UnTapped athletes Aliza Lapierre and Hannah Carta recently completed the Cocodona 250. A 250 mile foot race that starts in Black Canyon City and ends in Flagstaff Arizona. This point to point course links historic towns, iconic trails as runners get to experience the beauty of the Sonoran desert, the breathtaking red rocks and canyons and then the pine forests all as they have a cumulative gain of 39,410′ and a loss of 34,286′.
Why did you decide to run Cocodona 250?
(HC) I decided to run Cocodona a couple years ago, when I first heard of the race. It looked unfathomable at the time, in terms of my ability to complete it considering I was a new runner and that was definitely part of the appeal. Additionally, I have family in the Phoenix and Sedona areas so knew how beautiful it was along the Coconino Mountains. The idea of exploring that beauty on foot was incredibly intriguing to me. I spent much time calling it a dream race, and even told Jamil when I saw him at the dome after watching the first year of live footage, to please keep it ungated, to which he responded “that is the plan!”
(AL) Watching the evolution of 200 mile races has captivated me and after watching some of the runners I follow closely compete in the race last year I decided it was time to set the fear aside and register for the race. I not only wanted a new challenge, but also felt like I needed a new challenge. This point to point course also seemed like a brilliant way for me to experience the biodiversity that Arizona has to offer.
What did your training look like for this event and how did it go?
(HC) Training was painstakingly boring. I did a good amount of volume, but that is not very different from my normal training. I did however switch to a ton of vert climbing on the treadmill. Living in Illinois, I obviously don’t have great access to hills, mountains, or even loose and rocky trails, at all. In the block imminently leading up to the race I would pretty regularly bring my fuel and gear to the gym on the weekends and set up camp for 4-6 hours. I would also do some days at a set of stairs near-ish to my house to work on the eccentric loading of my quads, as downhills are one of my greatest weaknesses. I also really worked to get lots of specific accessories in to prepare for the toll of a five day race with a heavy pack. Lots of core work, farmers carries, plymoetrics, and work with triceps to prepare for 5 days with poles too. A little lower back and QL work too, knowing that climbing could blow those up as well. Training fueling may have been the most frustrating part, as it’s not something I enjoy, I’m such a lover of real, substantial food, that I don’t love running and eating too much, but at the advice of my friend (and crew/pacer) I did train my gut as well.
As far as training races go, I did a TON of mountain races in 2022, (to the point where I swore off ski resort races in rage) but my early 2023 training races got busted up and I couldn’t go for one reason or another. It was a smart move on my part to have attempted and completed my first 6-day pedestrian race a couple months prior at Across the Years, because in moments of concern or worry leading up to and during Cocodona, I was then able to reassure myself that I had in fact gone for longer, has gone further, and that my body would not crumble to ash under significant load and limited sleep. Being able to use that confidence benchmark (what we call it when you are able to do something a little ‘more’ in some way or other and then tell yourself ‘I can do this because I have done this’ in some shape or form) was very useful and effective and helped quell my worries leading up to the race. Knowing in my bones, I could get my legs turning again on day 3, 4, or 5 is such a lift in dark moments I became really grateful for it.
(AL) Given that this was my first time training for a 200 plus mile race I didn’t really know what to expect. I put my trust in my coach Jason Koop to program properly for this type of event. Given that a majority of my training would be done through the Vermont winter I had to make the commitment that I would get in my training no matter what the weather. There were days that it was simply unproductive or unsafe to be outside running which meant 4-6 hours on the treadmill. There was certainly complaining but the commitment still had to be there.
I run by time and not by mileage, but both certainly built and got higher than I had ever gone before. I was amazed that my mind and body could handle what it did, given that I don’t consider myself a high mileage runner. In my biggest block I ended up putting in 165 miles in 7 days and my grocery bill certainly reflected the caloric needs that comes with running.
I spent many additional hours on what I called “Operation Get Strong” which was in addition to what Jason prescribed. That entailed me focusing specifically on what I saw as my weaknesses. I would hike on the treadmill at 10% grade or higher with 5 liters of water in my hydration pack, do core work and complete exercises to combat muscle imbalances.
How did you incorporate UnTapped into your fueling plan? Did you also rely on real food given the duration of the race?
(HC) UnTapped was one of the only things that my stomach could tolerate the entire race. Other sugary products were bothering my stomach greatly, especially those made with oats and the UnTappeds proved to be such a reliable source of carbs, I was very pleased with them. While on day 1, I aimed for 60g of carbs an hour and executed well, by the time night fell, sugar, oats, and carbonated beverages had me stopping to dig catholes an uncomfortable number of times. I transitioned to pretty much 30-45g/carb/hour after that and made sure I had big meals at the aid stations as soon as I rolled in as well moving forward. I found that Untapped was the only staple that was easy to eat, easy to digest and easy to carry. The pure maple was my most used variety, but there were times where the coffee UnTapped were great as a low dose of caffeine, and I also had some Salted Raspberry, Salted Cocoa, and Salted Citrus too. I’m excited about the new bulk UnTapped option with the little flask for my upcoming looped race, knowing how well untapped goes down, even when I am pushing hard.
(AL) Given the distance and duration of the race my plan was to utilize UnTapped products between aid stations and then eat real food when given the opportunity. It became very apparent on the first day that this plan wasn’t going to work as I had envisioned. Given the heat of the day my body was working hard to keep cool I didn’t have the extra blood to digest real foods. This meant more UnTapped’s and more Mapleaid.
I thought that as I moved my way through the course and temperatures started to cool that I would be able to reconsider real food but it never seemed to happen, I could maybe get down a “no thank you” bite or two of something, but nothing to really make a caloric difference. The upside was that my stomach could tolerate and process drink mix and UnTapped packets.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your journey?
(HC) There were multiple. The Rockies of the descent from Mingus was a challenge for me. The climb overnight up Mt. Union on the Yankee Doodle trail was one of my lowest points. Not seeing crew for so many miles early was hard on me. I think the biggest one was the sleep deprivation. We totally deviated from my original plan of few, but long stops for sleep, but I was proud that I didn’t get caught up in being frustrated about having to change tacts to shorter, but more frequent stops for sleep. Ultrarunning and the training that goes with it has made me a great sleeper and I have gotten attached to it. I’m the type that naps almost every day and gets minimum 8 hours nightly, but prefers 10, so the reality of a 5 ½ day race with cutoffs automatically meant I was to deviate out of my comfort zone. At across the years, sleep is more flexible and at your convenience because you are always close to a good sleeping situation. I took one trail nap and was terrified, so I did all I could to sleep at aid stations. Once rested, I felt like I could attack segments so much better, run faster, and manage whatever hard thing that was in front of us. But obviously sleep just eats time, and I know it probably frustrated my crew to see me stop and rest as often as I did.
(AL) The biggest obstacle I faced was hurting my neck in a fall around mile 230. When I fell it hurt, but it progressively got worse to the point where each step aggravated it. By the time it was at its worst we were in between aid stations and in the midst of the final climb on Mt Elden. My pace had slowed to one step at a time with a pause in between and given the technical terrain there was no turning back. Frustration set in, I lost all sense of time, direction and the focus was no longer on racing but just on making sure each foot placement was a solid one so as not to hurt myself further. After evaluating things at the final aid station above 9,000 ft my pacer and I decided that I could continue to walk and finish the race, but finding patience and grace for myself was challenging.
What section did you enjoy the most?
(HC) The run out of Sedona was magnificently beautiful and we took a measured approach there, so I found it very enjoyable. However, I think my favorite section was closer to the end.
It pissed others off (most Elden Crest 36 runners) but I loved the Elden climb. It was more athletic because of how big the steps were and how you could leverage your poles and my upper body working capacity to scale it. It also was a nice way to finish all the climbing of the course with strength and in homage to how I thought I had attacked all the climbs of the course. We must have passed a dozen people on that climb, and we aggressively plowed through all the switchbacks, and it still felt easier than some of the previous climbs, so I was able to really enjoy it.
(AL) The sections that I was excited to visually experience the most I ended up hitting at night, specifically the Dells and Sedona. After heading out of Sedona and towards the Coconinio Plateau I really enjoyed the climb out of the river on the Casner Canyon Trail. I was with my long time training partner and friend Jack Pilla. We had fallen into a nice climbing pace up the steep rocky grade that made it feel like we were just out for a long training day together. Part of the way up I paused and looked back and the morning sun was just hitting the red rocks of Sedona. It was beautiful, I had no idea how many emails were in my work inbox, I had no idea what the latest political headlines were. All I knew was that nature, friendship and challenge had me feeling more at peace and in tune than I had felt in a long time.
What is one thing you learned about yourself? What is something you learned about your crew/pacers?
(HC) I learned that my wheelhouse is rest and rally. And that I need to work on improving insofar as how much rest it takes me to rally. But it was rewarding to know that I had a weapon out there, that after a break, I could attack segments with strength and authority, and that I felt like I was getting stronger as the days progressed. Any good feelings we take out there, and this was a particularly good feeling to have because it meant that it could get better, when usually we are worried about things getting worse. I also learned that my buddy Brian who crewed and paced is an amazing human being and I’m not worthy of his friendship. I learned that I have so many more people in my corner supporting me, encouraging me, and cheering me on that I could even fathom. So many people were invested in my race and let me know and it humbled me in a way I could not have even come close to predicting, in spite of the fact that I’m a middle or back of the packer in a domain like this. The generosity of this community continues to overwhelm me, but I’ve never seen it like I saw it here and that was another good feeling that propelled me beyond what I thought was possible out there.
(AL) I feel like many things I learned are still being unearthed as more and more memories reveal themselves as I catch up on calories and sleep. I continue to learn that I should not put boundaries or limitations on myself. I continually was shown that my, mother and step father are tough, resilient and stubborn like me! During the race they invest the same as me if not more. My pacer Jack continually teaches me that age is just a number and not a limitation as he is turning 65 soon. No matter what your age you can go out and play, joke around and work hard. He continually teaches me and shows that true friendship is invaluable. My coach and pacer Jason Koop continues to teach me about patience and communication. He has shown me that he will stand by me even during times where I don’t want to be around myself.
How is recovery going?
(HC) Recovery is going! Daily mileage still in the works, though at LOW intensity. The blood flow feels good. My blisters were healed by the end of the race essentially, and have yet to have any serious issues yet. Some general soreness and fatigue, which is to be expected, but my husband and friends have been taking phenomenal care of me, making sure I eat and sleep well. I do look forward to when I am no longer having dreams about finding flags or missing alarms in the dark, though. The most annoying issue presently is the fact that my big toes aren’t experiencing sensation properly. It feels as though they were frozen and are still thawing. I think it has to do with the swelling and then perhaps the fact that I’ve never been on trails with such frequency or consistency, ever, so it was a lot of balance work and the big toes plays such a huge role in that. I’m optimistic it will clear up soon.
(AL) Recovery has not been a linear process as one day I feel fine and then the next day I am back to falling asleep in a random place. Listening to my body and giving it what I believe it is asking for is what I have been attempting to do. Sleep, more food, more food, sleep again, a bit of movement. I am still riding it out and seeing how it pans out and giving my neck time to heal.
Would you do it again!?
(HC) Never say never, but I did resolve very early on, in one of my lowest moments of the race during the second 50k, that I had to finish this year because that section was so hard, I really never wanted to do it again. Sedona Canyons and Elden Crest certainly have significant appeal, as do other 200s like the Divide, Moab, or Tahoe. It is too soon though to think of those things, merely for the fact that I saw how hard my crew worked, the sacrifices they made in order to help me get across the finish line and to consider another something like this immediately seems ungrateful in a way. In part, it’s because they did such a phenomenal job, they’re who I would want in any situation like this, but I know how hard it was for them so I don’t want to think about putting them through something like that for my own selfish gain so soon again
(AL) As my boss immediately reminded me I did post on social media that “I think I would ride that roller coaster again!” I think I am even more intrigued by the distance now that I have finished. I really enjoyed that there was more time to enjoy my surroundings and to get to know fellow participants than in a hundred mile race. Whether I decide to tackle another race or just plan a project I really enjoy covering ground on my own two feet with nothing but a pack on my back and some maple syrup to keep me going!
Aliza Lapierre is a part of the UnTapped staff and a professional ultrarunner who finds peace and joy in tackling big days on her own two feet. Although she didn’t start running until after college she takes pride in her longevity in the sport and likes trying to give the youngsters that are 20 years younger than her a good run for their money. She strives to not only get the most out of herself but also those around her.
Hannah Carta is a stubborn thrill seeker, like many other ultrarunners, who answers suspicious friends and relatives when they question her about her hobbies with the question, “why not?,” and a smile. An obstacle course racer and ultrarunner, she finds joy in trying new things, especially if they seem challenging, because she finds them as great opportunities for learning and growth. Beyond that exploration, she is primarily drawn to ultrarunning for the abundant opportunities to both meet new people and eat, and eat, and eat, to her heart’s content. She currently resides in Illinois but feels most alive when she is traveling, out on the trails, and in nature.