Third Time’s The Charm? Cocodona 250 Is Back

Get ready: 90 hours of live-streaming Cocodona is coming. See who’s competing, and what to expect at this year’s Cocodona 250.

Photo: Scott Rokis

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The Cocodona 250 is back for its third year.

The Cocodona 250 Course

The Aravaipa event, known for its boundary-pushing 250-mile course and equally mind-boggling livestream (90 consecutive hours!) is returning. The course is back to its original start in Black Canyon City, Arizona, after being altered last year due to the Crooks Fire. However, there are some permanent changes to the course which means it will be a totally new event, even for repeat runners. The route through Sedona is different than previous years, and now traverses the town of Munds Park en route to the finish in Flagstaff. 

In addition to the Marquis 250-mile race, there is now a Sedona Canyons 125-mile race (Wednesday) and the Elden Crest 36-mile race (Friday). According to race director (and endurance videographer) Jamil Coury, the goal is to bring more folks into the event’s fold with more accessible distances that don’t take a full workweek to complete.  In addition to race directing, Coury will be zooming along the course on foot with a camera in tow to capture the race’s leaders as they make their way to Flagstaff. 

We’ve had a lot of positive comments about the livestream in the past with folks glued to it all week! We hope to bring the event closer to everyone around the world with this stream,” says Coury. 

(Photo: Scott Rokis)

Cocodona For Good

This year, Aravaipa partnered with Wander Project to offer charity bibs. Participants commit to raising a minimum of $3,000 for a charity of their choice, and a percentage of race earnings will also go to the official nonprofit of Cocodona, Wilderness Volunteers. 

The race also offered two scholarship bibs for athletes from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Stephanie Mitchell was born and raised in Fort Defiance, Arizona, located on the Navajo Nation, and she is part of the Native Women Running community. “I picked up running later in life to help with anxiety after I became a mother. Surrounded by my culture, I was taught by my grandmother the significance of running. She told me that the hurt you feel before you hit your stride is our Holy People helping you understand how hard life can be. Then she explained that when you hit that stride, it’s our holy people letting you know all bad things end, you just have to push through it,” says Mitchell. She is dedicating her race to her autistic son. “There are very limited resources for our children with special needs. I’m happy to be uncomfortable for a few days while running Cocodona if it means giving my son a voice. Ahéhee.’”

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Scholarship recipient and runner Kellen Lomayestewa is a 42-year-old father of four from the Hopi reservation north of Flagstaff. Lomayestewa has been a lifelong runner, and says it’s an essential part of his spiritual practice. 

Running is a very big part of our traditional life. We run as prayer for all living things and for moisture, almost every ceremony we have involves running,” says Lomayestewa. He works at the Hopi day school, and is an aspiring cross-country coach. His participation was partly inspired by last year’s livestream. “I watched this past year’s Cocodona livestream coverage and immediately put it down as a to-do run. I’ll give my all at this incredible race, mainly to show my kids that if you put in the work, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Sally McRae Is Ready

Ultrarunner Sally McRae (winner of the 2021 Badwater 135) was drawn to Cocodona after hearing how and why race director Jamil Coury created the course. 

“I thought if I was ever going to do a 200, I wanted to do that course first. Jamil’s passion for his home and the wondrous beauty found on the Arizona trails made me think of the gift we have to explore right in our backyards,” says McRae. 

McRae says she has a deep curiosity about the distance and a child-like attraction to larger-than-life challenges. 

The most exciting is the mystery; I am a kid at heart and my imagination and excitement for exploration has always been deep and wide.” 

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McRae says she’s also drawn to the strategic challenge of having to figure out sleep and nutrition for multi-day events. To train for Cocodona, McRae did numerous triple long run days and even a 100-mile “long run” in the build-up. Early in the build, she focused on speed, hill intervals and running economy, before shifting into a mindset and training that focused less on pace, and more on time on feet. She also says she continued to focus on building muscle and strength.

“I am well aware at how much my body breaks down after doing Badwater several times and so I want to be one step ahead of my recovery,” says McRae. “My goal is to be strong and enduring for the entire year and beyond.”

McRae has shared her training journey on her youtube channel, and also plans to post a full race film after Cocodona. 

Jeff Garmire Gears up To Take On Cocodona

Previous winners Annie Hughes, Maggie Guterl, Michael Versteeg, and Joe McConaughy will not return, but noted ultra athletes Sally McRae, Michael McKnight, Dominic Grossman, Jeff Garmire, and Sarah Ostazewski are ready to toe the line.

Jeff Garmire is perhaps best known for his long-distance unsupported FKT’s, including the Long Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Colorado Trail, Crazy Mountain Loop, Wonderland Loop, and John Muir Trail. For Garmire, the chance to traverse significant terrain with aid is an exciting opportunity. 

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I have done it the last two years and love that it is long enough to fully immerse yourself into the experience, stripping away external issues and being completely in the moment,” says Garmire. “The first year (2021), it was my second ultra, and the second year (2022), I went in with no training and coming off an injury, so I am back this year to hopefully redeem myself.”

In addition to the punishing heat, Garmire has prepared to take on multiple days on little sleep when every second counts. “The most challenging thing about a 250 is trying to maximize efficiency and movement while limiting sleep. The second and third nights are always the interesting ones. It is a question of how hard can I push without jeopardizing movement for the daylight hours.”

For Garmire, the Cocodona 250 feels like a short event compared to his many multi-day FKTs. “I can grind it out under non-ideal circumstances. That is basically my skill set for ultrarunning that I rely on. So, my method is to push forward at a consistent pace, as efficiently as possible. 250 miles does not wear on me or intimidate me as much as the concerns of starting out too fast or getting dehydrated on day one,” says Garmire. “It is really a step down in distance and duration.”

2022 Cocodona 250 mile endurance run. Runners take on a journey between Prescott and Flagstaff Arizona to test their mental and physical strength over 122 hours. (Photo: Scott Rokis)

Sarah Ostazewski Prepares for Three Goes at Cocodona

Flagstaff, Arizona-based ultrarunner Sarah Ostaszewski says her proximity to the race course is what drew her into Cocodona’s orbit. Plus, she was familiar with Aravaipa’s events, and knew that meant a high degree of support and stoke. 

“I was curious about multi-day events, so I signed up with the belief that I was ready (mentally and physically) to give it a go,” says Ostaszewski. 

Ostaszewski is no stranger to longer distances and has had success at everything from the Broken Arrow 11K (2nd) to the Javelina 100K (2nd), and a win at the Mogollon Monster. But the problem-solving aspect and pure endurance challenge of a 250-mile course continues to be alluring for the runner. The Cocodona course is near Ostaszewski’s home in Flagstaff, which gives her easy access to the course. 

“In 2022, I really focused on improving efficiency at ultramarathons, so this year I’m hoping to bring what I’ve learned to the Cocodona course. We’ve had a long winter, though, so I made it a point to drop down to the warmer temperatures of Sedona or head to the Grand Canyon for long runs. I’ve prioritized fun over anything else, so training has been personally fulfilling leading into Cocodona.”

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This year, Ostaszewski is switching up her strategy when it comes to caffeine intake and sleep with a plan. 

Ostaszewski has competed in every iteration of Cocodona, and says she’s excited to continue to be a student of the sport, and of this course in particular. “I’ve learned a lot over the past two years, and I’ll keep learning this year. I don’t expect things to go perfectly because they rarely do in ultras, but this year I will be doing some things differently.”

A big key for Ostaszewski is focusing on being in the moment. “Last year I ended up getting caught up in comparisons on certain sections of the course, so this year I’m focusing on giving it my best on each section, on the day. I’m going to try and not get down on myself!”

Ostaszewskiwould encourage anyone who’s curious to train for and try out the distance. “Give Cocodona a try! 250+ miles is a long way, but you can do it if you’re committed to being out there for a few days or for the entire week. I’ve shed a few tears watching runners cross the finish line in Heritage Square because I can see how life-changing this event is for each individual. It’s an accomplishment for a lifetime, and you make such great memories with everyone along the course.”

You can tune in to Aravaipa’s YouTtube channel, or stream directly here from 6 to 8 P.M. pm (MST) for between 85 and 90 hours of live-streamed, ultra-ultra trail action.

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