Trail Running for Road Runners: A Beginner’s Guide

We recently had a coaches roundtable discussion all about getting off the roads and onto the trails which you can check out here. For many runners, venturing onto the trails can seem quite daunting, while others are just curious about how to get started. Some of the main points from our trail running 101 discussion are summarized below. And if you find yourself trail curious, UltraSignup is your place to go for races, registration and results.

Team RunRunner running tough during a trail race.
Team RunRunner running tough during a trail race.

How is training for trail races different from road races?

Both road and trail running share foundational principles of fitness and endurance, but training for trail races embraces the unpredictability and challenges of natural environments, and differs from training for road races due to several key factors:

(1) Terrain Consideration:

Trail running involves varying terrain such as hills, technical sections, and possibly altitude. Training needs to include specific workouts that simulate these conditions, focusing on uphill and downhill running techniques, as well as stability and agility.

(2) Time on Feet:

Trail races often require longer durations on unpredictable surfaces. Training emphasizes time on feet to build endurance and mental resilience, preparing runners for the physical and mental demands of extended periods on the trail.

(3) Perceived Effort vs. Pace:

Unlike road races where pace is a primary metric, trail running is more about perceived effort. Runners learn to gauge their effort based on how their body feels rather than relying on pace due to the variability of trail conditions.

TRR Coach Des Clarke believes that “trail running is more about listening to your body and being in touch with your effort than focusing on pace”.

(4) Cross Training and Strength Training:

Cross training and strength training play a crucial role in trail running preparation. Building overall strength and addressing muscular imbalances through specific exercises helps prevent injuries and enhances performance on challenging terrain.

(5) Nutrition and Hydration:

Trail races typically require more attention to nutrition and hydration due to longer durations and varying environmental conditions. Training includes practicing fueling strategies during long runs to optimize energy levels and avoid bonking.

(6) Adaptability and Problem Solving:

Trail runners must be adaptable and able to problem solve on the fly. They encounter unpredictable variables like weather changes, trail obstacles, and elevation shifts, requiring quick adjustments in strategy during races.

(7) Learning Perceived Efforts:

When TRR Coach Brendan Gilpatrick advises athletes moving from the roads to the trails, his focus is helping them “to learn is how their road paces translate to perceived efforts on the trail. For a road focused athlete you can give them repetition work in very specific windows and they go out and tick off a bunch of reps right in that window. With trails, it’s important to learn how to associate how those efforts feel on the road and then how that translates to the trail. Something that has proved helpful is having a handful of specific routes that an athlete can compare over time as they progress in their training.”

Trail races require extra attention for nutrition and hydration.

Will road running help me on the trails?

Despite the differences, your road running training and fitness will definitely help you on the trails in several ways:

(1) Overall Fitness:

Fitness gained from road running translates well to trail running. Being fit means your cardiovascular system, muscular endurance, and overall stamina are improved, which are essential for both types of running.

(2) Turnover and Speed:

TRR Coach Des Clarke emphasizes this point: “road running helps with turnover and speed, which can translate to faster running on the trails”, especially on less technical sections and downhills, or when you need to push the pace.

(3) Strength Training:

Any strength training you’ve been doing will also benefit your trail running. Stronger muscles and better core stability are valuable for navigating uneven terrain and tackling climbs and descents.

(4) Pace and Effort Understanding:

Road running provides a good foundation for understanding different paces and effort levels. This knowledge translates to the trails, even though your pace might vary due to terrain differences.

(5) Adaptation and Learning:

Transitioning from road to trail running involves some adjustment, particularly in route selection (considering elevation gain and technicality). However, your base fitness from road running will facilitate this transition.

(6) Speed Work:

Incorporating speed work, which is common in road running training, can still be beneficial for trail runners. It helps improve running economy and adapt your body to faster efforts, which are useful on varying trail terrains.

Do I need to choose one: roads or trails?

No! Trail and road running are more similar than different, and you can absolutely race on both trails and roads during the same season.

In fact, TRR Coach Brian Condon said: “I ran my marathon PR in the middle of a training block training for the North Face 50 trail race while training in a city with some trails, but not a ton. You still need to properly space out races based on effort of the race-how long is it, A B or C race, et cetera, but you can definitely do both roads and trails well at the same time. What I tell a lot of my runners is that some of the workouts and long runs need to be specific to the race coming up, but a big chunk of your volume can be on whatever you enjoy and whatever is accessible.”

TRR Coach Genevieve Harrison recommends athletes starting the season with road running “as it fits well with speed and interval training before we get into more endurance and specific training” for trail racing later on.

While general fitness training benefits both road and trail running, allocating time for specificity in your training regimen is crucial for optimal performance in each discipline. Balancing race schedules and training loads with the guidance of a coach can help ensure you’re prepared and peaking appropriately for your targeted races. Ultimately, mixing both road and trail races can enhance overall fitness diversity and long-term enjoyment of the sport, provided that training and race scheduling are thoughtfully managed.

Whether you’re trail curious or not, check out this article “How to Choose your next Goal Race” for top tips on how to do just that!

Western States 100 Race Report

Race: Western States Endurance Run 100 Miles

Runner: Matt Urbanski (Team RunRun founder and coach)

Race Date: 06/29/2024

Location: Olympic Valley, CA, to Auburn, CA

Result: 22 hours 48 minutes, 72nd place overall

Strava link: Part 1 Part 2 (You know it’s a long race when there are 2 Strava files!)

Matt at the finish of Western States 100
Matt still smiling at the finish of the Western States 100, showcasing his “funky button down finisher shirt”!

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
  1. My crew. I had such a good time with my crew and my pacers. Getting so many of my favorite people together is the best!
  2. The volunteers. The volunteer to runner ratio is amazing. I had people sponging me down with ice water at nearly every aid station!
  3. The race vibe. It just feels like a special race, and everyone realizes that we’re all fortunate to be there doing this together.
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

Even though I didn’t achieve my primary goals for the race, I stayed positive throughout. While the outcome was unsatisfying, I never despaired and I never gave up. I stayed positive and made the most of a situation that was not what I was planning or hoping for. I’m especially happy that I was able to enjoy the last 20 miles with my brother pacing me despite having to walk most of that.

My short sad story is that my left hip flexor started hurting 3.5 hours into the race. I was mentally ready to start feeling tired at this point and to not feel great by the 15 to 20 mile mark of the race, but the feeling in my hip was not fatigue but more acute pain. I stopped briefly, rubbed it out, and then finally took some ibuprofen (I usually save that for way later in the race!). From then on, I was able to run easily for a long while – thanks to Chris Harrington, I was able to latch on and get into a steady groove.

At that point, I still believed I was able to run low 18s or even sneak into the 17s. But the hip kept coming back. Me and my crew worked hard to solve it, and even from Foresthill to Green Gate my pacer, Teddy, and I were moving well. But once it got dark, my hip pain got to be too much (the darkness wasn’t the cause, just coincidence!) so Jeff and I tried a walk run strategy for a bit, but eventually I had to just walk. My energy level was fine, my mind was fine, but I couldn’t lift my left leg to run.

I went through some more rationale negativity – it didn’t have the depth of despair that I’ve felt in other disappointing ultras. But I talked seriously about not wanting to race anymore. I questioned whether I had the fire to keep doing these when I’ve had so many unsatisfying races over the past few years. The disappointment that comes with not reaching my potential made me question my desire to keep trying. But there was no doubt I would finish this race. I knew I could and would finish the Western States 100. And I was able to walk quickly in and walk the track in with my awesome friends!

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
  1. If you don’t live at altitude, be prepared to feel the elevation in the first 30 miles.
  2. It gets hot! Pre-race: heat train! Include sauna sessions and running when it’s hot. I did a lot of sauna sessions and think that it helped a lot. During the race: stay cool and keep wet! Wear a hat, use the ice available at aid stations, sponge yourself down with water and ice, keep hydrating often.
  3. There are so many runnable sections on this course, so be patient and save your energy for the sections that fit your strengths. There was more single track than I anticipated, so be prepared, and train to run faster on narrow trails that aren’t totally smooth.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I would do more workouts on single track trails, trying to make faster running on narrow trails feel easier.

Matt putting his single track trail skills to the test.
Matt putting his single track trail skills to the test.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Break the Western States 100 into three main parts:
1. The High Country. It was less smooth than I was anticipating. It isn’t overly technical or difficult, but it’s also not smooth. There were a number of sections with baseball-sized rocks strewn around the trail that made it necessary to be more focused than I was expecting. Some sections were more overgrown or difficult to see than I was expecting. Additionally, the higher elevation is noticeable for someone coming from sea level, so I had to be extra cautious and patient while up high.
2. The Canyons. The steepest climbs and descents are in this section and it feels hottest here. The two bigger descents were more narrow single track with rocks than I remembered, and coupled with my aching hip flexor, I took this section way slower than I would have liked. The two big climbs are the only sections I really felt like I needed to hike. Poles (not allowed) would have been great here.
3. The rest of the course. The Cal Street section from Foresthill to the river was not as fast as I was expecting. There were lots of little rollers and single track that kept me from really getting going fast. We worked well through here and I’m happy with it, but it was slower than I was expecting. I liked the climb up from the river. There was a lot of runnable faster stuff in the last 20 miles of the course that I walked given my hip, but knowing that there is a lot of runnable stuff to finish is key. This is why conserving energy and staying patient is important: if you have legs, you can really fly the last 20 miles!

Summary: There was more single track and rocks than I was anticipating. That said, there were still plenty of fast and runnable dirt roads.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

It’s a great course with a lot of unique features. I loved the high country landscape, and I liked the canyons section – dry and sort of lonely – I wasn’t around a lot of runners during this section. Contrasted with the busy sections like the start, Michigan Bluff, Foresthill, and the finish, the mix of people and solitude was great! Another course highlight were the lovely sections by the river in the late afternoon/early evening light.

Looks are deceiving: don't be fooled, Western States 100 is one of the most challenging races in the US!
Looks are deceiving: don’t be fooled, Western States 100 is one of the most challenging races in the US!

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Definitely a tough course with unique elements! However, they’re all things that one could prepare for; they’re still difficult, but less so if you prepare.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

The best! This race is dialed in. The only negative I heard was from my crew in that the driving directions were less clear than they could have been. Simply providing a GPS waypoint for Google Maps would have been helpful opposed to the “turn left and then go east” sort of directions.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Undoubtedly! The Western States 100 is the most competitive and historic 100 miler in the US!

Matt still smiling at mile 62 coming through the Foresthill aid station.
Matt still smiling at mile 62 coming through the Foresthill aid station.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

It’s not easy to get into the race as the field size is limited to only 375 runners. I started trying to get into the race in 2017 and finally got into the 2024 race – 8 years later!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

There are 20 aid stations throughout the Western States 100, some allow crew and some don’t. The aid stations are great and stock a wide range of real food options including fresh fruit, trail mix, potato chips, candy, and more. I filled my bottles with GU Roctane Energy drink from the aid stations but otherwise used all my own gels. They had GU brand sports nutrition and I’m not a fan of GU. In hindsight, I would have taken the GU Chomps (chews) but I forgot about them and didn’t realize they were there until my brother grabbed some from the last aid station! I fueled mainly on Precision Fuel & Hydration gels, SiS Beta Fuel and Isotonic gels, along with some Skratch drink mix for electrolytes.

They had ice water and sponges at most aid stations. Some seemed to have some odd rules about runners not being allowed to touch the sponges themselves though. I wanted to just go for it and really douse myself but they often wouldn’t let me. But the service and the desire to help from the volunteers was huge and very felt amazing!

Weather and typical race conditions
Matt's crew of Teddy Bross, Ruby Wyles and Jeff Urbanski at the start of the Western States 100.
Matt’s crew of Teddy Bross, Ruby Wyles and Jeff Urbanski at the start of the Western States 100.

Be prepared for it all! The race starts early in the high country, making it cool and sometimes (not this year though) snow on the grounds, which can be a big factor to be prepared for! The toughest conditions happen in the middle where it’s blazing hot – expect over 90 degrees, plus the direct sun and humidity makes it feel even worse. We had a moderate year where it maybe got to the high 80s/low 90s, but it was still hot!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

I wore a Naked Brand belt with two water bottles, Janji tight shorts with pockets for my gels, and a singlet with arm sleeves. Thankfully my crew had ice bandanas for me at aid stations which helped me stay cool.

I switched to wearing a Salomon ADV5 pack at Foresthill. My hip flexor on my left leg started giving me troubles 20 miles into the race and bothered me the rest of the day (I’m still not running 2 weeks post-race because it’s still messed up!). My crew thought that maybe it was the stress/pressure of the tight belt with the two bottles up near my front that could have been causing it, so I switched to a pack. The other advantage of the pack was that we filled the back part with ice for most of the remainder of the race.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

We split our crew into two for the first half. Crew 1 went from the start to Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners, while Crew 2 went to Robinson Flat and Michigan Bluff. This worked out great for me, but it did make for a long and tiring day for my crew, wife and kids! From there on, I saw my crew at Foresthill and Pointed Rocks, and then again at Robie Point.

The fanfare and energy on the course was awesome! At the same time, there were long stretches where I saw no one, including runners. The race spread out surprisingly quickly!

How’s the Swag?

Really impressive: a Hoka backpack and slides, Goodr sunglasses, a new pair of socks. Nike were even giving away free trail shoes to all Western States 100 racers! The belt buckle for finishers is sweet, and they gave a funky button down shirt to all finishers when we crossed the line – the shirt was totally my style too!

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

10 out of 10!

I’m bummed that I didn’t race well. I put a lot into training and I believed I could do more on race day. But I made the most of the day and will have good memories from it. The race itself is totally worth the hype and everyone should do it if they get the chance!

For more on the Western States Endurance Run, check out Matt’s pacer Teddy Bross’ own Western States 100 race report from his 2017 race.

Cocodona 250 Race Report – Coach Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott

Race: Cocodona 250 by Aravaipa Running

Runner: Team RunRun Coach Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott

Race Date: 05/06/2024

Location: Black Canyon City, AZ

Result: Overall:99 DP:20 finishing in 4 days, 9 hours, 28 minutes, and 27 seconds!

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
1. My Crew

Ultras are a team effort at any distance. However, I think the 200+ mile length amplifies this concept. Putting together a reliable crew that I 100% trusted to make decisions for me and would also work well together took a great deal of planning. Crewing is arguably more difficult than racing in many ways and not many individuals are willing to give up days of their time to follow a sweaty, dirty, smelly runner through the desert. My team consisted of outdoor athletes of various personality types who all brought a unique skill and/or outlook to the table. It is this diversity that made the team so remarkable. I loved that Cocodona 250 gave me the opportunity to spend so much time with this truly outstanding and gifted group of athletes. Without the people listed below I am convinced I would not have crossed the finish line:
1. Damien: husband, multisport mountain athlete, “the nice one”
2. Luke: friend, crusher ultra-runner, “the drill sergeant one”
3. Jess: friend, climber, endurance rider, RD for City of Rocks Ultra, “the dependable one”
4. Byron: friend, climber, RD for City of Rocks Ultra, coach-to-17-mile pacer, “the chill one”
5. Zack: friend, multisport desert athlete, brand rep for my sponsor UltrAspire, “the fun one”

2. Strategy

All ultras involve strategy, but I think that a really strong athlete can use fitness to override poor tactics to some extent. However, in a 200+ I would make the argument that fitness cannot override a poorly executed plan. The longer the time and distance the more chances there are for things to go wrong. It becomes a game of efficiency and the ability to solve small problems before they become monumental issues is critical. Additionally, there is no playbook or formula for the 200+ mile distance. We are still learning the best way to pull off this milage as a community which makes creating a personal strategy even more exciting! So much beauty in the unknown!

3. AZ Desert

I really enjoy races that are of out my out of my comfort zone (alpine desert, slickrock and high mountains). These events offer the best learning experiences! I was intrigued by Cocodona 250 not only because it was a new distance for me, but because the unique environment of the race. Outside of running the Black Canyon 100K, I was not as familiar with the terrain and climate of the Arizona desert prior to running Cocodona 250. I loved learning to move through the novel landscape leading to Sedona and reaching the familiar alpine ecosystem in Flagstaff toward the end of the race when I was most tired!

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Honestly, I cannot come up with anything about Cocodona 250 that I disliked. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of sleep deprivation, but no one signs up for a 200+ miler thinking that they won’t get tired! It’s part of the excitement!

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Nothing weird per say. However, it’s interesting to observe other racers’ tactics. Strategy is huge during 200s and, since there is no standard, the techniques folks use are wildly varied! Only taking two 20min naps… raw milk… jester costumes… watermelon dipped in pickle juice… the list goes on!

Dandelion hiking up a steep section of Cocodona 250.
Dandelion hiking up a steep section of Cocodona 250.
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
Beginning

Day 1 of Cocodona 250 is known as The Crux. The first 38 miles ascends over 10,000ft of rugged, rocky vert in full exposure of the sun. In fact, this section is so difficult that there is a 19-hour cut off! It is what makes or breaks the race for many athletes; the highest DNF rate is the first day. With slightly cooler temperatures than normal, I suspected that the race would begin briskly. I knew I needed to resist the desire to compete during this section. I would have to focus entirely on measured breathing, efficiency and keeping my pace in check. Out of the gate I was with the top women, but let myself drift back slightly and congratulated myself for not getting swept up in the mayhem. No need to be in the front in the first mile of a 200+!

Early miles in tough conditions

Throughout the section, I kept waiting for the “hard” part. Yes, there was a ton of climbing on loose rock, but as an alpinist I’m accustomed to talus and vert. Yes, it was sunny and hot, but my pace seemed to follow a lot of the shade and there was a delightful breeze. I carried five liters of water from Cottonwood Aid and sipped the fluid diligently. In the wind I wasn’t sweating much, but I knew I was still losing moisture. I also kept eating along the way, even if I wasn’t quite hungry. At Milk Creek I followed my coach’s sage advice and sat in the water for a moment to cool down and reset myself even though I wasn’t overly hot. This was preventative. I felt cool and refreshed over the next few miles! At Lane Mountain Aid I stopped again and had ice put in my sleeves and freezing water poured over my head. Again, preventative. I never cared how many people passed me, knowing I was doing what I needed to endure not just the moment, but the days ahead. Sticking to my schedule, and utilizing my strengths, I didn’t worry about the pack, and gradually worked my way up. I was competing by following what I thought would work for me long term. For this reason, I believe that the crux of the race was one of my best executed segments.

The lowest low

As you will read in the next sections, my sleep strategy derailed my body’s equilibrium and resulted in a scary episode of heat exhaustion on my way to Sedona. In short, my body stopped regulating temperature and I found myself shivering in 80-degree weather! My pacer put me in in the shade wearing my puffy and pants at a water station to take a dirt nap. In my daze I heard him talking to a volunteer about my state and asking if there was a medic (there wasn’t one). My thought process was: “This sucks. It would be really nice to get medically pulled from the race. I mean, that’s not the same a quitting, right? Medically pulled is for my safety so it’s a legit reason…. NO! You’re not in rough enough shape to be medically pulled. Remember when your coach made up back pain last year hoping to be medically pulled because it sounded better than quitting? Then he didn’t quit… instead he got the course record! You’re not going to use this setback as a reason to drop. You started this and you are going to finish this, so get it together and figure out a way to move forward even if you have to crawl.”

Turning it around

Looking back, I am really proud of myself for recognizing that I was in an unpleasant situation, allowing a brief indulgence of considering a medical pull and then seconds later dismissing those thoughts and focusing on problem resolution. When I began running ultras it was about finishing and not racing. The competitive edge came later in my running journey as a way to add another layer of challenge and encourage me to push my limits further. However, getting to the finish line remains my number one objective in events. If I am not performing as I hoped in a race, I would much rather shuffle along the course at ½ mph and time out than drop. I am stoked that I maintained my “I ain’t no quitter” attitude when I experienced the lowest low of my ultra running career. I was also pleased that I let go of podiuming or top ten women very easily. The transition happened seamlessly in my head and I never once felt disheartened by the goal adjustment. I was still in the race, after all!

End

I bounced back from the heat exhaustion and enjoyed a fun day in the desert with my pacers and crew! The next night was rough on me again though. This time my body didn’t tolerate cold well which was extra frustrating because I am a snow runner! Plus, everything just plain hurt! My husband was pacing me for this section and knew exactly how to make this frustration morph from exasperation, to anger to warrior mode. At Walnut Canyon, the last crewed aid station, I took a 1.5-hour nap. Despite waking up feeling hungover, I was very aware that I needed to get it together for the final 22 miles. I asked for five minutes alone to dig the warrior mode back up, before merrily trotted out of the aid station with my pacer, Luke, feeling confident. I was an alpinist about to climb Mount Elden! We ran the final 22 miles of Cocodona 250 methodically and playfully. I’m really happy I was able to ascend Elden with good climber style and pull off a strong finish at a full run on the fifth day of the race. It seemed that every time I thought I had nothing left along the course I was always able to find a new level of grit… with the help of my crew of course!

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
Having a crew and pacers you trust is critical: Every decision takes energy and, at some point, there will not be much energy to spare during the race! If you trust your team, you can let go so they can make decisions for you. This frees up mental energy so you can focus on deciding to place one foot in front of the other…over and over and over again!
Plan in advance: My planning process for Cocodona 250 actually began 2 years prior to my race. I am absolutely of the extreme sort and really enjoy long term projects to obsess over! For most folks I think a year is sufficient to figure out an overall training strategy, plan training camps, test gear, find crew/pacers, plot logistics, organize your fuel/hydration, etc.
Make it easy for the crew: Your crew is going to be working vigilantly and non-stop to support you. Make their lives as easy as possible by organizing and labeling your gear well. Provide them with charts and checklists to help them best help you. I had an entire binder of information with different tabs for easy navigation! Have a zoom meeting to discuss ideas and tactics beforehand to make aid station visits more efficient. Remember that you are not their boss. I believe that the effort is a collaboration and everyone’s ideas should be heard! Afterall, you chose these people because they have something to bring to the table and you trust them. Oh, and THANK them profusely for being willing to follow your cranky self around for a week!
Finances: The race entry fee is around $1500… and it’s probably the least expensive part of Cocodona 250! The cost of nutrition, electrolytes, transportation, lodging, a desert kit, training camps and crew gear adds up in a hurry. I was still ordering more gels a week out from the race!
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

This race taught me a great deal about the side effects of sleep deprivation. I didn’t want to wait and sleep until the second night of the race, but I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to sleep the first night either. I love 100-milers and have never had a problem staying up all night for a race of that distance. My coach and I decided that if I could fall asleep the first night I should. Otherwise, I would sleep in the car sometime on day 2. When I arrived at Whiskey Row late on day 1 I wasn’t tired, so I pressed on into sunrise. I attempted sleep at Iron King, but couldn’t so again continued. I ended up finally falling asleep for an hour at Fain Ranch at around mile 100 of Cocodona 250.

Conditions taking hold

Even though I normally tolerate heat decently and had also done a sauna protocol, the sun exposure slowed me down on the climb up to Mingus. I believe fatigue made my body less resilient to environmental factors. Still, I was able to eat and drink normally…. Or not so normally (I consumed three plates of lasagna at Mingus!). I began sleep walking just after Jerome and slept for an hour at Deadhorse before heading back out around sunrise. It was here that I should have taken a least a two- or three-hour nap. Trekking through the hot, exposed section of the course near Sedona my body finally decided to that was unhappy with a few brief dirt naps and two 2-hour sleeps and rebelled.

Crisis point

The growing sleep deficient plus general body fatigue completely obliterated my body’s ability to maintain equilibrium. I could only take tiny sips of fluid. All my fuel made me want to hurl. Most concerning, it was over 80F and I started to shiver leading me to put on pants and a puffy for a while. My pacer was extremely attentive and we made a joint decision to wait in the shade for an hour. When the temperature dropped in early evening, I would be able to move faster and get to the next aid station with less stress on my body. I was taken off course to a dispersed campsite and informed that I was going to sleep for 6-7 hours at the Sedona aid station. Mingus to Sedona is where I stopped racing and began surviving.

Learning from the lows

I am convinced that my sleep strategy is what led to heat exhaustion and me sliding from the front to the middle of the pack. It’s easy to focus on the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” after a race. However, the reality is that, without previous 200+ experience, my sleep plan was an educated guess. Hindsight is always 20/20! In the future, I would for sure choose to sleep for 2-3 hours earlier in the race, rather than crash and need to hibernate for 7 hours later on. An hour here and there wasn’t the way to go for me.

Dandelion taking a dirt nap during Cocodona 250.
Dandelion taking a dirt nap during Cocodona 250.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Do not rush on day 1. The first 37-50 miles are by far the crux of the race and features over a quarter of the vert! Also, if things go wrong don’t give up. Take the time to reset. The nice thing about 200s is that you almost always have time to recover and try again!

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

One of the unique and amazing things about the Cocodona 250 course is that it travels through so many different ecosystems: from the desert of Phoenix to the high altitude, mountain town of Flagstaff. Running through these different environments and witnessing the subtle changes in gradual progression was an amazing experience. There is diverse beauty in every section of this course!

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

YES! The 250-mile distance is within itself difficult. On top of that the race requires athletes to have a variety of different skill sets. The ability to tackle huge ascents, rocky terrain, technical downhills, rolling and runnable trails, heat and sun exposure, as well as cold tolerance are all requirements. Athletes must also carefully monitor their bodies so they get the right amount of fuel, hydration, temperature and sleep during their time on the course. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s very easy for a small problem to become a massive one over this distance.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Cocodona 250 is run by Aravaipa Running, an incredibly well regarded and professional organization. All Aravaipa events are outstanding, and everything was completely dialed in for this race!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

The men’s field was outrageously strong this year with all three of the first-place male finishers from the race’s inception competing along with some other highly notable elite level men. The women’s field wasn’t as deep, but it was still extremely competitive. Each year Cocodona 250 seems to attract an increasing number of big names from the ultra world!

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Registration was possible until about March in 2024. Registration for Cocodona 250, the 2025 edition, filled 10 days after the 2024 race ended! I’m unsure about hotels as I always camp, but Flagstaff and Phoenix are large cities and I suspect they always have some space available. Regardless, I think it makes sense to get things rolling for this race sooner rather than later because of all the planning that goes into executing a 200+ miler.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

In the first 38 miles two water stations have a 1-liter water limit. This is one of the hottest sections of the course and athletes must have the ability to carry 4 liters for this section. I recommend carrying the 4 liters and restocking with the 1-liter allowance at these stations. You’ll want all that fluid! Otherwise, aid stations have all the normal staples –PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, chips, trail mix, candy, Oreos, pickles, cooked potatoes, granola bars, bananas, watermelon, gels– and most aid stations also had a hot “meal” option, especially later in the race. The hot options were mostly on the bland side which I appreciated. I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate high flavor that far into the race: I just needed fuel!

Weather and typical race conditions

It was a cooler year by normal standards for Cocodona 250. However, it is still the desert! In other words, the temperature soared during the day and plummeted at night!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

During the day, I recommend wearing light colors and reducing sun exposure. This does not mean simply putting on lots of sunscreen! Think about wearing a large brimmed hat along with arm and/or leg sleeves to help limiting exposure. At night, things can really chill down and fatigue amplifies how cold you feel. A warm puffy jacket, gloves, pants, and hand warmers will help you stay cozy. Also, wear your bivy if you’re cold! Headlamps are a must: I prefer a waist light like the UltrAspire Lumen 850 or 600 over a headlamp. In my opinion, these lamps cast more light and give better contrast to the terrain than a headlamp. Don’t make navigating the course more challenging when you’re already exhausted! Finally, I like to use gaiters in the desert to protect from the plants and keep out the sand.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Some aid stations were spectator friendly, but it is highly important that you read the rules regarding aid stations and parking to avoid getting DQ’ed!

How’s the Swag?

10/10! This might be the most swag I ever received at an ultra, and all products were high quality! Items included: backpack, tech shirt, sweat shirt, Flagstaff drink vouchers, Naak bar, Satisfy Hat, Spring Energy gel, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some things! Plus, of course, there’s a rad buckle!

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

Yes, I highly recommend this race to others who are willing to put in the time training and planning! 10/10!

Curious about 200+ mile races? Check out this article: 200 Miles and Beyond: Inside the World of Ultrarunning with Team RunRunner Rebecca Walker and Coach Greg Ottinger.

Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott is a Lander-based coach with Team RunRun. She is a multisport outdoor athlete, ultra-runner, and certified coach who loves collaborating with driven athletes who love to explore, train, and play outside.

Sun Mountain 50K Race Report

Race: Sun Mountain 50K

Runner: Rohit Eipe

Race Date: 05/18/2024

Location: Winthrop, WA

Result: 9:57:12.9 https://chronokeep.com/results/sun-mountain-50/2024/570

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/11443014175

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Scenery – the mountain vistas, meadows of spring flowers; the area makes me want to leave the city and retire there!
  2. Trail conditions – generally pretty easy trails without too many roots or rocks. The course is singletrack trail for most of the race, with some wider sections.
  3. Aid stations – while they could be better by having consistent items at each aid station and publishing precise lists of what to expect ahead of time, the aid stations were well staffed, well stocked, and full of friendly race support. Having drop bags at each aid station made it so that I could changes socks often, change shoes for road and trail sections, carry less food and water with me, have my specific preferred fuel – so kudos to the race folks on organizing these well and getting everything right here.
  4. Weather – it was pretty wild at altitude, which made things harder, but it was cool and generally good running weather… plus the hail certainly made for a good story!

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Overall race organization – the organizers of the Sun Mountain 50K and the weekend’s other races changed the course after months of my (and probably many other folks) emailing them to understand what the course was, which meant I didn’t know what I was training for. Eventually they added 10 miles of pavement – which I had mixed feelings about personally given I was expecting a trail race. I’m so used to road running and was looking forward to the added challenge, but those extra pavement miles made the race much more doable for me in the end. I could see this being very annoying for other folks set on a trail run too.


Weather – I got hailed on at altitude for about 6-7 miles, which in fairness we were warned about. In the end, it was actually kind of fun, but I can see how this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You also can’t control for that though.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Definitely the weather! There is always a huge variation based on altitude primarily, and May is also shoulder season so it could be hotter or cooler depending on the year. For me, on the day it went from sideways hail to light/heavy rain to sunny and baking sun: basically all four seasons in one day!

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

Finishing – I’d DNF-ed at a 50K 7 years prior, so for me this was a grand f-u to the universe and I’m stoked to have finished! Spite is the best motivator!
The scenery was also a highlight, as I mentioned about. The town of Winthrop had a really nice vibe to it as well.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Use the drop bags and carry less stuff! And for me, using poles was a good tool to take a ton of weight off my legs and made it possible to finish, so others could consider that too.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I think I left a fair bit of energy on the table. I ran the last mile or so quite fast in the end, so I really should have sped up more on the road downhill at a bare minimum. I’d say the same for the gentle trail downhills: I should have pushed harder on those.

Also, my watch was in a mode that auto-paused the workout while I was at one of the aid stations for a good 7-8 minutes, resulting in a difference between chip time and my watch’s timing. I need to turn that feature off for races.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

The course is mostly single track trail, but, based on permitting difficulties, it looks like road sections may continue to be a part of this race in the future. While for the 50K or 50M this isn’t such a big deal, it is a bit of a downer for the 25K if you end up running 10 miles of road and only 5-6 miles of trail. Be mindful that the aid stations are well spaced out, so use them. And remember that the weather can vary a lot based on altitude and luck of the draw!

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Very much so, one of the nicest courses I can remember!

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

I didn’t think the Sun Mountain 50K course was super difficult, but there was a moderate amount of elevation for the distance. The singletrack trail meant you had to pay attention somewhat. There were very few steep sections, and even those were relatively mild.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Yes – except for the months leading up to the race with the permitting and course mess.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I’m at the back of the pack here so I have no idea!

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Hotels and Airbnb’s probably fill up quite quickly, so book early.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Good on the whole, but they could be improved by publishing precisely what will be at aid stations ahead of time and sticking to it. I did discover peanut butter and pickle wraps, which were weird and delicious!

Weather and typical race conditions

As you’ve read above, expect widely varying weather! There could be snow and hail at the higher altitudes, and rain is very likely at some point.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Poles are good but not really necessary. And I feel like pretty much everyone was running in the Hoka Mafates, so perhaps a shoe worth checking out for this race.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Not this year based on the big changes to the course, and there was no racer crew support. This was a huge bummer.

How’s the Swag?

Not great. T-shirts were available for purchase but I didn’t buy one.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I’d give the Sun Mountain 50K 4 out of 5. It could be 5 with better organization.

Looking for your next goal race like Rohit? Check out this article: “How to Choose your next Goal Race“.

200 Miles and Beyond: Inside the World of Ultrarunning with Team RunRunner Rebecca Walker and Coach Greg Ottinger

by Ruby Wyles

A few weeks back, we received a race report from Team RunRunner Rebecca Walker that said something along the lines of: ‘I hopped in a 200 mile race, it was fun, wasn’t my fastest or my slowest’. Rebecca’s nonchalance suggested that running super long distances was a relatively common affair for her, and I had to learn more!

Rebecca running 200 miles and beyond at the 2023 Cocodona 250.  PC: Anastasia Wilde
Rebecca wading through a creek during the Cocodona 250. PC: Anastasia Wilde

Meet Team RunRunner Rebecca Walker and Coach Greg Ottinger 

Coached by accomplished ultrarunner and Team RunRun Coach Greg Ottinger, the pair have been working together for two and a half years and counting. As mentioned, coach Greg is no stranger to 200 mile races or back-to-back ultras, himself targeting the Triple Crown of 200s this summer, which involves running three 200-mile races over four consecutive months! With over 200 Team RunRun coaches to choose from, it’s no coincidence Rebecca and Greg seem to have the perfect coach-athlete match.

According to UltraSignup, in little more than 10 years, Rebecca Walker has 82 ultras to her name, including seven 200+ mile races, which had her running for up to 5 days at a time! Yep, 5 whole days, over 121 hours to be precise! Interviewing Rebecca, I thought I’d start with the obvious question I’m sure we’re all wondering: why? What draws you to these super long events, and why do you keep going back for more?!

Rebecca: “Historically, I chose my races based on places I wanted to visit. My first 200 mile run was the Tahoe 200, which I remember seeing advertised and thought I would like to do it someday. At the time, you had to have completed a mountain 100 mile qualifier race beforehand, so I wasn’t able to enter Tahoe 200 until the prerequisites were met. After completing that one successfully, I realized how much I appreciated the variability of these events, as well as the slower pace – being a slower runner, this was important to me!”

Balancing ultra training with life

As superhuman as Rebecca’s ultrarunning exploits seem, she isn’t a full time runner focused solely on the eat-sleep-train priority triplet that many professional athletes are. Instead, Rebecca balances a full time job in the legal field with family life as a wife, mom to an active teenage girl, plus two cats and dog too! Not your typical husband-and-wife duo, the pair bond over their love of ultras, and actually ran the Moab 240 together for their honeymoon!

So what’s Rebecca’s secret? How can she possibly excel at these ultra ultra distances with so much other life to balance?

Rebbeca: “Greg [Ottinger, her TRR coach] has been AWESOME working with my schedule, and we’re flexible with moving workouts around. My husband typically runs with me on the weekends, but the weekday stuff is all me.”

“Training for 200 milers is not too much different than 100 mile training. Under Greg’s guidance I now run 5 days a week (vs the 3-4 I used to do): 3 runs are usually Z2, easy training; 1 day is typically speedwork and/or hills depending on whatever race I have coming up; and the other day is a long run. Saturdays are always my long days, involving either a progression run if I’m training for something flat, but usually I go on a time-based adventure run in the foothills/mountains.” 

Add to that Rebecca’s one day per week of strength training, and training for 200 milers seems almost manageable…?! Rebecca adds: “I just do what I’m told”, not overcomplicating her running, and leaving the X’s and O’s of training science to her coach Greg, a job he readily accepts. 

Greg: “As a coach, navigating Rebecca’s race calendar is akin to orchestrating a symphony of commitments, aspirations, and relentless determination. Hailing from the frosty climes of a region that could freeze a San Diegan’s bones, Rebecca juggles the roles of a dedicated runner, nurturing mother, driven professional, and even a devoted dog mom. It’s a balancing act that requires precision planning and adaptability, a task I undertake with both awe and admiration.”

Another 200 mile run

As a runner with a coach myself, I believe this is one of Rebecca’s, and most athletes’, secrets to success: enjoy your running, don’t overthink it, and outsource the programming to an expert, like our band of Team RunRun coaches!

If you want further proof of Rebecca’s mortal and measured approach to training, consider that when the weather is close to freezing she simply doesn’t run. Instead of toughing it out in miserable conditions, or making up mind-numbing miles on the treadmill, Rebecca opts for extra recovery over trying to prove her toughness in training, a fallacy that almost always backfires. Despite preparing to race through all hours of day and night, in all kinds of sleep-deprived, underfueled,and fatigued states, again Rebecca doesn’t make training harder than it needs to be, not losing sight of the fact that running should be (at least most of the time) enjoyable! 

Rebecca: “I don’t night run [in training], but I do vary the terrain and elevation, running on dirt roads and trails near my house in Colorado.”

Greg: “Preparing for the rigors of ultrarunning demands a holistic approach that transcends mere mileage. Rebecca’s training regimen revolves around building a robust aerobic base, with 90% of her workouts dedicated to aerobic efforts, Heart Rate Zone II. We prioritize consistency, honing her ability to endure the relentless demands of multi-day races.”

Rebecca’s year-round race schedule means that she is constantly in training mode, save for a taper week prior and recovery week post race. 

Greg: “When it comes to setting race goals, Rebecca is quite candid. Whether she’s eyeing a podium finish, leisurely adventure with friends, or simply seeking the joy of crossing the finish line, each race serves a distinct purpose. If it’s a “fun 50,” we integrate it into her routine without the customary taper, allowing her to enjoy the experience without compromising her overall progress or risking injury.”

Without big swings in her mileage, plus her incredible ability to endurance and recover from these long distances, Rebecca maintains an impressive baseline fitness that allows her to race frequently and avoid injury. She reminds us all that the key to any and all running success is consistency, not hero workouts or huge increases in mileage leading into race day; Rebecca, with help from her TRR coach Greg, has found a sustainable level of training for her body and life demands, that she is able to repeat year-round. Now that is the not-so-sexy secret to success!

Running fundamentals: fueling, sleep, and recovery

Fueling, a critical element of any ultrarunner’s performance, is another of Rebecca’s strengths, and she is gifted with an iron stomach that allows her to “eat whatever is available at aid stations”. She jokingly refers to herself as a “trash panda”, recognizing that she is “in the minority of folks who don’t have issues with fueling”. During long training and race days, Rebecca fuels consistently, always carrying extra snacks to ensure she’s never running close to empty. 

It’s not just fueling that Rebecca’s dialed in, running through extreme fatigue and sleep deprivation appears to be another one of her skills. Whether honed through parenthood, a highly caffeinated lifestyle, or a rare genetic ‘I-will-run-on-no-sleep’ predisposition, if the princess and the pea is on one extreme, Rebecca is on the far other!

Rebecca: “I can get through night one fine without sleep now that I have nailed down a good caffeine plan. After that first night though, I tend to have issues falling asleep, but taking some time off my feet at aid stations even when I can’t sleep helps. Over time [as Rebecca gets further and further into a race, becoming more and more fatigued] I can usually get about an hour’s sleep at an aid station, as well as 5-10 minute trail naps! If the terrain permits, I’ll just lie on the side of the trail, or sit up against a tree; other times, just closing my mind will usually be enough to keep me going for a few more hours.”

Much to my surprise, and in part credited to great nutrition and smart training, alongside honest communication with her coach, Rebecca isn’t bed-bound for weeks following her epic adventures, and instead is an advocate for the ‘motion-is-lotion’, ‘movement-is-medicine’ paradigm.

Rebecca: “Hydration and sleep are so important, and I aim for 8-10 hours a night the first few days after a big race. I am a huge fan of active recovery. I still take my dog for walks (usually a few miles at a time) and I have a treadmill desk that I walk on while working.”

Greg: “Navigating the aftermath of ultramarathons requires a keen understanding of the body’s signals and rhythms. Listening to her body becomes an art form, as we interpret its subtle cues and adjust our approach accordingly. Rebecca is always clear with her progress and we adjust each week accordingly.”

Rebecca during her Tahoe 200 "honeymoon".
Rebecca during her Tahoe 200 “honeymoon”.

Ultra racing: highs, lows, and 200-mile memories

A seasoned ultrarunner with over 100 results to her name, I asked Rebecca a very difficult question: what her favorite race has been so far.

Rebecca: “Tahoe 200 will always be very special to me. I ran when it [the course] was still a loop around the lake, and it was just so surreal to be going for this huge, unknown distance. Cocodona 250 was also a wonderful event with very diverse environments” as runners traverse from the desert and cacti in Phoenix up to the mountain town of Flagstaff, with its fir trees and cooler temperatures.

Full of positive regard for these super long races, I imagined there must also be significant challenges and low points that are just par for the course. Yet again, I was surprised and in awe of Rebecca’s response. 

Rebecca: “I don’t typically encounter many issues in training, unless it’s weather related or to do with personal things going on outside of running. I am, and always have been, a slower and low mileage runner, but that doesn’t derail me or make me “get in my head.”

That said, races can be a stressful experience for Rebecca, with race cutoffs never far from her mind. Even in the face of uncertainty, she remains remarkably undeterred, reminding us all to continue to chase big goals no matter how unlikely they may seem!

Rebecca: “I know I can complete these distances, but am I fast enough to make cutoffs? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, still I never regret going for big goals.”

Working such an ambitious and motivated athlete comes with its own set of challenges, as Greg attests to, but he, like Rebecca, sees them in a very positive light.

Greg: “Coaching Rebecca is a rollercoaster of exhilaration and anticipation, characterized by the electrifying unpredictability of her ambitions. From impromptu 100 mile races, to last-minute decisions to pace a friend across unforgiving terrain, Rebecca’s spontaneity keeps me on my toes. Yet, amidst the whirlwind of uncertainty, her commitment to the process remains a true inspiration.

The ease of coaching Rebecca lies in her work ethic—a pursuit of excellence that leaves no room for excuses or shortcuts. She embraces each challenge with resolve, transforming obstacles into opportunities for growth.”

I finished off digging deeper into her race highlights, and again, the pure joy she has for running –running very long distances at that– shone through.

Rebecca: “All my ultras are victories! Tahoe 200 being my first; Moab 240 [Rebecca’s ‘honeymoon’] for not pushing my new husband off a cliff (haha, just kidding!); Bigfoot 200 for being the most technical and challenging of any 200 I’ve done; Cocodona 250 – I was a DNF the first time around, then went back for redemption in 2023 and had an awesome experience; and, most recently, the Southern States 200, a race I completed without crew or pacers, barely recognizing anyone on the start list, made for a fun and novel challenge in and of itself!”

At the finish of her most recent 200 mile race that inspired this piece, the Southern States 200.
At the finish of her most recent 200 mile race that inspired this piece, the Southern States 200.

Top races for new ultrarunners from Team RunRunner Rebecca Walker:

100K (62 miles) distance

  • Rebecca recommends the Black Canyons 100K for its non-technical nature, great organization, and community spirit. In her words: “it’s large enough that you’ll never be alone on the trail”.

100 miles distance

  • The Lean Horse Ultra in South Dakota and the Javelina Hundred in Arizona come top of Rebecca’s list. The two race courses are non-technical, runnable trails, and the events as a whole are a lot of fun for both runners and crew!

200+ miles distance

  • “Amazing in different ways”, according to Rebecca, these long ultras are so varied. Cocodona 250, a race that takes runners from Phoenix to Flagstaff, AZ, has quickly become one of the most highly rated and popular events. 
  • Another great beginner-friendly ultra is the Cowboy 200 in Nebraska. Rebecca highlights its “flatter and less technical nature”, and a course that is very crew accessible with good phone service throughout.

Advice for new ultrarunners from Team RunRun Coach Greg Ottinger:

I asked seasoned ultrarunner and TRR coach Greg Ottinger to share some words of wisdom for ultra-curious folk, and what I received was something quite prophetic, not to mention poetic! (Greg, if you fancy a career change, or get bored of running 200-milers, I’d take you on as a TRR staff writer in a heartbeat!).

Greg: “To aspiring ultrarunners, I offer a simple advice: dare to dream, but do so with deliberation and respect for the journey ahead. Embrace the unknown, but temper enthusiasm with wisdom and experience. Seek guidance from seasoned veterans, whether it be through mentorship or the counsel of a trusted coach. And above all, trust in the resilience of the human spirit—to endure, to overcome, and to transcend the limits of what is deemed possible.”

Oregon crest 100 miler

What’s next for Rebecca and Greg?

Unsurprisingly, Rebecca’s mind and body are already preparing for the next challenge: a relatively achievable –only by Rebecca’s standard that is!– series of 100 mile races this summer. Fear not, Rebecca’s 200+ mile days are far from behind her! In fact, Rebecca has her sights set on the Arizona Monster 300, a 309 mile run through the desert of Arizona. And before you ask, yes, I’m equally confused by the race director’s dishonesty: I mean, if runners are already covering 300 miles, why keep the extra 9 miles a secret?! 

As for coach Greg, he’s in the thick of training for the Triple Crown of 200s, running three 200-mile races in so many months this Summer, along the way inspiring more runners to give ultras a try!

If you’re curious about ultrarunning and the training it takes to run long distances, check out our group of Team RunRun coaches and filter for ultra and trail specialists.

Ruby is a runner, triathlete, and passionate coach, who is most fulfilled by helping athletes overcome limiting beliefs with joy. She is also a proud science nerd, and advocate for athletes’ mental and physical health.