My Epic Fail, Part Two – Ancient Oaks 100 and the Barkley Marathons


Mike Baker,


I ran in the 37th Annual Ancient Oaks 100 Miler December 21st, 2013. Ancient Oaks is run in the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Titusville, Florida. It is a deceptively hard 3.4 mile course with a weirdly high DNF rate.
The course is root-y and leaf covered with gnarly little palms who’ve grown down across the trail. There is about ¾ mile of uphill sand right at the beginning. Also, it was hot the day we ran and stayed hot until I left the course that night at 8PM. I DNF’d at mile 41.5.

There were a bunch of things I did wrong which I won’t bore you with except to say that Vaseline and Body Glide will save your race if, and only if, you think to put them on — there are some mistakes from which there is no return.
The things that killed me, though, were lack of fitness and commitment. You can fake it, fitness-wise on a 50 miler but there is no faking your way through 100 miles. Which leads me to commitment. I had none. I mean to say I never committed to the idea that I was going to run for 24 plus hours.

I had a lot of time to do the math. I knew, even if I ran to the 32 hour cutoff, I was going to DNF. I also knew that if I dropped at 40 miles, around 7PM, I could be home by 8PM having dinner with friends, soak in their pool and drink a few beers.
There is no way past calling this quitting. You can make the argument that it was strategic. Lots of elite runners drop out of races when they know they won’t put in competitive times. The idea is that they save their bodies for more training sooner.

This wasn’t that. I looked at how fun going until the next day might be and decided beer would be more fun. Soaking in a pool under a beautiful sky would be more fun. Anything, other than running all night, sounded more fun.

That’s what I mean about commitment. I had talked to runners who were doing this for the 4th, 5th and 6th time, even running for 32 hours, who had never finished. They had committed. Matt Mahoney said I would regret quitting in the morning.
He was wrong. It took until just this moment that I regret quitting. See,a lot has happened since the race. I didn’t get into Barkley this year. I mean to say, I didn’t get into the race proper or even make the wait list. I agree with Mr. Lake’s decision, looking back at my year, and Mrs. Baker thanks him.

It still hurt pretty awful. I wanted to run it. I had made plans to run it. I still might go and camp out at the primitive site deep inside the park. It’s like visiting the Dalai Lama except that in the Frozen Head version, he’s kind of a sadist and all of his followers are morons. Seriously. We are all very stupid people.
The next thing that happened is I hit a cyclist with my car. I was turning from a stopped postion, barely moving, with the sun in my eyes. His head was down and we collided. He’s alright. The car is fine. It was weird. He was angry at first. That’s to be expected.

His bike was damaged but all he had was a few scrapes. The police arrived. We all talked a few minutes. They gave us both brown papers, information exchanges with no citation, and left. He and I stood there shaking.

His wife arrived. I really expected her to punch me. I would have punched me. She checked on William and then she checked on me. She took my hand in her hands and comforted me. It is so rare to stand in the presence of this kind of grace.

They were both like that. They understood exactly what mattered most when it mattered most. He and I were safe. That was all that mattered. We actually laughed a little. I had missed a dinner date with friends (for which I was massively under-dressed) because of the accident and was relieved to avoid the embarrassment.

He said he was happy to oblige. I look at all my frustrations and worries and I think, what a waste of time and energy. It was the end of the year and we had both lived. All the things I went through this year had brought me to this.
The other thing that happened, after Ancient Oaks, was that I ran with my nephew Jack. He’s 12 years old and a soccer player. We ran a simple 4 miler that ended in a mile of hills: hill, plateau, hill, plateau, and hill. He had been good company. He smiles easily and he didn’t complain.

We hit the last hill though and he started drooping. I said, “Is that all you got?” and without a word he dug in and sprinted ¼ mile up that thing. I couldn’t catch him. I had to jog it in to the finish. It’s such a pleasure to see optimism and determination.

All year long I felt like something was missing. I couldn’t ever put a finger on it. It’s like that scene in Pretty in Pink, the woman searching through her purse looking for what see can’t find and all along it’s that she didn’t go to prom.

Let me step back a moment. I trained for and then ran a great 50 miler at TUDC in 2012. I ran it in 8 hours and 33 minutes. Last year, 2013, was a different story. Each race I ran seemed to get worse. I got slower and sloppier. DNF’ing at Ancient Oaks was the inevitable end to that kind of line on a graph.

Last year was hard. I ran 7 50k’s and 40% of a 100 miler. I ran two marathons and two 30k’s plus a bunch of 5k’s I don’t even remember. You read about most of them. It was fun but here’s the connection. Everything got sloppy.

I drank too much. I ran a lot but really didn’t train. I was driving my car and hit someone. Nothing really bad happened but it could have. When I was 16 I lived with my grandparents. One morning I was sitting at the breakfast table hung-over from too much wine and my Grandfather said, “You worked for it. You earned it.”

Life unfolds in disaster. I hate waxing philosophic but as the perfect vase shatters, a) we get to see the inside of the thing and b) we are alleviated of the burden of its perfection. This is a running column so I’ll stick to that but the truth is last year was a mess that just got messier with time.

I earned all my wolf tickets, all my misfortune, disaster and ruin. And I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. Disaster is like that if you embrace it. Life is like that. Running is like that. It finds a way to happen. I’ve said this before but you keep moving because if you stop moving, it isn’t running anymore.

I leave you with this. Life will always be messy. Things will always go wrong. We run because we can. We live because we must. I promise you I will pay more attention when I’m driving. I will probably drink less. I will run with anyone who asks.

And I will continue to break all the perfect vases in my life. Maybe that means something different this year. I need to stop writing now so I can go and find out. May the road rise to meet you unless you just tripped, in which case, ignore everything I just said.