Brad's Last Annual Vol State – 2013
Though it has been since April, 2012 since I've last run in an organized event, I still dread the presence of The Voices. I expect to hear early and often from them; they have been a continuous presence in my ultra-events for several years. My lay-off from running began with a strained adductor muscle in my right leg and it has taken a long time to heal. By The Voices, I don't mean the little doubts that can nag a runner before and during a race. The Voices come from a deeper and darker place inside me and bring to the surface every flaw of my character, the flaws that have made me less the runner than I could be at any given event, that have made me think that a shower would make all the pain in my world go away; that if I would just quit running, I could eat watermelon with abandon. The Voices make me promises that take me out of the moment, and diminish the present with thoughts that if I ever finish this thing I will never do this myself ever again; that I will settle for shorter distances from now on; or that once this race is over I will devote my time and energies and heart to something worthwhile; etc, etc, ad nauseum... I expect to hear a lot from The Voices in the days ahead.
The Vol State (TVS) is an uncouth boxer, one who refuses to touch gloves at the beginning of the fight, who times his exit from his corner so that he is in the middle of ring by the time the bell sounds, who comes out swinging with relentless abandon.
By the time I reach the State Line, I've encountered a surprising number of little hills, early morning humidity, very narrow berms with rumble strips grooved in, all topped with a flurry of semi traffic hauling grain trailers. TVS has made me blink; made me change my game plan less than five miles into the race. The Discipline of the Watch, my masterplan to run seven miles then walk three for as long as possible, is already rubbish.
I take my first break on a swing in front of an empty building in the center of State Line and watch some runners pass. That is part of my game plan that I will not abandon; when the need arises, take a break. This is a very long race and pushing myself early isn't going to do me any favors later.
Just north of State Line I feel things slipping out of the back of my running vest. I knew this was a possibility, so I pick up the leaf bag, clear bag of extra running clothes, and whatever else has dropped out and head for a shade tree off the highway. I take the opportunity to lie on my back and actually rest, and the restorative power to body and spirit are encouraging. On my third stop as I enter Union City, Ray K, a legend in this sport, asks me if I want and will use some free advice. I assure him I will, and he tells me to sleep with my feet above my head, to help my heart recover. I take his advice as often as possible for the rest of the race.
My first pit stop at Union City (Mile 20) is also my first attempt to fill my bladder from a fountain machine. They are kind enough to bring out more ice, thanks largely to a regular customer's request, and also because they are genuinely good kids working the place. I also purchase a cranberry drink and a bottle of Sprite and mix them. Several other runners stop by and do what they need to do. My first Convenience Store1 experience goes off pretty well.
I walk just ahead of John Price and another runner through the town square, John correcting me when I head towards the wrong side of the courthouse. He tells me the book2 is accurate and that I might want to use it. I have the book, but mine is encased in a plastic ziplock and is not only a lot of trouble to get to, but it is also a souvenir. I had asked everybody I could find associated with the race to sign it the night before at the The Last Supper, and I didn't want it soiled during the race. In contrast, I know other runners have torn theirs into individual pages, discarding whatever sections they don't want.
At the courthouse in Union City.
I make decent progress towards Martin (mile 30). TVS has turned up the heat, enough so to give Jim Ball a bad set of cramps as we approach an underpass at the 20-mile mark. He cannot stand, and any attempt Charlie Taylor and I make to help him up only worsens the pain. Carl and Laz, a few hundred feet away sitting in lawn chairs in the shade of the overpass, are helpless as they cannot assist a self-supported runner, who does not want his status changed to being a “crewed” runner.3
Jim Ball safely reaching the shade of the underpass
Laz, Carl, and Jeff McGonnell
It is early afternoon when I reach Martin and there are signs the heat is taking its toll. I remember having trouble deciding between Burger King or McDonald's, and criss-crossing four lanes of highway trying to make up my mind. I know I should eat, but food doesn't sound all appealing, so I go with McD's, as I am a little more familiar with their fountain set-up. I order a really large Coke and see Jeff McGonnell sitting, enjoying the AC and working on his feet. I join him and quickly put away two very large cups of fluid. We sit, talk with each other and a couple of locals, and then I start working on filling my bladder and bottles.
On the road to Martin...
Things go downhill very quickly. I am feeling chilled and a bit nauseus, and Jeff is ready to move, so we move along. Within a few hundred yards, up comes a prodigious amount of fluid, most of which goes right over the bridge railing into a small creek. I find some shade on a nice lawn that belongs to a local campus and stretch out for yet another nap, Jeff continuing on. I take off my shoes and socks and let my feet air out, a strategy I learned from Paul Lefholz, a two-time finisher of the event.
I stop yet again before I leave Martin, hoping to find something that I can hold down and that will provide me some energy for the next 10 miles to Dresden. A slurpy/slushy sounds good, but ends up little help. I have over-cooked myself in the first 30 miles of the race, and now I am resigned to a long march on an empty stomach and playing catch-up with the runners that have moved along. Not respecting the heat and humidity and my big over-indulgence at McD's had cost me three hours!
Just outside of Martin, I sit down by the edge of the road yet again and try to figure out where I am for the first 12-hr check-in. I text what I think my progress is to Carl (35 miles), only to learn later that Carl never receive any of my texts. Of all the phone numbers to transpose wrong when I entered names and numbers into my Contact List, his would he the one! I also call Laura and tell her I am struggling but moving, and then meander onwards. I can see TVS smiling, content with the amount of damage he has already wrought in the early rounds of the fight.
It is turning dark as I enter Dresden (Mile 40), but someone who knows the race has pointed orange arrows directing the runners through town. Some runners are stopping at the motel there, but I have time to make up. As I head out of town, I find a small Church of Christ with a huge front porch, and that becomes my first bed. The welcome mat isn't much more comfortable than the concrete, but I feel confident that I won't be bothered here by anybody, or by the heavy dew I'm anticipating.
I sleep about two hours before moving on towards Gleason. The course now follows an old state route that has been relegated to county road status, but even at night there is still some traffic. When I need to, I stretch out on somebody's asphalt driveway with my feet elevated, often my head within five feet of the road. I feel safe; who drives off road into people's driveways?
That is another weapon in TVS's arsenal of punches – Tennessee drivers. Many are very polite, but many see no need to move their Continentals or full-sized pick-ups a few inches toward the center of the road, even if they are facing no oncoming traffic! Turn signals apparently must be conserved, so it becomes a bit of a guessing-game when meeting up at an intersection. Needing to be alert to, wary of, and second-guessing what the vehicle next to you might do takes a lot of concentration and energy.
Still, the people of Tennessee have no money wagered on this fight, and for the most part they are just kind-hearted soles a bit amused by us and maybe even a bit in awe. TVS could use their bad driving form against us at times, but he couldn't use their hearts.
I sleep some more at a Baptist Church on the southern edge of Gleason (Mile 48). As I lay down with my body on the grass and my feet on the parking lot pavement, Wayne McComb comes up to let me know he is there also. Wayne has had some scary encounters with a driver on the road, and isn't too sure about some of the kids he has seen when he first arrives in town, whether they'll let him alone while he sleeps or not. I thank him for letting me know he is there and fall asleep. I have brought a huge lawn/leaf bag along to sleep on (to prevent chiggers from getting me) but I end up using it as a blanket as often as I as a mat. I was chilled. When I leave, I wear my light rain poncho just to help retain body heat.
An hour or so later, I am on my way to McKenzie (Mile 57). More dark county road, more beautiful stars in the sky, more fireflies, and at times, more stereophonics from the frogs in the wet spots along the roads and fields. I feel rejuvenated and lucky to be out of doors instead of asleep in a room with a fan and air-conditioner sheltering me from all these wonderful sights and sounds.
At dawn, I reach McKenzie. I purchase some more Cranberry juice and another Sprite and mix them outside along the edge of the building. The store is freezing, somebody apparantly leaving the AC on full force through the night, so there's little rest, and finding nothing to eat in McKenzie, I move on towards Huntingdon (Mile 67).
TVS has a cute little rope-a-dope trick he likes to play. First, you set a goal, say, Huntingdon. He follows that by showing you a water tower in a gap of the hills off in the distance. You walk or run for another hour or so, and still have yet to once again see that water tower. Another hour or two goes by, still no Huntingdon water tower. And then he moves off the ropes and starts shining that little sun of his right down on your tired and confused head. He's a sadistic little twirp...
I check-in someplace on the 4-lane highway north of Huntingdon, about Mile 60, and then call Laura. Charlie Taylor runs past me as I share with Laura about the night behind and the day ahead. I take some comfort from the fact that he is passing me; I had him figured as miles and miles ahead.
I have three goals for Huntingdon: refill my bottles and bladder, find a real breakfast, and find a post-office to mail some stuff home that I've decided I probably won't going to need. After walking another two hours, I reach the courthouse square, and opt to pass by the Mallard Cafe for a fast food joint on the south edge of town. Fortunately, I top off my bottles at the community office building where the police station is located (a John Price idea he had shared on the bus trip to the starting line). I see the Post Office building, but learn it has been converted to some attorney's office, the PO having moved out on the by-pass. I also learn to my chagrin that there is no fast food place heading south out of town. I isn't too late to turn back to the Mallard, and I probably should have done so, but I still don't know how I'll respond to food, or what I'm hungry for. I do learn of a motel less than a mile away, and I am debating stopping there for a few hours of real rest. The fact that it was only mid-morning doesn't seem to make that a bad idea at all, which might be saying quite a bit about my reasoning skills at the moment.
Dusty Hardman is sitting under the motel canopy in a comfortable-looking rocking chair as I walk up. She is coming off her own bit of a downer, having taken a right-hand turn when she should have gone straight, bringing her right back to the point, this point, where she had just been an hour or so before. I go inside to check out the cost of a room, but it is more I think I can justify for just a few hours of air-conditioned and cushioned sleep. (Later, cost would cease to be an issue, but life-long habits die hard). I suck it up, dreading the push in the hot sun to Parkers Crossing, but step back outside to face the inevitable. Dusty is ready to push ahead also and agree we can walk or run together.
We are both fighting a huge, ugly fight for control of our wills and beings. It isn't two-against-one; us against TVS, it isn't like that. It's hard to explain, but he can fight everyone everywhere all at the same time, and relish the extra pain and suffering he can dispense.4 It is more like, for the time we are together, that she is in my corner shouting out tips and encouragement, and I am doing the same for her from her corner. Shortly before the two-lane rejoined the four-lane, we come upon a big Baptist church and see a hose from a spigot. I need to refill my bladder, and Dusty has both the quarter and the McGyver skills necessary to make the broken knob turnable.
The sun is shining down on us hard, without relief from tree or cloud, for most of the march to Parkers Crossroad. We find a little store on the opposite side of the road which looks like it might sell something cold, but all they have is soda pop. It is a consignment shop, not a C-Store. We enjoy our cold drinks and conversation with a local resident who acts completely amazed when Dusty learns that Laz and Carl are in Lexington taking photos and talking to runners. Sal stops and we see Charlie moving towards us also. We head out on the highway, walking on the “wrong side” of the road when Laz and Carl stop, got out of their air-conditioned mini-van, and yell at us to walk on the “right side” of the road.
Who? Us? Oh oh...I think we're in trouble
We cross over and chat a little, Dusty using a trying to no avail to explain our reasoning for wlking on the wrong side of the road. Dusty is having problems with her leg, and walking on the slight angle of berm isn't helping things. We think walking on the other side of the road, where the berm angles the opposite way, might provide some relief. So much for that idea...
Crossing to the 'right' side of the road
I book my first motel room at Parkers Crossroad (Mile 82), call Laz to tell him where I will be at check-in time, and sleep soundly for about four hours, heading back out on the road around 10:30pm. I make good time moving into Lexington (Mile 92), and there started running east on US 412, heading towards Parsons (Mile 107), which I reach as dawn breaks. A church marquee still says “Happy Birthday America” so I start singing “Happy Birthday” and “God Bless America” out loud. I was feeling really, really good. Yesterday had been a tough day, a down day, but Dusty had been great to walk and talk with those long 15 miles from Huntingdon, and the sleep had been just what I needed. I knew from my research before the race that there would be multiple downs, but that there would be “ups” also, and it was good to be patient, and from my frame of reference, to keep trusting that God was cheering for me and wanted me to succeed.5
My 36-hour check-in shows me at Mile 82. My 48-hour check-in will be at Mile 107. It has been a good night, but only 47 miles were covered in the 24-hour period, and that isn't very impressive.
Between Lexington and Parsons...
I find an open Sonic and order a sausage burrito with an apple juice and a small coffee. The coffee doesn't do much for me, but the rest of the meal is awesome! The kind soul managing actually brought me out two extra apple juices for free, just because she knew it was supposed to be such a hot day. I check-in, still using the wrong phone number, and then call Laura, but can't make contact, so I continue on US 412 towards the first crossing of the Tennessee River (Mile 114).
Our first crossing of the Tennessee River: Perryville
There will always be times when hindsight is 20-20, and crossing the river to stop at the store on the opposite side instead of stopping at the somewhat older store on the near side will prove such a moment. I want a Squirt, but they don't sell Squirt. The ice machine at the fountain is out of ice and the man in charge has no intention of re-filling it sfor a cheap-skate runner. This upset me, as our whole bus full of people had stopped here enroute to the starting line and many had made purchases. I want to buy something, but he has nothing I want to eat or drink. Another “UP” is heading south...
From under the pavilion at the store on the east side of the river...
The next stretch of road will be narrow, rolling, generally uphill, with little place to run when cars refuse to share the road. I labor to make time, but as my energy wanes, so do my spirits. I stop frequently for breaks under shade trees or on driveways, once quipping to myself, “I don't believe I have seen a shade tree I don't need to sample.” The mere 11 miles to Linden seem to take hours and hours. One passer-by offers me a piece of pizza, which I stoopidly decline, another 20-20 moment, but he is not on a safe enough stretch of highway to stop in the road and let me make up my mind, and I am rational enough to know that, and I wave him on.
A runner had booked a room in Linden (Mile 125) and left it early in the day, emailing us to let us know it was available. A couple of us stop by, I think to the proprietor's chagrin, and catch a couple of hours of air-conditioned rest. As I leave the motel, Carl snaps my photo and tells me I am traveling below the radar; no one is receiving my updates except for the time I called Laz to check in. I am a little baffled by this, but continue on my way believing the problem is with my cell phone, ATT, or Carl. Again, dumbly, I refuse some food offered by Psyche, some kind of dumplings that probably would have been tasty and very helpful.
Carl snaps my photo as I leave Linden
These are the kinds of conditions under which The Voices love to sing! Fatigue, bad decisions, questionable judgments, dread of what's ahead: Where are The Voices? Why am I still relatively positive, opimistic and living in the moment?
Maybe my training is part of the answer. I had lost twenty pounds in three months, logged a six-day streak that totaled 150 miles, ran fifty miles on two Saturdays before that, and had three 90+ mile weeks. My diet had changed subtly, the biggest difference being an increased consumption of eggs and ice cream (though not together). Snack foods and breads weren't eliminated, but I consumed far less of them. Most important, I ran when family, work and church allowed me to run. Instead of using them as excuses to not get my miles in, I gave them more priority (there were several viewings, changes in work schedule, and my Sunday morning duties), but still found a way, usually, to get the miles in. My training didn't begin in earnest until we returned from our mid-April trip to Belize. A longer preparation period might have been nice, but the extended winter weather made it difficult to get started. I also added certain stretches, planks, and some other mild core work to my regimen, the first time I'd done so with any extended vigilence. Finally, other hobbies went on hold. I love to read, but I've completed one book in the last two months. F1 was once a passion of mine, but now I'd record the races and forget to watch them. The garden was in horrible shape. Vol State became a priority, a major priority, but not the only major priority.
The excitement for finishing this race is still very much alive, and as hard as it was proving to be, nothing else appears more attractive at the moment, including a shower, watermelon, or engaging in some other activity that may be regarded as “more productive” by society.
TVS can tell I am approaching every round with a little less enthusiasm, energy, and intensity. He takes the opportunity to turn on the late afternoon heat. I stop at the last lonely store between Linden and Hohenwald and see Wayne again. We chat while we drink and rest up. He is having a rough moment also but still has game. Someone else walks by while we are there, and I think it is Sherry, but I never find out for sure. I leave the store hoping to keep my head together for the 12 miles ahead.
What I remember about this section:
- taking the liberty to stretch my back on somebody's picnic table under their pavilion and wondering if they minded
- heat (sheet) lightning in the sky ahead of me for miles and miles, but no threat of rain
- what sounds like somebody with very loud 4-wheelers, or pick-ups out muddin, in the woods off to my left, and me wondering if I am going to have trouble with somebody deciding to have their fun at my expense and how I am going to handle it. This sound goes on for miles, getting louder and louder, yet as I approach the top of hill upon hill, I see nothing to indicate the source of the activity, until...
I remembered that Hohenwald (Mile 143) not only has motels, it also has a race track, and this is Saturday night! Anyone who lives within five miles, maybe more, can hear the cacaphony of engines. As I approach the edge of town, the sound is very, very loud, and I almost pity those who have bought/built homes so close to the facility, as I'm one who tends to turn in early, even on Saturday nights.
There was a store across from the track entrance, and I stop there to rest, refill my bottles, and drink some chocolate milk.6 Charlie stops by also, and he is in excellent spirits. He's thinking he will string his hammock up in the town gazebo and get some sleep; I'm debating getting a room.
As I approach the eastern edge of town, it is decision-time: do I stay or do I go? I see Sal getting some ice and a Coke at the motel, and I ask him the cost. In retrospect, it wasn't so expensive, but I'm not desperate enough yet. Also, this is night time, and though I am very sleepy, the cooler night-time hours are when I need to rack up some miles. I turn back into town, find the gazebo, and sleep on tje park bench underneath it for a couple of hours. These are not comfortable naps, and at times the legs let me know they don't appreciate being contorted to fit the furniture, and I leave an hour or so later not feeling a whole lot better.
I am walking on the wide berm of a 4-lane road. I am swerving left and right. There is little to no traffic; getting hit is not a huge worry, that is, unless I literally fall asleep on my feet and wander into the path of an oncoming vehicle. I am making little progress, finding too many reasons to lie down in somebody's driveway for a chance to stretch or nap. I need more sleep.
It might have been my second, maybe even my third such stop, and I am sort of asleep, when I hear singing. This is not one of The Voices; I am not hallucinating. I see a headlamp.7 It's Joseph, and he's walking down the highway singing! I think I see him before he sees me and I ask him, “are you a road angel?”8
Joseph and I walk together for quite a while; I need somebody to help me stay awake. He also encourages me when he tells me that I have covered a lot more distance since leaving Hohenwald than I had imagined. Near the Natchez Trace Parkway underpass, we came upon a small state park, and Joseph knows that Joel is there, nursing some pretty painful foot issues, and maybe even considering dropping.9 Joel hobbles out to meet us wearing a pair of flip flops and we decide to trudge along together, but not until I grab one of the free Cokes that the park has on ice for the benefit of the runners.
Joel is actually moving along pretty well, and eventually we pull away from Joseph, who is soon going to meet his crew. We travel for several hours, approaching the town of Hampshire (Mile 161) as day breaks. We check in before reaching town: I have covered over 30 miles during the 12-hr night-time stint. I needed that!
Joe and his tireless yet very tired crew. What troopers!!!
Joel and I find a pop machine in town and I select a Yoohoo. This is Sunday and nothing is open, or was going to be open, for quite a while. A young lady stops by to get a soft drink also, and she affirms our suspicion that there will be no commercial activity in town for a few hours, if at all, but... the men at the Gentlemen's Club are next door and they might have something they'd share. So, Joel and I meander next door and spend a delightful thirty minutes or so resting while we talk with the men.10
The Gentlemen's Club in Hampshire
Taking our leave, we head towards Columbia (Mile 177). We have passed the half-way point, and I'm feeling a change in my spirit. It's no longer “will I make it?,” or “I'm at Mile xx,” but now it's “I have xxx miles to go, how long is it going to take me?” We take a few breaks along the way, but our progress is steady and sure. Joel is dealing well with all of his issues and keeps me updated on where we are at in terms of distance from Columbia.11
It's hot and humid, and we've been marching all night. There is less and less internal debate in my mind about getting a room in Columbia. I would love to split the cost, but regardless, I'm going to need some serious recovery time, four or five hours! Joel is thinking along the same lines. He needs some supplies to deal with his chafing. I am also running low on water in my bottles and I am keeping a sharp eye out for a house with a garden hose and somebody outside to ask permission from to use it. A man does leave his garage in his truck and I catch him at the end of his driveway, and he grants permission without hesitation. The water isn't very tasty, thanks to the hose, but it will work.
Joel Gatt, my partner in crime for a considerable distance.
We stop at the first store we come to, which is near a college, but there is no seating. I order some very crispy and salty bacon and another chocolate milk and consume them sitting outside on the sidewalk. I also get some more ice and water. From here we move to Hardee's and order a wrap, which is very good. I also get a large sweet tea, but I'm smart enough this time to sip it and end up only drinking half. Eventually, we make our way to the other side of town to the motel. At this point, I push ahead, my plan being to get the room and get my shower out of the way so that Joel can take whatever time he needs to address his issues. The plan works great, except I don't have Joel's number plugged into my contact list so I can call him and tell him what room we are in.12
I leave Columbia and Joel sometime around 10pm, feeling very well rested. I actually run a little as I left town. Within minutes, a police car pulls over and the officer rolls down his window. He remembers seeing me the night before on the road into Hohenwald and wants to know if I need anything. I thank him for stopping but assure him I am fine. A little while later, a mini-van pulls over, and it is the same officer, this time in civilian clothes, and he offers me some Poweraid, a yogurt smoothie, and a popsicle-type thing in a plastic tube. I take the yogurt and popsicle with profound gratitude; they hit the spot.
I move on to Glendale, the home of the “Bench of Despair” store, and see Richard Westbrook taking a nap. I also meet Shelly, who is traveling the course keeping track of several of the runners. She takes a picture of Richatd and I on the bench and I remember telling her about a New Riders of the Purple Sage song about the Glendale train being robbed and how Jerry Garcia played steel guitar on it and she nods ever so kindly and politely, but has to tell me she's never heard of NRPS or the song about the Glendale Train.13
Shelly, at the Bench of Despair store
The run from here to Culleoka (Mile 186) is probably my favorite part of the course. I'd like to go back some day and see it in the day light. The next section, to the I-65 overpass (Mile 196), is almost as pleasant, and I stop at a closed down store to rest my legs before moving on towards Lewisburg (Mile 200).
TVS uses the hills, the 4-lane w/ wide berms, and a bit of Vol State history to make this fighter slip-up emotionally. These four miles into Lewisburg seem to take forever. Hill upon hill is climbed in anticipation of seeing city lights once you reach the top, but there are none, just more hills. This 4-lane looks a lot like a by-pass: Did I take the infamous Lewisburg by-pass also?14 I'm tired and I'm hungry, and right now I'd settle for a soft drink just to get me to the next place that serves real food, but for the longest time, this is nothing but countryside, and I'm not sure if I'm on the right road.
Arriving in Lewisburg, the 4 lanes with wide berms become narrow 2 lanes with no berms. There is also nothing open. In fairness to the proprietors, it's only 4am. I do find a Sundrop machine and get a can of Yoohoo outside a liquor store, which gives me a little energy with which to carry on. I pass through to the east edge of town, hearing roosters crowing in the back yards of some houses, until I reach the Huddle House, which is closed! TVS is laughing hysterically. Not only is the fighter famished, tired and discouraged, there's now more narrow two-lane, heavy got-to-get-to-work traffic, and the morning sun for him to deal with.
I'm plodding my way eastward, when I come across a little store that says it serves meals. This is White's Market in Farmington (Mile 206). One runner is leaving the building as I approach; I wave and enter in for one of the most pleasant experiences of my journey. The guy running the place for the day asks if I need anything to eat, but nothing under the heat lamps looks like what I'm hungry for. I ask him if he can cook me three or four eggs, and he says he can. I ask him if he can add onions, and he says he can if he has any. (He does). I spend an hour there, hearing about the history of the market and the plans to bring it back to what it once was. I pay, surprised at how cheap it is, and move onwards, but within a half-mile I have to turn back. I've left my rain poncho sitting on the bench! I take the opportunity to leave the guy a tip for the excellent service and he gives me a type of cloth that I can use to either absorb sweat or soak in ice water and leave on my head or neck.
As I head towards Shelbyville (Mile 225), the day heats up. I stop at a small church to attend to my feet. I pop a blister and decide to change socks. Down the road another few miles near Bedford I find a nice deli-store that has sit-down dining and I ask the lady my options. She doesn't have cole slaw but she has chicken salad and that suits me just fine. This is the kind of store that invites people to come in and spend some time, as well as money, and theytreat me very well.15
It's not until early afternoon that I reach Shelbyville, and I enter the first store I come to. The employees and a couple of customers give me a round of applause. They tell me exactly what mile I'm at, which was pretty cool. I purchase chocolate milk and two mammoth popsicle-like items; I also ask the clerk if there is someplace I can sit and if I can turn her fan and blow it directly on me. She grants all my requests. Eventually, I move on, stopping at yet another store for some drink and to top off my bladder. Leaving town, I meet Abi, who is taking pictures for the race crew. I sat next to her son on the bus ride over and I share with her some of the advice her son had shared with me, which of course she already knows because she had shared it with him.
Wartrace (Mile 232), another stop, this time the proprietor makes me a tuna-salad sandwich which is awesome, and I try a frozen Sundrop drink, which is a disappointment. Wartrace has public bathrooms available in the downtown area, and for the first time in several days, my bowels are telling me that they have business they need to conduct and could I please find them an appropriate place to conduct that business. I check in, having logged yet another 27-mile 12-hour split, the same as the previous time period.
Leaving Wartrace, the course turns country, county roads replacing highways. I love the fast-moving brook the runs alongside the road and reading the Civil War marker at the intersection of Knob Creek Rd. The sky is darkening, and I encounter a few raindrops, so I head for an open barn across a newly mown hayfield. The rain seems to let up quickly, and I'm treated to a lovely double rainbow. I walk back across the wet field onto the road, proceed a few hundred yards, when the skies decide to really open up. The poncho is sufficient to protect me and my gear, and I trudge on. This heavier shower doesn't last long either, but long enough that I am really glad I had gone back to retrieve the poncho earlier that morning.
Come in she said, I'll give you, shelter from the storm
It turns dark; I'm looking for a campground not far from US 41; I'm not reaching it and I'm starting to believe that I've walked past it; it takes forever to go so very few miles. John told us on the way over that the campground has a pop machine, and I'm desperate for more sugar and caffeine. Finally...there it is, and I find the pop machine which sits in a breeze-way between two buildings, which campers walk through to get to the pool, the pool which is no temptation, but the couch opposite the pop machine in the breezeway, which is, and to which I succomb for about two hours of the most uncomfortable sleep I have ever experienced on a couch. I have vivid dreams: veterans of Vol States past are talking amongst themselves in my presence about how they don't tell newbies about this couch, not out of selfishness or meanness, but because they're doing them a favor, it's that uncomfortable. The dream is very real-like, and I felt like I had been given access to privileged information.
Leaving the campground, I soon turn onto US 41 and head towards Manchester (Mile 243), into which I arrive around 3:30am. After another two hours of walking,16 I finally reach the McDonalds where I order a burrito and some chocolate milk (which is no better than the Purity brand, in my mind). It is still dark when I head on towards Hillsboro (Mile 258), where I ask a couple of guys sitting in a fabrication shop doorway what time it is. Back around Bedford, my stopwatch ran into its upper limit of 100 hours, so I reset it, but now I am having trouble remembering what math I need to do to translate stopwatch time to real time. They tell me it is 6am. I stop for a half-cup of coffee but want to reach Pelham (Mile 267) before I stop for breakfast in Pelham (Mile 267).
After miles of ups and downs, more hide-and-seek with water towers, and a growing appetite, I arrive in Pelham, maybe around 8:30am. There is a little store/restaurant which advertises a small campground on premises, and a gentleman is sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. He speaks first and I ask him if they serve breakfast and he assures me 'he' did. Welcome to Harry and Ollie's. I want pancakes, and he tells me he can make me pancakes, but that they probably weren't the best things available, so I ask for eggs and a sausage pattie. The coffee is the best I have had the entire race. His wife joins us before we part ways, and I tell her about the race and its Facebook page. She gets all over that in the hours ahead, and I other runners stop by. They are kind enough to extend their hours, put free ice water out for us, and even offer one runner a shower and a nap in their RV.
Nourished and encouraged, I head for the climb up Monteagle, which is actually fun. I take a break at a VFW post, lying on a picnic table behind the building, enjoying the shade and a light breeze. As I return to the road, Stu and Scott stop and tell me that I've got a big lead on the next runner behind me, but that I probably won't be able to catch the two runners, Josh and Jim, who are several miles ahead. I haven't really thought much about the competition side of things since I passed Ray K west of Lewisburg, and honestly, I havn't missed it, but I am relieved that I am in no immediate danger of being passed.
During the climb up Monteagle...
The town of Monteagle (Mile 274) proves to be a huge dissapoint for me. I can't find a store that has anything I want to eat, and some of the ones I stop in want to sell me ice for my bladder, or don't have a fountain section at all! I leave the main drag wanting to shake the Monteagle dust from my feet as some kind of testimony against them, but I will be needing water soon. Flea markets and yard sales are going on around me, and a shopper informs me of a big Convenience Store about a half-mile out of town, so I'm relieved and encouraged, but even that store proves disappointing. They don't have popsicles, they don't have a fountain machine with ice, and they don't have anything good to eat. I settle for some flavored water and a Coke, but I'm grumbling a bit as I leave for Tracy City (Mile 280). A little restaurant/pizza place there gets me back on track. They let me sit in the back of the store (usually reserved for employees, I think), make me a great grilled cheese, and sell me a scoop of ice cream even though they don't really sell ice cream. (They use it for milk shakes.) They also let me use their ice machine to fill my bladder and bottles.
The road to Jasper (Mile 296) is long and barren. It is pretty country, traveling through the Cumberland Forest, but there are no stores, pop machines or restaurants still in business along the way, and 16-17 miles is a long, long stretch on foot. I pass Josh early in this stretch and he honors me by having his crew take a picture of us together. Josh has already completed this race twice, and he is known for his 10k kick at the end. (Just ask Paul Lefelhocz!)
In some ways, my whole mindset begins to change. I feel I am racing Josh, and I don't want him catching me the way he had caught Paul and others last year. Competitive thoughts and possible race strategies begin to dominate my thinking. I don't like it. I notice I am walking faster and force myself to slow back down. This is not the time to abandon what has been working. I have to try to race smart and not make some stoopid mistake, like burning myself out.
TVS knows that time is running out. He has let the daytime temperatures and heat indexes climb. The hills have a little more elevation gain and come in greater frequency. The road from Monteagle to Tracy City was as bad as any I'd faced yet. Still, he has not punched himself out. He chooses now to put together a one-two punch that will send several runners to the verge of dropping. First, there's the 17-mile stretch with no services available, not even a pop machine. (There used to be a Mountain Mart at the top of the decline into town, but it had been out of business for years.) Then there's the 4-mile descent into Jasper. Both can be knock-out blows by themselves, but these back-to-back body blows have me reeling. My mind and spirit are trashed. By the time I finish the four-mile downhill into town, my legs are trashed also, and I've walked it! (Did Josh walk it, or run some of it as he has in the past? How far back is he now?) Having no cell coverage at the top or on the hill, I am forced to check in an hour late. With the extra hour or so, I have cranked out a 35-mile stint.
Adding to the cruelty of the course is a bit of misinformation I have stored in my head. Somehow I have gotten the idea that Jasper is a one-pop-machine town, and that it resides at a service station on the western/northern fringes. I pay careful attention, but do not find the pop machine. In my state of mind, I am uncertain of my ability to make it four more miles into Kimball. It is getting dark. I walk along despondently until I come to a concrete picnic table in front of some kind of community building. Though I know I can eventually reach Kimball (Mile 300), I need more than a break; I need sleep! Finding a rough-surfaced conrete table, I climb on top and go so soundly to sleep that I have more of those vivid dreams. A police car does a U-turn in the parking lot behind me, shines his lights on me, then drives off. In my dream, I think I have slept on this very same table before, for very similar reasons, and that a police car has done the same thing on that occasion also. Weird....
Waking up, still a bit down, I head out of town, making one last turn. Immediately ahead I see not a solitary pop machine, but at least two, maybe three open stores! One Cranberry juice and a Coke later I feel fortified enough to get me to the Waffle House in Kimball, where I hope to get some real food.
Where's Josh? Did he pass me while I was asleep on the bench? That car that just went by, is that one of his crew scouting out my position so they can go back and tell Josh where I'm at and he can time his final surge accordingly? How will I handle losing a position now, dropping from 10th to 11th? Should I just mentally concede the position and take it easy these last 20 miles? Is that what I'm made of? Isn't that what I've always done? Etc...etc...etc...
The Waffle House is closed, but I have only 14 miles to go, so I press on. (In retrospect, the McD's would have been a good idea, just for some extra calories for the emotional battle I will face on and beyond Sand Mountain.) Just outside of Kimball, I turn unto SR 156 and cross the big blue bridge over the Tennessee River. This is a powerful emotional moment. I can't exactly cry, but I am trembling a little, and I have a powerful sense that I have run the race and fought the fight and that something profound has really changed in my life. I soon realize that this feeling isn't really a lie, but it isn't the complete truth either. The final rounds of the fight still need to be fought, the final miles of the race still need to be run/walked/crawled. (Dusty had told me about her struggle with an intense desire to quit the year before, with only TWO miles to go! At the time I really couldn't understand. That would change.)
TVS doesn't have a huge repertoire of tricks, but he is relentless. The road from the bridge to the bottom of Sand Mountain (Mile 308) seems to go on and on and on. Those who have run this before know what to expect, but newbies don't. Again, I'm thinking I've missed the turn on to SR 377 and debating about turning around.
(Where's Josh? I look over my shoulder expecting to see a headlamp which is silly as I doubt Josh uses headlamps either which means he's going to sneak up on me and I won't have any chance to fend him off like I have anything, energy or legs, to fend him off with anyway and it's probably inevitable and I just need to deal with it and I'll still have a sub-6 day finish and who's going to remember who finished 10th and who finished 11th and who's going to care and where is SR 377 and what if I have missed the turn how much time will that have cost me and is it even worth backtracking and finishing this stoopid race and ...)
Finally, after much walking and several stops to just sit on guardrails, I find the intersection and begin the climb. Many runners have no trouble with this one, but I do. I make several sit-down stops on guardrails and walk backwards and do everything but lay in the road for a nap. (Even at 2am, there is traffic on the mountain.) Finally reaching the top, I stagger down the road to the road which takes me to Castle Rock, the road (132) being much longer than I remember, and the neatly manicured drive from the gates to the jeep path through the field is much longer than I remember and I'm thinking I should really be running this and I try but my legs just won't cooperate so I walk and try to focus and not think about who's behind me or getting lost in the field or whether or not I should cache my vest at the car or wear it all the way to the rock. Carl has texted me and told me to turn on my headlamp and look for the reflective arrows which will guide me through the field and into the woods to a clearing where they will be waiting to escort me to the rock. At approximately 3:30am I stand next to Carl while Laz takes my picture on the rock. (Carl went with me just to be sure I didn't go over the edge and drop 100 feet into the trees below.)
It is over! I have survived The Vol State's final flurry. I sit on the throne (everyone gets to sit on the throne, if they want to once they realize that every runner ahead of them likely sat on that throne and then one realizes what kind of hygeinic condition they were likely in when they did so, which, of course, is exactly the kind of hygienic condition I am in) and chat with Laz and Carl while the sky begins to lighten. They tell me that I had passed Jim Ball back in Jasper when he had a closer encounter with dropping to the mat than even I did. (Jim did make it to Kimball and slept a few hours in the motel before finishing. He arrived at the rock exactly one hour after I did. I'm glad I never knew I had passed Jim or that he was that close behind me. I'm not sure I could have handled it.) Karen arrives and adds to the conversation and takes some pictures of us with all the different cameras.
My finishing time: 5 days, 20 hours, 00 minutes, 09 seconds. I would later do the math and realize that this equated to 26min, 46 sec per mile. It was good for 6th place out of 40 starters. (I had a top 10 going all along!)
Where were the voices? Why didn't they show? They plague me at every ultra, and I thought they would destroy me here. The answer may be that I found other voices that sang louder, clearer, and more beautifully. Voices of people like Abi who said that after three or four days, it starts to be fun. Voices of people like Laz who assured us that what goes down must come up. Voices of veterans who had warned that the second day would be the toughest, to take care of your feet, to talk to one another out there. The voices of runners I ran with along the way, the coaches in my corner, who shared their battles past and present and what they were doing to win their fight. The voices of the people of Tennessee who marveled at what we were doing, told us to be careful in the heat, and genuinely wished us well. The voice of my wife, telling me how much she believed in my preparation and that I was going to persevere through whatever befell me. The voices of my children, and the support and love I felt from them leading up to the race. The “voices” of all the people who were responding to my updates on Facebook, encouraging me onwards, leaving me amazed at how many were at all interested. And there was The Voice that seemed to speak quiet confidence into my soul whenever the going got tough, and spoke words of caution when the going seemed too easy. It's hard to talk about That Voice, but it was the One that I sought permission from to run this race, and that permission was granted. Thank you, Lord.
1 Convenience Stores play a huge role for runners in this race. I have long avoided entering convenience stores as high-priced outlets that don't sell anything important, paying at the pump, and leaving as quickly as I can. Finding myself needing them and at their mercy would provide some opportunity for reflection the role of the Convenience Store in America as the miles unwound ahead of me.
2 The Last Annual Vol State Road Race Road Book, by John Price.
3 Runners can participate in one of three ways: as part of a relay, as “crewed” or as self-supported, often lovingly referred to as “screwed.” Screwed runners are not allowed to accept help from anyone associated with the race or a runner of the race (unless that other runner is also screwed). The intent is that you carry what you need or you find along the way. Of course, many runners are offered help (water, food, even money) and it is okay to accept as long as they are in no way associated with or anyone associated with the event.
4 I love metaphyscs, as long as it's simple metaphysics, and of course, what I consider metaphysics may not be metaphysics at all, so for those who find this is all a bit oblique, forgive me and keep reading. I'm a product of my environment :)
vol staters may be consistent with their performance,
but their emotional state is a different matter.
part of running the vol-state, at least successfully,
is surviving the crushing emotional and physical lows that accompany the effort.
sitting at home (or even putting in endless miles up and down the route in a car)
it is easy to say that every low will pass,
(such as one can feel a "high" after a couple of hundred miles, with over a hundred remaining)
will be in the future.
at the time when it is only with the greatest effort one can trudge along at 30 minutes a mile,
it seems like this is the state that will last forever.
that, if anything, it will get even worse.
the ever-present pain seems to crescendo,
until it's cacaphonous screaming wracks your body and fills your head.
the mind can only calculate the endlessly depressing slow progress,
which will never get you to the finish.
the downward spiral disappears into the mists below you.
the freefall can only end when you crash to earth in a total collapse.
to succeed at the volstate
you must preserve a spark of hope deep inside.
you must persevere thru any depression.
it will not always be that way.
there are still times in the future when you will move strongly,
and you will feel invincible,
as if you could go on forever.
and somewhere out there in the future is the rock.
the reward for never losing sight of your goal.
the incredible power of that moment,
when you step on, touch, or kiss the rock,
and all the pressure ends cannot be described.
it can only be felt.
and the memory of that moment will last a lifetime,
with a power that could not be, if it were not for the hopeless, horrible lows.
so easy to understand on the sofa,
so hard to believe on the road.
what comes down must go up.
6The most commonly found brand of chocolate milk in these stores is called Purity. I was initially excited to see regular (vs. low-fat/no-fat) chocolate milk, but this stuff was thick, almost muddy. Sweet, yes, and I drank more than one bottle of it, but eventually I switched to the Nestle brand, which was low-fat. I'm not into nutrition, but why the need to sweeten chocolate with high-fructose corn syrup in a high-fat product but turn around and use sugar in a low-fat one? It made me thankful for the Kroger brand chocolate milk I buy at home, or the stuff I stir up myself when I'm feeling frugal...
7 There is somewhat of a debate about using headlamps and reflective gear at night. On the one hand, such things let people know you're there, and they can try, if they desire to extend the effort, not to hit you. On the other hand, there are a few individuals who might try to have fun at your expense if they happen to see you, so some runners prefer to be as un-noticeable as possible. I ended up compromising: I wore a shirt that reflected light back to drivers very, very well, but I used my headlamp only to read directions or signs. I didn't need it to walk or run. This runner (Joseph) used his headlamp to check out the animal activity on the edges of the road as he walked, and I was amazed at how much of such activity there was.
8 “Road Angels” are anyone who offers assistance to a self-supported runner. They cannot be associated with any other runner or crew or the race in any way. The wonderful employee at the Sonic in Parson's was my first Road Angel. There would be others.
9 I hope Joel Gatt writes a race report. The tale of the blown compression shorts and the resulting carnage/chaffing and the saving of the undercarriage deserves to be told and read. Joel's extraordinary solution to what even the most sadistic low-blows of The VS's sordid recorda is already part of the iconic Vol State lore. I will vouch for whatever he writes, even before he writesit, for I was there when he got the idea for his “remedy,” and was also nearby when it came time for the “remedy” to removed. Good times; Vol State times....
10 To fully appreciate the Hampshire Gentlemen's Club, I recommend the reading of two novels by Wendell Berry: In Memory of Old Jack and A Place On Earth. A way of life is disappearing in this part of the country, but it still exists in Hampshire, at least for a little while longer.
11 Dusty and Joel had the tech-savvy and tools to know where we were at any given moment. I guess my iPhone 3 would have allowed me the same capability, but I didn't have the app, or the patience to learn how to use it. I also don't have an unlimited data plan, nor did I wish to use my battery up and not be able to check-in unless I re-charged my phone first. Still, the technology was pretty cool, even to a Luddite like me.
12 Joel found the room with no trouble, but he did inform me that all of our phone numbers were on Marvin's turnsheet. This was a “duh, why didn't I think of that?” moment for me. As the number of runners grows, Marvin may discontinue his tradition of printing off everyone's cell phone number and the turn-sheet information on waterproof paper and giving them out at the start, and I wouldn't blame him, but what an invaluable tool waterproof paper can be. I would definitely recommend any runner new to Vol State to print off John's maps (small copies, and from the pdf files on his website)b as well as the turn sheet information (for navigation through towns). Regular paper will work, but only if you keep it stored in a zip-locked bag, and I'm not so sure how well it respond to frequent handling with very sweaty hands. As I left Columbia, it suddenly dawned on me that the same list of cell numbers might confirm whether or not I had Carl's number stored correctly in my contact information. I did not.
14 In 2012, two runners took a wrong turn and ended up spending several hours going around Lewisburg, instead of through it. This is the kind of stuff Vol State legends are made of, great stuff except when it happens to you, or me.
15 This is not the Bedford Market listed at Mile 215.3 in John's book, but is on the opposite (north) side of the road shortly before you reach the Bedford intersection. I don't believe it is as far away as Wheel, but my memory may not be accurate here.
16 I feel a need to make a comment about Tennessee towns and cities, especially how they are laid out. You will see a sign in the middle of the country announcing you have reached the edge of some community. You will run/walk/march/crawl for sometimes up to two hours until you reach the edge of anything that resembles said town or city. Depending on its size, you may spend another hour or more walking through that community. It can be frustrating, especially if you are from the midwest where things are more compact. One hypothesis I have for this unusual layout is that many of the communities are tucked in between mountains and have less space to grow sideways. I have yet to test this idea at Google maps.
Footnotes to footnotes:
a Maybe it's not fair to give TVS credit for something that might actually be nothing more than the result of equipment failure. Still, I wouldn't put it past him...
b The url for John's pdf files: http://runvb2vb.com/VolState/mapindex.html
Appendix of Random Stuff
A: Things I think I might have done right
I took decent care of my feet. I carried six pair of socks and changed them often. The pair I took off would be clothespinned to the straps on the back of my pack for sun drying. I would alternate pair, but only if the previous pair were dry. I also took of my shoes and socks frequently, just to let my feet air dry. I used some zinc oxide on my feet, especially if I had to pop a blister. Most of the protection came from this product by Tom's that I just rolled on.
I read everything I could about the race: race reports especially. I devoured them, read and re-read them. I read all the emails going back and forth on the list. I read the updates from the last couple of years that I could find. It is amazing how much information came back to me during the race and how useful it was. I also listened to John Price as he narrated the course on our bus trip across Tennessee. I couldn't really retain all he said, but lots of what he said made aspects of the course seem more familiar when I encountered them during the race. I also sent out a few emails, both privately and to the email list, asking advice. The responses were always worthwhile.
I took lots of breaks of varying lengths. If my walking pace was getting so slow, or if my legs began to hurt, or if my will and spirit were flagging, I would stop and rest. The legs benefitted most from the longer stops where I could get some real sleep, but there were benefits to the shorter breaks also. The trick was to find some grass in the shade that wasn't so long (chiggars) or was dry of the morning dew, and often I resorted to asphalt driveways, again, in the shade.
I tried to run just to help the walking muscles in my legs. A good friend once told me that walking helps rest the running muscles, and running helps rest the walking muscles. I found the best time to run was right after a longer break, not necessarily a four-hour motel stint, but anything beyond the little ten-minute breaks in the shade. I didn't run for long, but what I did run helped.
I did not take any S-caps or other supplements: Nor did I take any Aleve for my adductor, save for one when I stopped to sleep in Columbia, and that was more for my legs in general. I woke up wishing that I hadn't taken that one either. I carried Ultra and Clip in my bottles, but abandoned both products by the second day. Water worked so much better for me.
B: Things I might have done wrong
I brought along ultra food: stuff like Clip, Cliff Bars and Gu. Couldn't stomach the thought of touching the stuff and ended up mailing it home. Laz and others say that they eat very little the first day of a multi-day event, eat some on the second day, and eat everything they can lay their hands on on the third or thereafter.
My Scott Jurek Ultra-vest by Ultimate Direction was too small. The PB model would have been perfect. I strapped a lot of stuff to the back, and stuff fell out and I would have to restrap it on. Getting rid of a lot of the Clip and Ultra, as well as the reflective vest I carried did help. Sending home the Cliff Bars saved me a little weight also and made room for other small items that could be moved from the dry compartments to the pouches.
I didn't eat soon enough, a common problem for me since I have trouble swallowing food after about 25 miles. Still, once I discovered that I could handle eggs, burritos, wraps and other foods, my eating improved. I think I would have eaten more had I made it a priority, and I needed the calories during the long and rough stretches.
C: Songs that played through my head during the run
There weren't that many, to my surprise:
Bruce Hornsby's “I Will Walk With You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpEDr20yNhI “stong man feels weak in the heat of the day”
Phil Keaggy's “Let Everything Else Go” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fQPSJ0TlEI which meant a lot to me coming into the event. The northerly breeze the first two days was about the only relief from the the sun, heat and humidity on the long stretch south between Union City and Lexington.
Allman Brothers “Ain't Wasting Time No More” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2Ro7LLEaQQ which became my theme song after Columbia, not that I really “wasted” any time up to that point
Son Volt's “No Turning Back” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCzgsCBHN7M which became my theme song for this event over eighteen months before. “You're out there, doing what you would die for...” I had fun substituting Dresden, Hohenwald, Parsons and other towns for the ones in the song.
“In this mind, we breathe the same air, lonely roads and freight trains keep us sane...”
Chris Tomlin “Whom Shall I Fear (Angel Armies)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzIABaImiK4 which is a song I play and sing in church. “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies, is always by my side.”