Running Toward My Own Happy Oblivion: To Volstate or Not to Volstate


Mike Baker,


(Advice is a funny thing. It is often what we ask for when we know what we need to do but we want someone else to confirm we’re right. It is rarely that pivotal moment when we just don’t know what to do.)

Today, I find myself in a middling place between knowing right from stupid and truly not trusting my own discernment enough to choose between the two. One road is decidedly prudent and one is foolhardy and wasteful. They’re both equally appealing.

Prudent looks like this: August run the Hot to Trot 8 Hour Race, October run Big’s Backyard Last Man Standing, late December run a 12 or 24 hour event(depending on what happens at the Backyard) and then in April 2014 run the Zion 100 Miler.
I like this trajectory because it seems to build nicely: 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours and hundred miles. The series of races gives me time to run strong races and build for the next bigger event, a reasonable time to heal my body and mind, rest up and train. I’ve never done that before.

Foolhardy looks like this: run the Volstate 500k in July. This would be quite an adventure. I would be unaided on an impossibly long trek. This kind of ill planned ass in the wind move has brought me some of my greatest successes and worst failures but it always a good time.

This is a 500k event. There is no way to tell what shape I’ll be in at the end. This could be the end of my season, my job and my marriage. It could also be brilliant, like a birthday party where you’re kicked in the guts all day long and left for dead, assuming that was your idea of fun.

I could do all of this. Volstate does not preclude the first option. It means lowering the possibility of running well the rest of the season. Also, and this is worth mentioning, I am coming back from a mild setback involving my weekly mileage dropping to 30 miles a week for a month.

I am so sick and tired of not running up to my potential and settling for, “Good job buddy.” I hate the sound of those words. A wolf, finding himself cornered by bears, does not take solace in “Good job buddy.” He snarls, leans back and prepares to die with his teeth around a bear’s throat.

I will likely never win but I would like to taste more bear’s blood than I have tasted lately. It’s this thought that leaves me stuck in the middle because either path leads to a glorious heroic death. My teeth hurt thinking about this.

Volstate would be grand. It represents those whimsical acts of daring that made this sport so huge in my imagination. It is a genuine go-as-you-please. It says to the world, you are all more than you might ever know. It says, I know.

On the other hand there is Manfred von Richthofen or as he is colloquially know, the Red Baron. I think when my father rooted for Darth Vader I understood it was okay to like the villain and the Red Baron was a devastating killer.

He did it by being patient and taking calculating risks. Not running Volstate would most likely guarantee my getting to Backyard strong enough to at least try myself against Marcy Beard and Joe Fejes. I am mortally afraid that Volstate means having no chance at all.

This leads me to my last complaint. I am no coward. And please do not say that no one thinks that. I think, in that bottom settled place we call our gut, that I am a coward. It is my Leviathan sitting on the horizon.

It is what waits for me if the bears grow bored and lose their appetites at the taste of my flesh. It’s why I can’t decide. My feet are stilled in the face of danger as I wait for eternity to roll its dice or toss its coin.

I know an ultra runner whose mantra is “You can’t stay here.” It is at the core of our sport. It seems to me that panic may destroy runners but indecision does something worse. The bears are tightening the circle, the birds quiet, even the Sun is waiting.

Imagine this: it is the end of a race and the runner comes in toward the finish but veers to the left just before crossing the line and heads off toward the beast in the horizon’s roiling fury, a shadow melting into the distance and then a speck and then nothing at all.