here. It was trail perfection. Every step on point. I never felt more alive. Sweating out that Modelo.

Soon, people started messaging me. “Cole you got this!” “GO GO GO”, “Almost there!” “OMG You are booking it”. My phone soon went from 25% battery and jumped down below 10%. I yell to Nick that my phone might die. I don’t have enough time to grab my headlamp. Time is ticking. I wanted the map to make sure we were on course. Nick instructs me to put the phone on Airplane mode. “People can wait” he said.

We get through the trail section where people walk their dogs and then fly out onto Buffalo Park. We did it. That sense of relief. I turn my phone back on from airplane mode and soon are greeted by a person on the live stream running with us. We are moving through the park well. I know the next turn is a tricky one. The camera people switch to Chad who I know was on Dylan Bowman’s podcast and he is a fast runner. Like a sub 4:20 mile guy. We leave Buffalo Park and hit the streets. We are running strong. The live stream asks Chad our pace at one point, he says around 6:30. I was holding back. Trying to time out the traffic lights as they go from red to green. Once the 10 block stretch happened, I went for it. I kept pushing and pushing. Soon we were 5:50, 5:48. Faster and Faster we go. My swollen knee, no pain, my toasted feet, no pain. My spirit was soaring.

Then the long-awaited finish comes. I make the turn down the alley into the finish. I land right into the arms of Ashlee. The perfect end to my journey. I finished at 83:59. Ashlee’s embrace is the best prize I have ever been given. I do a “mike drop” of sorts and gently place my trekking poles down. I applaud for this epic finish. People are stunned. How did this guy leave the mountain around 83:14 and be here at 83:59? I cannot explain it. Roughly a 6:30 per mile average. Nuts.

The finish I had always dreamed of just happened. I was down many times, but never out. A true Beast Coaster doesn’t give up. We grit our teeth and keep pushing until we cannot anymore. For me, I could keep on pushing. If this was an 800 mile race, my body would keep going, as long as I could bandage my feet. My crew was rock solid. Ashlee the true champion along with my Dad in this. They hardly slept and were always positive and did everything they could for me. Their Spirit lifted mine. Time and time again. This journey was as much theirs as mine. I felt it. That love, is power.

When I ran Across NJ, I used the term “Be a Beacon”. What Be a Beacon represents to me is to be a light, a guiding force. Because in the darkness, we often feel lost, disoriented, tired, and down. But that light to follow often is what gets us out of darkness into a new dawn. For me, Cocodona showed me the power of “Hope”, of belief in oneself, of others, and of the human spirit.

Why do I love 200 milers? It is because that distance strips down the athlete into our most raw form. Our spirit is tested as much as our body and mind. No matter how dire things became, I never Lost Hope. “Hope” is special to me. As a new resident of Rhode Island, “Hope” is in the state seal. It is because Rhode Island was the birthplace of diversity, religious freedom, and acceptance. Everyplace I have lived I carry with me: NJ, Oklahoma, Upstate NY and NJ again and Now Rhode Island. If I can give you one lesson it is this:

Hope is never lost. No matter how dark things might seem. Sometimes it takes 250 miles through the Arizona desert to realize Hope is here, within you all along.

Be a Beacon…Shine that light bright. And may the Hope that lives within you, light the path of Hope for others. Beast Coast Represent.

Thanks goes out to Steve, the RD. From our days working Ragnars together to now running your race, it was an absolutely life-changing endeavor for myself and my family. Thank you.

To the medics, thank you. Without your time and energy, I do not know if I would have finished this thing. You kept my feet going.

To Aravaipa Running, wow, what an incredible race you put on. It was a masterclass of an event. The best volunteers, super organized and race command calling to check in on me when I was dehydrated, that is next level.

To the Beast Coast aka East Coast–I love you all. You have given me the fire to prove my worth out in the running world and it was your support over my lifetime that led me to fighting at Cocodona. My finish is your finish. Thank you!

To my family and friends. Love you. You have been my main sponsors and supporters all this time. Your positivity is what fuels my positivity so thank you. Times did get dark out there but knowing you had my back was all I needed to find the light.

To Lindsey and Anthony, my dynamic coaching duo. We did it! You prepared me for the big show and it had its tough moments but I was so strong and resilient and my body just would not break down. That strength and nutrition planning made my race really special. Thank you.

To brands made up of awesome people that supported me in this journey–Thank you:

T8 apparel–Dave and John, Thank you for believing in me and investing in me. Your gear performed like a dream out in the desert. A true ultra runner’s kit. Thank you.

Nathan –From my days of tech rep to now official ambassador, thank you. Marissa and Chris you have been such a great support system. The Nathan Pinnacle 12L vest was the only vest I needed for Cocodona. It really performed. The Vamos Jacket and the whole Nathan product range was clutch. Especially the Power Shower Wipes.

Ucan—Thank you Katie for the partnership. As soon as I started taking in Ucan Protein shakes, my race dramatically improved. My stomach became an iron stomach thanks to that product. I ran all of Cocodona 250 with even energy levels the whole time. From the UCan Edge gels to the Energy Powder, it was perfection. Now only if my feet felt the same.

Fits socks—So my Fits socks fam, I made a mistake. The moment I switched out from a pair of Fits socks to another brand as I wanted more compression, well, my bad feet happened. It is a lesson that when I wear Fits, my feet perform. I wore Fits the rest of the way and luckily I did not gain any new blisters.

The Trails Collective—Thank you Ellie and Ian for the support. The additional gear and athlete support has been incredible. Beast Coast Represent.

Squirrels Nut Butter–Chris and Eric, thank you for having me on the team. This is by far the best anti-chafe product out there. I wish I used more on my feet but everywhere else I used it on my body had no problems. The Foot Salve has rebuilt my feet in a week’s time and I am back to jogging again so that is incredible.

Norda–Nick And Willa. Thank you for believing in me. You have such an incredible shoe but more importantly, you are incredible people. Your belief in me has been so powerful and I am so lucky to know you.

Coros–Thank you Dan. My Apex and Pace are great assets to my racing and training. With insane battery life, I only needed to make a watch switch once and I was good. 83 hours combined between two watches and both had 18% left.

Finger Lakes/Confluence Running, OK Runner, Rhode Runner. To all of my run specialty friends, thank you for your support throughout the years as I have developed as an athlete and person.

Kailas–Thank you Miao for your generous support. Kailas is a new brand to me but the gear you sent helped me throughout Cocodona. Along with my Nordas, I switched into your Fuga Pro and Fuga EX and they gave me solid nighttime legs when I was most tired.

What an Adventure. If you have more questions or want to learn more about running 200’s feel free to send me a note at colecrosby88@gmail.com.

Adventure Awaits…

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