The Tiny Madness of Forgetting – Part 3


Mike Baker,


I remember seeing a sign at the trailhead of a canyon trail in Texas, Please pack in water as this trail has no exit except this one. Please hike responsibly. I often consider that sign around the moment I find myself asking how I ever got in so deep.

I am headed up to Georgia today to race in the Hot to Trot, an 8 hour event put on by GUTS, which I also ran last year. Last year, I was completely unsure I would even finish, having run Mad Marsh 50k a few months earlier in 2012, DNF’ing at mile 13.

Mad Marsh was a night race in the South Carolina low country and it was a sticky moist bug-ridden night. I had had stomach distress and my knee got really weird, tendons pulling and popping, but mostly I DNF’d because I was sick and tired and I kept having to pass my cooler full of delicious ice cold beer.

This year has not been much better leading up to H2T. I ran Whispering Pines 50k still drunk from the night before, ran a 4:20 something at the Mike the Dog Marathon and then proceeded to drop Torreya pre-race (due to family issues) and VolState (due to not wanting to get fired for not showing up for a week).

The truth is the puny little thing inside me was glad I dropped those races. It’s funny how the idea of running a slower than 22 minute 5k or a 10 hour 50k fill me with exactly the same dread and shame. I don’t mind being slow but there is absolutely no reason other people ought to know about it.

And so here we find ourselves. There is a saying something like, “When plan B falls apart you drop to plan C and then hope plan D still involves you walking to the finish.” Something like that. My well- designed plan for a 50 mile finish at H2T has devolved a bit.

Structured training events that built specific skills ended finally with me, nekkid and covered in red clay paint, cussing out huge banana spiders who dared build their webs across my trail and piking the heads of my running partners on posts to warn other runners that that this trail was a bad place and they just better leave.

I cannot say I’m ready for Hot to Trot. It’s more like this: I ran an awful lot, starving and exhausted and figured out how to bonk. Wait. I really hate that term. I know what to do when the Bear climbs up on my back to stay. It’s real simple what you do: you just keep moving.

Let the king of the obvious jokes start but it’s the honest simple truth. DO NOT STOP MOVING. Slog like a zombie, do the crab, whatever it takes to keep one foot moving ahead of the other. You probably won’t die and it’s the surest way to the finish line.

I have seen the one bright pearl and it is Indomitable Will. I had a writing teacher who told me once that I should hold on to the truth of being a writer for dear life. He said that one day it would be all I had. I always thought he meant I would probably be destitute.

Alone on the trail, surely lost and certainly well beyond what little I had to start with, I smelled rotten pine wood and rich cypress roots, deep musky mushrooms on a tiny planet full of mushrooms and on a steep greasy hilltop, swooning in the heat, almost falling over – I got what he meant.

I have long left the blaze ridden trail, making my own way through the forest, I hear the highway a mile off. I hear the blustery gust whipping up the water, see the clouds darken as the thunder cracks again and again. I try and sprint only to be stopped by my dead legs and windless lungs heaving for air.

It is only now, shambling through North Florida swamp trail, delirious and dizzy, that I understand. Being a writer, being a runner – it’s just filler for the moment we dig in and decide, with no one watching, that we are here to live. It is the pearl held above and beyond us.

It is the smoldering black coals hanging by the thinnest draft of oxygen waiting and ready to burst. It is the horizon and the message we bring to it. It is catching the perilous draft above the clouds to take us up and over icy mountains. It is the space between where we stand and the far edge our kicking feet hope to reach.

It is the will to continue at all costs. It is nothing more and nothing less than everything that matters. This training season I have learned that all my pride is useless. Fate be damned, I come to toe the line and whatever comes of it. I have come to welcome the Bear.

She reminds me that at the worst of any race I am giving all I have to the trail. Call me a failure for finding myself there unprepared, and I will tell you this: so be it. Run your own damn race. Leave me and my friends to run ours.

If we are honest; we accept oblivion as the natural end of all our efforts. Like Bukowski said, “Don’t try.” He was a sly optimist. It’s the lesson I learned at Barkley: however hard you think it is, it’s worse than you can imagine. However you train to ready yourself, it will not be enough.

Whatever your plan, whatever goal you set, you will fail. Lazarus Lake, Barkley’s race director, gets this. It’s why he made the race. The sooner we quit trying and settle into doing, the sooner we realize the Bear has been there all along and every moment we spend in her company is precious.