DFL: Mike the Dog 50k/Marathon/1/2 Marathon


Mike Baker,


I have signed up for the Mike the Dog Marathon and 50k, every year Dana Stetson’s held the race and slept in almost every single time. That’s a lie. I wake up Sunday morning and consider running 26 plus miles versus having bacon and coffee with my family. This year we were just out of bacon.

Most ultra-runners have a ritual. They lay their gear out on the bed like a mock flat runner: the shirt they plan to wear, shorts, their spi belt, their race bib, socks, whatever. They have an ultra-box with all the things they might need: body glide, medical tape, 3x antibiotic, GU, Chomps, Succeed!, more whatever.

Last Sunday, I put on shorts and a shirt, grabbed my go fasters, a bandana, drank a few cups of coffee and hit the road. I picked up a Monster Mad Dog Energy drink on the way to Piney-Z and the race. I didn’t prepare as much as flee.

It seems the more of these races I do – the less gear I think need to get them done. I imagine Dana has a similar outlook on putting them on. His races do not lend themselves to the unprepared or, at least, the unprepared to do without.

One aid station at the Mike the Dog 30k was an unstaffed red flyer wagon, on the side of a sugar sand trail in the middle the national forest, with a drink cooler in it and a stack of paper cups. The other aid station, at the start/finish line, also had Gatorade and M and M’s. Simplicity is a good thing.

Our sport needs to lean up. We have been overrun by synthetic carbohydrates and compression socks, $300 hydration packs, gaiters and Gandalf sticks that are collapsible and fit into your Cuban fiber (read waterproof) lined day pack.

An old timer told me once his medical kit consisted of duct tape, super glue and a coat hanger. He looked at what I brought to the race and told me I’d over accessorized my outfit. I don’t admire the sexism but I get the basic idea.

If you break an ultra down – it’s as simple as any other race. You cover ground and try not to quit. You finish as fast as you can, as best you can. I was near DFL at the 30k and someone had taken the top off the cooler. There were flies and twigs in the water.

When you’re laid bare by exhaustion in 100 degree heat, you come to understand what matters and what is inconsequential. I drank the hell out of that water. I also got into an ice cold, and probably stagnate, snake infested sink hole. Dana’s races invite you to necessity.

But I digress…

The Mike the Dog 50k course consists of two out and backs that total 5k. You climb up and over the hill to Connor and then back up and over hill to the park from Connor and then you run almost out to the levee, turn around and run back. You do it ten times.

I rolled my ankle so hard in the first ¼ mile people 3 rows back gagged at the sound of cracking bone. Lucky for me I did it on the downhill. Your natural fear of falling over and being trampled by all the runners behind you keeps you running until the pain subsides to just plain tolerable misery.

There I said it. Big thanks to Mike Martinez and Mary Vancore: having one good friend that will run with you while you cry in pain and talk about quitting is a kingly treasure but having two friends that will shuffle along with you as you whine about your pathetic state is an embarrassment of riches bordering on gluttonous.

Mike and Mary ran the middle of the race with me. It’s my personal quit zone. Without a bum ankle I lean toward quitting around mile 13. I have no idea why. Mike and I negotiated our way through what a DNF would look like.

Mary put up with some very inappropriate sailor talk. She and Mike kept me talking and running. The day of the race I was sure it was my Hokas (pot – kettle – black) but I know now it was them. Once I got to the 2/3’s mark I couldn’t quit. I’m not sure if Mary and Mike knew that would happen.

It’s like Alyssa says, you can do anything for 30 seconds. You can do anything for ten miles. I clenched up and kept running. I was dead last, running so slowly I got lapped by two runners. All five of us that finished had to beat our own demons. They just beat theirs faster than I beat mine.

Andrew, the out and back lap counter dude, left as I was heading out on my second to last lap. I spent the day hearing him say, “Ah – all runners are now accounted for.” I missed hearing it that lap and the lap after that. It gave the last two laps a desperate lonely feeling.

Dana was actually carrying the out and back turnaround sign as I headed out to finish my last lap. This was not a good omen.

I shuffled out to the spot in the dirt where “Turnaround” was written in chalk dust. I could barely stand up. My ankle pulsed magna hot with every step. My right hamstring had begun spasming and my hips were locked.

A group of six colorfully dressed ladies stood off in the distance out for a walk with their tiny dogs. We stared at each other. I had to pee very badly. I was falling apart. They looked so pretty. I felt ashamed that they should see me like this.

I turned and headed back to finish. No one was left there except the first and second place runners, the race director and his wife, Mrs. Baker and our two dogs, a picnic stumbled upon by a deranged exhausted manic.

The day after Mike the Dog, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I went to work and by the end of the day I thought I had the flu. My whole body ached. My shoulders hurt. My teeth throbbed. I had that chest pressure you get right before you’re in bed for a week with pneumonia.

The next day was better. I was only acutely aware that I had a left ankle and a right hip. I still ached but it was a happy ache. It was an “I’m not dying or permanently crippled” ache. Walking up and down three flights of stairs was a chore but it was one I was grateful to do for myself because I could.

The only thing better than running a 50k is finishing one until you finish one and then, for me, it’s like a good friend moved away. I regret what I got wrong, not the part where I rolled my ankle but the parts I missed by not paying attention. I pine for the chance to do it again and see everything.

When you strip away the gear and the noise that accompanies so many of these events these days you are left with the struggle, the absurdity and the miraculous realization that you got to spend the whole day running through hell and you actually paid someone for the right to do it.

That day, I stood at the finish line next to Dana for a photo, holding up my finisher’s award, 2 brass bells on a chain, no one around to watch and cheer – I couldn’t stop grinning but ought to have been missing a tooth or two, or had a black eye. I would have been jumping in the air fists thrown to heaven like a boxer.

I still needed to pee though and now I was a little dizzy. A car turned the corner and we all had to hustle out of the way so as not to get run over.