Brett and David Wilcox are the second father/son team to do transcontinental run.
By Matt McCue
Published July 21, 2014
Runner’s World Running Times
On Saturday, Brett Wilcox and his 15-year-old son, David, finished running across the United States. They began in Huntington Beach, California on January 18 and ended in Ocean City, New Jersey. The 2,785-mile route took them across the Arizona desert, through the sticky Midwest humidity and over the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.
Although there is no official record documenting transcontinental runs, USACrossers.com, a site that tracks coast-to-coast runs, recognizes David as the second youngest person to complete the run. (Toby Cotton, who ran across the country in 1928, also at age 15, is the youngest.) Brett, 53, and David are also the second father-and-son team to cover the continent, according to USACrossers. Tom and Warren Knoll, who did their transcontinental run in 2008, were the first, but, in contrast to the Wilcoxes, they didn’t run together the whole way.
David hatched the idea in 2010 after he learned about Jasmine Jordan completing the run at age 17. “When I got that in my head, I thought it would be really cool, but I never realized how hard running 20 miles day after day is,” David told Runner’s World Newswire.
“I was encouraged to have such a son who had such a big dream, but David was just a boy with a big dream,” Brett said. “I told him it was cool, but we can talk about it later.” David kept bugging his father about it, even after he started running high school cross country in their hometown of Sitka, Alaska.
Brett discussed it with his wife, Kris, and they decided to do what they could to help David to achieve his goal, “even though it doesn’t make very much sense,” Brett said. Kris put her cleaning service business on hold, and Brett quit his job as a mental health therapist. They bought a 1998 Ford F-150 and a white camper that they towed behind it. The trailer became the home on wheels for David, Brett, Kris and David’s 13-year-old sister, Olivia, who went along the ride. (To help soften the fact that she would be away from her friends for seven months, Olivia got her first cell phone for the road trip.)
David, who won Alaska’s Region 5 cross country meet last fall, admits he “didn’t train nearly enough” for the transcontinental run. “I pretty much did cross country training, with runs up to five miles during the weekdays and on the weekends my dad and I would go for a longer run of up to 15 miles,” he said. Brett, who started running in his 40s, prepped in a similar fashion.
The two averaged 20 miles a day in six runs per week. They took turns pushing a baby jogger that contained their supplies for each day. (Kris and Olivia often drove ahead and let them run alone.) The baby jogger was also supposed to hold the family’s 15-year-old dog, Angel, but Angel quickly made it clear that seeing the country from the seat of a stroller was not on her bucket list, and opted for the F-150 for the duration of the run. In Dalhart, Texas, the family stopped at a dog shelter and adopted Jenna, a one-year-old border collie and lab mix. “Jenna was in the stroller about every day since Texas,” Brett said.
David and Brett passed the time with stream-of-conscious conversation. David told his father about his favorite runners, and Brett often waxed philosophical about his favorite topic, genetically modified organisms. (The trip was designed, in part, to advocate for GMO-free food.) “I would talk about stuff that I’m seeing, and then a few weeks after that, I could talk about the same stuff because my dad would have forgotten it by that time,” David said.
David took Internet classes to fulfill his freshman-year schoolwork. “After running six hours a day, it’s hard to focus on school,” he said. “I’m not close to finishing [the work] from the last semester.” He will spend the rest of his summer knocking out the remaining assignments. “It’s quite a serious issue because someone in the school district will have to make the decision whether David has been out playing hooky or has given it his best shot and will be able to compete in cross country this fall,” Brett said.
Father and son battled nagging aches that threatened to stop them. Pain in the balls of Brett’s feet required them to do nothing but walk one day in California, early in the run. “David wasn’t happy about it, but I told him the run was on the line, and that I couldn’t injure my foot,” Brett said.
“You’re never going to have a few days in a row where something isn’t hurting, but if the same thing is hurting a few days in a row, that’s bad,” David said.
By the time they reached Missouri, David’s body became unglued. He felt an angry twinge in his inner thigh that inched up into his hip flexor. “A muscle up at my hip had somehow gotten up and over the hip and on the other side of it,” he said.
The Wilcoxes walked through the majority of Ohio, and David met with three chiropractors, but none could fix him. “I was worried if I would ever be able to be able to run again,” he said. Finally, at a church the family attended near McMurray, Pennsylvania, one congregation member told David’s mother about their local guru, chiropractor Joseph Berger. He was apparently so good that patients needed to see him only once. David visited immediately. “He had to pull the muscle back over [my hip],” David said. “It was a lot less painful than I expected.”
USACrossers lists 279 people as having completed a transcontinental run between 1909 and 2012. The site creator, John Wallace III, finished the trek himself in 2005. Wallace acknowledges it’s not a complete list, but he put a great deal of effort into combing through historical newspaper records as well as scouring the Internet for any alerts he could find on previous and current crossers.
One of those was Toby Cotton. According to the book Bunion Derby: The First Footrace Across America, Cotton was 15 and living in Los Angeles when his auto mechanic dad injured himself on the job and was no longer able to work. When Cotton, the oldest of three boys, heard that the race across America was awarding $25,000 to the winner, he entered to try to win the money for his family. Cotton averaged 41 miles a day, and reached New York City in 84 days, in 35th place. A Broadway star got wind of Cotton’s story and hosted a fundraiser in New York City to raise money for Cotton and his family. It seems like the stuff of lore; then again, a teenager running across American before he gets his driver’s license also sounds like a folktale.
“There is a reason 15-year-olds don’t run across the country,” Brett said. “It’s not a walk in the woods, and it has taught me that David is a special young man. I’m proud to have shared the journey with him.”