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The Wal-Mart 100 Miler and Other Things You Shouldn’t Try at Home

Mike Baker, July 2018

You do big things so you can have big stories to tell and I did that for a long while but I never understood what I was doing. I just got lucky and then I stopped getting lucky and then everything fell apart. This is about what putting it back together looks like for me and it starts with Elizabeth who you might remember from the Save the Daylight 48 hour.

We had talked for the last year about an epic self-supported run from her home in Jupiter to Boca Raton and back. It’s about 100 miles up and down Military Trail, with a loop around Century Village because it’s funny, and home for pizza dinner the next day.

We both chickened out. It wasn’t the distance. I was determined to do something really epic and Elizabeth is just a super durable human. It was the criminal element on the Trail between Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach and how tired we’d be that night.

Mrs. Baker had already worried it over pretty hard when she heard it was going to happen and, between my own concerns and hers plus Elizabeth not being sure she could keep me safe, we decided to do something really big but close to home.

The Wal-Mart 100 was Juan’s idea and we wondered if it would work and we tried it and it works. Look, ultra-distance has become a trail, beer, unicorns and hug party. And that’s cool. People want crazy big climbs and scenic vistas. I get it.

It’s the same mentality that created CrossFit, whose motto is something about being well rounded and hard to beat but using the F word, which has also become very popular in the trail running community. I have dropped a few F bombs in my life. It happens.

We have somehow made ultra-distance running for people who get bored easily. I would argue that anyone can run up and over mountains with wide scenic views and lush root-y trails. You’re either looking at the majesty around you or watching your feet, trying not to fall.

The thing that makes the Wal-Mart 100 unique today is that at its heart it’s a very old fashioned ultra-distance event. It is a short, boring loop that is very runnable. It is boring and a tad monotonous. It requires nerve to maintain pace loop after loop.

Running should always be fun unless it isn’t. Sometimes it’s about steady slow work. Sometimes it isn’t. The first 100 milers were held on tracks, sometimes quarter miles and sometimes not. The point is that anyone can run through the woods.

The Wal-Mart 100 is designed to be a “Go-As-You-Please” which is an old term, that pre-dates the term ultra, from when we were called pedestrians. There was “Fair Heel to Toe” which meant a very particular style of walking and Go-As-You-Please which meant kind of what it said, just get it done.

I knew Elizabeth would be the perfect partner for this bright idea. She had massive foot pain during her first 100 miler and so she decided to imagine the pain was tiny flowers growing on her feet, a garden blooming more and more as she walked.

That’s how her brain works. She seems to me to abide in absolutes, giving over to an idea with 100% commitment and moving through. She, more than me, was born for the sport of Ultra. I told her about the idea and she was game without reservation.

The loop is 2.5 miles: left on Indiantown, left on Central, left on Toney Penna, left on Maplewood and then left back onto Indiantown to the start finish - the car and the Palm Beach County Bloodmobile with crates of human blood stacked up in the window.

The turn onto Toney Penna is nondescript. All the other turns are onto major roads, broad with crosswalks and multiple lights. Toney Penna is narrow and looks like a condo complex entrance. We missed it once and bought aerosol chalk to fix it with arrows, except that’s when the rain started.

Three hours of sideways, torrential rain and tidal waves rolling off the street as cars passed, parking lots filled with oceans of rain water, cars backing up on Indiantown, full stop to turned around. And me, having left Tally with just my go fasters, shorts and a shirt but no rain jacket.

Elizabeth, being super matter of fact, kept telling me how the Brooks L.S.D I gave her at Save the Daylight, which she was wearing, was her favorite piece of gear, almost impossible to replace if it was ever lost, and thank God she had it. I tucked my ice cold hands under my pits and rolled on ahead of her.

Three hours into the rain, and twenty miles and we decided to go bowling. That isn’t a weird running term. There’s a bowling alley on Maplewood and we bowled three games. If this ever becomes a real event, bowling at mile twenty will be mandatory.

We played next to two seven-year-old girls whose bowling names, which is a concept similar to trail names, were Bob and Diaper Genie. All respect to the little thugs that beat us like rented mules. I recommend the pizza and Dr. Pepper. We put on our go fasters and headed back to the course.

We figured out that the distance from the car to the actual Wal-Mart building, and then around the widest possible interior loop and back to the car was a half a mile. We didn’t count the distance to buy stuff.

Wal-Mart really sells everything. Whatever you think of them. You could replace all your gear in a Wal-Mart which is how the idea for the race even came to Juan. We always end up at a Wal-Mart the night before a 50k or whatever. Most trail ultras are in Podunk towns and very Podunk town has a Wal-Mart.

We did get yelled at on Wal-Mart loop three, around midnight, when they were cleaning the floor. The cordoned off area cut slightly into our loop and we’d been rolling for 15 hours so we ducked under the sign that said, “Keep out.”

The maintenance guys said, “Hey, didn’t you see the sign?” We said that we did, that’s why we ducked under it. He was not amused and to be fair, we barely stepped on the newly waxed floor and to be fair he was right but we were tired. Sorry Maintenance Dude.

We ended the run at 3am, and 40 miles, with a dizzy exhausted loop in Wal-Mart, wandering up and down aisles trying to rack up 1 mile so we could quit with honor. We staggered home, took showers and tried to sleep.

No glory but running is like that. Last Saturday, the Judge and I ran out at Munson Hills. It was near 100 degrees and neither of us put down our best run. It was just a thing that needed to happen. Running is, for me, a discipline.

This doesn’t mean I don’t love it. It means, to me, that I owe it deference and respect. It’s due my time and best effort and failing my best effort, it is owed my willingness to do my best. The Judge and I shuffled along Saturday, praying for tiny bushes to throw tiny shade on our feet.

We finished, and when we finished, no one was happy. All the runner’s mellow got spent on not passing out. It’s the same thing that got Elizabeth and me through the Wal-Mart 40. You just keep moving, making jokes for 19 hours.

I have never laughed that long and that hard as my time spent with Elizabeth. The further you go, more tired and more tired, the jokes get funnier. Ultra brings that to the table sometimes. I’ve heard people call it the grind, and I get why, but I prefer to call it the roll or that old hippy term truckin’.

Like Franco says, “You can stop when I say it’s time to stop.” Elizabeth and I had little things going wrong. Half a dozen hot spots between us and not enough tape in the world to hold off the blisters coming our way and no buckle to earn.

It’s never about the buckle but it is if you know what I mean. The arch on my left foot was collapsing. Elizabeth’s quads were screaming. And the idea of 60 more miles and 24 more hours was more than we could stand. It’s not about a buckle and sometimes it’s about the big “why we are doing this?”

I toed the line at one of Terri Haye’s races at Whispering Pines and I dropped at mile one because I was too hungover, sweating oceans of salt at 7am and there are two pretty ladies back home sleeping-in that I could take out for breakfast. I dropped the F bomb, walked back to the start and handed in my bib.

Sometimes it’s about the pretty ladies who will keep company with us once we’ve had a shower. Elizabeth and I, back home from the MW40, slept four hours, had breakfast and then hit all the thrift stores for vinyl with her husband Chris and our bud Matt.