Welcome to a beautiful 75° January day in sunny Florida. Venturing from the blistering cold weather of upstate NY. This should be a nice break from the winter that I’m not to keen to anyway. I was greeted after my flight at the airport by my good friend Tom and his wife Debbie. Tom offered a room at his house and agreed to crew and pace me through the trails in central Florida. We were about to embark into some uncharted worlds. We would collide straight into the trail system of the Wild Florida 120 Mile Endurance Run.
The race was my first late afternoon start (3:00pm). I particularly enjoyed the sounds of it, knowing I could get in a decent breakfast in my body and didn’t have to wake super early. The race itself was 120ish mile point to point through Centeral Florida starting at Micco Landing Trailhead just off route 98 to E Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway Trailhead. Elevation gain was less then 1000 feet which was totally out of my running guidelines. Traversing through prairies, wooded forests, boar damaged fields, swamps, beach like roads, and just about everything that will likely shred your feet if you not careful. The drive was long and I did my best to fill Tom in on what I thought I would need or want throughout the ten different aid stations on the course. A personal shuttle lasting the same amount of time as the one offered by the race. The beauty of this place when we arrived was breathtaking.
An hour early we arrived. Runners already sitting in their finest folding chairs, lathering on sunscreen, and preparing for the long trek head through sunset to sunrise and trying to beat the second sunset if lucky enough. A race against time that ended with your fate after 36 hours. Meaning you had from 3pm on Friday to 3 am on Sunday to complete to course. I was preparing myself for an incredible adventure, but this was about to become a war. A war with intense battles and becoming helpless to a kidnapped body.
Point to point race my favorite, I was amongst a pool of seventy seven other runners. When I signed up 125 were willingly going to explore these trails. It’s so easy to just click a bottom to join races, but it takes true guts to show up and actually run them. We received some pre race instructions and some very helpful tips for use of the mandatory Guthook app. on my cellphone. Oh yeah, this app. allows you to find your way back to the trail if there was any reason you thought you could be off course. I will say now that this was a necessary tool for my wellbeing and navigation during the night sections. With a last minute photography of our group, RD Sean Blanton gave some really great word of encouragement and why we all stood there today. What I took away from it was, I seek adventure and enjoy the confusion from struggle. I am fearless, knowing pain will soon approach gripping tightly. I’m a bad mother fucker, and if what I do was easy, shit everyone would do it. I then turned around and a took my first steps into the Florida landscape.
My stride was on point and foot placement seemed like an video game I was about to master. I soon found my rhythmless pace again as I was by myself flowing through the trails. The trails weren’t like any other I stepped foot in. Huge cypress trees engulfed in Spanish moss. Palm trees parts littered the trail beneath my feet. Prairies as far as my eyes could see. The trails were soft as my foot mushed into them almost like the gym mat in elementary school. I was so happy to be able to be doing what I love.
I greeted Tom at the first crew station. This was not a full functioning aid station so I used the nutrition I brought along from NY with me. I took a few minutes to compose myself and wondered when will I get my first pickles. I bid farewell to Tom and told him it would be a while till I seen him next. Get the pickles and PBJ ready. Approximately seventeen mile would pass before I would seen him again. The war was beginning, I just failed to realize it was happening. My body was ready to be kidnapped and I did nothing to prevent it.
I ran through knee deep swaps, through turned over earth from the countless number of wild pig herds looking to fill their hungry bellies. Amongst the horses and cattle that looked at me in confusion wondering what this thing was running through their yards. I ran like I was free, as I made my way into Kissimmee Prairie Park aid station five mile 35. Tom greeted me ask how I was and if he could get me anything. I asked for pickles and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He got exactly what I asked for. I also knew I need so sort of electrolyte. I asked him what they had and he replied, “Gatorade”. I gave him my collapsing cup and drank the liquid down. I waited my usual five minutes and departed Tom. “See you in 14 buddy”
I ran watching the sun start to fade into the palm tree soaked horizon. The rain was on and off that day, but it was a Florida rain. Light sprinkle that didn’t last to long. Just enough to cool you down, like getting misted from the garden hose. Darkness was about to set in and not just as night. As some of the worst fears I have ever face as a runner.
My body was losing control. I literally stopped running my stomach was knotted. This has never happens to me. I felt as if I was about to be sick and I’m only at mile forty. How could this be? What have I done? How will I finish knowing I am so far away? I love meeting new trail friends but now I wanted nothing to do with them. I didn’t want any of them seeming me struggling, in pain, showing weakness. Cramming was incredible as I ran through it and push forward. At mile fifty-six I left all sorts of me on the ground in Florida. Bringing the warrior I thought I was right to my knees. I was deeply disappointed and quickly felt defeated. I had so long yet to go, how could I even continue feeling this way.
I made it to Kicco shuttle aid where Tom was waiting for me. I literally limped in with pain told him I needed a break. I have been puking since mile 56 with no end in sight. I wanted sleep and that just what I did. With the rain coming down harder I hopped in the crew vehicle and dozed of hoping to sleep of any illness I was fighting.
My short nap lasted an hour. A fucking hour I slept, and when I awoke I felt even worst. I now had the shakes and my internals felt as if there where getting shredded in a meat grinder. This was it, my first DNF. This would feel so right at this moment. Just quite and this pain will all go away. I can believe this thought is possibly racing through my head. I felt weak, sadness, and pure disappointment that I was willing to give up so easily on my goal. I actually spoke these words to Tom. “That’s it, I think I’m going to quit, Florida will be my first DNF.
I had to do something to straighten my mind out. I needed a life line to awaken that warrior spirit I know I had deep inside of me. I needed Ashley and she answered my call. “How’s it going!” she exclaimed. ” I’m literally dying my body is dying”. I said. “I think I’m going to quit.” As my eye’s started to water holding back tears. My voice cracked as I tried not to cry. We chatted for what seemed to be hours to me about if I would feel comfortable with a DNF and how maybe I can change the way I feel. “You still have a long time to figure out a plan.” She said. She reassured me things will get better and I could do this. The rain was getting worse outside. We discussed options and different variables on what my true goals were. How the daylight would be here in a few sort hours and that could be a great start of a whole new chapter of my race. Knowing I made it through this brutal night and the sickness may pass. I could possibly reclaim my body and get back into this race. Her last word of encouragement were, ” You know if I were there with you I would drive you to were you need to be, kick your ass out of the car and see you at the next aid station.” “Call me when you get there you can do this Scott.”
I asked Tom to grab my rain gear from the back. I now actually thought about what I was about to attempt. It’s wasn’t about trying to keep top of the pack anymore, this was about my strength and courage to complete what I thought was so far gone already. Let’s talk about scared as hell, as the driver side door opened up and I could feel the cool breeze and hear the rain pounding against the ground. I was handed my rain jacket and a fresh tech shirt. That was it as I told Tom to dropped me a the check point.
I wish I had a picture to capture that how alone and frightened I was hobbling down the road towards the blinking light that signaled my right turn back onto the trail. The rain was now the heaviest it’s been all night. I had made my decision that I would not stop for anything and I would finish what I started. I wanted it and I now will fight to get what I came for. I am an ultra runner and this is what I do.
I tried to really enjoy as much as I could during the sun lit hours. The course with it’s many diverse systems of running through swamps, palms and cypress trees forests, prairies lands, farms fields, and sand covered roads. But for the remainder of the race my internal systems would not let me enjoy it how I wished. My body rejected any calories I tried to ingest like it was some sort of foreign material not meant for consumption. My last and final ejection came at mile 111 on my watch.
I finally seen a headlamp through the clearing. I knew it was Tom coming to find my already crippled body still moving forward. It was nice to see him and have someone I felt comfortable around if I need to be sick again. I knew the end was near, it was night for the second time. I was ready to be done. We broke free from the trail to see the finish line. I don’t walk through a finish, and gathered what energy I had left and made my final approach. I ran and crossed the finish line of the worst / best race of my career. I completed the Wild Florida 120 Mile Endurance Run.
Special thanks to Tom and Debbie Parson for all that you did to make this happen. Tom for crewing and pacing me.
Race Director: Sean Blanton( Run Bum) for an incredible race that will be a top favorite for sure.
And to a the volunteers that kept me moving and smiling knowing the struggle I had handed to me.