Ancient Oaks?!

It all started 4 years ago when I got an invitation to run the classic Ancient Oaks 100 mile race in the Enchanted Forest, Titusville, Florida. It’s invitation only, small, select group of ultra-runners, pulled together by race director and ultra marathon runner Mike Melton… date, first week in Dec 2009.

Fast forward to Dec 1, 2012. It’s the middle of the night and I’m on my 18th lap of the 3.46 mile loop through the enchanted forest. I am seriously thinking I am mad.

This race is deceptively tough. I have run and completed Badwater an received the Badwater buckle. I have completed the non-stop 138 mile race in the Himalayas with peaks at 18,000 ft. I have run through snow storms, floods and fires. I have  run through the Sahara Desert in blazing heat and on wild New Zealand trails.  Nothing…I mean nothing has effected me like Ancient Oaks.

Personally, I think the oldest oak that sits on the Magnolia loop of that course is to blame. I think that big old oak picks and chooses who she allows to complete that course, and she simply has something against me. Why else would I feel her taunting energy every time I pass her by? She sits there like a big immense queen bee with full reign over her Enchanted Forest. The first time I saw her, I had rounded the bend in the trail and was astounded at her size and shape. She rose out of the ground like a huge creature with leaves so thick on her branches that she made a dense canopy that blocks out the sky. That first year in 2009 I acknowledged her and just nodded my head as I ran by. I made it 17 loops before I completely bombed out. How was I ever going to get to the full 29 loops with that big old oak blocking my efforts.

In 2010,  I returned with a game plan. I decided to make peace with the Queen. On my first loop I patted her truck and said hello. I tried to be friendly and ask for safe passage through her forest. She kept very quiet. A torrential rain storm broke overhead shortly after my hello and poured on me all night in that forest.  A giant armadillo almost tripped me as it scurried past sloshing through the rain.  All the night creatures seemed to be running wildly about as I ran through their paths and upset their quiet solitude. I tried to be respectful on my journey running and running through those wet, slippery paths. The branches seemed to pull my hair and I had hallucinations of fairies grabbing and pulling at my running clothes. I’d turn to see what branch had tugged at me but nothing seemed close enough to pull me…was I going mad? I made it 17 loops then bombed out, exhausted and beat after 60 over.

2011 I returned with a new game plan. I wasn’t going to touch her trunk or say hello. I was just going to slip in there and run and split. I felt sick the whole race..bombed at 18 loops…went home.

2012… I came back with a vengeance…. And a new game plan. I marched right up to that old oak on my first loop of the course. I stood at the bottom of her throne and said ” Hey Queenie, it’s just you and me…bring it on,” I wasn’t going to take any shit from her. I paid my dues the last few years. I’d  had it. I decided to throw some of my positive chanting and high energy into that forest during my run. I started each lap with joy and looked around at the beautiful plants and foliage. I appreciated the exotic ferns and moss covered bridge that all the runners travel on over and over again making their way through the loops in the forest. I marveled at the birds and muffled sounds of the insects and hidden creatures.   I loved that trail and felt great all day into the night.  Then, early evening my toe caught on a root and I took a spill. That is not unusual for me. I had been nicknamed Crash Sheridan way back after taking an unusually massive fall at a race witnessed by a group of running friends who dubbed me “Crash” then Crash Sheridan soon followed. But this fall hurt and my ankle felt stiff. After walking on it for awhile I soon began to plod along. It still ached but not too bad. Game on, I knew old Queenie was awake and watching.

I made it to the 17th lap then 18 then 19, the longest distance completed by me in that event… 10 laps to go! I decided to go all out and run harder before that old broad noticed I was beating her. 20 loops down, but after running hard my ankle was screaming. 21 loops….slowly, slow, 22 loops. My ankle shoots stabbing pain up my leg at every step and gets worse. My time was slipping. The 23 loop began with a giant 6 ft long rat snake blocking the trail. Stu Gleman ran up beside me and told me it isn’t poisonous but it has a vicious bite so we stepped gingerly around it.  Stu continued on wishing me luck and I continued to step and drag my foot which was in agony. The realization set in that I will make my ankle worse and my recovery will take longer, my other racing events in jeopardy,  if I continued.

I bowed to the Queen at 25 laps….at 86.5 miles I concede. Queen wins. Checkmate.

Of all my races Ancient Oaks has been the toughest mind numbing chess game I’ve ever played.  Am I mad to continue to go up against the Queen year after year? Maybe so…but, if I’m invited back in 2013 I’ll have a new game plan. I am considering carrying my Dalai Lama prayer beads,  wearing a rosary, and listening to African Women warrior drum music as I chant and pray my way through the Queens territory. Yes, you can call me mad. Madness did cross my mind as I listened to my Ipod playing the Muse song with the same name through the 29 hours I battled this year. Along that fine line of madness is my desire to reach past my physical and mental limitations. I want to go beyond what I think is possible for me. Is there really a big Queen oak tree out there purposefully stopping my progress or is it my own internal Queen telling me I can’t make it?  Whether she is in my head or out in nature, makes no difference. I still need to overcome her.

Next year I will be training like mad to beat the Queen in the Enchanted Forest.

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