This is Argentina. A South American country 5,000 + miles away from my home in Rhode Island. A land diverse in its landscapes, yet offers a familiarity to specific destinations in the United States. A place where the sun shines bright, the tango moves through you, and afternoon siestas followed by midnight meals are the norm. A place where Spanish is the language of choice, yet tourists are respected and even celebrated. If you love meat, carbs, Malbec and delicious craft beer, Argentina delivers. From the deserts, to the jungles, to the plains and the Andes mountains, it truly is a special place.
Argentina would never be a place on my radar to travel to. For one, it is far away. Literally, it is the gateway to travel to Antarctica. But with the World Snowshoe championships being held in the small village of Caviahue high in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, it provided a great excuse to experience a different part of the world. As my first time to South America and for my wife, Ashlee as well, it would be a grand adventure and a vacation of sorts.
This was a trip on the docket for August of 2020 but we all know what happened that year with Covid and so the event would be postponed until September 2022. The logistics of such a trip were arduous as we flew Newark to Dallas with a long 8 hour lay-over then followed by a 10+ hour flight to Buenos Aires. We would stay in Buenos Aires for a few days before flying domestic to Neuquén before a long 6 hour bus ride to the race site up in the mountains. Then repeat on the return trip. In total, we flew 7 flights in a span of a week and a half.
As we arrived in Buenos Aires excited to explore for two days, we linked-up with some of our team and then headed to the Ker Recoleta hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood. Mark Elmore did a fantastic job organizing the blueprint of travel for our team as well as this hotel stay. As we arrived before the 2pm check-in, we waited awhile to get our bags dropped-off. The pace of things here moves a little slower than what we are used in the Northeast. But once settled, we set out along the city for some food.
One of the two big lessons we learned in Argentina was the exchange rates for Argentine Pesos from US dollars and the siesta hours. Not to go into the weeds on economics, Argentina has unpredictable inflation. The US dollar being pretty stable means you get a lot for the money in Argentina. For every $1 US dollar you can expect 137 pesos up to 330 pesos based on where you go to exchange. The lower values are closer to what you find as the “Official rate” and the higher values you find while buying goods at a store or even the people on the street by some of the big shopping areas vocalizing the word “Cambio, Cambio”, meaning “change” in English. We soon learned where and how to get the most for our US dollar and that helped stretch our ability to spend more on the trip. Argentina is not too bad if you have US cash on hand and the bigger bills, the better for getting a higher rate of exchange. The second point was siesta times. So in the United States places are usually open 10am-6pm say with more constant hours. In Argentina, many places close mid-day from 12-5pm sometimes later for a siesta and then open back up late in the evening. In Buenos Aires, food was easier to find in that 12-5pm range more so than the other places we traveled to but much of your choices were left to cafes.
The cafes were nice though. Offering nice wine, beer, pizza and delicious sandwiches and more. We ended up going to the Mercado San Telmo, an indoor street market where we had our lunch and bought a yerba matte cup which is a national staple of Argentina. I personally love yerba matte as it is a drink I use in place of a Red Bull for many of my long multi-day ultras. The overall feel of Buenos Aires was very much a combination of European cities like Paris with New York City. There was so much unique architecture found in old chapels, buildings with terraces, romantic balconies you would see out of Romeo and Juliet as well as various statues and parks.
Running in the city can be tough but we were close enough to a dirt path at the Ecological Preserve out by the water which was amazing. I ran there the first evening with Eric Hartmark and the 5 mile loop made you feel like you were running some of the trails of Central Park in NYC. But much of the running was hard on the body as the sidewalks were narrow and made of a slick granite. We closed out the evening with dinner at a cool cafe where I had a Liter of beer that was the price of a standard pint in the US. We had a wonderful meal with Alex and David, two from our team as David being fluent in Spanish was a big help for Ashlee and myself in deciphering the menu.
The next morning was exploring more of the city. We went to the Galleria Pacifico, a giant shopping mall as well as various stores that lined the streets. This was place to get good Cambio/change. We then went to a bookstore like no other. It was literally an opera house converted into a bookstore. I had never been in such an incredible bookstore as this one.
We checked out some outdoor stores which was one of my goals and then a quick bite to eat, a run around Palermo and then time for our team dinner back at the hotel. It was great to see everyone for our team dinner and the excitement was at an all-time high. The next morning we would be taking a bus to the domestic airport to catch our flights to Neuquen, the northern gateway to Patagonia. How about we talk a little about Patagonia. So the whole southern half of Argentina makes up the Patagonia region. But what most people think of Patagonia, that area is further south than where we ended up. Patagonia is a wild region, full of mountains, glaciers, lakes, wind, sun, and unique wildlife. Where we ended up in Neuquén was more like as Alex put it, New Mexico where the dry alpine desert meets an arid plain.
Once we arrived in Neuquén, I had some Malbec and Pizza with Ashlee at a nearby restaurant that did not have their full menu because it was 6pm. I then ran at night up into the foothills and found my favorite section of the trip thus far. A trail network at the top of a hill that flowed out to the river valley below. One section was incredibly well-lit and people were out running even at 8:30pm. I really enjoyed the wider sidewalks and rolling hills of this city. It reminded me of a dry version of Binghamton, NY. The next morning, Alex, Jeremy, Stacy and the Drownes all went for a run out along the trails. It was so much fun getting to explore the network in the morning daylight.
We picked up some provisions at a local shop and then began our epic 6 hour bus ride to the race site. We had to take taxis to the bus terminal which was a journey. But once there, we met-up with some of the other countries. The highlight of the bus was the random dog that came into the terminal and took in all of the pets.
Bus rides are pretty uneventful. We did stop at a rest stop where I hat some baked ham flavored Lays that were okay. My breath in the aftermath…well that is another story for another day. In terms of what we saw on the bus ride. We would go through these towns that had fossils of dinosaurs then followed by scrub and desert plains. We saw some horses out there and that was the extent. Things did not get spicy until just 18 kilometers from Caviahue. We had smelled like burning rubber for an hour now and then we had to stop. The bus transmission was in distress. With bad cell reception and being in-between a mountain pass, we waited for another bus and took the time to walk around outside in the cold and take photos. When the new bus arrived, we loaded on like sardines as the windows fogged-up and our rate of speed that last 18k was at a snail’s pace. We ended joining a standard transport bus which we packed in past capacity and man did we all not want to jinx ourselves. We finally made it to the lodges to a winter wonderland of snow. It was a little tough to figure out which cabana we were staying at but once we figured it out, our cabin of 7 was able to settle in. A dinner of Kalfu was nice as in the small village of Caviahue, where the race would be held, finding food would be a challenge for the remainder of the trip.
Hear more about the time spent in Caviahue and the race site in the next post.
So on 7-11 I did something wild. I ran an event that takes runners across central Connecticut traversing 7 different 7-11’s in search of free slurpees for Free Slurpee day.
I felt that this would be a wonderful excuse for a nice long run and to get some volume under me as I prepare for the World Snowshoe Running Championships. I am hoping to get as strong as I can to power through 12ks of high altitude snowshoe running (race is at 8,000 feet).
The run was created by Jimmy Mac, local CULTRA podcast star and RD. He was inspired when he did a 7-11 run in California and wanted to bring this concept to his home in Connecticut. And so the Slurpee run was born. The course connects Vernon to Meriden through 7 7-11’s. Your entry fee would cover the coach bus ride to the start of the run. With it being in the middle of Summer, historically, it has been as what Jimmy says is “Hot Garbage” and this year’s edition was hot but not as sticky as it has been in past editions. The 2022 version had 19 starters. We would all keep together for the most part throughout the first 4 7-11’s before the pace would pick up.
Distances between 7-11’s: Vernon to Manchester – 6.2 miles Manchester to East Hartford – 5.4 miles E. Hartford to W. Hartford – 5.7 miles W. Hartford to Newington – 3.9 miles Newington to New Britain – 5.2 miles New Britain to Meriden – 8.2 miles
I drove out to Meriden about and 1.5 hours from me and arrived a little early. I was able to relax and hang out before meeting-up with everyone. Once runners arrived, it was fun to meet so many new faces as I am new to the whole New England trail running scene. On the bus, lots of war stories were shared. The coach bus was a nice element and once we arrived, we had about 15 minutes to hang before right at 11am we could then start and get our first slurpee. I packed a good amount in my Nathan 12L Vaporkrar–similar to the amount I had with me for Cocodona. I wanted to carry some extra food, my wallet, plenty of fluids, a spare shirt, and a cooling towel. You want to be prepared for these type of adventures.
Location # 1–Vernon, CT —Slurpee # 1
Promptly at 11am, we entered our first 7-11 to indulge on some delicious icy drinks. I added an additional challenge of drinking a different flavor of slurpee at each location and once you consume one flavor, it would be eliminated from the list. After our first stop we then headed to Manchester which was a 6.2 mile segment. We hit some miles in town and then onto a sweet bike path. It was a nice segment here. This would be our nicest stretch of shade before we would hit the more urban/suburban stretches. We ran together as a big group and it was fun to hang with everyone. Our pace hovered around 10-11 minute miles for the first chunk.
Location # 2: Manchester, CT
Stop 1 I tried cherry. Stop 2, I went with the Vitamin water flavor which had no sugar and was delicious. It was fun having a crew of us come into every 7-11 and the staff there know exactly that we were in need of the free slurpee. There were a lot of cool art murals throughout this run and some nice suburban sections through here. We ran by Wickham park which is where a lot of Cross country races in High school happen in CT and we also found a sweet fountain to jump into to cool-off. It was already in the mid 80’s with a breeze so it was nice to cool down.
Location #3: East Hartford, CT
I think it was here that we had some free slurpees bought for us out of the group which was really nice since our App only gave us 1 free slurpee. They only cost like $1.15 so it was not a bank-breaker. I was getting into the groove of taking in the slurpees thought the sugar was hurting my stomach a little. It was around lunch time and had to wait until the next 7-11 for a slice of pizza.
Location #4: West Hartford
This was a top section of mine. It was so cool to go through Hartford on the big bridge, by the Traveler’s building into UCONN Hartford and other cool sections in the city. We even found a splash-pad here to cool-off.
After running through the heart of downtown Hartford we then entered some of the rougher neighborhoods. We stuck together here as we had some vocal residents cat-call us and say a few profanities. To each their own. This is where we stopped for a while and fueled up. I had a slice of pizza, a Nesquik, slurpee and a peach iced tea. From stops 5-7 we would start to do our own thing. The group would then split-up and run our own paces. For me it was 8 minute miles. I felt good to know we were getting close to being done. It was around 3pm. I whipped out my cooling towel and that was clutch in staying cool. This stretch went by some cool shops and a vegan market that I have never seen like Vegan monkey or something.
Location # 5: Newington
It was at this stop after I made a little push that we had like a Rabi recite a ritual I think with Jake which was cool to witness. I had a coke slurpee here which was clutch though I was getting pretty tired of slurpees at this point. Now at around 4:15pm, I wanted to get going so that we could finish before too late.
Location # 6: New Britian
Newington to New Britain began the series of hills as the last 14 miles had some nice rollers. I ran with the woman’s champion out of Boston,, Traci. Traci was a very strong runner as we pushed in the 8 minute range. At stop 6, Jimmy Mac said his stomach was killing him and he kept going without having a slushy. I guess that would DQ him perhaps. We left a couple of minutes after. This section was on a narrow road as the 5pm rush of cars made us have to be extra careful. It was nice lush green countryside so it was nice to have the shade and knowing the heat of the day was over with. We stuck together up and down the hills and then hit the reservoir which was where I dropped at the CUT 112. It was crazy to instantly recognize that spot and then see Castle Craig up on the hill-side. This section was so pretty though as we wound up and down a few more steep hills in some neighborhoods and then descended right down by our cars. I went over to the 7-11 and had my final slurpee and some Liquid Death to rehydrate. I separated from our ladies champ on the last climb as she wanted to stop to drink some more fluids. It was awesome working together and she is going to crush her next race.
Location # 7: Meriden
Nothing better than drinking your last slurpee after a long day: 7 hours and 51 minutes worth. It was a great run tour of Connecticut and a fun challenge. With some 38 miles of running in for the day, it was a great way to start the week. The concept of running across a bunch of different 7-11’s linking them on foot is an amazing idea and I hope perhaps you get to do something like this in the future.
So I am back at it. Cocodona was truly epic on so may accords. My body and mind took a beating. It took me a whole month to let my feet heal and gain some training back again. I looked at Gunstock as a test of my recovery and overall fitness. Could I put together a strong race effort coming off of such a major race like Cocodona under maybe 2 weeks of solid mileage?
Gunstock Trail Festival is an awesome low-key but fun weekend- long event taking place at Gunstock Mountain Ski Resort in Gilford, NH. Gunstock is located in the “Lakes” region of New Hampshire which I like to call the “gateway to the White mountains” as anything north of the area are the Presidentials and White Mountain National Forest.
I arrived solo on Saturday afternoon for packet pick-up. Everything was held in the youth adventure lodge. It was cool seeing kids do the zipline overhead. It was going to be hot as the temperatures were forecasted to reach the 90’s with 70-80% humidity. Yuk.
As part of registration, you receive a cool hoodie and a steel bottle. After registration, I went into town to stop for some provisions at Wal-Mart and get my pre-race pizza and beer. I had a Fosters with a nice pepperoni pizza which really hit the spot. I car-camped in the parking lot which was actually a lot of fun. It was nice and peaceful though some of the mosquitoes did bite me early on in the night. I enjoyed sleeping in the car and with a sleeping mask, I slept really well even with all the results of Western States 100 coming in on my Twitter feed.
Race morning came and I rolled out from my car, got dressed and heading over the short .1 mile walk to the start. In terms of my gear–I wore:
My T8 apparel kit which included:
Ice Tee shirt in Black
Sherpa Shorts in Forest Green
T8 Hong Kong Boco Trucker.
Norda 001 Ray Zahab Edition
Nathan Vaporzach 2.5 L Pack with 2 soft straw bottles
Nathan Speedmax 22 ounce handheld
Ucan Energy powder in my Speedmax and water in my flasks
Ucan Edge X 6 –1 every hour in my T8 sherpa shorts
1 pair of Fits socks Run 1/4s
Trails Collective Buff.
I headed over to the start and everyone was just hanging around while we waited. I ran into Peter Ward, who I shared miles with at Cocodona in the first night. He grew-up near Providence so it was a fun surprise to see him here. We talked all about Cocodona and what we have been up to. He is getting ready for Tor Des Geants in the Alps so any opportunity to get some New England miles suited him.
The course would be 8 — 10k laps revolving around the ski area on Nordic and backwoods trails. In totality, the elevation gain and descent was about 5-6,000 feet which was a nice runnable blend.
It was already toasty at 6am. We took off myself and Peter and headed from the start banner along the gravel road onto black-top running through the campgrounds. We then took a steep left turn and the climbing began. It was here that I kept motoring along and separated myself a little from Peter. It was going to be a race between us Cocodonans. My body felt well and the early miles just went by quickly. I zipped through the first aid after the series of ups and downs, crossed the street and hit the main network of trails for the remainder of the loop.
So the course was not super technical by Beast Coast standards. Much of it had some rocks and roots but also was fairly nice soft soil you find in deep pine woods of New England which I love. The most-technical part for me was a descent on a woodchip section. The woodchips were mangled and made a mis-step easy if you did not pay attention. I almost twisted my ankle after zooming down at breakneck speed. So I realized I would have to tone it down on this section.
I had a bathroom break at one of the aids and kept going. I used the cool morning (relative) to push my pace. I was running in the high 6 to low 7 minute range that first loop. It felt controlled. I continued the series of loops round and round we went. The flow of the course was nice and with a nice series of flat, uphill after uphill and then downhill to flat that never made it boring. The back half of the course was the “Furnace” where the air just sat and baked you alive.
By lap 4–Halfway in this race, I split around 3:02 for 25 miles. But by this point at 9am, I was drenched. The 80% humidity and the temperature made this run feel like a jungle. This is New Hampshire where earlier in the week the lows were in the 50’s. Already the temps had reached the mid 80’s with the high at 93 with 70 % humidity. I knew that I had to change-up my plan.
My gameplan was to run by feel which the early miles allowed me to hover around the 7 minute range. But as things became more adverse, I decided I needed to do everything I could to sustain a solid effort knowing I would be giving up time the second half. You see, in years past, I would have pushed too hard and would have blown up. But a more-experienced Cole now understood that adjusting my effort would allow a decent finish vs a risk of DNF.
At the 50k mark, I was overheating a little. I had not at this point whipped out my Harry Potter-Hufflepuff cooling towel. I initially was dumping water on my head but that was not enough in this swamp of NH. So I then used my cooling towel and took it out of my pack. I placed it on my head under my hat and got it wet with cold water. I would stop at every aid with each lap doing the same method–usually spending 1-2 minutes. The cooling would only last a mile or two before I would need to do it again at the next aid.
I am not a jungle runner. Heat and Humidity usually would crush me. I avoid those conditions because they well, suck. But in some of the worst race conditions I have been in for heat/humidity combo, I thrived. I never really walked an uphill. I suffered well throughout laps 5,6,7. Utilizing my Ucan Edge gels : 1 every hour and then Ucan Energy powder 1 packet every 2 hours was perfect. I am telling you, this stuff is magic. I had no low energy, not once. I could sprint if I wanted to and always had a nice consistent baseline of energy. I equate this product to oatmeal. It warms your belly and is a slow burn. My body thrives on that type of fuel. And once I hit the last lap, it was a victory laps of sorts. I had an hour to run the last 10k to sneak under 7 hours which was my goal. I put the pedal to the metal and went for it. Up the hills, the sea of wood chips, then the small exposed Serengeti section, up another steep hill and into the last aid station. I was at 6:59 at this point with a half mile to go. I stopped at the aid to dump some more water on myself and then went. I almost tripped out of the aid. I hit the ski hill section and then into the finish shoot.
My finish of 7:04 was awesome as I sprinted into the big wooden archway. I was done. What a relief. I spent the whole 7 hours drenched in sweat and water–feeling like I was potatoes being boiled in a pot. It sucked, but I was mentally strong as steel. Nothing would break me on this day.
I finished with an hour positive split on the back-half of the race but by adjusting my effort based on the conditions, I was able to give an output that was needed for the conditions. If I had ice on me the whole time, I would have felt cooler and probably would have been able to push as cold ice is the only thing that works for me in super hot and humid. You have to apply it constantly to stand a chance. The cold water at the aid was refreshing but it was short-lived.
Peter Ward came in second in the low 8 hours and put together a great run. At times, I worried he would close on me in the last hours of the race as my pace slowed. I have not raced a 50 miler since 2019 and it felt short compared to what I have been doing as of late.
I hope that this type of performance gives me a shot at the USA mountain running 50 mile team. There are three spots open and with the championship being held in Thailand, a place known for heat and humidity, I think I proved I can perform in such tough conditions. I will put my best foot forward and see what they decide in September.
The remainder of the time spent at the event was eating the delicious food buffet where I had a nice veggie burger and fries and some Shipyard beer. I loved how everyone was trying to pawn-off their tickets which I eventually did the same.
Gunstock is a fantastic event: low-key but also really fun. A true trail festival. This result now bodes well for me as I look to gear-up for the rest of the summer. World Snowshoe Championships will be my next big “A” goal. The race will be held at 9,000 feet above sea level so I am going to try and get myself as fit as possible.
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 email@example.com.