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Janky: Ten Things I Need You to Know About the Torreya 50k

Mike Baker, April 2018

ONE

My relationship with the Torreya 50k is like that girlfriend you’ve had since the 90’s, Ms. On-again, off-again. She’ll call you up and you're like, “Maybe it’ll work this time” and its great for a little while but inevitably one of you ends up crying in the kitchen on a deputy sheriff’s shoulder while the other one is drunk, face down in handcuffs on the mustard yellow carpet of your double-wide calling the three deputies restraining her all kinds of horrible names in-between yelling “I love you baby” and as all four deputies carry her out of the trailer, a limb in each hand, you whisper, “I know” tapping into that part of you that likes your women like you like your rollercoasters: fast, dangerous and out of control. The worst part is you’ll bail her out in the morning and the two of you will laugh about it over the one All Star Breakfast you can afford now at Waffle House and then you’ll walk the three miles back to your trailer because you sold the 1978 El Camino to get her bail and her boyfriend said there wasn’t enough room in his I-Roc for three people.

This is not hyperbole. You go out on your first Torreya 50k high speed, all your weakness left behind after a few thousand miles of training runs, and you finish like a dog foaming at the mouth, furtive and slightly dangerous. Your next Torreya ends at the 25k as you’re beset with multiple trips off trail squatting in the mud, followed by shotgunning a couple of Mountain Dew and ending with you spending the next twenty-four hours in the fetal position in a hotel room bed, wracked with fever and many trips to the bathroom uncertain which end needed to be over the toilet first.

Or maybe you’re babbling and yelling to yourself at mile twelve as the you realize how out of shape you really are and how you’d rather be drinking with the volunteers. And maybe it’s okay that you’re having a nervous breakdown, that your doctor’s suggestion to start taking something for OCD and panic attacks is a good idea or you know, anything you might be thinking but you drop at the end of the 25k.

This could go on for years. Or whatever. My point is that this year, after two whole months of training that included some running and some yoga and a Stairmaster, you might not be as ready as you think.

TWO

Juan and Elizabeth didn’t show up for the start of the race. They had driven from south Florida to run at Torreya and one would have expected them at the start. Brad and I ran down to the bridge, the first mile at Torreya is a downhill half mile to a stone bridge and then back up the hill to the start again that runners call the stupid mile, which is when we found Juan and Elizabeth who were hurriedly getting dressed at the Start/Finish and who informed me that I told them the race started at 7:30 instead of 7.

THREE

Brad stopped to use the only modern toilet in the park at the start/finish which we left and came back to a mile ago. This is where Dale passed us the first time. I don’t remember where we passed Dale but it wasn’t for long because you are generally on the wrong trail when the trail blazes turn blue which took us about a quarter mile to figure out and Dale passed us again.

FOUR

If you are not a runner you may not be familiar with this phenomenon but runners negotiate with themselves. Usually it works like this: I will run hard until I get to that tree up there and then I can stop running hard. And as soon as you pass the tree, you make another deal to run hard to the mailbox or the big rock or the dead possum in the middle of the road or whatever. I was, at around mile 5 however, negotiating how to drop down to the 25k. Don’t say it. I know. Something about quitters never winning. I should have seen that coming being that I haven’t finished the 50k in five years. Blah, blah, blah. I’m an optimist, like Custer or anyone that fights Rocky twice.

The hills are consistently in front of you, one after another, eating away at your legs and your mind and your heart. No matter how much food I ate, water I drank, I could feel my legs fading. I didn’t say anything to Brad of course. He had developed his own strategy. He started pulling. It’s a runner thing. The idea is to one or two step ahead of the other runner to get them to work harder. This assumes they want to keep up or they even can. I did my best for most of the course but near the end, say the last five miles, Brad had to actually wait on me to show up. Juan, who was half an hour behind us and running the course goofy footed, caught us at one point while Brad stood on a hill top, arms akimbo, waiting.

FIVE

You should know about the rain. I don’t remember what mile it was when the rain hit but first it was a light drizzle and then it was hard rain and then there was lightning and thunder which is kind of funny because, scared or not, you’re two and half miles from the finish so it doesn’t really matter how afraid you are, you’re still two and half miles away from shelter. Laughing, followed by running as fast as you can, just makes sense.

SIX

It went like this: I would trudge halfway up a hill and then, determined not to get dropped by Brad, start running. I would catch Brad right at the top of the hill at which time, he would start running and I would have to keep running. You should note here that I had to run to catch Brad as he was walking.

SEVEN

I want to take a moment and explain Brad. Did you ever see that After School Special with Scott Baio as the skateboarder that starts smoking marijuana? Brad is Jack’s brother (Scott Baio) who keeps Jack from getting into trouble with their Dad because Jack was stoned and almost accidentally killed his brother while he was rowing a boat and Jack hits his brother in the head with an oar but pulls him to safety and Jack’s brother tells their Dad he ran into a tree and knocked himself out to keep Jack out of trouble except instead of lying to our Dad, he hung out with me while I struggled to finish the 25k. Maybe he’s more like Han Solo. He had the money from Princess Leia. He could have cruised off to pay his debt to Jabba the Hutt but he came back and pretty much saved the rebellion. That’s Brad.

EIGHT

Running downhill is the gift hills give runners everywhere except at the Torreya 50k. Descents will, at the Torreya 50k, make you miss the slow, steady grind of ascents. There are your “I’m getting too old for this mess” eroded staircases of roots and bad life decision descents. There are descents that look sweet at the top. You cruise up over the hill in a nice, wide open gait only to discover the pitch has just tripled and you now can’t stop running because the only thing gonna break your fall is your backside or the rocky gorge at the bottom of the hill. Torreya has a second, even more fun version of this, where the hill is on the side of hill where you might end up barrel rolling down or a cliff with a 50-foot drop to your right. Mostly though, for me on Saturday, they were just there. And at the back end of 15 simple miles, it hurt running down hills as much, or even more, than running up hills.

NINE

I bought this very expensive bottle of beer a few years ago and I told Dale that we’d drink it this year at Torreya when we finished the 50k which I hope, at this point, you get didn’t happen. It never feels good to quit a race. My previous Torreya 50k DNF’s, you get a 25k finish but you know why you were there and it ain’t what you did, weren’t hard. I wasn’t really in it for more than a good run followed by a few beers. This year, I believed I had 50k finish and I didn’t. I felt broken, beyond exhausted and I could hear my Daddy calling me a coward. I just didn’t have the heart to go out again. I told Maria about it and she said she could have told me it was going to go that way and that hurt to hear. I think I should have seen it myself. It’s that I’ve always been a Tigger, bouncing in and out of peril, and sometimes that pays the rent and sometimes the check don’t kite. I usually hang around until the last runner shows up exhausted and grinning but I couldn’t bear it Saturday. I didn’t have a beer. I still haven’t had a beer.

TEN

An old running partner was fond of telling me that I only dressed like a trail runner and that I was, in fact, a road runner to the center of my tiny Grinch heart. It's true I started running on trails to build my miles, as trail running is just easier on the legs than roads. I was going to break 20 minutes in the 5k. I never broke 20 minutes and I stopped running 5k races. We have so many trails in Tallahassee and they are all beautiful. I fell in love with dirt. Torreya is one of the few places though that we have that feels like wilderness. Most trails are bordered by developments and roads and schools. Torreya just rolls and rolls. It has real predators wandering around it. You might be deep in a humid tropical bog and minutes later, high up in a piney wood. It has a grand old river. It has peril and history. I have given away almost all of my race medals but not the ones from Torreya. Torreya isn’t a race. It’s a donnybrook and a muck up. It's a family reunion. Brad and I were cruising down this broad hill section in a torrential downpour toward an ever widening, black muddy creek and Brad, not even breaking stride tight rope ran across a random assortment of logs and rocks and rotten wood. I jumped as high as I could and smashed, splashing down into the water, laughing as I landed. And then, scurrying out and up the next hill, trying to catch up to him again.