Mike Melton started running in seventh grade so girls would notice him.
This morning, the 52-year-old Jensen Beach man will get his wish as he tries to run 203 miles from Tarpon Springs to Daytona Beach.
"Everybody thinks I am crazy," said Melton, a certified financial planner. "What can I say? I have a simple brain and am easily amused."
Melton will be the only one-man team in this year's Ragnar Relay, a long-distance running event — named after a legendary Viking chieftain — that is expected to draw more than 100 12-person teams from around the country.
"People ask me why I do it," said Melton, who recently completed a 181-mile solo run in Phoenix. "I am intrigued by traveling long distance. Running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean … now that is something to talk about."
Alone and hungry
The rest of the field will leave Friday morning, but Melton asked race organizers if he could get a head start and leave today.
"I figured that it wouldn't be any fun if I finished in the middle of the night when nobody was there," Melton said. "This way I will be able to finish with everybody else."
Melton hopes to run at least 85 miles in the first 24 hours.
"I'll take a couple of two-hour naps," he said. "But if all goes as planned, I should get there some time on Saturday morning."
This is the second year in a row the Ragnar Series, which has nine other distance races across the country, has come to Florida.
"We really hope he can do it," said Tanner Bell, co-founder of the original race in Utah. "We had somebody try last year in Florida, but they didn't make it. We are all rooting for him."
Sandwiches and milk shakes
Melton will have a support crew to help carry his food and beverages.
"I eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly," he said. "I'll also be bringing some meatloaf, which makes an excellent sandwich on the road."
Melton also plans to forage along the route.
"I like to run through Burger King and pick up some Whopper Juniors," he said. "I also like vanilla milk shakes. They taste great, and they are just loaded with fat."
Melton doesn't look like the average long-distance runner. He stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 190 pounds.
"Most marathoners are about 5-2 and 115 pounds," he said. "We ultramarathoners tend to be a little sturdier. It is like comparing a thoroughbred and a Clydesdale. I may be slow, but I can go the distance."
To save energy, Melton plans to walk up hills and take periodic breaks.
"The trick is to anticipate problems," he said. "You want to take care of blisters before they happen."
When Melton signed up for this year's Ragnar, he thought he would be running 191 miles. But race organizers had to increase the mileage because of construction on the roadway.
"They added another 12 miles … which is almost a half-marathon," he said. "But I am not worried about it. I can't run a 5K … too intense. But 100 miles is nothing. I can tolerate low-grade pain for a long time."
Melton has crossed the state before. In 2007, he ran from Jensen Beach to Fort Myers, a distance of 171 miles.
"But in 2008, I dropped out of the same race after 90 miles," he said. "That is the thing about these long runs. You never know if you are going to finish."
Melton runs 20 to 35 miles a week and uses monthly ultramarathons (races longer than the traditional 26.2 miles) as his main source of training.
"Doing this kind of distance is mostly mental," he said. "But I don't listen to music or anything while I am running."
Instead, he goes over the race in his head, conducting a mental checklist of every ache, pain, bruise and blister.
"But in the end, you have to just keep going," he said. "You just put one foot in front of the other."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8808.