YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- Some people run marathons.
For Ryan Ingham, electronic technician with U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground’s meteorology team, a marathon is what happens between aid stations.
A devotee of endurance running, he has long pushed himself to the limit.
The Concord, Calif. native joined the Marine Corps at 17, serving eight years in uniform. Deciding to stay in Arizona after being stationed at Marine Corps Air Station- Yuma, he first worked for YPG’s former National Counterterrorism / Counterinsurgency Integrated Test and Evaluation Center prior to his current position.
“I’ve done outdoor activities my whole life. This is about the challenge, seeing how far you can push it. I just like to do hard things-- the harder, the better.”
He likes camping and archery hunting, where he has stalked mountain lions and black bears.
“I haven’t gotten one,” he says of the bears, “but I gave two a haircut.”
Running is where Ingham joins elite company. He has run to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. At the Grand Canyon, he has run from the North to South Rim and back multiple times.
“I did the Spartan races, and that snowballed into the harder ones. I did the World’s Toughest Mudder, which is 24 hours, then the ultra races. 50 milers snowballed into a few hundred milers, and this was the next one.”
The Cocodona 250 held in May was actually 257.8 miles—the longest ultramarathon in the country to date—and went from Black Canyon City to Flagstaff by way of Crown King, Prescott, Jerome and Sedona. It ended up taking Ingham 112 hours to complete, and he took a week off from work to do it. The trail passes through some of Arizona’s most beautiful landscapes, but was merciless from the beginning, as Ingham soon found out.
“The furthest stretch was on day one—it was 22 miles between aid stations and over 8,000 feet of climbing. It was rough—the trail had tons of softball-sized rocks. It took a lot of people out of the race—there were people laying all over trying to get a little shade, hiding under the smallest bush.”
The sheer distance and punishing terrain were only two of the factors in the race’s difficulty.
“There was just under 40,000 feet of climbing, and 35,000 feet of descent. To put that in perspective, that is like starting at sea level, climbing to the top of Mount Everest, then down the other side and partway up.”
He also endured the wild temperature changes in varying altitudes in the Arizona spring—temperatures in the 90s during the day that dipped down into the 30s at night. He came down with heat exhaustion one day—he only carried three liters of water on his back, and had to pace his consumption between aid stations that were at least eight miles apart. His support crew, carrying a cot and sleeping bags, would be waiting for him at aid stations, but there were many hours of intense isolation as the race’s path snaked through Arizona’s most extreme back country.
“There are times you go three or four hours without seeing a single other person—you’re in the middle of a mountain range with nobody around and no cities nearby.”
Ingham estimates he slept roughly eight hours across his extreme trek.
“I only stopped to get a little bit of sleep. I was getting delirious—in these bigger races, hallucinations are very common because of the lack of sleep and how hard you are pushing it and how far you go. When it got to the point that I was seeing things, I would lay down and take a nap.”
The runners had a GPS tracker in their gear in case of emergency, but Ingham knew that he would have to rely on himself even in a catastrophe.
“I like the remote part of it, but in a lot of instances if something goes wrong, you’ll have to self-extract. If you really got in trouble they would send someone to get you out, but it might be three hours before they can get to you, going on foot. Some of these spots have no roads.”
Days into the race, Ingham could only feel a pins and needles sensation in his blistered feet. The end came after a climb of over 2,000 feet in three miles to the top of Mount Elden, where the last aid station was set up. Mercifully, the last five miles to the finish line in downtown Flagstaff were all downhill.
“It was one last big climb so you could look down on the finish line. Anyone that has done Mount Elden knows it is a tough climb, especially when you’re on 250 mile legs.”
Ingham had mastered nature in a way few can boast of, but the Cocodona 250’s winner had completed the grueling race more than 24 hours earlier. Aside from a cheering crowd at the finish line, an award, and bragging rights, there were no prizes for him and the 107 other individuals who endured to the end.
Ingham is already looking forward to September, when he will pit himself against the Mogollon Monster, a 100 mile endurance challenge in northeastern Arizona.
“That one is tough—there is a lot of climbing. It is really technical, a very rocky course.”