"There's no way you're supposed to be. There's nothing you're supposed to do. There's nowhere you're supposed to go. And you'll find you're in an eternal here and now. That's your way of discovering who you are, and how the universe works, and what man's place in it is. I want you to do something that expresses you. No more playing games with me. I want to see you."
This is the intro to the song “Totem” by STS9 and apparently also a quote from philosopher Alan Watts. It was these lyrics that I grooved to on repeat up the twelve switchbacks of the Casner Mountain grade through miles 184 to 189 of the Cocodona 250. I was deep in my unknown zone, never having run more than 100 miles at once before. The music invigorated me, maybe a little too much. My husband and pacer at the time compared me to his childhood pitbull Liam, pulling on the leash with a goofy grin, tongue out, until I’d need to crash under a shaded ponderosa pine for a ten minute trail nap. The excitement was nearly impossible to contain. When I wanted to run, I ran.
Let’s dive into these lyrics a little deeper and analyze them against the feat I was tackling. The Cocodona 250 is a roughly 257 mile (yes, there is a bonus 10K+ to this beast) trail adventure from Black Canyon City, Arizona, all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona. Currently, the longest point-to-point footrace in the country. The course crosses the entirety of the Bradshaw Mountain range, and is notably the first trail ultra to navigate through this rugged terrain. Runners venture into numerous historical pioneering towns before getting a 360 view of Sedona and climbing into the Flagstaff grand finale.
That entire song intro resonated so hard during the grind, but it’s the “I want you to do something that expresses you. No more playing games with me. I want to see you.” And the song echos out… “you, you, you…” I committed to giving my entire self to this race. The act of running Cocodona 250 was exactly how I was expressing myself at that moment. How I was showing this repetitive voice in my headphones, myself, and everyone rooting for me, who Shelby Farrell is. I was painting a masterpiece, but instead of acrylics, my medium was dusty footprints, bloody boogers, and the hooting and hollering of a good time. Recognizing this gave me power. I had no doubt in my mind that I would be crossing the finish line of the inaugural Cocodona 250.
The “unknown” continued to challenge me. After sneaking ice in my socks because A) it was hot, but B) my ankles were getting beyond sore, I learned what the early signs of trench foot and painful blisters meant for a race this distance, and vowed to never make that mistake again… For miles the pain in my oozing inflamed feet and swollen sunburned lip left me whimpering with every step. Rocks and stumps looked like thrones. These seats were sirens calling my overworked flesh to rest.
My body wanted to run, but I needed to figure out how to compartmentalize the pain. I told myself that the blisters weren’t going to put me in a wheelchair (like say a strained achilles might). The lip would heal. Even though the moment I accidentally grazed it with a salt tablet made me scream. I pulled up my Turtle Fur Tube, oftentimes biting it in my teeth while pushing through the numerous uncomfortable sensations my body was stabbing me with. Like a dark witch had crafted a voodoo doll of me, slicing through my stuffing with a pile of leftover bib pins. It didn’t help that the aid stations were always further than I thought, and every turn, especially at night, when the glowing tents didn’t pop into the horizon at the precise moment I expected them, was a massive buzz kill. (Sincere apologies to my amazing pacers who I relentlessly heckled every time this happened.)
When I was able to block the physical discomfort and run, the highs were like no high I’ve ever experienced. The highest moment: chasing sunset to summit Mt. Elden, getting handed a Pabst Blue Ribbon by the one and only second place finisher Peter Mortimer, seeing the livestream crew IRL, I was on a higher plane. Proud of my ability to be coherent in this moment, knowing that I had been smart enough in my fueling and sleep strategy to get me to this point with my brain still firing on-- okay maybe not all cylinders-- but enough! I was existing in a dimension that only the exhausted ultra runner could tap into. There was no (strike that…) minimal pain. Every cell in my body elated knowing where I had carried my being over the past ~110 hours.
As I process the experience I feel both foolish and appreciative of the discomfort I fought through. Foolish because I was fine. I wasn’t dying. Not that I ever thought I was, but I wonder if I could be less dramatic in the suffering (something to test out in my next 200+ adventure). I am appreciative because I proved to myself something that I had done time and time again during hard moments in life-- I kept moving forward.
About the athlete: Shelby Farrell is a distance runner born and raised on the East Coast, currently running wild in Southern California. Her longest race prior to the Cocodona 250 was the 2020 Javelina Jundred 100-miler where she finished fifth for females. Relive the desert magic here. She is a Kogalla Ambassador and basks in the glow of her UltRA light-- it makes her feel like her spirit animal, the mountain lion, on the hunt charging through the dark wilderness. When not running she works as goodr sunglasses Media Megalodon. Be sure to creep her YouTube channel for weekly training highlights as she continues to challenge herself on the run. @shelbzzf | shelbzzf.com