My Zen Day at the Buckeye Trail 50K

(It’s time for a haiku — a LONG haiku, to match a long race. This is what happens to your mind when you run your first 50K.)

My shirt looks like hell.
It’s covered with mud and grime.
And a little blood.

My shins and elbows
Are scratched from that last tumble.
My shoes are soaking.

Christ, this trail is tough.
I’ve tripped and crashed to the ground
Three times, maybe four.

I glance at my watch.
It, too, is caked with dried mud.
Alas, poor Timex.

Stand up. Shake it off.
Pick up the water bottle.
Climb that hill, Trail Boy.

Be one with the trail.
That is my mantra today.
Live, eat, breathe the trail.

Well, up to a point.
I love trails, but they are tough.
Trails can kick your ass.

Just look at me now.
Muddy, filthy, bloody mess.
Stinking shirt. Wet socks.

Is this any way
For a grown man to behave?
What was I thinking?

No big mystery there.
It all comes down to one thing:
My first 50K.

Fifty. Big Five-O.
This year, I am 50, too.
I have lots to prove.

Running an ultra
Has been a dream for five years.
My own Holy Grail.

I have to do this.
Lots of my friends have done it.
How tough can it be?

Thirty-two miles.
Just a little bit farther
Than a marathon.

I have plenty of
Marathons under my belt.
This is the next step.

“You want to do what?”
Non-running riends don’t get it,
This whole ultra scene.

Freak. Nutjob. Crazy.
I’ve heard it all, and then some.
I ignore it all.

The woods are special.
Trails give me joy, peace and hope.
My soul comes alive.

Meadows. Creeks. Ravines.
The views take my breath away.
Beautiful nature.

And a little mud.
You have to expect that, too.
A nice, tough challenge.

If it were easy,
It wouldn’t be trail running.
They would call it golf.

Here, I’m among friends.
We are here for one reason.
We love running trails.

We revel in this.
Some race here year after year.
Some for the first time.

I don’t kid myself.
I am one of the newbies.
An ultra virgin.

My goal is simple.
I want to go the distance
And get to the end.

I will run at times.
At other times I will walk.
I will keep moving.

But at the day’s end
I will have done an ultra.
Or died in the mud.

I’m in luck today.
A good friend is here with me.
We’ll run together.

Kevin knows the scene.
He’s trained on this trail for weeks.
It’s old hat for him.

He’s light on his feet.
And he has strength in his legs.
In May, he BQ’ed.

More importantly,
He has the proper mindset
For today’s madness.

Here is his advice:
“Be the trail, John. Be the mud.”
Trail Boy can’t argue.

Be one with the trail.
The words are fraught with wisdom.
Whatever they mean.

So I ask Kevin:
“Are you going zen on me?”
I laugh. It’s a joke.

Kevin laughs right back.
“Completely, totally zen.”
He lopes up a hill.

I run after him.
He crests the hill gracefully.
He’s one with the trail.

I am new at zen.
I am not one with the trail.
I begin to walk.

Then I understand.
I begin to chant, myself:
“Be one with the trail.”

Kevin is Catholic.
I am Unitarian.
But now, we’re Buddhists.

It’s a little weird.
Not this meditation thing.
That I can respect.

No, what’s weird is this.
Kevin is a road runner,
First, last and always.

He loves his pavement.
He runs it day after day.
It suits him just fine.

I’m the real trail hound.
I can’t shut up about trails.
They are my passion.

So why in God’s name
Is Kevin ahead of me?
Why did I just fall?

Life is strange like that.
Random. Dark. Mysterious.
No rhyme or reason.

All right! Enough now!
Who the hell am I kidding?
There’s no mystery.

Kevin is ahead
For one real simple reason.
He trained his ass off.

I trained pretty hard.
I racked up decent mileage.
I did hill repeats.

For months, I put out.
But to be really honest,
I didn’t bust ass.

I ran on nice days.
But on hot or rainy days
I cut some corners.

I took it easy.
I rested more than I ran.
That was a mistake.

If you plan to runBlue Hen Falls
The longest race of your life.
You must sacrifice.

You must plan to do
Long runs of five, six hours.
Not just three or four.

That’s today’s lesson.
I learned the really hard way.
Face down in the mud.

Buddha would be proud.
I have reached enlightenment.
In just three hours.

This is a small race.
One hundred sixty-seven
Crazies have shown up.

At seven a.m.
The race director says “Go!”
We hit our watches.

Then we hit the trail.
It is a beautiful course.
Woods, rocks, hills, roots, creeks.

I love this weather.
Cool. Clouds. Sixty-five degrees.
A gift for July.

The runners agree:
The day was made to order.
It’s picture perfect.

Soon we hit steep slopes.
Thank God, this one is downhill.
We fly down with glee.

But I feel some dread.
This is an out-and-back course.
Guess what that means, guys?

In a few hours,
We will see this hill again.
Going up, not down.

Next time it will hurt.snowville
It’s a Category Four Hill.
Oh, my aching legs!

Soon the field spreads out.
The mountain goats take the lead.
I trot far behind.

Kevin and I pass
The time laughing and talking.
And we make some friends.

We run, walk and talk
Up and down the switchbacks.
We splash across creeks.

I am in heaven.
A cool breeze cuts through my hair.
The woods surround me.

Here comes a clearing.
That can mean only one thing:
Rest, food and water.

Volunteers are great.
They grab my water bottle,
Refill it quickly.

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
I should get back on my way.
But look at that spread!

Cookies. M&Ms.
Hammer-Gel. Gummy Bears. Gu.
All kinds of sugar.

We eat and we drink.
God knows we must maintain our
Energy levels.

Then we get to work.
Cross the road, up the steps and
Back into the woods.

Soon a light rain falls.
It feels good on my warm neck.
Cool and refreshing.

Then it rains harder.
The trail starts to get sloppy.
We dodge the puddles.

I trip and fall hard,
Straight into a mud puddle.
Oooh, that’s gonna hurt.

I get up slowly.
I wipe the mud off my arms.
Nothing broken yet.

We get back to work.
The hills get much steeper now.
Walk, run, keep moving.

We trot through the pines
And dodge thousands of roots.
I stay on my feet.

Soon, we arrive at
The blessed turnaround point.
We’re halfway done now.

Look! More food! Hooray!
We stop to rest and refuel
For five long minutes.

I’m still feeling good.
But that is about to change.
Just call it a hunch.

The trail looks different.
Before, it was nice and firm.
Now, it is just muck.

Squish, squish through the goo.
This part is not runnable —
Barely walkable.

Still, we press forward.
Relentless forward motion.
That’s my manta, too.

I declare my goal,
For this special 50K.
Here’s my modest quest:

“I want to drink from
The great cup of victory!
I won’t be denied!”

Kevin laughs at this.
“Then we’d better up the pace,”
He says with a grin.

We push on and on.
Kevin still has lots of oomph.
I start to fall back.

“Ignore your sore legs,”
My zen master advises.
“Be one with the trail.”

I keep my eyes fixed
On the back of his blue shirt.
I’m one with his shirt.

I glance at my watch.
We’re still on pace to hit
My finish-time goal.

Beat seven hours.
I think that’s respectable
For my first ultra.

“We just might do it,”
I say, but Kevin’s bolder:
“Hell, it’s in the bag!”

He could run ahead
And get a much better time.
But he sticks with me.

A true friend, indeed,
On a long, hard, muddy day.
One in a million.

The hills just won’t quit.
And the mud is thicker now.
We slide down a hill.

Kevin chuckles now.
“How’s that cup of victory,”
He asks, as I wince.

A few runners pass.
But we keep pressing ahead.
We pass one, ourselves.

Soon, I hear voices.
It’s the finish area
Pulling into view.

We gather our strength
And run to the finish line
Side by side, panting.

Our time: six hours
And fifty-two minutes (whew!)
And fifteen seconds.

We get our medals,
Collapse on the nice, soft grass
And let the world spin.

Then I grab a cup
Of clean, icy cold water.
Pour it down the hatch.

It’s not exactly
A drink from the golden cup.
But it still tastes great.

So my first ultra
Is done, thank God, along with
This ultra haiku.


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6 Responses to “My Zen Day at the Buckeye Trail 50K”

  1. Jim Hermiller Says:

    “This year, I am 50, too. I have lots to prove.” Whatever you are trying to prove, I think you succeeded way before you got to the end of the 50K.

  2. Great story! I will try to be one with the trail if I ever get up to 26 or even 50miles! Thank you for sharing!!!

  3. Kevin Cartier Says:

    Hey TB!

    I love the ultra-haiku, and I thank you for all the kind words. As you rightly
    point out, I am partial to the roads. But the BT50K was fun and there’s a
    better-than-even chance that I’ll do it again next year. If you happen to be
    running along with me again, so much the better. In the meantime, get off yer
    duff and get ready for Akron!

    — Kevin

    • Trail Boy Says:

      Yes, I’ll run BT50K next year, and take 30 minutes off my time. But no Akron Marathon this year. I’m all about half-marathons and shorter for the time being. Have fun and go set another PR!

  4. Lowly Pavement Boy Says:

    Great effort, Trail Boy. Beautiful scenery, though I must say I was surprised to see a Buddha in the middle of Ohio forest. But your haiku has inspired me:

    I’ll try 50K
    On trail when I turn 50
    (Oops, too late for that!).

    • Trail Boy Says:

      It’s never too late. I’ll see you at the starting line next year. In the meantime, the Knobstone Trail Mini is coming up in October.

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