To any interested readers, I apologize for being very verbose and taking so long to describe my 314 voyage across Tennessee, but I still remember it so vividly as every choice and decision factored into whether I'd make it to the finish. Much of this has been written for myself: to remember why I ran, what I experienced, and what I felt along the way. Feel free to skip the "Before the Race" section as it consists of mostly my thoughts about why'd I want to do the race in the first place in addition to how mentally unfocused I was heading into this endeavor.
Any errors, well...it's my first race report, and has just been another part of my Vol-State experience.
Before the Race… 7/2/13
First, I think I should discuss the madness convinced me that running 314 continuous miles across Tennessee in the July heat was a good idea. Well, I will admit that nine days prior to the race, I still don’t think it is a good idea.
But again, let me back up and start from the beginning. I first discovered ultrarunning while looking for a race to do on leave from Afghanistan during April 2010. My battle buddy had me running the most miles and most consistent training of my infantile running career. I was looking for my first half marathon and then I discovered the Croom Fools 50 miler (and selected the 16 mile race, I’m not that crazy, but I did “run” the 50 the following year). The experience at the 16 miler was absolutely fantastic and my curiosity led me research ultrarunning during my free time while I was deployed. Eventually, I joined the Ultralist just in time to follow the “Last Annual Vol State Run” which initially disappointed me, until I realized it wasn’t actually the last Annual Vol State run. Following the updates provided by Carl Laniak and lazarus lake, the trials of the runners was just unreal. The winner was the 73 year old Don Winkley, another unbelievable feat. He was a crewed runner, meaning he had someone traveling with him in a vehicle keeping him supplied, taking him to a motel to sleep, and just making sure Don kept moving.
While Don’s victory was certainly inspirational, I thought the most inspirational was following those runners foolish enough to attempt running uncrewed (which, auto-corrects to the commonly used, unscrewed). What unscrewed means is those runners cannot enter any vehicles (except when forced into a police car) and can only receive aid from other unscrewed runners or good Samaritans (road angels) along the course. In short, their success is wholly dependent upon themselves. That is the beauty of what lured me to Vol State, the ultimate expression of freedom with success and failure solely dependent upon your own will, toughness, and desire.
After finishing my first ultra in April of 2012, I intently followed the 2012 Vol-State run hoping that 2013 would be my turn. 2012 was just as incredible as the first run. Dan “the feral” Fox won unscrewed, but the race was much more than that. As I find my own words wanting, here are a few words from a 2012 update from lazarus lake, with his ability to succinctly capture and explain life, as he provides an update on the final runner and Oprah, the shadow haunting the runners:
15) marvin skagerberg 225- hammered by yet another storm, taking refuge in shelbyville.
he is back on the road as time grows short in his quest for "one more big thing."
the odds are against him.
marvin has a lot of skins on his wall. he had proven himself as a warrior in times long past.
before the memories of this generation of ultramarathon warriors.
the years have stolen the speed from his legs. his vision has dimmed and his hearing faded.
but the heart of a lion remains, and he continues his relentless pursuit of "one more big thing."
is there an old-timer who can keep from following his progress?
he may fail, but he will not lose.
the clock might catch him, but it will find him fighting to the end.
16) oprah 224- everyone keeps asking; "who is oprah?"
you know who oprah is.
she is the spectre that trails the pack at the vol state.
she is the "real" world. where celebrity is the most important thing,
and there are no lonely figures alongside the road, chasing dreams.
Marv missed the 10 day cut-off, but he and his warrior’s heart would not succumb in his battle against time as he finished in just over 11 days.
I know, what does this all have to do with me? My poor writing skills likely provide a pale illustration of the runners that have come before me, but the race does not care as it has scrapes away life’s frivolities and insignificant excesses. What the runner is left with is a truth and knowing. Knowledge of what and who they are, and the awareness that comes from testing your limits against the extreme. I’ve faced trials of endurance in the Army and life, but there was no opportunity to quit. What will happen when I have to complete the most mentally and physically challenging experience of my life not so much against the distance and heat of Tennessee, but the enemy within that often wants to quit after only the second or third mile? Can I meet this challenge, or will I be found wanting?
Of course, it seems like few things I do this day are without some sort of drama. I decided 2013 was the year I was going to run Vol-State and it has not been without its challenges. My training got off to a late start after the running the Goofy Challenge in January. It didn’t feel like my training really took hold until March as I completed over 200 miles in both April and May, both personal highs. Then came June. Seeming like a month-long taper, it was characterized by personal struggle as my military contractor position was eliminated by the government sequester and I found myself naively unprepared to move into my profession of choice, education. The average position I’ve applied to has had 130+ applicants, and amazingly, I had nearly a dozen interviews. Unfortunately, I still haven’t landed a job. Nor have I ever experienced such a series of failures with the growing fear of being unable to provide for myself or a November wedding.
I have enough money until I find a teaching position, assuming I find a position prior to the beginning of the school year. However, the specter of being unemployed has put a grey cloud over this race. I’ve made the commitment that I’m going to run, at a personal cost that I do not yet know. I can only hope and believe that the man left at the end of the run is a better one than starts the race as I journey across 314 miles of introspection and growing self-awareness. I have usually achieved success in life and will be a great teacher; it’s not a matter of if, but when. I can only hope that innate optimism and inner confidence that has so often motivated me to ”put one foot in front of the other” no matter what may come carries me through Vol-State. With the sacrifices that I’ve made, I’m terrified and excited about what the journey might reveal.
I departed for Castle Rock, GA about midday on Tuesday, July 9, and made about a 10 hour trip up there. My first thoughts as I was getting there was this was absolutely gorgeous, but the hill at the end (which turned out to be Sand Mountain) was crazy! Coming from flat Florida, I instantly began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
As we mounted the bus the next morning, I was really surprised at the kindness and friendliness of everyone that would be running. Prior to getting out of my car, I knew exactly no one that would be racing increasing my nervousness. I’m normally not a social person. I sat with Wayne McCombs out of northern Georgia. He had only returned to running a year prior, having done some challenging local trail ultras, but this would be some of his first experiences on the road. Both of us were a bit concerned about the lack of shoulders as we started our reverse tour of the course with the Vol-State expert John Price quoting off distances and directions from the back of the bus. With the length of the course and amount of information, it was not long before Wayne and I were both thoroughly confused; however, the optimism on the bus was incredible. It felt as if everyone on there truly believed that they would do this (and for most, it proved true). Some other thoughts from the bus were that I would definitely need to keep my water filled. There was some long and nasty stretches that looked like they could quickly turn disastrous if a gas station or convenience store was missed or closed. The other realization was that we were going to be eating a lot of bad convenience store food. No problem, I thought. I’ve got a pretty decent stomach. Or so I thought.
The bus ride stopped for lunch at the legendary Bench of Despair store. I had a pulled pork sandwich and some chips, but was not really hungry so I would just have to get back here to sample their revered milk shakes. It was already noon, and we had only covered 130 miles of the 314. I got back onto the bus and after saw a text from my brother asking how the bus ride went, as if it were anywhere near over. I told him we still had hours to go as we handle the first mind game inside the mind game. On the bright side, the ride and course are absolutely breath-taking as you are constantly passing by gorgeous sights and miles and miles of beautiful farmland. Unfortunately, the second half of the bus ride also gave me the alarming realization that my T-Mobile phone would not be getting reception through most of the course. Usually, I would be unconcerned. However, I had job applications out and already knew of one phone interview the following Tuesday. That was going to be a problem. As I quickly realized, this was more than just a race, it was an endeavor of constant problem solving. I always focused on what I needed to do to fix my next problem as quickly as possible and move on whether it was phone, feet, stomach, food, water, etc.
Upon arriving in Union City, I split a room with Joe Kowalski. Originally planning to split the room four ways, it only ended up being the two of us. It cost a few more dollars, but I think it allowed me to better relax and get a good night of rest prior to the race after getting a few poor hours in my car near the finish line the previous night. I also walked over to Wal-Mart, although there was a bus trip scheduled later in the evening. It was only a few minute walk away from the hotel and I thought to myself, wow, this is what the whole trip is going to be like. I enjoy walking, but the realization that every stop would count really dawned on me. I picked up a Verizon pre-pay phone and a three pack of no-show black socks that I would use and throw away after talking to Wayne on the bus. I brought 4 pairs of Injinjis, but had gotten an unusual blister walking with my pack on an 11 miler just the weekend prior to the race. I hoped by using two-socks, it would alleviate some of the rubbing. I was terribly wrong; however, I would quickly become grateful for those throwaway socks. The last supper was full of legends, although a bit overwhelming with all the unfamiliar faces. Back in the room, I listened to a reading of Laz’s “the night before Vol-State” and I was ready to go.
Waking up Thursday morning, I was excited, but not overly so. Grabbed a small breakfast in the hotel and jumped on the bus. Oh, and to further emphasize the quantity of training with my gear, Joel Gat pointed out how to properly remove my UltraSpire bag at breakfast. Well, that would be helpful. Once we hit the ferry, you could see some people getting very excited while others were cool and collected, just sitting and enjoying the last few minutes of well-feeling their feet would enjoy for days afterwards. Once we reached Dorena Landing, we went to the start line and started the race. I walked to the ferry with an amusing moment as the ferry made a brief moment with everyone on the boat except for Ray K. He ran and joined the rest of us; then it was back to Hickman, Kentucky, for the start of the race.
Once I passed the overlook, it was time to interact with the real world. I had received a call the previous day asking for me to go in for an interview that morning. Obviously, that was not happening, but I ended conducting an awesome impromptu phone interview on the go with the occasional truck driving by (I didn’t land that job; however, I made a good impression and opened doors to other opportunities). The walk towards Union City consisted of a strong and steady walk that probably made me slightly over confident that I would be able to maintain that walking pace (probably just under 4 mph). I walked with several different runners including Psyche Wimberly and John Price. Of course, I also learned my first lesson of the race. Sipping steadily, I figured I had plenty of water remaining in my bladder when a friendly person on the street offered me water. Not more than five minutes later and I was sucking down air. I mentally panicked for a moment and this water craze was one of the insecurities I carried with me throughout the race. I was petrified of getting caught in the middle of nowhere with nothing to drink as I could see that being a disaster that ends my race. Was it justified? Probably not.
Fortunately, a few minutes later I rolled into a Little General and picked up 2 liters of water to learn that my 2L bladder only carried 1.5L. Learning more things I should have already known. Oh well, too late now. Our little group of runners walked through Union City to Subway where I had one of the largest meals of my race. I ordered and managed to eat footling sub, although I could not touch my chips. While at Subway, I made a few calls back to the real world. Returning calls for interviews, I set up a second interview for Tuesday morning. Now I would definitely need to stop somewhere for a short time. Hopefully I would be coherent. John Price entered into Subway with our group, but before I even finished my sandwich, he had moved on. Wow, that was quick.
Moving on from Union City, I had the pleasure of sharing a few easy miles with Robert Woodall as my food digested. Of course, I couldn’t find anywhere to put my chips. In my pocket, they rubbed. In my bag they would have been crushed. My stomach was not even an option. So I came upon Laz and Carl sitting at mile 20… I offered them my chips figuring one of them might enjoy them and to free myself of a burden I couldn’t even imagine eating. Apparently, that act of generosity would come back to get me as I would learn the next morning.
After passing by Laz and Carl, I started moving a little quicker, though running was not even a thought in my mind. I left Robert behind only to hear the unfortunate news a short time later that he was having serious blister issues (and would drop within 48 hours). I caught up to Joe Kowalski and then back up to John Price as I approached Martin. The one thing I can say about this race is that I had no idea what I was doing and was willing to admit that to anyone. I tried to learn as much as I could in the few miles I shared with John. He is so intricately familiar with this course and was already looking forward to his Burger King in Martin. When I arrived in Martin, I stopped at a gas station and picked up a Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, and some chips (apparently, I could eat them now). I was shocked as four or five people passed me in the fifteen or twenty minutes that I recovered in that gas station. Motivated, I got moving quickly and never managed to catch any of them (at least, not on the road that day). Onward to Dresden!
The walk to Dresden was taking a fair bit of time, and for the first time I pulled out some music. I continued moving steadily along, although starting to feel the first pangs of fatigue. I was looking forward to eating pizza that night in Dresden, but then I had an opportunity that just seemed too good to pass up. Pulling off to pee behind a fireworks tent, I noticed it was vacant and would make a nice place to rest for a few hours. Once inside, I did the first real cleanup on my feet which I should have done sooner and was probably my second mistake of the young race. Although not in terrible condition, my right pinkie was a little tore up. It was time to start my crash course in learning to care for my feet. It’s not really a concern in marathons, and enough other things went wrong in my only 50 miler that my feet were not my greatest concern. I knew enough that my feet needed to be a priority out here or they had the ability to make my adventure into a misery, and quickly. Still, it was exciting being in the tent thinking that, “Hey, I’m surviving here. I’m really doing this!” I really enjoyed the problem solving nature of Vol State. Always trying to predict and fix whatever problems you came across with whatever resources you had available. I had another stroke of good fortune here as Joe K stopped at Wal-Mart in Martin to pick up some foot care equipment like tape, which I lacked the total foresight or experience to pack. I knew he was close behind me, although I put a bigger gap behind him than I thought, and told him about my fireworks tent. When he showed up, he gave me a roll of tape and I finished fixing up my feet. I was also made aware that I was extremely well hydrated as I had to pee four times during my four hour rest stop. For day one, I’ll take it!
Heading back onto the road at roughly 11pm, it was nice and cool for moving (although I was too chilled snuggling in my garbage bags to have gotten much quality sleep). Entering into the town in Dresden, I hit the soda machine for what became a routine Dr. Pepper and filled my bag with water. Sherry Meador caught up to me during this short stop after she stopped in Martin due to issues of her own. Together, we walked most of the night to McKenzie. However, during this time my pinkie has begun throbbing again. Taped and swollen toes were not working with the Injinjis. During the night I cut the pinkie toe off my Injinjis hoping that would relieve the pressure on my toe. It helped slightly, but would prove to be a very ineffective fix later. Otherwise, walking through the first night may have been one of my favorite times on the course. Walking towards Gleason, it was pitch black outside and there were strips of road where you could see millions of stars and galaxies with thousands of lightning bugs lighting up the world around you. I haven’t seen lightning bugs in probably more than 20 year. It was absolutely breathtaking.
Of course, I was still walking with Sherry for most of this stretch. I let her go ahead for a short bit as I attempted to fix my feet and then swore every shadow ahead of me was Sherry for probably a mile or two. It was a great mental relief when I finally found a shadow that turned out to be her! It was a comfort walking with someone that had been across the course twice already as I made a few mental snafus, but she bailed me out. Of course, we kept up a quick pace as Sherry told me about some of the health issues she had recently dealt with. What an unbelievable woman!
When we entered into McKenzie, I felt absolutely wasted and Sherry did not look even the least put-out. That was pretty humbling. I joked that she left me on a park bench, and that was not far from the truth. I tried to put my feet up, but couldn’t get comfy so I decided that maybe I’d try a hotel. As soon as I started walking, my pinkie was throbbing in pain. That toe I removed from the sock earlier only allowed the rest of the sock to bunch and move the tape that was on the toe. My toe was really starting to look like mince meat. At this point, I realized I had to abandon the Injinjis and regretted throwing out the first pair of Wal-Mart socks as the two remaining pairs are what I would be using from this point forward. Then I went to McDonald’s and came upon problem number two. I ordered an Egg McMuffin meal and I just couldn’t eat it. It took an extreme effort to swallow most of it, but I did leave some behind. I walked down to a hotel only to find it fully occupied. I stopped shortly in another vacant fireworks tent to collect myself and do a fuller job on my feet. There was another hotel, but by this time I’d wasted over two hours in McKenzie with nothing to show for my efforts. There was another hotel in about 15 miles at the end of Huntingdon and that would keep me out of the afternoon heat.
The walk to Huntingdon was mostly uneventful, although I did come across a surprising sluggish John Price. He just looked off (or so it seemed to me). Shortly after passing him, I stopped again to work on my feet. It was at this time that Mike Melton and Shannon Burke stopped by and when I introduced myself, I discovered I was known as “Tater Krouse.” I suppose that’s what I get for passing off a bag of chips to Carl and Laz. It’s good to be known, but couldn’t I get a better nickname than that? Shortly after, John Price passed me again and that’s the last I would see of him.
Arriving into Huntingdon, I made it to the All Star café when Carl and Laz were passing by. Psyche was heading off course to Wal-Mart. I could use gear, but couldn’t fathom adding the extra distance. Johnnie Adams just had just had “a moment of weakness” and had spent an hour recovering his balance so I joined him to eat. I ordered a Philly cheese steak and fries. Normally one of my favorite meals, again, I could barely eat it. I think I got most of it down, but there was definitely an alarming trend beginning. Where was the voracious hunger that distance runners get? Then it was off to the hotel. The hotel was nice, but of course I got the farthest room from the road. It was absolutely worth it though, and I ended up splitting the cost with Joe K who arrived shortly before I was ready to depart. The rest and recovery that I got in the hotel made it clear to me that I would need to be making more hotel steps than I initially intended. Well, I figured, I’m here running Vol State, let’s do whatever it takes to get this thing done.
After a few hours of quality rest, my feet and spirit felt much better for a little while. Still, I contemplated experimenting and cutting up my right shoe to relieve the pressure off my pinkie, but held off for the immediate time being hoping to get the guidance of someone more experienced. On my walk to Parker’s Crossroads, it became painfully obvious that I needed to act. Stopping on the front porch of a western wear store, I cut my shoe where I could feel my pinkie squished up against it. When I put my foot back in, my pinkie was still tender, but there was a huge relief as my two outer most toes were more than an inch outside the hole. Even better, I didn’t screw my shoe up as to render it worthless. Score! Later that night, I made a symmetrical cut on my other shoe when I begin to feel the slightest tension from my pinkie. If I could avoid that mistake again, I would. I’d like to call this me learning.
The walk to Parker’s Crossroads was extremely chilly, partially due to my lack of eating, I think. I fought down two gas station hot dogs and felt some relief, but the walk to Lexington would probably be my lowest point of the race. Being used to running in my Florida elevation of total gain/loss of +/- 1 foot, the “hills” of Tennessee that were flat to others were not so flat to me! In hindsight, the hills into Lexington probably weren’t that bad, but they were totally mentally defeating. I can’t count the number of times I simply sat down outside the white line with semis flying by a few feet away. When I finally laid my eyes on Lexington, it was up another hill and out of defeat, I just sat down again. I did finally collect myself and made it to one of the gas stations for resupply. I spent an hour trying to fight down two sausage egg biscuits, but they were not pleasant.
Eventually, I got moving again, and a few miles down the road got pulled in a VFW. Being a veteran and Army reservist, I was happy to socialize for a few minutes, especially when they offered me food or drink. Obviously food wasn’t going to work, but I couldn’t pass up a soda. Garbage calories or not, I took those garbage calories whenever I could get them. As I was getting set to leave, Dusty Hardman got pulled in and I had no idea I may have just met my savior. Leaving out of the VFW, I figured I would try to keep up with her and she seemed excited that I was about to complete me first 100 miler.
Amazingly, after not running at all for the first two days, and failing miserably in my earlier effort that morning (as Dusty continued to remind me she had seen before getting pulled into the VFW), I found a shuffling motion and was doing intervals with Dusty. Coming from my near death experience traveling into Lexington, suddenly I was alive and running! We passed the 100 mile mark feeling strong and so far I was able to keep up with Dusty. I don’t know how much she slowed down for me (or even if she did –but I think I held her back more than vice versa) but I will always be grateful for the miles shared together. Or if nothing else, for getting me away from Lexington.
We actually made good time from Lexington to Parsons, but I knew I was close to my limit and was ready for a break. I was hoping to get some food and bring it back to a hotel room to give me time to try and get it down. We ended up getting Subway, some Epsom salts, and I got more tape. Then we started off to the next hotel on our route. That hotel ended up being a long 3.5 miles away in which we swapped off the sandwiches on the up-and-down hills as my left ankle started to hurt on the downhills just beyond the 100 mile mark. I don’t know why we never stopped to eat those sandwiches, but we carried them the full 3.5 miles. There were few times I was happier in the race than when I finally saw the Pine Tree Inn. Dusty and I both got rooms, and it was a really nice hotel, despite the fact my standards at that point would have said anywhere with a soft bed and hot shower was heavenly. As soon as I removed my socks and shoes, my feet actually felt like they could run and I took a “quick” scamper to the ice machine. I can’t even describe how great it felt to get clean and remove all the tape off my feet for the first time (yeah, I left the tape on through the first hotel, but I was learning). I also rinsed and dried my clothes, another huge morale booster. Finally, I soaked my feet in an Epsom salt bath with Dusty, although I was petrified at first as I thought about adding salt to my butchered feet (yeah, I’m slightly new to all of this). Of course, Dusty didn’t help by joking that it was a “good pain” or “good burn.” When I finally stuck my feet in, there was nothing of the sort, just relief.
We started out early the next morning for our approach into Linden. Dusty had to run a continuous mile to fulfill her daily streak and running was a surprisingly nice way to greet the day. Dusty remembered a big hill into Linden, but these miles seemed to pass easily and swiftly. Physically, my feet were sore, but mentally and emotionally, I felt like I had survived the biggest physical hurtles and the blisters were generally contained or on the mend. Now if I could just fix my food problem…
Of course, Linden was not without a small scare. When we arrived at the gas station entering town, my right knee was very red although there was no itching, pain, or anything else. A few hours later, my knee had swollen pretty rapidly, although there were still no ill effects coming from it or any apparent scratch/bite marks. Dusty gave me a drop of hydro-cortisone for the inflammation and I applied some Benadryl when we eventually made Wal-Mart, but the knee recovered with no apparent ill effect. For that, I’m grateful, and can only assume I rubbed the wrong thing when I stepped off the road to answer nature’s call.
Heading into Hohenwald seemed to be a much more grueling process than Linden. Doing run/walk intervals most of the way, we were in high spirits when we saw Carl. We each also received a pair of Powerades from an interesting group of country boys that were looking to clear out their coolers. We were happy to help, but I would’ve been just as happy with only one Powerade rather than having to carry a second one that I’d eventually dump. As it would turn out, their intervention would be significant in ensuring we had enough fluids to make it to Hohenwald. Then once we entered Hohenwald, it seemed like it took forever to get to the actual food places. The heat was definitely having an effect on me and I was slowing.
Dusty and I did eventually make it to Hardee’s. I put down close to a real meal with a nice milk shake. Still in a severe calorie deficit, but I was surviving. Dusty, on the other hand, did not have any problems eating! Next stop, Wal-Mart. I tried unsuccessfully to find better tape, but I did get new socks and a box of Cliff Bars! By this time, I had spent the better part of the last three days on a single pair of intended throwaway socks that had more than done their duty. Wasting time at Wal-Mart, I also took my blood pressure which was surprisingly as it should be and my weight was down to 135, roughly 5-7 pounds from where I started (despite being hydrated and freshly fed).
After fixing my feet again, we headed off with the intent to find somewhere to sleep near the Outdoor Camping Area or Church that should be within the next 10 miles or so and worst case, the Men’s Club that we really knew little about. This part of our trip went beautifully as we arrived at the Fall Hollow Campground just as the owner Bill was preparing to lock up for the night. He had drinks and chips outside on a bench for the runners, but offered Dusty and I dinner that he had just prepared for thru-bikers that were staying there. The food was fantastic and real! Before we knew it, he was bringing a pull-out bed and fresh blankets so we could make places to sleep for the night. All of this was unsolicited and from the kindness of his heart. It did not cost us a penny. All in all, I really can’t say enough good things about most of the people we encountered. Tennessee certainly treated us runners to its best hospitality. When we left Fall Hollow, we left behind a few dollars and a quickly written thank you note to provide at least an inkling of the appreciation we felt.
The next morning started out well, although we hoped to make Lewisburg at the outset of the day. We had accepted the mantra that to achieve the results we wanted, we had to be unreasonable. Worst case, we would find somewhere to sleep outside. This day turned out rough. We had an easy stroll to Hampshire with absolutely beautiful views of the farms along the way. I most enjoy being outside as the sun comes up and goes down when the sky is full of colors and it seems like all the contrasts and colors of the world are sharper. I can’t even describe the multitudes of greens along the roads and fields that we passed. With frequent views such as this, it’s easy to want to continue enjoying the outdoors forever.
Upon reaching Hampshire, we assessed the Men’s Club and were a bit grateful that we had stopped prior to that point. Neither of us would likely have slept well with such an overwhelming smoke smell in the building; however, everyone that we met in the morning was extremely friendly and proud of their club which appeared to be the center of the community. I’m not one to judge, but throughout my journey, it was so interesting to experience such a different culture than everyday suburbia. Some things were better, some worse, but everyone was friendly. In Hampshire, I ate a couple Cliff bars, which I found were fairly digestible as I slowly snacked on them while Dusty waited for the country store to open for a hot breakfast. Oh yeah, and I downed more Dr. Pepper, as I did at nearly every gas station I stopped at. At this point, any calories were good calories.
The weather began to warm up quickly as we moved on towards Columbia. We made a pit stop in a well kept medical clinic with an ice cold water fountain and then again at Hardee’s for lunch. After lunch though, things started falling apart quickly. We navigated through Columbia with little issue, but as we were on the edge of town still mixing in occasional intervals, the heat really struck me. I started to feel nice and tingly all over…never the feeling you want to feel in that kind of heat. I can’t help but thinking my severe caloric intake was the issue here as I was roasting during the day and then freezing in the “chilly” nights. I knew I was cooked. We stopped at the last gas station we’d see for about six miles and I filled up on ice as well as refilling my pack. I would probably have been better served by taking a longer time indoors, but I was physically uncomfortable and there was an odd patron loitering there that made the environment even more awkward. Thus, I foolishly declared myself better and pressed on.
My pace at this point was not good, and it just led to one of those first “moments” of self-discovery that I ran the race for. I may have also dropped a tear or two, compounded by sunscreen in my eye (even if “others” don’t believe me). Earlier in the day, Dusty had read off Laz’s update discussing that how by Day 4, a person’s true character is revealed and how some pairs are stronger due the sum of their parts, while others play off each other’s weaknesses or must leave the other behind. For the first time during the race, I had the realization that I wasgoing to finish and there’s no way I would quit, which I had been nonchalantly joking about finding my opportunity to do since the moment Dusty carried me out of Lexington. I also realized that I’d push myself with everything I had to avoid failing someone else, well beyond what I would ever sacrifice to achieve my own ends and beyond any reasonable physical limits. I felt like Dusty was physically way stronger than I was, but true to her character, she stuck with me, claiming that we would pick each other up when we were weak. I hadn’t remembered seeing her worse off than me yet and highly doubted that I would, but I would be damned if I was the reason she didn’t meet her goal. I suddenly had a surge of energy that carried me to the Bench of Despair.
I think we were both a little exhausted by the time we got there. Although we had survived the heat of the day, it had taken a measureable toll on both of us. I got the milkshake that I passed up on during the bus ride to the beginning, although solid food still held no appeal. At this point, we were trying to find a place to sleep as Lewisburg was still 20 miles away and we were physical shells of the runners that started the day. The store owner and employee were extremely helpful in telling us there was a church ahead, although their description of a short way ahead may have been slightly optimistic to us miserable slugs. As we were leaving the store, we walked into Jeff Venable (Texas Jeff), who was heading back to his hotel room as he told us that he ran until 5:30 every day and then regardless of where he was, stopped and went back to his room for “Miller Time.” No offense intended Jeff, but at that point I wanted nothing more than beat you in the race. I was mad at the world, the crewed runners, and the luxuries they enjoyed. Ok, ok, so maybe there was a slight tinge of jealousy in there, too. (I did finish before Jeff, but he ran one hell of a race...apparently on some similarly tortured feet)
To cap off this miserable day, Dusty and I finally arrived at a church just off the course route and found a concrete area outside to sleep beside it. The location was absolutely miserable. Sleeping on the concrete only kept exacerbating the stiffness in my hips and glutes. After two hours, I moved to the grass and was much more comfortable, although sleep was still elusive as I couldn't reach a good body temperature (hot, cold, I don’t remember, just uncomfortable). Unfortunately, Dusty had just as little success as I did. After four hours at the church, we were marginally better off than before and continued on the march to Lewisburg. The only improvement was that our course was now cool, but our bodies and minds were exhausted.
When we finally hit the next gas station, it was obviously closed, but they had a picnic table and bench that we had only wished we had found to sleep on rather than our concrete slabs. We took a half hour nap here and continued marching towards Lewisburg. During this stretch, I discovered that I could almost sleep run and walk, just opening my eyes every few seconds to adjust to the road while my legs continued in automation. It was a slight improvement over my current condition. However, during this stretch we also took a nap behind a guard rail near the interstate and again on the steps outside of a movie store. Sadly enough, for the latter Dusty opined that we should take a rest or something similar and I was camped out on the ground before she even turned around. The walk into Lewisburg was a death march. Amusingly, we did pass a gentleman strutting during the dawn hours in a white t-shirt, boxers, and work boots. We both did a double take and confirmed with each other what we had just seen. Of course, he was moving much quicker than either of us. Eventually we made it to Huddle House, although it looked deserted and closed when we first approached. We both ate good meals (or at least, a normal meal by my standards…still not what I needed) in between napping at the table. Leaving Huddle House, the hotel was visible down the street. Oh, thank god.
We woke up the receptionist that was clearly sleeping in his room, but he handed us bottles of water and peanuts intended for the VS runners before giving us keys to our rooms. Unfortunately, by the time I got showered and cleaned up, it was too close to the two phone interviews I had previously scheduled to attempt sleep. Dealing with the confusion of my primary phone number being in and out of reception, I managed to get through the interviews and talk to a third school that I had previously interviewed at. I was immeasurably tired, but I thought the interviews went well and one sounded extremely impressed with my 314 mile race. Unfortunately, I never did get a job offer from any of those schools despite my best efforts (although in retrospect, I’d love to hear how coherent I actually sounded). Finally, I could get some sleep with the sole goal being recovery. Whenever we felt adequately recovered, we’d move on.
At some point, we walked from the hotel and got some tasty subs (well, I had one, others had more…). It felt fantastic to take even a five minute walk without that damn pack on my back! Afterwards though, Dusty was having some issues of her own. After our poor experience the night leading into Lewisburg, she had decided that she was going to stop in Shelbyville, adequately recover again overnight, and then carry on. I felt that I had done some of my better traveling at night when I was not at the mercy of the heat, and was reaching a big decision point. Would I leave Dusty behind? Could I? The thought was not pleasant, especially considering the suffering and camaraderie we shared. She stuck with me the day before when I was struggling and who knows how my departure from Lexington would have gone---how could I leave her? At best, I could see myself taking a few hours recovery in Shelbyville, but not as long as she intended and my gut was telling me that my next stop should be Manchester, a Herculean task considering how the previous few days had gone. That would also mean I would either be making a short run to Monteagle to recover, which would nullify the effort of pushing to Manchester, or pushing the 62 miles from Manchester to the finish, which would require an effort greater than anything I’d mustered to that point and who knew what my body was even running on at that point? I knew that I would finish, but I had no idea what my body had left. Still, that little voice was telling me I came out here to test my limits and I thought I could mount a strong finish, maybe even catch some people (Psyche, Texas Jeff)... I also knew that solo, I had no limits as to where I’d attempt to sleep as I had very little concern of being harassed, a feeling that I know is not shared by many of our female runners in today’s world. If I could get a few quick power naps along the road, could I do it?
As it would happen, the decision to stick with Dusty through Shelbyville would become a moot point. We left out of Lewisburg late in the afternoon, traveling very conservatively until the heat dissipated. We made consistent progress to White’s Market at mile 206, which was actually quite bare as new ownership was taking over. Still, they were happy to give us free water and I ordered some French fries which hit the spot (food, yay!). The manager was excited with the runners coming through as they don’t get much excitement through those parts. The store provided me a nice recovery, and then we were back out. However, a few miles later and Dusty’s calf started tightening up and she was visibly suffering through more than just discomfort. Sadly, we also picked up a dog that the owner had no desire to chase down and it followed us for the next several miles, running back and forth across the road halting traffic. I hope that poor dog found its way home or a better place to survive. Now, I was not about to leave Dusty behind and was not going to leave her laying along the side of the highway in pain—we had come too far together for that to happen. Fortunately, Stu had passed us about an hour prior and Dusty, deciding that the injury would not allow her to continue, was able to reach him for a ride back. We did a few easy miles, but shortly into Wheel, it was obvious that it was time to part. We exchanged a few quick words as I suffered from a severe bout of sunscreen in the eyes. I felt sick to my stomach leaving my teammate, despite the fact we had only known each other for 3 days. I’d always read about others talking about the relationships they develop during races, and I can honestly say that at that point in time I would have placed Dusty in that top echelon of friends. It’s quite amazing the rapid bonding process over the roughly 115 miles we shared together.
Quite upset, I took off down the road running. I sent in my evening update a short time later at approximately mile 212 and went on to have one of my most productive nights. Motivated by my sense of loss as well as an obligation to finish the race, I found another gear that had been hidden through the early stages of the race. I managed to stop at the gas station in Wheel just prior to closing, fueled up on a coke from a glass bottle (the absolute best) and topped off my water. I was ready for the night. The evening coolness was setting in and I was moving. I made my way rapidly into Shelbyville, although I felt obligated to satisfy my inner rebellious child by taking a 25 minute power nap behind a sign for “No Rest Park,” or something similar. I didn’t get much sleep, but it offered a chance to further calm my emotions and provided a boost of energy to propel me through Shelbyville. While I was laying there, a woman passed me by that I initially thought was Diane Bolton, but I found out was actually Terri Preast when I passed her a short time later with this newfound ability to run!
I made quick work of Shelbyville with a quick halt afterwards on the shoulder of U.S. 41 and Rte 64. Next stop, Wartrace. Continuing to feel energized, I pushed hard most of the way to Wartrace, although towards the end the distance began to seem never-ending and I felt myself again fatiguing. I took advantage of a little more of my “sleep walking” as my legs went into auto and I continued powering towards the town. I was looking for somewhere to take a nap, but couldn't really find anywhere comfortable. Then, I finally reached the gas station marking the entrance to Wartrace. They even had a bench! Unfortunately, it was right under the light and swarmed with bugs. I tried it, but between the light and bugs, it wasn’t going to work so I continued forward a short distance into Wartrace itself. Seeing the Wartrace motel, I decided I’d see if I could get a room for a couple hours. I tried the front door and seeing it locked, tried calling the phone number on the door only to get a message it was disconnected. McKenzie came back to my mind and I was not about to waste time getting into a hotel that was not even where I wanted to stop. Manchester was only 15 miles away! I stretched out onto a swing outside the hotel and got myself an hour of relaxation, although the train came through loudly at one stretch which I was later told occurred every two hours. Maybe it was a good thing I avoided stopping here.
After my siesta, I was still feeling tired, but slightly better off and it was still nice and cool. Now, I was alertly watching for the turn onto Knob Creek Rd. I couldn't imagine heading off onto the Strolling Jim course and adding extra miles. Fortunately, I did not miss any turns, but emotionally, I really don’t know if I could have handled that distress. As it was, I was forever looking for verification that I was on the right route. Sometimes after taking turns, it seemed like maybe I was on the wrong route as I never saw anyone and it seemed like I should at least see a road marker. I suffered more than a little anxiety throughout the entirety of the race praying that I was on the right road. Fortunately, I was. I made the turn on Knob Creek Rd. and continued on towards Manchester. This was another absolutely breathtaking stretch of road, although I was grateful to have been passing through in the early morning time.
While I was taking a rest stop, Jeff McGonnel came up behind me. He had spent the night in Wartrace and taken Psyche’s room. It made me wonder; maybe I’m not so far behind. I never expected to see Jeff again as he looked extremely strong on the first day and the last time I had seen him, he was jogging away with Sal Coll. Apparently Jeff had undergone his own series of trials and miseries, but he seemed to be on the mend and cheerful. We did a lot of shuffling along this stretch, but I was personally grateful to have another companion, if only for this stretch. With the distance we were covering, and our steady, but still slow pace, we could definitely feel the day heating up. We were excited to come across the Whispering Oaks campground, although I had mistakenly thought we passed that a few miles ago. It was difficult dealing with the excitement of having comfy shaded furniture and a drink machine with the knowledge that I was also a few miles behind where I thought I should be. Of course, I was faced with the harsh reality that the drink machine only took change. This was the first machine I’d come across that didn't take dollars and I had finally just spent nearly the last of my change as I could no longer handle the jingling. Jeff offered me the last of his change and I came up exactly ten cents short of a cool soda. That was a little devastating and I hadn't topped off my water since Shelbyville, nearly 20 miles earlier. 2 more miles to the next gas station!
Those miles were not easy, and once we hit U.S. 41, my legs were dragging considerably. It was with extreme excitement that we came upon the next gas station. I know, I was very excited to see a lot of things. Vol State is a race filled with many highs and lows. It’s amazingly silly how simple some of the highs and lows are, though. Wal-Mart is always a high—they have everything you could ever need! I got two bacon, egg, and cheeses at the gas station and although they tasted good, it was back to forcing the food down. Still, I was getting food down (and soda…of course). Leaving out of the gas station, I had lost all momentum. My feet were failing me and my ability to run was suddenly gone. The heat had arrived and was growing stronger. I watched Jeff run off into the distance, although I thought I might see him again as I knew he intended to recover in Monteagle. I was not envious of his day’s travels though, especially after doing the route myself. In the heat of day, that had to be miserable.
I was in pure survival mode—I knew I just had to get to the next hotel which was growing closer with every step. I also had an exciting moment, stopping outside of a convenience store to allow my feet a chance to dry the woman working there said a lady had come by only recently. Was I really that close to Psyche? A few days ago, I thought she was building an insurmountable lead. Now, I was really beginning to build hope of catching people in the last stretch. I had slowed down considerably, but I put in more than 30 miles overnight and felt capable of doing it again. I slogged through Manchester and was soon limping my way into a $35 hotel where it seemed like a single Indian woman was doing everything. I got a simple room, but it was clean, the bed was comfortable, and I was escaping the heat of the day before it really reached the hostile zone.
After about four or five hours, I was back on the move. The woman running the hotel was shocked to see me back already as she expected me to stay the night, but I had too much energy and adrenaline coursing through me to get a long sleep. She sent me off with water and a soda, although it was a Coke Zero. I greatly appreciated her kindness and excitement in helping me, but I could only manage a few sips and had to dump it shortly down the road. The taste isn’t the same and I don’t think I could stomach more soda without at least justifying putting calories into me, of which Coke Zero proudly declares it has none. Ahh! Now it was time to find some dinner. I stopped at Sonic for the first time and had probably my biggest meal of the race. I upsized the meal, had a milk shake and soda. I was on cloud nine. I also asked an employee which side of the road Wal-Mart was on and it turned out to be the same side as Sonic, although she commented it was three miles away (and I thought to myself, three miles, no problem). I don’t know where this misplaced confidence had come from. During this stretch, I passed David Wingard and Becky, who had been arriving at Lewisburg as Dusty and I were departing. I also passed what looked like Texas Jeff (I was on the opposite sidewalk, and not about to fight traffic there and back across to Wal-Mart!). Things were certainly looking up.
Hitting Wal-Mart, I knew this would be my last major stop. What would I need to make the finish? I picked up new socks as I was running low and hoped to find socks that would better wick moisture away from my feet (of which they were a wash, maybe slight improvement?) and a couple of cliff bars. They make a great meal on the go, acknowledging that they failed to fill my continuing and growing calorie deficit. I made my evening call in at 252, making 40 miles in the last 24 hours and not knowing where the next 24 might take me. I rumbled on down the street, made a phone call to my brother, and then disaster struck. That massive dinner I just ate would not settle down. If I could have puked, I think I would have felt worlds better, hours earlier, but I absolutely hate to puke! Not to mention, could I have afforded to lose all those calories? This led to perhaps my most awkward moment of the race. On a long and fairly unprotected stretch of road, I was ready to keel over as my stomach was in constant turmoil and I saw lightning looming ahead. Making probably the wrong choice, I found an unlit porch to stretch out on. No problem, until the residents came home. I mumbled out how I was on a long walk, I was feeling ill, and the weather looked bad…and as it processed in my head, promptly apologized and decided it was probably best to just be on my way. Yeah, awkward.
Still feeling awful, I laid out a solar blanket along a farmer’s field a little ways down the road and took two hours to recover. I was slightly frustrated considering I had not made much progress since starting out from the hotel. How quickly everything fell apart! I felt slightly improved after those two hours, but there wasn't much else I could do and I was not comfortable enough to make staying longer worthwhile so I moved on. Along the way, I grabbed a soda from a vending machine in Hillsboro. Gradually, I started feeling better, although it was another long and lonely stretch in Pelham. Using some running and just letting the legs churn thoughtlessly, I continued my relentless forward progress. I thought to myself that this stretch would have been murder during the heat. I kept thinking that I just need to make it to Pelham and I would find somewhere to sleep for a few more hours. Just need to make it to Pelham.
I had more or less decided at this point, I was going to continue through Monteagle without stopping but it would require finding some quality rest during the night. I stopped on the porch of Harry and Ollie’s Market Café. They had a comfortable rocking chair and I stretched my feet out onto another chair. Hearing the raving reviews of their supportiveness afterwards, I wish I had been around while they were open, but I could not allow myself to waste so much time without any progress. My time spent there was somewhat comfortable, as much as possible when you’re as cold and damp as I was. My little solar blanket was better than nothing, but not by much. After taking roughly three hours here, I continued on as the sun started to rise.
This stretch brought my scariest moment of the race. As I was walking towards Monteagle, on the proper side of the road, I heard squealing tires behind me and this beat-up white car went swerving by, shooting quickly to the left and right side of the road. There’s no question that driver was under the influence of something and he had me dead to rights. I had that quick “Oh shit” realization and was amazed he did not flip his own vehicle with as rapidly as he was swerving, clearly out of control. He disappeared down the road, only to return two or three minutes later. As the car went by me again, the driver made a quick irrelevant comment and I noticed how banged up the car was, including the passenger side mirror hanging on by threads. What else has this guy hit tonight? I grabbed his license plate number and called 911, only to have him back up his car a quarter mile down the road back to me again. Obviously stoned, he asked me where a food joint was, totally oblivious of the panic he had just given me. Still on the phone with 911, he’s like “Wait, are you on the phone with the cops?” I tried to play it off, but he took off. I can only hope the cops were able to catch him before he really did kill someone.
Compared to that, the rest of the journey to Monteagle was a cake walk. I ran, not just shuffled, but ran the last three miles to the base of the big climb. Ironically, I handled the big climbs and descent fairly well. I knew they were a set distance and would end. The rolling hills were far worse! I made a steady ascent into Monteagle and there were some awesome views off the mountain as well as the waterfalls and little streams going down alongside the mountain. I actually kind of enjoyed this climb. Time for next check-in and I was sucking down a smoothie and oatmeal in Monteagle McDonald’s. I killed about an hour at McDonald’s and saw Philip Min, Diane Bolton’s crew, which I had been seeing periodically since Hampshire. He said Diane stopped last night at the base of the hill, so I knew that would be a close race to the finish today (or so I thought). Feet again dried out, bag topped off, and I was ready to roll to Kimball.
I took a short stop at the last gas station in Monteagle to again fix my feet, but moved steadily into Tracy City. I knew if I was going to survive the heat, I needed to be conservative. I was doing intervals most of the day trying to keep a steady pace going and taking at least five to ten minutes each hour in the shade to keep my core temp from getting out of hand. Everything was going well, and then came the long unsupported stretch from Tracy City to Jasper--nearly 17 miles through the hottest part of the day. I topped off my water and picked up two extra bottles hoping that would be enough. If I could knock down four miles an hour, a very optimistic pace, I would still be exposed for over four hours. This stretch was very harrowing as I continued my steady progress and steadily drained my water bottles. I was thankful here that I had my last few S-Caps, too, as I was not taking in the food required to stay balanced and all I had were two cliff bars which were a bit lacking. Every couple stops I completely aired out my feet because they had reached the point that they were painful if even slightly moist. Unfortunately, the drying process only provided a few minutes of temporary relief from that. I did have one motivator through this stretch as Joshua Holmes drove through and said he would be there at my finish. At my finish—I’m almost there! I had also exchanged a few texts with Dusty and knew she was in Kimball and would also be there for my finish. I just needed to get to Kimball!
Starting to worry about my depleted water, I finally came upon the descent from Tracy City into Jasper. I didn’t think the descent was bad and cranked out some pretty descent running. I am still amazed at how fresh my legs were for running. I never really experienced any pain or soreness out of my legs, besides the obvious pain in my very swollen ankles and destroyed feet. Of course, I say it was easy, but then as soon as I reached the bottom I crumpled down under a canopy outside the Castle Rock Baptist Church. It just felt right. While I was crumpled, Dusty told me that Diane Bolton was near or had just passed the Super 8 in Kimball (and allegedly looked strong doing it). I thought that I could catch her and jumped back up quickly. A few minutes of running down the road quickly dispelled that notion. She must’ve gained three miles on me during that stretch between Tracy City and Jasper. Oh, the advantages of being crewed.
The last few miles into Kimball were much slower than the miles that had gotten me there. I was also rescued by another road angel. A young girl and her mother pulled along the side of the road ahead of me and brought me a glass of water. She said they saw me running by and didn't have time to put ice in and weren't sure if it would fit into my stuff. That was a non-issue as I chugged the coldest, best tasting glass of water I’d ever had. About a mile down the road, I was stopped again on a small rock wall when the same girl and her mother pulled in and gave me a 32 ounce Gatorade so that I had something I could take with me. The people of Tennessee are truly angels. I can’t say enough good things about their hospitality. I ate both of my remaining cliff bars in this stretch to try and absorb some of the fluids I had quickly ingested. There was a little sloshing, but not much.
Coming around the corner onto U.S. 64 I saw none other than Ray K running by me. I couldn't believe anyone could be running already after finishing the race. He nonchalantly passed me by, then came back and started asking questions about all those “guys running with flags.” It was amusing, but I clearly knew who he was. He said he was out figuring he’d run into me or Psyche, which meant I had finally caught her! He ran behind me for about a mile being very careful not to pull me along and to avoid pacing. Somehow, I think I was cranking out 9 minute something miles through this stretch. I passed John Price taking photos and Ray K stayed behind to talk at that point. Still, it was awesome to share the road with him if even for a few minutes. A short way up the road my body finally seized up and I stopped to rest. Needless to say, when I stood back up, my body never loosened back up for the remaining mile to the Super 8. That 300th mile was among one of the most painful of the race.
It was with great relief that I arrived in Kimball. Finding a place to stay, everyone was extremely friendly, although they also made sure to stay out of my unscrewed way. I grabbed some refreshing ice, completely re-taped my feet for the final stretch, and relaxed for the hour Dusty allotted me before I would get my butt kicked. My last evening update was sent in saying I would be leaving shortly for the final 14 miles of my voyage.
How cheerfully I traveled into the hell that would become my last 14 miles. Dropping all the “unnecessaries” from my bag, including my money, I passed by a couple of food places that all had really cold sodas. Oops. Before I even crossed the bridge, I felt a blister starting. The tape wouldn't stick because the air was so humid. Well, this should be interesting. Crossing the bridge was fun and beautiful, but as soon as I crossed the bridge, all the energy left in my body completed dissipated. My legs felt like they were shuffling in place although somehow I was still making progress. The only positive was that my pack was super light. Of course, I inhaled a liter of water before making it halfway to where I needed to be. Ugh, water problems again? I managed to stop in the last convenience store before Sand Mountain and in my pathetic state, at least managed to fill up my pack with tap water.
Still, that was only the beginning of the nightmare. I was dragging, even as I started my ascent up Sand Mountain. Internally I knew I needed food, energy, something. Should I check the garbage cans? Could I eat grass? Would I have to find a house with a light on and beg for some kind of sustenance? I felt so ridiculously stupid for making it this far into the race and just tanking. My body was finally failing me and the difference would have been a single soda. A resident driving up the mountain stopped to check on me as I was bent over in near death, but he had nothing to eat. He did say it was really cool what us runners did every year before telling me I only had five or six miles to go. At least, I was still coherent enough to know the last part was a sham. Then there were all the other runners headed to the rock to watch the finishes and none would grant me the blissful lie that I was getting close. In fact, they were all too blatantly honest in admitting that I really still had a ways to go. I was almost up Sand Mountain. How far could I possibly have left? By this time, I was starting to get dizzy and would just swish water around my mouth to trick my mind. My stomach was already starting to slosh, I was out of S-Caps, and knew more water would only make the situation worse.
I spoke with my fiancé and had her just talk at me for a little bit. She also made the mistake of telling my mother my current mental state. I soon had calls from my older brother and sister trying to walk me through it. While I appreciate the support, it was a little embarrassing having “my moment” broadcast out to the world. Then, I saw it, the turn onto CR 312 that would take me home to the rock. Oh how grateful I was to see that. Still in a state of delirium, I was still carefully looking at houses deciding if I should go beg for some kind of sustenance. I was so close and did not believe my body would make it. Then I trudged to the Castle Rock gate. Getting closer. Still, all I wanted to do was sit down and recover, but I just kept the legs moving painfully, the blisters on my feet had clearly multiplied in the final humid march after crossing the bridge. I harnessed the pain to help me up the mountain, but now they were only another painful reminder of how terrible I felt. I made my way into the cornfield, turned at the radio tower, and continued towards the woods.
A miraculous thing happened when I hit the woods. My dizziness vanished and every ounce of my being said let’s finish this. I slid along the side of the mud and kept up a good pace, although the woods didn’t sound like they were this long or twisty in Laz’s description. Fortunately, there were signs pointing me in the right direction. I felt like I was running an effortless high seven or eight minute pace. There was no pain. My body had a burst and bounce to it. My steps got longer as my legs kicked out with agility and power. It was incredible. Then I entered the clearing where I saw the tent for the finish. Carl walked me over to the rock where I got down and gave it a big kiss. I made it. As soon as I stood up, all the pain returned and the pain of my left ankle was immeasurable. All the pain that I had borne stoically for the last two hundred miles was completely overwhelming. My body couldn’t handle any of it. Fortunately, it was over and I limped my way to the throne where I was given the most refreshing coke of my life. I was a Vol-State finisher.
Conclusion and Lessons Learned
I finished my race in 7 days, 16 hours, 1 minute, and 53 seconds. The journey lived up to everything that I hoped and expected, although I certainly underestimated the discomfort, if it is even possible to imagine without having first experienced it. I remember joking that it’s just 30 miles a day, at three miles per hour, that’s only 10 hours a day. How hard can that be?
The first thing I will say is thank you to everyone involved with the race including participants, Laz and Carl, Mike Dobies, the residents along the race course, and the other multitudes that I’ve missed who provided support along the way. It was amazing the efforts everyone went through to help each other and make the race special. I enjoyed running alone, but I think many of my favorite moments were when I was sharing the road with other unscrewed runners. The Vol State runners are not just competitors, but truly do become family, albeit a slightly mentally unstable family, but a family nonetheless. Even my fiancé was amazed at the interest in the race, especially after the top five finishers were done. Up until the race was over, everyone continued to cheer for those still participating. It is a totally humbling, inspiring, and rewarding experience.
I learned a great deal about feet care. My initial blister kit was fine for emptying the blisters, but I did not have any idea how to properly prevent or treat them when I did. My regular training will incorporate some wet feet training, just to condition my feet to tolerate moisture and to identify any potential hotspots well in advance. I will have a better sock plan to keep well fitting and dry moisture wicking materials on my feet, as well as allowing my feet time to air dry whereas I didn't start doing that enough until the end and most of the damage was done. Lastly, I will have better tape and practiced better methods of wrapping my feet. Hopefully, I can better prevent my feet from getting destroyed in the future. If not, I will certainly know how to properly fix them.
My next big issue is figuring out how to take in food during long races like this. Obviously, trying some longer ultras will help learn what my body can ingest, in addition to conditioning my body for somewhat similar type efforts. I probably started the race at 142ish pounds and weighed in around 130 when I got home, and that’s on a scale that sometimes adds a pound or two. I don’t know if that initial 130 comprised any water from swelling, but that’s nearly 10% of my body weight wiped in just over a week. That’s not healthy and I think my recovery has suffered because of how much damage my body took. I definitely burned through my fat stores, but I have little doubt that I cannibalized some muscle, too. Even if I have to snack continuously on cliff bars or something next time, I need to be ingesting a LOT more calories beyond sodas (which is a habit I really need to break now). Who knows, if I could take in food regularly, I might even be able to do the last 10k without having a total mind and body meltdown!
Another consideration for next time would be to do more running! I would advise others to start running or shuffling right from day one. At the end of the race, my feet hurt too badly to continuing walking. It was way easier to shuffle and a lesson I realized too late. I think shuffling, besides the fact I would cover ground more quickly, my legs and feet probably would have been much fresher throughout the race. I was shocked at how quickly the body recovered from short breaks and how the ability to run got stronger throughout the race. I started too conservatively in the race and I think that was to my detriment. Now, that’s not to say I would advise making it to Laz and Carl at the 20 mile marker in three hours, but certainly faster than I did this year. More running also means less time potentially exposed between water stops in the heat and maintaining less water on my person. Maybe this race will force me to acknowledge that I’m a runner, but I really have absolutely no running talent. I’m just a bit stubborn and enjoy getting out of the house to cover ground with nothing but my own two feet. To increase my running time, I need more training. My highest average weeks are still only in the 50 mile range and I ran less than 100 miles the month prior to the race. I had nearly met that total in the first 48 hours of the race. Need to be better conditioned!
Well, this is a wrap for the longest race report I’ve ever seen and the only one I’ve ever written. I covered most things in entirety, although believe or not some small details and many conversations were omitted from this race. Vol State 2013 was everything it was rumored to be and more, and most importantly, I finished what I started and met my goals. Congratulations to all the other runners out there, however you ran it—relay, crewed, or unscrewed. It certainly takes courage to tackle an endeavor of this size and even those that didn't make the finish, I salute you. My brother intends to run next year, and who knows, if July is open…crazier things have happened.