Last week I had the honor and privilege to captain an aid station at the inaugural Cocodona 250 with Jessica Vandenbush and Ash DiCristina. The interesting part was that the entire aid station had to be in stealth mode so as not to disturb the town in which we were operating. More on that later...
You may not have heard of the Cocodona 250 yet because 2021 was the first year of the race. The idea comes from the mind of Jamil Coury and is a production of Aravaipa Running. It starts in Black Canyon City, AZ and ends in Flagstaff, AZ. In between are 250ish miles of gnarly, beautiful, soul crushing and inspiring landscapes. The race can best be summed up by the word “brutiful” invented by Glennon Melton Doyle. While I did get the chance to run a small portion of the course, most of my experience with the race was as someone who got to witness incredible humans in their efforts to conquer the course and to offer them a bit of support.
Now you may be wondering which aid station we had. Well, I could tell ya but then I’d have to kill ya. OK that might be a bit melodramatic, but it is not completely inaccurate. We were in a town between Prescott and Sedona that reluctantly agreed to allow an aid station. The aid station came with the restriction of complete quiet, including runners not using poles because of the click, click they make on concrete! It seemed this town took its reputation as a ghost town seriously. (Oops, did I give it away?) We were also not to take pictures and definitely not mention the town on social media. So mum’s the word. I’ll never tell. But I will say that we met some wonderfully kind people who were very curious about the race. It was fun to watch them react incredulously when we said 250 miles. If you’ve spent much time around race aid stations, you know they often involve yelling, trash talking, snacks, cow bells, and LOTS of cheering. Pulling all of this off with a mute button was a challenge, but we made it happen!
The real story here is the incredible people we had the honor to support in our aid station. Since we were close to the middle of the course, we were in a prime spot to help runners when they were in the throes of battle with the course and their own limitations, perceived or real. On the first day the course was just wreaking havoc on expected times and runners were about 4 hours behind schedule. From the front runners who inspired us with their inhuman abilities to the back of the pack runners who made us laugh despite their suffering, it was wall-to-wall inspiration.
While I could tell you a story about every runner who came through our aid station, I want to focus on those who demonstrated unbelievable grit by continuing to push despite looming cut off times. First of all there were Edward and Edward. I met this dynamic duo on the climb into town when I got to hike with them while staffing a road crossing. The first thing I noticed was the discontinuity between how they looked and how they sounded. They were slumped over, limping a bit and covered up to protect themselves from the sun, but they talked like two guys out on a day hike. At the aid station, they were wonderfully appreciative of everything we had for them to eat and thanked us for being there. One of the Ed’s was having some bad feet problems, and I offered to work on them. I’ve gotten to work on rough feet before, but these win the prize. After eating and laughing with us, Ed and Ed drug themselves out of the chairs and pressed on. Looking at the race tracker after the race, they DNF’d later that day. In my book they are rock stars.
The most memorable runner to come through our aid station was Gene. Gene is 73 years old, and I wish I had his endurance at 46. Gene was wearing an all white jumpsuit and a white sun hat. It was awesome, and I am trying to find the same outfit for myself. When he rolled into our aid station, he was seriously flirting with the cutoffs but explained to me how his race plan and current pace were spot on. He was convinced and almost convinced me that the race planners had it all wrong. Fortunately, he left our aid station before the cutoff, and I didn’t have to question his math. I also got to work on Gene’s feet, He told me that he never gets blisters, but I think he was pulling my leg. I popped blisters under blisters and even had to get out the scalpel to get to blisters under calluses. Gene also ended with a DNF later that night. I would like to hear the story of the race official who had to break the news to him.
I could go on and on about the runners we met, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the great volunteers we had. Each volunteer worked hard for every runner. The trail community is full of incredible people, and you can usually find them volunteering at aid stations.
If you want an epic adventure, either as a runner or as a volunteer, I highly recommend the Cocodona 250 in 2022. I also recommend that you check out the race reports that are coming out now from runners. There are so many great stories from the trails that deserve an audience to hear them. This race has broken new ground in distance and grandeur and is going to be around for years to come.
Dave is the owner and a guide for Top Out Adventures. His outdoor background is rooted in ultra-running, which has given him the chance to run around the world in the Rockies, Himalayas, Alps and Andes. He is also experienced in mountaineering and scuba diving, anything to get keep him out of an office. Feel free to reach out to him on Facebook at Dave Smithey or e-mail him at DaveS@TopOutAdventures.com