The TUDC 50M and the Tannenbaum 6K


Mike Baker,


For Greta, a blue merle cattle dog, and the all the runners who cannot run but still fight

(I ran the TUDC 50 miler last weekend and the last 12 miles were the hardest miles to run. It wasn’t because they were 12 miles further than I have ever run. It was because the course empties out as runners spread with miles between them, and even if you have someone pacing you, there is no one on the road to compete with. You must do battle with yourself.)

No one tells you that the week after your race will be harder than running the actual race.

Everything from the waist down felt like it had been in a car wreck so that walking hurt, bending over to pick anything up was impossible, and sitting down, even at the most necessary times, was Herculean in scope.

The head cold I thought was done the week before the race, turned into chest congestion and my kidney, on the left side, started to hurt intermittently. (I would later discover it wasn’t my kidney but a muscle I had pulled before the race but had forgotten about, as the above mentioned agony of perambulation would make getting punched in the face feel pretty darn good.)

And now, stopped in my car at traffic lights, I burst into tears at the thought of my late beloved mother, world hunger or the color red. That’s right. It was an awfully poignant shade of red. Don’t judge. No one understood what I’d been through.

If you tell most people you ran a race, they are amazed. They don’t even need to know the distance. It is simply the idea that you exerted effort. Their eyes glaze over when you tell them it was 50 miles. Most humans you will meet at the mall have no idea how to visualize walking 50 miles, let alone running 50 miles.

You have officially done something insane and from here forward they simply find you amusing like a great uncle that believes he’s still storming the beach at Normandy. I’m trying to be funny but the truth is that is horrible.

You are as alone as Gregor Samsa and possibly as reviled and, oh yeah, everything hurts. I can take one thing going wrong. Sometimes I can handle two. Three, however, seems to be my limit. I say this knowing full well that I am whining. There are far worse things in life than these petty grievances.

The next Saturday found me volunteering as a car parker at the Tannenbaum 6k. Judy had offered me a free race bib in lieu, I imagine, of a better job at the race. I was the guy in the field waving cars toward David Yon and crew who were actually parking them down in the field.

I had not yet decided to race. I hadn’t run successfully all week. All my running partners had refused to even take my phone calls knowing full well I would beg them to run. I wanted to at least jog this thing. I just couldn’t make up my mind.

Herb had been bull horning out directions all morning: “Don’t fold your bib; it’s also your timing chip! This is the second annual running of the Tannenbaum 6k!” He was calling out the time to start informing all the racers of how sharp the race would be starting. I had been stretching the whole time.

Four minutes before the race started, I sprinted to the registration table, barely filled out a form and raced to the start a quarter mile away. The sight was breathtaking: 182 runners lined up cross country style facing me like a battle line ready to charge.

I panicked a moment like our boys at Antietam must have panicked, that vicious fear those boys must have felt, to an obviously much lesser degree, all the same caught up in the thrill of having to decide what I would do. I hadn’t planned on racing today. I had not even planned to run.

Here I was now standing on the very same line, my legs hurting, my chest hurting, all the sorrow and rage of feeling cheated somehow by no one else understanding what I had done the previous weekend. And then the race started.

I would like to tell you how I shot like a rocket off the line but that isn’t what happened. I loped out slow and gingerly as the pack spread out and then disappeared. I have paced a few recovering runners lately so I have been in the back but this time it was with no good reason except that I felt puny and a little unloved.

It hurts the legs to run slowly and it hurts the heart. I cannot say where it was when it happened. I think maybe a mile into the race, when I could not stand myself anymore. My own shadow, disgusted with my effort, had even abandoned me. Here were all these runners, most of them giving their all, and I was not.

This is all I can say about why I started sprinting. It was glorious: full legged strides, wide open and effortless. It hurt like hell but who cares. I passed runner after runner after runner until I found that one runner I could not pass. Try as I might, I just had not a thing left to do but hang on.

I came in at 30 minutes and change, a decent tempo run if that’s what it had been, but no great race. Those facts are irrelevant though. For the first time in a week I did not feel alone. For the first time in week, I hurt but didn’t care. I was a runner again.

I had a dog once when had been chained to a tree until I got her. She stood stock still all the time. One day at the dog park, I have never known why, a pack of dogs ricocheted passed her and there was a flinch and a stutter and then her legs sprung her into the field. She had remembered she was a dog.

I told my friend Eric who had raced the Tannenbaum about doing the 50 miler which he already knew about, and he replied, “Who told you do that?” All my pleading about giving me slack because I had run 50 miles the week before were met with, “So? That’s not my fault.”

There is no one as heartless as a runner who’s beaten you even if it is a friend. Much thanks and gratitude to everyone who beat me at the Tannenbaum. You saved me. That said, we have a whole new season starting in January and y’all better watch your backs because I’m coming and I’m bringing a can a whoop ass with me.