250 miles in central Arizona. In the heat of day. In the dark of the night.
250 miles of constant forward motion that sometimes feels motionless.
250 miles of grit and pain and despair and elation, to the ultimate of elation all the way to the finish line.
On May 3, founder of Aravaipa Running events, Jamil Coury was able to hold the event of his ultrarunning dreams: a 250 mile race through the heart of central Arizona, giving 173 runners the chance at completing what many deem to be the unthinkable.
The race is called the Cocodona 250, and according to an interview given to Satisfyrunning.com, Coury spoke about why he put on this event. “...Cocodona for me is a celebration of my home state and tying together all of these awesome, historic towns across central Arizona and then connecting all the landscapes in between,” he said in the interview. “We wanted to include as many towns as we could and really embrace the towns … I hope someday everyone in all these towns knows what the race is and look forward to it each year, come out and cheer on all the runners, day or night, and really be proud of their area and be excited about all these athletes coming in from all over the place to come run through their town and across the mountains and canyons that connect all these cities together.”
The interview was given prior to the event, and as the race unfolded, that is exactly what he and his staff were able to accomplish — just ask first place finisher, Maggie Guterl. I am really grateful for the opportunity to have been able to participate in the inaugural Cocodona 250,” Guterl said. “At no point in the race did I ever consider quitting; it was too special of an opportunity.”
The opportunity to race the inaugural event came at the coattails of Guterl’s DNF at the infamous Barkley Marathons this past March. And according to Guterl, it was her training for Barkley that helped her transition well going into Cocodona. In fact, she wanted to run Cocodona even before her Barkley attempt, but was afraid that the races would be too close together. “I trained for Barkley all winter, spending many long hours on my feet with lots of vert training,” Guterl said. “After the race was all said and done, I had been out on the Barkley course for 28 hours covering only 52 miles but 28,000 feet of gain.
“Cocodona sounded like a fun adventure although I knew it was rather close to the Barkley Marathons. I decided that if Barkley wasn't all I had hoped to achieve, and if I wasn't wrecked from my Barkley effort, then I would give Cocodona a shot. Barkley won this year again, so I found myself on the start line of this inaugural Cocodona among a few other Barkers who had failed as well.”
Following her Barkley attempt, Guterl took a week off, then focused her efforts toward running on lower desert trails near her hometown of Durango, Colorado to see if she was up for the challenge of the Arizona desert. She also had a previous 200-mile finish under her belt to draw confidence from, but said that nothing could really prepare her for what she would face at Cocodona.
“Back in 2019, I covered 250 miles in 60 hours at Bigs Backyard which is a totally different format than Cocodona,” she recalled. “You run one 4.1667 mile loop every hour on the hour until everyone gives up. … It is super hard to compare Cocodona, so I really felt like a newbie with no experience going into this race. I figured that this course couldn't be covered in 60 hours, at least not by me, and that I would enter uncharted territory. That was exciting and I definitely hit uncharted territory.”
That uncharted territory would include severe dehydration early on in the race. “One of my lowest lows was getting to Crown King at mile 37, she recalled. “I’m pretty sure everyone suffered big time in that 24 miles section after the first aid station where we climbed 8000 feet in what felt like 110 degrees. I ran out of all fluids 2.5 hours from the aid station. I carried all Tailwind which is my main fuel source and ran on fumes. It took until nightfall and freezing temps at 7400 feet at Kamp Kipa to recover from that.”
But it wasn’t just the heat, but the dark of night that caused her to have to dig deep. “Going into the third night and during the third night was really hard,” she said. “Staying awake was tough and that was the uncharted territory I was talking about.” Guterl spoke about one of her pacers bringing a light that changed everything. “All my pacers came prepared with their Kogalla lights, and it was amazing!” she said. “I don’t own one, but it was like night and day (pun intended). I will definitely be getting one in the future.”
While having lights to light up the night was what helped Guterl get through some of her lowest lows on the course, it was having the natural light from the rising and setting each day that gave her something to look forward to and continue on. “I loved the sunrise because it meant a new day and some daylight to wake me up, and the sunsets meant relief from the heat,” she said. “Seeing the sun come and go was also beautiful.”
Another high was meeting her crew and picking up her pacers at the aid stations. One pacer was 2019 UTMB Champion Courtney Dauwalter who helped her to the finish line as the first place female finisher in a time of 3 days, 13 hours, 30 minutes and 38 seconds. “The finish line was the most memorable, epic finish I have ever experienced,” Guterl said. “I turned to my pacer, Courtney at the sight of the finish line and asked, ‘Is this what UTMB is like?’ because it was so amazing.
“Coming across the finish line was a great feeling, but also a bit overwhelming because everyone was there cheering,” she recalled. “I really did not expect all that hype. It felt surreal. I remember thinking that everyone who crosses this finish line deserves this greeting and to feel this accomplished and I hope that everyone did. From 72 to 130 hours, everyone on the course ran through the same crazy conditions and accomplished something that no one has ever done. 108 people were the first finishers of the Cocodiona 250, and that is pretty cool!”
Guterl expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the Cocodona 250, particularly the race staff and her pacers. “I am really grateful for the opportunity to have been able to participate in the inaugural Cocodona 250,” she said. ”It was too special of an opportunity. Aravaipa has put on unique and safe races for a very long time. This was the first year doing this race which has a lot of unknown factors but they handled it really well helping us be as prepared as possible. I really appreciate my crew and pacers and everyone out there who helped us along the way. This is not a solo endeavor. This was the hardest race I have done to date, but at no point in the race did I ever consider quitting.”