“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -John Muir
When I originally received my Spring Training work schedule in 2015 for MLB Network, I became a bit concerned. I was going to have to leave home on the 8th of March and not return until the 26th. My trip took me from San Francisco to NYC to Arizona, back to NYC, then to Florida before finally returning back to San Francisco. My 2 immediate thoughts were that it is way too long of a time to be away from my family and how was I possibly going to be able to get in quality training sessions to prepare myself for an upcoming BEAST of a race, the Miwok 100k? The course entails nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain over 62 miles of hard-core trails. I quickly scheduled to have the family come out to NYC for a week and began brainstorming about creative ways to accomplish some long runs. As I was dissecting the schedule, I noticed that the first camp I worked in Florida was the Detroit Tigers, located in Lakeland. The next camp was the Houston Astros, located 48 miles away in Kissimmee. BOOM! The solution to my problem just slapped me in the face and kicked me in the nuts at the same time. I decided to run the 48 miles from camp to camp.
Immediately, I began searching all sorts of route options. Unfortunately, not one of them seemed appealing. The best route took me southeast from Lakeland on the US 92/17 and eventually north to Kissimmee. There were various back roads involved as well. I landed in Tampa on Saturday, March 21st and right away headed out to scope the course I intended to run the next day. What I found was essentially what I had seen on Google Maps, and what I had expected: roads with no shoulders surrounded by swamp land and speeding cars. Was the run possible? Of course. Was the run ideal?
NO, not even close.
At the last minute, possibly because my wife Tarah was becoming overly concerned with the idea of the run, my family decided to accompany me on the trip. Once the route was detailed, it confirmed both of our beliefs that the only way to get the run done in any sort of safe manner was to have her drive a support vehicle along the way. We hit up the convenience store the night before and loaded up. Smart waters, Gatorades, Muscle Milks, Cliff Bars, Chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and 4 Sierra Nevada’s for the finish. Other prep items for the run included 3 pairs of socks, 3 shirts, 3 shorts, 3 hats, 2 pairs of shoes, a backpack, a mophie, and 2 headlamps.
Because of my work schedule, which had me arriving at Tigers camp at 7 am and not finishing until 4 pm, the earliest I was going to be able to take off running from Lakeland was 4:30 pm. That undoubtedly ensured there was no way I was going to finish before midnight. I obviously realized the elements and logistics of the run were going to be extremely difficult, but I never expected to endure each one to such an extreme magnitude.
The day started off with a home plate collision demo with Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila. Ironically, I have run into him before. Then I had interviews with Brad Ausmus, Joe Nathan, David Price, and capped off the day with a live talk back with the guys in the MLB Network studio. At that point, I thought my day was done, but I was then instructed to make sure I talked with Miguel Cabrera, who had just played in his first Spring Training game following foot surgery. I don’t like chasing guys down for interviews, but knowing that I needed to get on the road, I basically turned into a paparazzi reporter as soon as Miggy came off the field. If he had made it back to the locker room, there was a good chance it would be at least another hour before I would have been able to talk to him.
In the morning, there was actually a ton of fog that did not burn off until game time. The projected high was in the low 90s with 90% humidity, but because of the fog in the morning and the breeze in the afternoon, the temperature seemed bearable. I was hoping the wind would continue until nightfall. Wishful thinking. Just about 4 pm, the breeze stopped and the humidity went through the roof. The weather was my biggest pre-run concern. I generally don’t do all that well in extremely hot conditions because I have a tendency to sweat more than any other human alive. Losing key salts and electrolytes with my eternal buckets of perspiration make it very difficult to replenish. The furthest I had ever run in my life at that point was 31 miles. I was not only going to ask my body to go nearly 19 miles further than it had gone before, but I was going to do it on a fuel tank that was on the borderline of empty. Not a great combo.
Right after the Cabrera interview, I shot out to the “support vehicle” that Tarah had driven and Superman-changed into my initial running gear. I fired out a tweet announcing my intentions of running from Lakeland to Kissimmee, and then another one indicating that I was going to donate $100 to the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) for every mile I was able to complete. I then took a “launch video” right out in front of the Tigers’ stadium as I began mile 1.
I had sent Tarah the intended route and told her to meet me about 10 miles up the road for my first refuel. The first mile was gorgeous. I was able to run on quiet side streets by the stadium and then along a path that wrapped around a gorgeous lake. I then hit the highway and essentially had to run on the hardened swamp grass. Around mile 3 I was enjoying the scenery as the highway wrapped back around toward the lake, when I looked into the swamp about 20 feet away and a big-ass alligator decided to stick his head out of the water!
I guess you could say this was my first WTF moment of the journey. A couple miles later, I was running along what appeared to be old vacated warehouses and fenced-in tire yards. While passing one, I heard frantic footsteps from behind me, then WHOOF WHOOF WHOOF!!! I was so startled that I literally tripped and just about fell on my ass as two dogs jumped up against the fence in full attack mode. I captured the dogs on video but the video doesn’t even do it justice because the dogs had calmed down a ton by the time I was able to pull my phone out of the pack.
The next few miles were spent dodging traffic as if I were playing the 1985 real-life version of Frogger. I basically had to pick my poison. Run on the concrete highway with a solid 8 inches of shoulder or run on the swampy terrain that was right next to what looked like a levy of water that a hungry gator could pop out of at any moment. I watched enough of Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter, to know that I had a much better chance against the gator as opposed to a car, truck, or semi rolling at 70 mph.
There was so much action going on that by the time I reached Tarah at mile 10, I didn’t even realize how much I was sweating. My shirt and shorts were both sopping wet and I had no choice but to go for the early change. The back of the SUV looked like something that belonged in some sort of designer magazine. My alternate outfits were laid out perfectly. All of my liquid and food options were very neatly displayed and set up for my easy choosing. Tarah was undoubtedly going for support vehicle of the year. I quickly changed my shirt and shorts, grabbed a fresh water and Gatorade, and then I was off. Miles 10-15 in dry clothes made the journey more comfortable but the road conditions continued to deteriorate. Small shoulders and any sort of sidewalk paths became non-existent. During miles 16-23, the sun began to set and orange groves dominated what I would describe as a gorgeous and somewhat euphoric setting. At mile 20, there was even a dude hosing down the outside of a produce stand that obliged when I asked him for “a little love.”
Tarah was waiting at a gas station around mile 23. “Shady” would be the word I would use to describe the atmosphere, but I don’t feel as if it would do it justice. There was one guy sitting on the bed of his truck looking at my wife as if he just got out of prison and hadn’t seen a female in 15 years. There was another guy leaning up against the side of the car drinking a 40 of Old English and a third dude sitting on the curb smoking a joint. I put a towel around my waist and stripped down my disgustingly wet clothes once again. I then fired on my most breathable and shortest pair of shorts (1980 Dolphin Style). When I wrung out my second shirt of the day and saw the endless stream of water flowing, I decided I was done with shirts for the night. I shoved my phone into the one small pocket on the backside of the shorts and then held a bottle of water in one hand and the Gatorade in the other. I had lost so much fluid that I knew it was soon going to start taking its toll. Because I had no way to carry my nutrition or pills, I instructed Tarah to meet me every 2-3 miles wherever she could find a safe spot off of the main road. Then, as I began running, I actually back-pedaled the first 100 yards as I made sure my wife got away from the lion’s den safely.
With a fresh pair of shorts and no shirt and no pack, you would think I would have been more comfortable at this point. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I had lost so much fluid and was so incredibly depleted I was miserable. I was light-headed and basically every step between mile 23 and 30 was a struggle. Not to mention the towns that I continued to run through were flat-out sketchy. On several different occasions, I had people cat calling me, “Boy, you shouldn’t be running through this here neighborhood,” “Look at this crazy white dude,” and “Run, Forrest, Run” were three of my favorites.
After meeting Tarah at mile 27, she could tell I needed something and needed it in a hurry. When we met again at mile 30 she was waiting with a large pepperoni pizza. As quickly as I mowed the pizza down I would have given any world champion eater a run for their money. I grabbed a Coke and a water, and then immediately took off running again. Somehow, I was completely rejuvenated.
Once I passed mile 31, I entered unchartered territory. I had run two 50 Ks (31 miles) in my life but never before had I surpassed the 31-mile barrier. Believe it or not, my easiest miles were actually 31-40. The pepperoni pizza/Coke combo dialed me in. Just about any endurance athlete will tell you that Coca-Cola is an absolute SAVIOR when the tank is low. The huge amounts of sugar and caffeine serve as a mega turbo fuel source.
The temperature definitely cooled as the time and miles clicked off but the running conditions did not improve one bit. There was one stretch in which I felt like I was running on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles and then another extended area in which I actually had to have Tarah drive behind me with her hazard lights on because the only shoulder was a gator-infested swamp. On at least 3 different occasions, I shined my light into the swamp and witnessed sets of alligator eyes glowing outside of the water.
Somewhere around mile 40, I ran past the Gatorade plant, but I barely noticed because right beyond the plant there was huge amount of police activity. I don’t know exactly what was going on, but there was a dude cuffed and stuffed in the back of the police car and a couple other guys sitting on the curb handcuffed as well. Right around mile 44, I saw something on the ground in front of me. I veered to the left a bit and then jumped half way across the highway. A snake with some very interesting markings was smack dab in the middle of the road. I cautiously approached it and realized it wasn’t moving. The tail looked like it had a rattle on it, but I didn’t think that they had rattlesnakes in Florida. The next day my wife sent me a picture of the exact same snake. The picture was on a caution sign inside a gator farm saying, “Beware of Rattlesnakes.”
The final 4 plus miles were run through the streets of downtown Kissimmee and then along a path on the side of the highway before rolling up to the gates of the Houston Astros facility. According to my Garmin, the total distance was 48.12 miles. The total time was 8 hours 15 minutes and 37 seconds. I had gotten into endurance sports 4 years prior. To that point I had completed 6 full-distance Ironman Triathlons and two ultra-marathons. Of all the crazy endurance challenges I had done in my life, once you consider all of the elements, this was by far the most whacked out. The weather, the traffic, the roads, the swamps, the gators, the snakes, and the backwoods Florida towns made it a wild, wild, wild experience.
Human Crash Test Dummy Life Lesson #116
You don’t need an organized race to do epic sh*t. Sometimes you don’t even need time off work. Implement something active in your life. Bike, swim, run, paddleboard, skateboard, or even walk to a destination you would normally drive. It may take a bit longer, but you will feel a lot better when you get there. Life is about experience and the best way to get experience is to create it![Listen to the audio version of Do Epic Sh*t above, or on The Hustle Podcast.]