The Kingdom of My Running


Mike Baker,


This morning, and perhaps only this morning, I can say with all certainty that I am blessed. It is true I have been injured, over taxed and overdrawn on my most of my accounts. I have not raced well or fought enough. My training has been washy at best this last month, a strange mix of going out too hard and underwhelming myself to the point that some might have asked, “Is that it?” It is at that moment when many people quit. We runners are not those people.

I just hate to say I over trained. I mean that was the effect but I’d rather think I had some fun like maybe a bender is fun until you realize it’s been three days since you knew where you left your trousers and shoes. It was fun to run a lot this summer and I already miss the company, the trails and the struggle. There was something important about coming up through the single track, up that hill toward the soccer fields. We were done with the hardest miles the trail had to offer and there was the bike wash and seemingly ice cold water fountain.

When we got that far, I knew we had done something but there were two more miles to go and every time, no matter how hard our legs were worn, we hammered it just because it was there and it always seemed to me like that section of trail just needed a whooping. Dana is fond of calling steep downhill stretches screamers. That last bit had the only uphill screamer I’d ever met. I took it as a personal challenge, like that little hill was calling me out, to not just sprint up it but keep going like the Devil himself was at my heels.

It’s like this: I can run long and long and long all day long but eventually there is always that same inevitable always. I have come to understand that I am not so much an engineer as a basement tinkerer. I can take the clock apart but getting it back together again is a very uncertain thing. I was running 35 mile a week – the track and a long run and maybe fifteen miles of junk to keep my legs warm. That got me to 21 minutes in the 5k. I started racing every weekend for months and that got me to sub 21 and then the always happened.

A bad hamstring begat a bum knee that begat a nebulous posterior chain injury that begat ITB in the other leg. That chain of stupid exists between this year’s Run for the Cookies and this very morning. I think I’m on the upswing finally but it meant walking to a very lonely place because, if I want to survive myself, it hard for me to train all the time with the people I love the most. We literally bring out the worst in each other. It is the thing I love about them, about us. We run like dogs. We will run ourselves into the mud for the sheer joy of it all.

I am safer running with the fitness crowd and only showing up once and a while to negotiate the past and I am safer to know at a distance. Frankly, I am saying I am better off running alone most of the time. It is the only way to save myself. I cannot run 60 plus miles a week in the midst of my current life. I cannot run without water or food. I cannot run with the constancy of effort of some of those I love. There are days when all I need is a few slow miles on the trail to remember who I am and forget all that is asked of me.

Today I ran with Charles and Dave. Charles will be fast someday and Dave will simply always be a good guy to keep company with. We ran four very pleasant miles together and then I ran six more alone. My ITB hurt and my calves were sore. Those last six miles were more like an early morning dream, slow and deliberate. It wasn’t until the last hill, a mile long double track that increases its pitch as you climb, that my feet needed to move fast and loose. It was like this summer running Miller’s Landing when we’d sprinted up to the hill top and Gate B.

It felt like the hill was pleading with me to run harder. It was scooping me up in its loving arms, cooing to me, “You were born to run fast right at this very moment.” It was as if the hill were headed down and not up. The faster I ran, the steeper the pitch, the easier it became. I couldn’t hear my breathing or my foot fall or even feel my heart beat. I passed the church at the hill top and swept over the hill’s crest. Even gravity had fallen away.

I ran down the hill with my arms spread, lost in a swoon. The sun had finally come up and was burning away the dew and the fog. And as I ran the last half mile, the sound of cars and trucks and all of life’s pettiness and minutia swarmed in front of me like a joke that only I got. There are these moments in really long races when I have come in to the finish line. It’s right there in front of me, the gate and the clock and all my friends and I wish sometimes to just curve slightly to the left and miss the whole damn thing and just keep running.