The Big Dog Backyard Last Man Standing Endurance Race
Bell Buckle, TN
On 10/20 I ran the Big Dog Backyard Last Man Standing Endurance Race where the goal was to be the last person to DNF on a 4 mile loop. I DNF’d on my 9th loop with a total of 33 qualified miles plus 4 miles for the loop I DNF’d on.)
I heard a story about a soldier in World War I who was buried under debris so that only his hand stuck out. Other soldiers marching or walking by would shake his hand, one might imagine, as a morbid play with Mrs. Death herself. And it is when I am asked to explain the long distance runner’s mind that I tell this story.
The Big Dog started us out for a ¼ mile out and back on the road. Laz, the Race Director, said it was to winnow the pack or cull the herd. I was so far back on my ninth lap, coming back over the hill, I pantomimed cutting my own throat and blowing out my own brains, to a cheering crowd of already DNF’d runners.
It seems they had all bet against my going out again. It wasn’t a slight against me. It is just when you’re laid so bare by fatigue, there is no room for lying even if you are so inclined as to make the effort to lie. I would have taken the bet. I would have bet more against myself.
I say that but it’s also where the screw turns. It is one thing to say your Daddy is a drunk but it is an altogether different thing, a haymaker thrown into the side of someone’s head kind of thing when someone else calls him a drunk.
And it is here that I invoke the dead soldier’s hand. I had to go back out. I knew I wouldn’t finish in time. I knew it would be a miserable pitiful effort. That is the point. Nothing mattered up until that lap. Each of the successful laps was just that, four miles a running, nothing more and nothing less.
We wish to be the lean straining warrior, arms and face raised to God breaking through the tape as crowds cheer but we are mostly fore-defeated and fighting to hang on for just one more moment after another, shaking the Devil the loose from our heels.
The Big Dog trail consisted of a series of 50 foot limestone rises and stump laden drops, a few ¼ mile hills, one or two bogs and a few rocky flats which, by the time I found them on lap nine, they were barely safe for me to shuffle across.
I remember hitting the halfway point on that last lap thinking, “I just have 2 miles to go. If I can just dig in, I could fight through two 10 minute miles and finish under the clock before Laz rings that damnable cowbell and the whole thing starts over again.”
And then full stopping against a tree to catch my breath, knowing how impossible it all was, I started looking at the weird green orb-like nameless fruit that Laz said probably taste real good but you’d be too dead to notice.
You shake the dead man’s hand because you know you’re headed toward the same empty finish, the great forgetting. You shake his hand and go on, bounding down a craggy switch back trail and hopefully you are singing some hoarse boorish song to entertain the trees, birds and worms.
I have ciphered this long and hard. There is that moment when you find yourself in the piney wood and all is still. You do not trust the trail blazes to lead you forward and you do not hear the other runners behind you.
A quick sharp winter breeze blows through and draws out of your chest with the breath you saved in stopping. Look down at the trail and see the spot the Devil dug his thumb into the dirt to cut this trail and know that he meant for you to run through fire.
This is the moment you are at your best. This is the moment God intended you to have. There are two more miles to go before you find the road again and you can say that you are finished. This is where you shake the hand, start to move again and go to work Dead-Man, go to work.