Philadelphian Perspectives is our new series in name, but a concept that has been authentic to us for the last 2 decades: highlighting the individuals who give the Philadelphia Running Community its flavor. A lot of us know our favorite Philly races, as well as bucket–list competitions for which we are willing to travel. We’ll cover all of those topics with Perspectives, hoping these accounts from your fellow runners are inspiring and relatable.
We recently caught up with Philadelphia Runner Rachel Bambrick for an insight, in her own words, into her experiences with this past year’s Cocodona 250. As originally shared on Rachel's personal blog: Rachel Runs On.
Banner photo credit: Howie Stern (@howiesternphoto)
The Cocodona 250 is a 250–mile race from Black Canyon City (just outside Phoenix) to Flagstaff, connecting many major trail networks of Arizona. With nearly 40,000 feet of elevation gain and a variety of trail types and weather patterns, it is a challenging yet beautiful race. It had been on my radar since its inception in 2021, and I had patiently waited, trained, raced, and gathered the required gear. Finally, in 2023, with the go ahead from my coach, it was all coming together. Below is my race recap, enjoy!
Photo credit: Scott Rokis (@scottrokisphoto)
The night before the race, we camped at the start and I woke up READY at 3am. Nervous as all hell, but ready. I checked in, got my spot tracker, and went back to the van to finish my last preparations. Somehow this all took longer than I anticipated, and I found myself rushing a bit as the clock ticked closer to 5am. Walked over to the start line with a few minutes to spare, said goodbye to my crew (I wouldn’t see them until that night), and we were off!!
I knew this first section (Start to Crown King) was notorious. It’s hot, it’s exposed, it’s a lot of climbing (about 10,000 feet in 30 miles), and it can break a lot of strong runners. My game plan was to take it slow. So slow I felt almost silly. I stuck with the plan and felt surprisingly good on a lot of the climbs!
I met up with a few awesome women and stuck with them for a bit (one even knew a friend of mine from Philly!!). The water drops were surprisingly decked out with ice towels and popsicles, and I was feeling good. Then I bumped into another woman, Kristin, and we kept pace with each other for quite some time. While there wasn’t much cell service in this section, she had a satellite device that allowed her to message with her husband from time to time. Turns out her husband had been hanging with my crew for most of the day! She graciously messaged my crew for me to check in and say hi! This was such a needed boost. We spent many miles and hours praising the wind gusts, problem solving a frozen water pack, filtering stream water, helping a few other folks having issues along the trail, bonding over both being OTs (!!), and chatting about the donkey racing she does.
We hit the last water drop before we approach Lane Mountain in overall good spirits. But I kept being thrown off by volunteers reminding me of cutoff times. I had a plan to move slowly through this section and I thought I was hitting my plan. “Am I moving too slow?” “Did I miscalculate?!” My thoughts spiraled a bit. I tried to keep cool and just press forward. My new mantra became “I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.” And I was.
Photo credit: Anastasia Wilde (@_anastasiawilde)
Eventually I found myself just pressing ahead a bit too far of Kristin, and I knew what I had to do for myself and my race. I checked in with her, made sure she was set, told her I had a bit of a second wind going, and I needed to just move. She completely understood and sent me off. I cannot express how crucial she was to my race here (and moving forward, but we’ll get to that later).
I pushed up Lane Mountain, it was tough, but I was steady. When I reached the top I was so grateful to be done climbing for at least a bit. The sun was setting, I switched my lights on, and ran down the mountain into Crown King Aid.
“YEAH RACHEL!!!” I could hear Jesse’s voice through the dark. A smile lit up my face and I saw my crew who had been patiently waiting for me all day. Quick change into some cold gear, grabbed a bite to eat, and back into the night I went.
This next section to Arrastra got tough. I checked the temps at Crown King, and they seemed mild, but in actuality it felt COLD. I didn’t have enough layers. I found myself getting tired and tried for a trail nap but just kept shivering and couldn’t sleep. I decided then that really all I could do was keep moving. I was tired as hell, feeling a bit miserable, but sleeping and sitting just wasn’t an option because I was so cold. Honestly, I just leaned into the misery and put one foot in front of the other. About 3 miles out from Arrastra a figure sitting on the side of the trail popped up when I approached. “Hey! Can I hop in with ya!?” I linked up with David for the first of many times throughout the race and we also joined forces with Mark and spent the last 3 miles into the aid station sharing stories from the day. We were feeling miserable, but misery loves company, and I saw that firsthand. Linking up truly changed my night and brought me into Arrastra and through the first roughly 50 miles in one piece.
To be continued…..next week.....see you then.....
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