So when running a 250 mile trail race across Arizona, you need a lot of gear. Some of it is mandatory gear: safety blanket, headlamp, etc, but most of what you need is up to the individual.
200 mile continuous races are like mini-expeditions and the gear associated with them can be pretty vast.
Let’s dive into what I brought along for my race and some insights on what gear worked, what didn’t, and why I went with the decisions I did when it came to my gear.
Let us start here. If there is one thing in the “gear” category that I love, it’s Apparel.
For a 250 mile foot race, your apparel needs to function like a second skin. It needs to be comfortable and having variety for the various weather conditions as well as integrating outfit changes during a race this long can often be the mental boost you need to get to the finish and avoid race-ending chafe.
I started Cocodona with my T8 apparel kit and some other items:
1 Ice Tee
1 Commando Boxer Short
1 Pair of blue Sherpa Shorts
1 Pair of Fits Socks
Rei SPF Arm Sleeves
Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
Trails Collective Buff/neck gaiter
CEP Compression Sleeves for legs
T8 Trucker Hat
So running in a hot desert environment seen in Arizona, you need to stay cool. The sun here is intense and covering-up your skin really is better than going shirtless. My T8 ice tee has cooling properties so when I would wet it at an aid station or sweat, it cools your core body temp down. This really helped me during the heat of the day.
A neck gaiter is clutch because it covers your neck from the sun but also is so versatile. It can become an ice bandana in the heat of the day, but can also cover-up on a cold ridge-line at night, to helping block out any dust that might irritate your airways.
T8 is awesome because the full kit is made of light materials–like really light and the Commando underwear is uber chafe-free with no seams and is paper thin not to mention the equally light Sherpa shorts that have a waistband I used to keep the weight of my hydration vest down-so I carried tons of gels, my headlamp, gloves, whatever I needed that I did not want in my vest. The T8 product really is ideal for hot ultras and performed like a dream out on the course.
The Sun Sleeves and sun gloves were clutch for this race. I wore these during the day and I had no issues with sunburn because I was covered up. These were also great because I could wet them and put ice in them and I would get that evaporative cooling.
I like Trucker hats for hot races because the mesh vents well and allows for you to wet the hat and not feel like its just a pile of fabric. Plus they look cool.
But this was just the kit I wore to start the race. I brought about 10 Short-Sleeved Tees, 8 Long Sleeve Tees, 3 Windbreaker jackets, 1 Water-proof jacket, 5 Thermal 1/4 zips and 1 thermal baselayer and 5 singlets. I also had 3 pairs of gloves, 3 winter beanies, 3 buffs/neck gaiters, 2 pairs of sun glasses, 2 pairs of sun sleeves, 3 pairs of run Sherpa run shorts with Commandos , 2 pairs of jogger pants and 1 pair of running tights. I also brought 14 pairs of socks in all different shapes, cuts, materials so that I could adapt if I needed to.
My plan for my Apparel was to bring more than what I needed. Having this sectioned in different bags based on category was so my crew could easily grab a style of item and provide that for me when I needed it. I changed my top or bottom part of my outfit every night with a full top and bottom change each day. This was a great move for me as it allowed me to adjust to the changes in temperature and the conditions as they go from hot to cold to hot. It also gave me a nice mental boost.
Part of why I think my feet went south was the style of sock I was wearing. In the image above, I was wearing a tight-fitting polyester compression sock. I think the compression was to my detriment as it bunched my toes together and the fabrics allowed too much dust and small debris that ultimately led to my feet problems with blisters. When I switched to a heavier “hike sock” made of merino wool blends, I faired better as they wick but also keep debris out better than a standard synthetic sock.
Overall though, what I packed for my apparel went incredibly well. For these long races, invest in those higher-quality brands. Go with your favorite apparel that is most trust-worthy. T8 is a new favorite of mine and Janji and Lululemon for Men has been a staple of mine for many years. What I love about T8 is the separate underwear from the short. The more boxer-style underwear just works better for me than the briefs we often get in running shorts. T8 in my opinion is really the best in this 2 short combo.
Hydration and Nutrition…
So this is super important. What you put into your body for these long endurance events is the gasoline to your engine. Coming from New England, I knew I would need to drink a lot of fluids both in water and electrolyte form. What I did not know was how DRY Arizona is and that at higher elevations, the dryness feels soooo much worse. I had some of the worst cotton-mouth I have ever experienced.
I carried with me 1 Hydration Vest. The Nathan Pinnacle 12 Liter. This pack did it all for me. I love carrying bottles so I would carry 5-6 Soft Flasks with me at any one time. Three of them carried water. 1 of them had my Ucan Energy Powder Drink Mix for calories and electrolytes. The other flask had Long Haul Nutrition, a mix similar to Tailwind that for me, with Ucan was the perfect combination. I had 12 ounces of Long Haul, 18 ounces of Ucan Energy, and 12 X 2 + 18= 42 ounces of just water. I also carried 1 flask of water in my Sherpa Shorts when it was really hot or would place one of the used flasks in my carry belt. And at times, I had a Nathan insulated handheld with me to drink ice cold beverages to keep me going strong.
For energy, I had pre-packs made-up for my crew of 2 Ucan Edge gels, 1 Egel, 1 Spring Energy gel, 1 Spartan Hydrate electrolyte tablet and Ucan Energy powder. This allowed me to grab and go for my quick fuel. This pack of fuel worked amazing. Ucan Edge gels I love because they keep my energy levels even and are like drinking liquid so they go down in hot conditions. The Spring Energy I used when I needed more calories, fats and proteins. The Egel was to supplement the complex carbs I would need with higher calories to the Ucan Edge and to give my palate something different.
So I had issues with my stomach on Day 1. It was an adjustment period. The heat, sun exposure, the elevation and altitude all beat me up. By Whiskey Row mile 60, I needed a reset. We introduced Ucan Protein Powder in a shake every crew aid station and that saved me. A protein shake has carbs, fats, and proteins–every essential energy style our bodies demand. I knew that no matter what, I could take down a protein shake.
My best advice is find foods that work for you and test in training. I am a more fat-adapted runner so I can often run up to a 50k distance in training 100% fasted. And for fuel I love whole foods and more savory foods rich in fats and proteins. Foods like Hummus, Avocado–Guac, Olives, Cheese slices, Oat milks are all things I crave. I do love the occasional Black Forest Gummy bear. I love these foods because they are easy to ingest and are not hard to chew or dry out your mouth. I love pizza but often the dough just dries me out and I cannot swallow.
The Aid Station food for Cocodona was unreal. I did not eat a ton of it but they had regimented meals at every station. From Quesadillas, Bacon Egg and Cheese Sandwiches, Burritos, you name it–it was pretty spectacular. I did eat a lot of ramen noodles, drank a delicious margarita post finish on Cinco de Mayo, and the watermelon slushies at Mingus Camp Aid was next level.
My best advice for food, is find things that are easy to chew, digest, and have tons of nutritional value. I do well with Complex Carbs, Fats, and Proteins and digest these better than most I think. But as the race goes beyond 100k and past 100 miles, I do better with food that is “mushy”. Like oatmeal with peanut butter, hummus, Guac, and fruit purees found in baby food.
We all love shoes right? SO on this race, I raced in three pairs of shoes. I ran in my Norda 001 Ray Zahab edition and substituted miles in the Kailas Fuga 3 Pro and Fuga EX 2. All shoes that use Vibram outsoles. I love Vibram rubber and I find they work the best for me for trail races. Having different shoes I think just like the apparel, really can help your body when it is tired and help it feel fresher.
I chose to start out with this shoe for the race. It is built like a tank. From the Vibram midsole that is durable and bouncy to the outsole that is the grippiest outsole I have ever run in to the Bio-Based Dynema Upper that is like Kevlar and does a nice job protecting your foot. It is super cushy and light weight. It is something near 8.5 ounces in my size which is unreal.
The shoe performed really well. I never worried about the technicality of the trails. My grip was always on point. I made a shoe switch on Night 1 and then back to the Nordas on Day 2 to switch again after a massive creek crossing called for time to dry out my shoes more to reduce the chance of friction. What impresses me the most is I put in about 130 miles on these shoes and they show no wear. Nordas really are designed to go long. With a nice wide footprint and unbeatable traction, these shoes really hold up better than anything I have ever used.
I split the other 120 or so odd miles in the Kailas Fuga Pro and the EX 2. I went with them as they are light weight, have the Vibram traction and were a little different. I like supporting brands that you do not see every day. Like Norda, Kailas is a brand that should be on your radar. An Asian mountaineering brand, their products represent the mountain lifestyle.
When it comes to shoes. Make sure to bring different pairs and multiple pairs. The reason being is you never know what might function better for you based on the terrain. Throughout the course of a 200 + mile race, things change and change quickly and often a sock and shoe change can be all you need to get you out of a low moment.
Let me preface this by examining “Foot Care”. Why our feet chafe when we run is something that is always hard for me to pinpoint. I have been very lucky in not really dealing with many major blisters and foot trouble in the 40+ some odd ultra marathons that I have run. If you do a Google search of some races like the Marathon Des Sables or any other desert race, you will see some blister action.
During Cocodona, I experienced my worst foot experience ever. Might as well get it out when you can right? So in terms of socks, I am left figuring out what I need for dry, sandy conditions. I started with my Fits socks and did not have any problems to start. I made a switch to a sock brand that also starts with an “F” that is more compressive and as I wore that pair from mile 60 to 120, things went south on my feet past 100 miles quickly.
I think for me not applying enough Squirrels Nut Butter frequently enough as well as wearing the wrong type of sock for me was what caused my foot trouble. I did find that when I switched to a Drymax sock, designed for heat, I had no new blisters form. The thing at this point was that I had such badly blistered feet at this point that I hope I would not gain any more new blisters as I even had some blisters form over other blisters.
In the dry-hot conditions of Cocodona, feet care and hydration/nutrition are the most crucial parts of the race.
I personally did better with thicker socks. Ones that had wool blends or something like a Drymax sock that has a layering system that keeps rocks, dust, and silt from entering the sock easily. The thing I did not do that I should have is change my socks more often. Anytime I was running in the heat of the day, I should have changed my socks at every aid station as the heat, dryness and rocks really beat me. I learned a tough lesson out there but if you can test your socks in similar conditions, DO it. It might save you in your actual race.
What else in the Gear talk would you like me to address and talk about next?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ah Boston. A truly Classic City, with a classic race. When I moved out to Providence last Spring, I had it on my bucket-list to run Boston when I could, as living so close to the race meant there was no more excuse to make the pilgrimage . 2022 would be my year to give this race a go. The Boston Marathon is one of the most iconic running events in the world. From the screaming fans and spectators along the course, to the difficult downhill start and Newton hills, Boston is iconic for everything distance running.
What is a wild thing is that my running journey took me from the OKC Marathon in 2011 straight into ultra marathon running-skipping Boston. I have been lucky-enough that I have run other marathons and qualifiers fast-enough for myself to qualify for Boston at any time of my choosing. But I delayed my run at Boston until now.
This year’s marathon would be the first held in the Spring on Patriot’s Day. It would be approximately around 3 years of waiting due to Covid that Boston would be held on “Marathon Monday”. My training has been ramping up in preparation for the Cocodona 250 mile so Boston was viewed by me as more of a training race than anything. If it was in the cards for me to running sub 2:30 and PR, I would keep pushing, but if not, I would not sweat it and just take in the whole experience-placing time out the window.
The challenging nature of the Boston course would be a great last long-run and test for my legs before taking on the rigors of a 250 mile ultra race in Arizona with 40,000 feet of ascent. The lead-up to the race was smooth. Ashlee and myself were able to take on all of the sights and sounds of the Boston Marathon weekend. The expo was jam-packed and wild. The UCAN panel talk was fun (as I just signed with UCAN) and the breweries we went to were awesome.
All the excitement around Boston is next-level. I was pretty over-whelmed seeing so many people at the expo and around Boston. The City was BUZZING. We were lucky enough to also go to the Red Sox game vs the Twins Saturday night as part of fundraising for the Boston Red Sox Foundation. The Game was awesome and a perfect way to kick-off the Boston Marathon weekend.
Come race morning, we took the T to the finish line and over to the buses to the start. It was cool getting to make the grand voyage to Hopkinton. Once there, I thought I could devore some bananas but they did not have any. I should had had more to eat but my UCAN energy bar was a nice snack. I took my Spartan Hydrate Tablet which gives me that long lasting blast of electrolytes, filled up my bottle of Ucan Energy and proceeded to the start. You walk up to the corral and huddle along with everyone. The sing the National Anthem and then boom! You are off to the races.
The hard thing for me was how jammed up the field is. I was cruising at those downhill miles hovering around 5:45-5:50, my goal pace. Everything felt relaxed except that I could tell as early as mile 4 that my body felt tired. The run felt more like a fartlek as I had to break stride the first 6-8 miles as runners were all around you moving at erratic paces. When a water stop would come about, you would have runners weave from the far left-side of the road to the far right-creating some dodging traffic. It is funny because running trails, you rarely have those issues of traffic control. I felt a little like a fish out of water never getting into a rhythm, almost tripping over others feet a bunch of times and running way outside the tangents just to try and get some real running room.
But Boston is Boston. The crowd was fun and it was here everyone started calling me “Boston” because of the text on my shirt. As I was running for the Red Sox Foundation, it was an obvious way the crowd could cheer for me specifically. “Go Boston”, “You Got This Boston”, “Boston Strong”, was a lot of the things I heard. That was super cool. I did tell myself “My name is not Boston guys, if you look to my back you would see my name!” My legs were already feeling the downs and ups of the first 12 miles. I kept relaxed near my PR pace. It was not until near the half-way mark that I knew it might be a stretch to PR and even hard to run my current pace of 2:33/2:34. My legs felt toasted already. I went through my UCAN Energy and 3 Ucan Edge Gels which were amazing. But I was so dang thirsty. I spent the next 4 miles trying to get water. But every time I finally made it to the water stops, I grabbed Gatorade instead and threw the cups down. I had one I grabbed of water only to have the cup explode in my face. No water in my system. I could keep on pushing in this gradual dehydrated descent or just take in the sights.
So, I decided to just chill, and use this run as more of a workout. I can run other Bostons to try and run fast. This was my first. I blew kisses to the Wellesley girls which they went wild as one of them faked fainting which was hilarious. They really know how to entertain the runners. I started giving hi-fives to people. I tried some of those Maurten gels just to get something to wet my palate. That stuff is like jello. The one I had was with the caffeine and that gave me a nice boost for a few miles. Miles 15-22 was my hardest stretch. I needed more water and it was at this point the field was spread-out enough where I could hydrate more. I literally stopped at the water stop and chugged the water. I did that for the next few stops. I started feeling a little sick as my pace slowed.
The hills soon came about and they do slow you down but I ran them conservative. I did not want to blow the run but pushing too hard. It was until after Heartbreak that everyone started pushing fast and I did not know if we were done or had more to go. I had myself in such a hydration deficit that I needed more and more water. I started to pick things up and at mile 24, decided to take a swig of Gatorade. BAD IDEA. Immediately my stomach revolted. I felt sick to my stomach almost instantly knew I had to throw it up. I was dry-heaving and eventually was able to yak it not once, twice, three, four times. Every few steps I took, I yak’d. It was a surreal moment as the crowd was like “Oh” and people yelled “Cmon dude, keep going, you got this”. I held up my hand as I had one more yak. I had expelled the Gatorade and then gave a big thumbs up and said “I’m good” and the crowd erupted in cheers. It was epic. Like out of a scene out of a movie from animal house or something, it was too classic. I then picked things up back to low 6 minute mile pace heading into the finish.
I made the famous Right turn onto Hereford and then Left onto Boylston. I pushed to the finish and crossed the line in 2:44. A slow marathon for me in terms of time, but I was proud of the finish as I gave up tons of time the last 4 miles with all of my stopping.
The Boston marathon is a tough course and a cult-classic in the world of distance running. While NYC has an overall bigger crowd the majority of the time, Boston is like a crescendo of noise and excitement. It starts out loud and then becomes more quiet. Each time you cross through a town, things get loud again. Once to Newton, things get rowdy. And you ride that wave of noise and excitement into the finish. I will definitely run Boston again, and with a better idea of how to run it, maybe I can give a really hard effort out there.
As I have transitioned from my snowshoes and into my trail running shoes for a busy Spring of races, I feel fitter and stronger than ever before. Why is that the case? Is snowshoe running to thank? Why do not more people snowshoe?
Let us look to our European friends. Some of the top athletes in the sport of Ultra Running like Kilian Jornet, François D’Haene, and many others practice Ski-mountaineering in the winter-time. Being on the snow, helps them build different strengths, revving their aerobic engine on full-blast but without the true pounding of hard running on roads and technical trails. They come off of their skis each season fitter than before. Not all of us though have mountains. I live in Rhode Island, and Skimo just does not exist as a possibility for me. But I can snowshoe.
So it still boggles my mind that more trail runners do not snowshoe run. Snowshoe running is in many ways trail running on snow. Sure it is a much harder effort to go not as fast on a regular trail, but through practice and time invested, you get better at understanding the different snow conditions and how to move faster through them. Snowshoe running just adds another dimension to trail running that similar to Skimo, gives you that new-found strength that builds your overall fitness without taxing your body the same as running year-round.
Snowshoe running can even be done on sand so for those that live in warmer climates, you can sandshoe and gain similar benefits to running on the snow. When you snowshoe, you engage your hip flexors, hamstrings, ankles, legs, quads, and core. In many ways snowshoe gives you not only a major aerobic workout but also a full-body workout helping to strengthen muscles, ligaments, tendons etc. without the stress of pounding. Also a little goes a long way. You do not have to snowshoe everyday to become fit. I typically will snowshoe run once or twice a week when I have snow to run on in the winter months. That is why I love it. The little effort you put into it, can provide massive gains. Snow provides resistance so more energy is needed to move through it. Having an extra pound on each foot also is like weight-lifting for your legs and in turn, increases your heart-rate and demand for more oxygen. Over time, you just become stronger and stronger.
(Ring …Ring)-Call to the trail runner and ultra runners out there…
Rather than spending all-winter on the treadmill and counting down the minutes until winter is over, why not embrace winter? Because I snowshoe run, winter feels a little brighter. It gets me outside and allows my body to gain better circulation and adaptation to the cold. I look forward to snowstorms so I can grab my snowshoes and explore. Snowshoe races are fun and affordable. Heck, running snowshoes are cheap compared to all other winter sports where you could very well spend thousands of dollars just to participate.
To sum things up. Snowshoe running has me ready to go for Boston and the Cocodona 250 mile. Training has been going really well and I feel more resilient than ever before.
I ran a race in February where I ran 90 miles and 30,000 feet of ascent and 29,000 feet of descent all on snowshoes. Because I did this on snow, my body recovered in a couple days. It was eye-opening. Any other ultra effort would be weeks. With that time on feet, Cocodona 250 with 160 more miles and 10,000 more feet of gain does not seem so intimidating.
You have to at least give it a try. Give it some time. Snowshoe running is awesome and is a BIG secret that trail and ultra runners out there have not grasped fully. I hope that changes. It may not be for everyone, but I hope that more of you out there give it a go.
In the meantime, I will be out there logging some snowy miles, pushing my limits, and reaping the benefits of snowshoe running.
The last National championships that I had the chance to run was back in 2019 at the same venue of this years’ running: The Lakewoods Resort in Cable, Wisconsin. It was a course I have known well with both a win in the Half-marathon and a 5th place (national team) finish in the 10k in 2019. This course and venue has treated me well and it was really exciting to be back after such a long hiatus due the state of the world around the Covid-19 pandemic. Without having Nationals on the calendar the past year or so, I have been yearning for that connection with the snowshoe community that I love so much.
For those that do not know about snowshoe running, take the community feel and openness we see in Trail and Ultra running, shrink it down and make it even more inclusive, laid-back, fun, and close-knit. It really is a special community. Snowshoe runners come from so many different endurance disciplines from Triathlon, Road Racing, Cross-Country, Nordic Ski, Trail/Ultra running, Ski-Mountaineering, and Mountain running. That diverse range of endurance experiences really lend such a rich and unique family of athletes tied together by running over the snow. The Lakewoods Resort offered a wonderful rustic experience of the Wisconsin Northwoods but with amenities such as a nice bar/restaurant, a heated pool, arcade, hot tub, and tons of cabins and rooms for the whole family and for groups.
The Course: Similar to 2019, the course would wind through an approximate 5k loop (ran a little short) out on the rolling terrain of the now snow-covered golf course twice to get the 10k distance. It is a fair course as the series of ups and downs are never too steep but steep enough to throw you out of a rhythm. If you can “ride the wave” of the rolling terrain, you will do well out there.
Nationals is a celebration of our sport and it truly is the pinnacle of snowshoe racing in the United States each and every year. This year the Top 5 Ladies, Men, and Masters runners would be given the “National Team” designation. A great field of snowshoers came from 15 states ready to shoe and compete for those top spots.
The course conditions were tough as a few inches of fresh snow dropped onto the course overnight making it tough to find the right footing as at times the snow mimicked the feeling of sand.
That did not stop the top shoers from running fast from the start and putting on quite a run. Eric Hartmark, a multiple-time National Champion took to the front and put on a “Masterclass” performance out on the course.
After a fast first loop, Eric was out front and I was trailing behind about 40 seconds back. I gave my best effort to close the gap to Eric but he was just too strong. Eric would pull away for the win in 37:57 to my 39:44 finish time. Course knowledge and snowshoe experience played a big part in the performances of the athletes as the choppy snow could easily sap the energy out quickly. The remainder of the Men’s National Team was: Jeffery Quednow in 3rd (40:41), Ryan Edwardson 4th Male (42:14), and Kelly Mortenson as 5th Male (42:35).
The Ladies race was incredible to watch. From my perspective, on the second loop, I caught glimpses of the top 3 women running at a pace that looked like a run-away freight train and definitely put some extra pep in my step out there on the course.
2020 World Champion, Michelle Hummel took to the front (in black) and put on a ferocious pace. But as the course wore on, the ladies at the front had quite the battle.
Michelle Hummel and Jackie Hering pushed one another up and down the hills on the backside of the course until Jackie had just that little extra push to take the title as National Champion. Jackie’s time of (41:50) placed her 4th Overall to Michelle’s 7th Overall (42:24) . The remainder of the Ladies National team comprised of: Amber Tookey in 11th overall (44:18), Viki Chavez (47:00) 15th Overall and Amber Ferreira (47:32) 16th Overall.
Along with the National 10k, there was a Kids run, 5k, Evening snowshoe hike the night before and a wonderful awards ceremony.
What a great weekend to be back at Snowshoe Nationals. Along with great performances out on the course, just the time spent re-connecting with members of the community after such a long time away was truly the warmth we all needed.