Forgotten Florida 100M - Christmas, Florida
Sunrise 7:10 / Sunset 18:08 ........Negligible Sea Level Elevation Change..........Results
February 5, 2022 - It is a difficult thing to wrap your head around doing a one hundred mile foot race. Even during the shuttle ride at 0445 from the finish where I parked my car to the starting line, I peered out the window during the long ride at the passing dark scenery and was jolted at the realization that I had to run that much and more to get back. It is better not to think about it and, literally, take it one step at a time.
I was prepared to go the distance this time. Despite an egregious knee injury that had been hampering my training and slowing me down for most of a year, I was as ready as I ever would be for another go at the distance. I like to repeat the mantra that running a hundred miles is all mental; I guess I have used the line so often that I finally believe it myself. Because of that, the effort would wind up being completely different from any other previous attempt or achievement. Perhaps the jedi has finally mastered the use of the force.
The Florida backcountry is starkly beautiful. It is a place I enjoy running as a contrast to the mountain trails that I usually seek out. Florida can be brutal, however. For this event the Sunshine State gave us a break from its bright sun and heat to allow us cool passage. Temps varied between the low 60's and the high 50's following a day when temps hit their normal mid 80's. We were very fortunate.
I went into the race at 0600 without expectation, other than to finish. RD Sean Blanton forewarned us that the trail would be muddy, and we didn't have to wait very long before realizing we were in for a muck-sucking day. Starting at the Tosohatchee Reserve we would flirt back and forth all day with the Florida Trail. Despite the muddy slow-downs, the course is very runnable as several pairs of sturdy young legs proved by their times. For high-mileage old legs barely held together by scar tissue, it was a hobbled affair, enjoyable nonetheless.
After a mile or so on roads to spread the small field of 100-mile and 45-mile runners we crossed a drainage ditch into the woods to hit single track out to the first aid station at 6.5 miles. From the second mile we all had wet feet with mud and sand finding its way into every place in the shoe and sock where it was aggrevatingly unwelcome. When your legs are fresh you can dance a bit with the uneven muddy terrain, so the first leg of the route went rather quickly with the usual social jocularity one looks forward to with this ultra running crowd.
Not knowing for sure how my feet and legs would respond with the muddy terrain I did have a little bit of anxiety about the early cut-offs, but after the second leg out to 15 miles on dirt roads that concern evaporated. Reaching 15 miles in three hours at an average comfortable 5 mph tempo, the day was looking good.
Moving the narrative along... I stayed even out to nearly 30.5 miles without discomfort. Here a shuttle drove us across a busy highway to another trailhead to continue the race. That was a first for me during an event. Things were still good as I reached 35 miles in around 9 hours, feeling relaxed and relatively unchallenged. This is where the 45-mile runners peeled off and the field thinned. It is also where the trail began to exact a muddy vengence on anyone trying to keep any sense of pace. The next section had a couple miles where I probably took two hours to negotiate. There was a fun group of five young people ahead of me that pioneered the section, showing me every mistake not to make slogging through endless deep shoe-sucking stinky mud. One fellow was up to his waist in the boggy mire. Hanging onto trees with some long acrobatic stretches, I managed to get through without splashing too much muck up my shorts.
It was exhausting, however. The endless micro balancing moves one must make to keep from doing a head plant into the black misery led me to stop frequently to get my composure back before proceding to the next slippery challenge. Surprisingly, as much challenge as the mud was giving my weakened wrapped knee, it held up marvelously against all insults. My greatest concern going into the race never became a factor.
By the next aid station at 42.5 miles my feet were feeling beat up. There was so much sand caked between my feet and shoe inserts that I shed my shoes, cleared them as much as possible and put on fresh socks. With less than half of the race underway, the sand was wearing against feet that had been wet all day, causing considerable discomfort and irritation. The aid station personnel were most helpful in assisting me with my transition. Kudos. And the wraps with avocado and bacon not only kept me going all day and all night, but gave me something to look forward to out on the trail.
Darkness was settling in after five o'clock under the tropical canopy, so I prepped for night running and donned a rain jacket as showers were forecast. We had been fortunate all day not only with low temps but also with only very light misty rain. Heading into the twilight prepared to run through the night I probably hit 44.5 miles by the 12-hour mark - still reasonable headway for an optimistic finish time.
I generally look for someone to run with at night on these long affairs when I don't have a pacer, as four eyes are always better than two eyes, especially when those two eyes don't work all that well anymore. I was fortunate to pair up with a fellow named Daniel Arns from Montreal early into the darkness and we made a pact to see each other through to the finish. Throughout the night and all the way to the wire we worked as a team to navigate through the jungled maze on sometimes less than well-marked trails to succeed together in our noble quest.
Conversation helps me pass the time, and I also seem to be full of (sh)it, so (at least from my perspective) the night passed quickly (which is a good thing) and Daniel and I shuffled aid station to aid station, resting here and there along the way, ever maintaining reasonable, but relentless forward progress (RFP). Other participants that we met and their pacers, along with very helpful and fun volunteers, made the evening enjoyable, balancing the misery we were putting our bodies through.
My feet became progressively worse with blisters swelling and then breaking with the abrasion of endless sand in my shoes. Daniel was not faring much better. I can't remember a time when my feet hurt worse over my long career and many exploits. It took a lot of focus to put the pain out of mind and march on. The final miles were mostly done at the usual ultra shuffle with increased intermittent walking. With my collection of limiting injuries, it is the best I have to work with anymore... but it is good enough.
No one was complaining - not really. We soldiered on and weren't under any time pressure to make cut-offs, so took our time to ease the pain (and suffer longer). I even layed down a few minutes on the tarmac of the Seminole Trail to get some blood back in my head and stretch my aching lower back. At times it was not pretty, but we got the job done under 31 and a half hours.
It was Daniel's first finish at 100 miles. I shared in his celebration. Afterall, no matter how many times you attempt or succeed at this venture, it is ever an admirable feat and accomplishment. I am just pleased that I can still run as many miles as my age. While many others have fallen by the way, I am still hobbling on... and aim to continue long after the odds-makers have given up and forgotten my name. It was a great day, and then some. I loved it the whole way. Is there any better way to engage this life?