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MISSING RUNNER: Race Director says he was acting erratically during race

In the early morning hours on Sunday, police arrived in force at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary. Helicopters, ATVs, multiple vehicles and a group of police and volunteers were soon searching for a missing runner.

Other runners had been scouring the woods on their own since 11 p.m. at the Ancient Oaks 100-Mile Endurance Run, looking for 57-year-old Earl Blewett of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Blewett’s rental car, a white Chevrolet Malibu, was still at race parking, with his cell phone and I.D. inside.

Photo by Matt Mahoney

“Every hour, we sent volunteer runners out on the course both frontwards and backwards looking for him,” says race director Mike Melton. Then, he sent runners into the side trails not used in the race and along the highway just outside the park. Still nothing. “When it got light this morning, we sent more volunteers out to cover the course.” Blewett has yet to be found.

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“Usually this happens when a runner quits and doesn’t tell the race director,” says ultrarunner Matt Mahoney who showed up in the afternoon on Sunday to run a few laps with friends. But Blewett’s case seems different. He had checked out of the Best Western early Saturday morning and his rental car, a white Chevrolet Malibu, was still there with his cell phone and I.D. inside. “When I left at 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, there were 15 police and emergency vehicles, two ATVs and a helicopter.” Also involved with the search were five mounted policemen and a pack of bloodhounds.

Photo by Matt Mahoney

The Ancient Oaks 100 is run every December from 7 a.m. on a Saturday to 3 p.m. on the following Sunday. The course is a well-trafficked and short set of trails underneath towering Cabbage Palms and Spanish Moss-strewn Live Oaks. The 470-acre forest is bisected by the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, which gives the race it’s only hint at elevation – 15 feet. According to Runsignup.com, the loop, “consists of a small section of asphalt pavement, sections of sand and grass two-track, rolling wood-chip trail sections, a short section of concrete path, a section of twisty, rooty single-track trail, two boardwalk sections, a short bridge, a sharp 15-foot hill and some sections of loose sand.”

Veteran of over 80 ultra races, Blewett would surely have known how to get help if he were in extreme exhaustion. There were two aid stations on the course and four timing mats. Melton said Blewett, “made a point to tell us he gets easily disoriented at night and wanders off course.” While strange things have been well documented regarding runners who become overly exerted, the simple nature of the course and lack of any sign of his whereabouts have left a heavy air over the runners, especially Melton. “I’m completely heartbroken and devastated.”

A possible danger on course is wild boar. Young piglets were filmed on the course early on Saturday. “Attacks on humans are rare, but can be serious, resulting in penetrating injuries to the lower part of the body,” according to INaturalist.org. However, Mahoney has run this race 15 times and never had any problems with the wild pigs. “They usually just run off.” Melton has come across groups of them numerous times. “I saw a couple of 100 pounders cross the trail but never felt threatened by them.”

Most boar attacks happen during rutting season, which is from November to January (now) and usually occurs between a sow and her piglets. “Feral swine have been aggressive towards and even attacked farmers, golfers, hikers and picnickers,” says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Aggression can be increased when they associate people with food because of handouts and improper waste disposal.” In Florida, up to 67 counties have seen wild pig incursions.

“I think there’s a chance he’s outside the park,” Melton says, “But it’s a slim one.” The more realistic possibility is that Blewett had some kind of medical incident. Melton noted an email Blewett had sent before the race that stated he was immune suppressed. The race director also described Blewett acting erratically Saturday evening. He was last seen finishing mile 55 at 9:35 p.m. Having already run off the course once, one staffer believed he looked disoriented and warned him not to go back out. But she didn’t know if she had the authority to stop him. He started lap 17 on the 3.46-mile course then vanished, never making the first timing mat.

Photo by Matt Mahoney

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday, Brevard County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue was called off for the night, set to resume at 8 a.m. Monday morning. “If he is alive right now, he might not be tomorrow,” says Melton, referring to the omnivorous nature of the wild pigs.

However, he is quick to add that he sees no evidence that the police have been sloppy or careless in their approach. “They arrived on scene in less than two minutes.”

Earl Linwood Blewett has a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology and is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Oklahoma State University.

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