This article was originally published in the October/November 2023 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Subscribe today for similar features on ultra training, racing and more.
In September of 1995, as a rudderless senior at Ohio University, I randomly purchased a copy of UltraRunning Magazine. Although I knew stepping into the sport was inevitable, my existence at the time was exceptionally heavy on the hash house, and noticeably light on the harrier.
On the cover of that black and white issue was a tank of a runner, looking more like a football player than an endurance athlete, yet simultaneously exuding speed, power, fluidity and a bit of a shit-eating grin as he powered around a single-track curve at the Laurel Highlands 70-mile. This runner, and a singularly sui generis multiday of his creation, were destined to combine my college partying past with an aspirational ultrarunning present, in unimaginable proportions.
A decade later, with several years of ultras under my belt, I found myself heading to Southern California for an event called the Coyote 4 Play (C4P). Over the course of four days, entrants would start with a 7-mile “Teaser Run” on the iconic Ray Miller Trail in Point Mugu State Park, followed by descending order days of substantial ultra fair—a 50-miler in the Topa Topa Mountains outside of Ojai and finally, a return to Point Mugu with a 40-mile Saturday and a 50k finale on Sunday, for a grand total of 128 miles.
And, if that didn’t satisfy the excess in one’s ultra soul, there was always the option of tacking on the pre-game “Scrub Run,” which covered the entire 62-mile Backbone Trail over the two days prior to the official C4P kickoff. To anyone paying real attention to what they were signing up for though, the energy expenditure truth lay in the après run activities: shenanigans replete with bowling night, “talent” night, karaoke and basically, any possible excuse to stay up late enough, and drink enough, to eliminate any chance of adequate recovery before the next day’s mileage.
Penning most of the pre-event literature—in a style often every bit as nonlinear and confounding as the prose in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch—was veteran ultrarunner, founder of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC), original race director of the Bull Run Run 50-mile and coverboy of my gateway drug issue of this rag, Chris Scott. Whereas many people find “Mr.” or “Mrs.” too formal, Chris apparently couldn’t even abide the formality of his own name. Signing off as “Admiral Dirty Shooz” got my attention. A sucker for creative word play, when he began referring to himself as the “Head Armadildo,” I was all-in.
Putting my name in the maximum miles hat, with the addition of the Scrub Run, I also made full Jim Belushi-style commitment to partake in all extracurricular activities. This was a man, a human, a runner—a kind-hearted clown and gentle soul—after my own heart. If running in general was partly an escape from the sometimes unavoidable seriousness of life, then C4P, in particular, was definitely an escape from the oftentimes unnecessary seriousness of running.
Chris Scott was the off-gassing, pressure release valve we all occasionally needed, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The aid station fare you grabbed off the table may or may not have been laced with cat food. Your fluid choices for bottle refills may or may not have been predominantly alcohol. If you were “crushing it” out there your reward was wearing a multi-colored ball cap with a propellor on top; if you were getting crushed and had the gashes to prove it, you might be requested to don the “Blood Cloaking Device,” a set of dirty overalls with questionable stains. Fast running would impress no one, yet, pulling a surprise talent night performance out of your ass, might leave a lasting impression.
To this day, Admiral Dirty Schooz is the only person that has ever commanded my undivided attention, and respect, while wearing a full cow suit onesie, replete with oversized udder, a gigantic penis hat or both, simultaneously. He had that rare and uncanny ability to unite and inspire clownishness, competitiveness and camaraderie in equal parts, all while convincing you that you fully deserved those “boner minutes” that ultimately dropped you down a few places in the unofficial event rankings.
The last time I saw Chris was at the 2013 Backbone Trail Ultra, a single-day event emulating more than a few of the quirky and classic C4P vibes, that he hosted with his longtime ultra event sidekick and friend, Howard Cohen. News of his passing last April brought me immediately back to that rain-soaked week in February of 2004, where the final miles of the biggest volume running week of my life were lined with lingerie as course markings leading to a parking lot revival-of-sorts, celebrating community, not accomplishments.
Then, it hit me. I barely knew the man; or put another way, I only knew one aspect of the man very well. His university years and early working life were with the Air Force Academy and Department of Defense, respectively, twin realities I could never fully reconcile with the FourPlay persona.
Then, something else hit me. Behind the endless antics and costumes, party tricks and pranks, ridiculous awards and yard sale randomness schwag bags, often also containing mini bars of soap that may or may not have been heisted during a recent motel stay, was a well-oiled and smoothly operating event. And, beneath the various outlandish hats, was a brain working overtime to ensure that the ultrarunning Animal House of his invention hummed along with a sense of underlying precision equal to its overt sense of humor.
Chris Scott was a rare combination of personality traits and talents. The sport was lucky to have him for the time it did. Wherever his spirit roams now, you can bet there’s a novelty trick involved.