Hot to Trot 8 Hour Fun Run and how it got that way


Mike Baker,


Last weekend I ran the Hot to Trot. The race is run on an arbitrary 1.189 mile loop at Sweetwater State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia. A friend told me, the first time we drove up to race it last year, that the course “was mostly flat.” This is the kind of lie a good running friend tells you, similar to: “we’re almost there,” or “this is the last hill.”

I’ve always loved this kind of race because you know what’s coming. You can plan for the future. I had a plan and like all great plans, mine was useless. Wait. That is also a lie. It might have been a great plan had I stuck to it.

The list of what I did wrong is long and impressive. I won’t bore you with the minutia, only the hopefully funny and definitely stupid parts which all start in that place in my brain I call the home of bright ideas. You might want to duck when I say this…

…I invited my wife. Every race is run with the full weight (is responsibility a better word than weight?) of our families, jobs and other implements of destruction piled on our backs. The Bear, mentioned last week, is the least of our troubles and is often better company. I would duck again if I were you.

Missus Baker drove us up to Georgia and I was grateful for this but it left me lots of time to worry. I worried about her. I worried about the race. The dogs were going insane and when we got to the hotel at midnight, I was so keyed up I lay in bed until 5 am for the front desk and the wakeup call.

Now, this race gets younger and fitter every year. It used to be a happy little ultra party, a bunch of cranky old runners, doing what they love and eating BBQ chicken. This year there were just way too many 20something kids with tattoos and beards who, I am pretty darn sure, were vegetarians.

I get how that’s good for the race. It just sucks for old slow fat runners like me. There is nothing so disheartening as getting lapped 4 or 5 times by a pack of kids, each one saying, “Excuse me sir, runner to your left”’ 4 or 5 times. It just hurts.

Back to what I did wrong: I forgot to bring Ibuprofen and body glide. This is a literary device called foreshadowing. Consider yourself warned. I had a plan. I think I mentioned that. The plan was to run the first 15 miles at 10 minute pace and then start power walking all the uphill sections.

More bright ideas: This training cycle my longest run was only 15 miles. Last year that got me through the Torreya 50k, this race, the Backyard 50k and the 50 miler in December of 2012. This, however, was like tripping on a root in slow motion. I should a seen this coming.

I got mile 15 in the books at Hot to Trot and kept pushing. At mile 18 I knew something was wrong and I slowed down, way down and at mile 24 – I walked a lap. You have to understand I was in this for 8 hours and I only had 4 and half hours on the books so far. I was in trouble.

I had set up my chair and gear at the start /finish with Missus Baker’s chair and a cooler and a huge rainbow-colored beach umbrella to keep Missus Baker cool, thinking this would eventually entice Missus Baker to leave the hotel and join me at the race.

I stared at that damn umbrella over and over while my race fell apart, fearing she might never show. Let me pause to tell you how much I love my wife. She is about as sweet a human as God ever made. I am lucky to have her but right then and there I was hating life in the all together.

She finally showed at lap 20. I came around the bend and there she was, yelling, “Go runner, go!!” It felt like oxygen. And Missus Baker brought me a Red Bull. Don’t get mad at her. I asked her to do it, (foreshadowing) and then the really bad thing happened. I will limit the details to the really bad thing.

I would like to blame drinking Red Bull on an empty stomach. I would like to blame the insane heat and running for 6 plus hours. Whatever. On lap 26, between the screamer at the race start which was now eating my knees alive and the very real possibility of the really bad thing, I made a decision.

I was two laps from a 50k finish. I ran them. I have been staring at those last two sentences for 20 minutes. Pride is a funny thing. We make choices and those choices make us. I could have kept going. I might have finished 5 more laps but I came in on mile 31.89 and quit. I was done.

I sat down with Missus Baker and my dogs and watched people run. Missus Baker looked sweet as usual but she was hot and tired, and the dogs were dizzy and maddened by all the excitement. Before the race ended, we packed it all in and headed back to Florida.

I ran the first half of the race faster than the year before and the second half worse. I wore the wrong shoes, and I under-estimated the course difficultly. I over-estimated my ability. I hear people use the term “epic fail” to describe things going really wrong.

That might be hyperbole. This was not an epic failure no matter how bad I feel about it. I made mistakes that I can fix in the future. I chucked my plan and I paid for it by giving up. The race doesn’t care. The other runners don’t care either.
All the little hat pins of Damocles’ dangle above us. Racing is just the thing we do when we’re not doing the other stuff. Standing in the heat Saturday, after the race, I will admit that remembering that one essential fact was a struggle.

Every race exists in the context of our lives. Maybe we’re in school and graduating soon. Maybe we need to pay more attention to our loved-ones. Making mistakes is how we learn. No good would come from always playing it the same way every time.

There was this one young man. He ran like a runner. I mean to say, he was pretty to watch. If you see one of those silhouettes of a runner in a smooth forward leaning sprint, he ran like that. He had lapped me the most, six times before – late in the race – I came up on him on the trail.

He was bent over, hands on his quads looking into the brush. I thought, Man, a dude like this stopping to look at something in the woods. It must be something amazing like a cobra or a UFO or something. I stood behind in the same pose, head cocked, looking for whatever it was.

Finally I said, “Dude – what are you looking at?” He said, “I’m not looking at anything. I have leg cramps.” That’s when I realized he was rubbing his legs. I looked around, like I just broke wind and was wondering if anyone noticed. Sometimes that just happens.