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Saturday's Wolfson Children's Challenge pits runners like WJXT's Nunn against 55-mile ultramarathon

Posted: January 29, 2014 - 6:00pm  |  Updated: January 29, 2014 - 11:05pm
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Michael LeGrand Paul Wilson [l] created the Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s Children’s Challenge and its 55-mile ultra marathon as a way to help fund the programs that helped his son Luke when he was treated there for his Spina Bifida. Wilson has run all four and will compete in this Saturday's fifth ultra marathon.

Richard Nunn wakes up early to get to his job.

But long before the sun rises Saturday, WJXT TV-4’s morning and noon meteorologist will be running in the weather he predicted in a 55-mile ultramarathon in the Wolfson Children’s Challenge.

The veteran runner joins 18 more and 76 relay teams in the seven- to 13-hour marathon that starts at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville downtown. It’s his fifth year of competition.

When it’s over, Nunn will hang up his ultramarathon shoes. But he plans to be back next year to support those who do the 5.5-mile segments of the 55-mile relay.

“It takes a lot of time to train for an ultra,” said Nunn, 45. “… Since they started to allow the relay, there are more people who find running the 5.5 miles more easily attainable for training. This year will be a great way to wrap up a fun 55 miles of marathons and train to be an ultra relay cheerleader.”

Nunn has formed friendships with Wolfson’s patients over years of competition. One is Matthew Taylor, who has cerebral palsy but trains five days a week to compete in cross-country and track. The 16-year-old Macclenny teen did 35 miles at last year’s ultramarathon and plans to do all 55 Saturday, well aware Nunn won’t be back next year.

“It’s a little bit sad to see him end,” Taylor said. “It will really inspire me to see him out there for the last time doing this. One day I want to do what he has been doing all the time.”

Nunn, a runner since 2000, said that without Wolfson, Taylor “wouldn’t even be able to walk a mile.”

The marathon starts at 4 a.m. Then the relay starts at 4:30 a.m. with teams of 10, each doing 5.5-mile loops. Registration has closed for those, but is open for the 10 a.m. 1-mile Fun Run.

Paul Wilson founded the ultramarathon after his son Luke, now 5, was taken to Wolfson at birth for treatment of his spina bifida. An avid runner who competed in six Ironman triathlons and about 25 marathons, he would sometimes run with a Wolfson doctor while his son was being treated. As they talked, the idea for giving back to Wolfson was born.

“They made you feel like you were the only ones in the hospital even as they cared for thousands of other kids,” Wilson said. “… We came up with the idea to run 55 miles and honor 55 children with 55 different ailments and honor all of the children.”

The first ultramarathon had six runners and raised almost $500,000. Now the relay and other events have been added and Wilson said he feels “absolutely wonderful” about how popular it has become.

“I honestly pinch myself and realize what really happened,” he said. “But we just act on things that tug at our heart, and really neat things can happen.”

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549


■ Family-oriented events run from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, 301 A Philip Randolph Blvd.

■ 55-mile ultramarathon starts at 4 a.m.

■ 55-mile ultra relay starts at 4:30 a.m.

■ 1-mile fun run at 10 a.m. — information at

■ Wolfson Children’s Hospital Auxiliary Pet Therapy Program dog visits

■ “Ask the Pharmacist” provided by Wolfson Children’s Hospital

■ Children’s yoga and Healing Touch demonstration

■ Bounce houses

■ Appearances by Wolfie, Wolfson’s mascot, and Jacksonville Suns mascot Southpaw

■ The X Factor’s Rion Paige, a Wolfson patient, sings the national anthem at 9:35 a.m. and returns at 11:15 a.m. Singer Dalton Cyr is at 10:50 a.m. and 1:40 p.m. Brunswick country singer and former patient Justen Harden is at 2 p.m.

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