What does it take to get through a 240-mile foot race? Here's a firsthand experience written by Spring Team Manager Isabella Janovick. Take it away Izzy!
Yes, I can do hard things.
I had first heard of this race the year Courtney Dauwalter took the overall win and set the course record in 2017. Slowly I started seeing the distance get more popular, but it wasn’t until Aravaipa Running presented their live feed of the Cocodona 250 that my interest was really sparked. I saw friends run the race (mostly male and only a couple females) so I decided to volunteer at the Moab 240 race in 2021 to see if this was something I wanted to pursue. I spent 6 days at the headquarters working alongside the Destination Trail Races staff, meeting other amazing volunteers, and loading trucks 24/7 with supplies to the aid stations. The last few days of the race I was stationed at the finish line where I got to witness the first place winner, Mike McKnight who set the new course record (snow course), the last place finisher who only had 30 seconds left to spare from the cutoff, and everyone in between. I was inspired, I was pumped, I was motivated. I could do this. I wanted to do this. I wanted to cross that finish line one day. My Coach Jeff Browning was also there, as he had paced the last 70 miles with Mike, and when I saw him I said “Jeff, you have 365 days to get me ready for this race.” He smiled and we got to work the following week.
Fast-forward to the 2022 Moab 240...
My husband Kyle and I spent a week preparing Vinny Van Go (our sleeper van) for Moab. We headed down to the venue on Wednesday and checked into our cabin at the start line. The next morning we had coffee with Coach Jeff, who was also running the race. This would be his first 200 miler and he was looking to not only win, but to beat Courtney’s record. We chatted about last minute strategies, course changes, and got some of the nerves out. Later I did a quick shakeout run along the Colorado River and then the camera crew from Nathan Sports arrived. These two filmmakers Matt and Malcolm would be following my journey and capturing as much content as they could.
Race check-in included a gear check, navigation check, and medical check. This is where I met Todd the Medic, who would later become my best friend. I warned him about my Meniere’s Disease, but also let him know my doctor gave me clearance to race and prescription medicine in case of an emergency. After receiving my swag bag, I took my mugshot photos, deposited my drop bags, then headed back to the cabin to rest and prepare for race day.
Friday morning on the start line at 6am, Race Director Candice Burt said her famous line “...if you die, it’s your own damn fault” and then we were off! The first few miles were on flat road, then the climbing began on a single track trail. It was a gorgeous sunrise and the 9.3 miles to the Hidden Valley Aid Station were very enjoyable. I fueled up and continued on to the 17.8 mile checkpoint, Amasa Back. During this time I had a blast running into friends, taking selfies and enjoying the cool weather and views of the Colorado River. Kyle and the camera crew met me at the next AS where I started my “foot routine,” filled up my pack with more supplies, fueled and hydrated. I wouldn’t see Kyle until the next morning at mile 71.3.
I had fun running the slick rock and chatting with others until we hit Jacob’s Ladder, a steep descent of rocks and boulders that with one wrong step could be a disaster to an ankle. Luckily, this tricky part was only about ½ mile, then we were back to smooth dirt. Base Camp was at mile 32.8 where I ate a breakfast burrito, chugged a liter of water and a glass of lemonade. I filled up my 3L bladder with water and 2 flasks with drink mix. The aid station was running low on fluids, and were rationing supplies, which was not a good sign in the desert heat. A few of us took off at the same time and kept each other company until mile 37.3, which was a water station only. I had planned to chug another liter here and cap off my two flasks so that I would have a full 4L of fluids to make it to The Oasis, or mile 50.3. Unfortunately, when we got to the water station, there was NO WATER. Other runners were waiting around hoping for another drop from staff. I continued on hoping that the 3.5L I had left would be sufficient. The heat pounded on us and I rationed my water. I chose to hike instead of run to drink less and I sucked on electrolyte chews to keep my mouth moist. I could feel myself getting dehydrated and my muscles depleting, but I keep pushing on. I felt hot spots on my feet and when I finally arrived at the aid station, I went straight to the medics. This is where I met Todd, who took care of my blisters, taped me up with leukotape, told me to suck it up for the next 3 days, and just concentrate on getting my feet from one aid station to another. After spending a good 10 minutes eating and drinking a TON of water, I was on my way again.
The pain was there but bearable at this point. After meeting fellow runner Chase along the course (who is a real doctor) I popped my first Ibuprofen. Chase and I stuck together throughout the rest of the night, keeping each other awake with trail stories and how good the pancakes would taste in the morning. I had so many questions about his job and he was happy to answer all of them. We both saved each other that night, and I will never forget his company.
My first pacer couldn’t pick me up until mile 71.3 at Indian Creek. Oh boy did I want to see my crew at this time! It was a rough night and I arrived just after sunrise. I was looking forward to pancakes, gatorade and SLEEP. I checked in, grabbed some food and walked over to Vinny to find Kyle and Melissa chatting away with John, a volunteer friend we had met last year. He was on his way out and looking happy and fresh. My crew got to work on me and Melissa had so much energy it pumped me up. She massaged my legs, cleaned my feet and changed my socks. After a 45 min nap, we were on our way. It was going to be another hot one in the desert, but I was fueled and hydrated and ready to continue.
Melissa led the way with a consistent speedy pace. The first part of this section was very runnable and I’m glad we were able to take advantage of it. Instead of getting frustrated and mad during the segments that had no flags (this was a “graduate level” race after-all), we made jokes and looked at the positive instead. It was actually a fun day with Melissa and we both enjoyed all the views, trail naps, breezy weather and chick-chat. We reached The Island in happy spirits, where we fueled on breakfast burritos, filled up our packs, and the medics worked on my feet.
Bridger Jack was the next aid station at mile 102. I was so stoked to make it to this checkpoint! It was dark by this time, but the fire was going and the energy was high. Again, I got my feet worked on, fueled and hydrated. We decided to rest a bit here, since the next section was the infamous Shay Mountain. The rumor was that this was the hardest part of the race, and that if you can make it to the top of Shay, you are golden. Whether this was true or not, I kept this thought in my head.
We continued on and picked up new friends Callie and Francis to join us. The 4 of us stuck together and kept each other motivated to get through more unmarked areas, multiple creek crossings that had us cussing for hours and super steep climbs. We knew there was a “false” summit so we were prepared mentally, but physically our bodies were exhausted. Again, Melissa led the way with fresh eyes for navigation and an encouraging spirit to keep us going on every climb. She started funny conversations, played music and even booty danced for us to keep our minds busy. Surprisingly there were lots of laughs, which kept the positivity going. The last few miles were a gradual uphill on a fire road. It was foggy and cold, and never ending. A total mind-fuck. I started to breaking down and slowing my pace, or as Melissa would say “losing my gusto.” She continued to push me, reminded me that I was a chingona and that my crew and warm van were at the top. When we reached the aid station I was so happy to see my crew. I remember smiling so big when Gabe (pacer #2) told me there was a REAL bathroom at this aid station. As Kyle walked me to the bathroom and hugged me I burst into tears and let him know how much pain I was in from my feet. He reminded me that I was now at mile 121.6 and how proud he was of me. Again, my crew worked on fixing me up, slept two hours, changed into fresh clothes, brushed my teeth and I was on my way. I gave Melissa the biggest hug ever and she left me with the words “Feel Good, Do Good, Be Good.”
I knew the route from Shay Mountain to Rd 46 would be a fun single track followed by a long and flat fire road. I decided to do this solo and use my other two pacers for harder sections. The single track was super fun and the weather was perfect. I felt more hotspots on my feet and once again visited Todd the Medic at the Dry Valley AS. The pain I endured caused me to scream out loud, but I knew it had to be done to continue on. On the bright side, I was happy to see Keira Henninger, RD for KH Races, who made me the tastiest veggie burger, and her hubby Jesse Haynes gave me an update on Jeff who was totally crushing it. After a quick change to get ready for the night temps, I joined my friend Aum for the flat and boring 27 miles to Rd 46. We saw a great sunset along the mountains, a huge moon, and some hallucinations. At The Needles AS we both ate hot soup, took a 10 minute power nap by the fire and continued on. It felt never ending getting to Rd 46. There was lots of sleep walking and trail naps, and after taking 3 caffeine pills, I was forced to leave Aum behind to take advantage of this temporary burst of energy. I reached the aid station just before sunrise, was thankful to use a clean porta-potty and went to sleep.
My crew let me sleep for two hours which felt SO GOOD and I woke up to the camera crew filming me. (I am sure I looked like a hot mess). Kyle forced me to eat about 1,000 calories, drink a ton of fluids and brush my teeth. The next section I was joined by Gabe, my second pacer, who is a 200-miler vet and Moab 240 finisher. We took all our cold weather gear as we knew it would get down to at least the 30s in the La Sal mountains and there was a big possibility for rain and snow. The trek from Rd 46 to Pole Canyon was BEAUTIFUL! The climbs were more gradual than the day before, there was a nice breeze and oh wow the aspen colors were just magical. I had a great pace arriving to Pole Canyon, where Gabe let me nap on a cot for 15 minutes, fuel, and hydrate before continuing on. The next part of the course was my favorite! I love the mountains, the thick trees, roots on the ground, and the views of Moab and where I had just ran from. Gabe kept me going, saved me from falling off the cliff twice, (such a close call!), distracted me from my painful feet, and timed me for two 10-minute dirt naps. We arrived at the top of Geyser Pass around 1am and despite the pain I was bearing, I was so pumped to be at mile 200.
I was only allowed to sleep here for one hour as my crew knew I wanted a sunset finish. Heather, my last pacer, headed out with me around 3am after I ate some calories and slammed a Mountain Dew. We were gifted with a long stretch of downhill fire road, where I tried to run as much as possible, ignoring the pain in my feet. We watched a beautiful sunrise before hitting Porcupine Rim, the last section before the finish line. I can see why most people love PR, especially mountain bikers, but it is the worst type of terrain for someone who has just run 200 miles with blister covered feet. I winced and screamed in pain often and Heather did her best to keep my mind occupied with trail stories, having me listen to music, and suck on hard candy. Finally, after hours of pain, we saw the Colorado River and knew the bike path and finish line were close. After another few miles of scrambling through boulders we finally reached the bike trail! We were greeted with the camera crew and I felt the joy and excitement as I anticipated crossing the finish line soon.
As I rounded the corner into the Moab RV Resort, I could hear the cowbells ringing and see my friends cheering me on. I crossed the finish line smiling ear to ear and gave Kyle the biggest hug. Jeff greeted me at the finish line too, after finishing his race almost two days prior, and setting the new course record.
Picking out my buckle and taking my finisher photo was the best feeling I have ever had. I am so lucky to have such amazing and supportive people in my life and thankful to have a body that allowed me to accomplish such an amazing goal. You really never know what you are capable of until you try.