Every once in a while I get the itch to step outside of my comfort zone, to try something that will play to all of my weaknesses. Vol State (VS) was just the race to scratch that itch. All of my distance runs are on trails, vol state is on roads. I run in the cool weather in MN, VS is a hot and humid I wouldn’t experience until I get there. The most I have ran in a single event is 100 miles, the most in a month is just over 200, VS is 314 miles. I like to have dialed in, formulated nutrition, VS would put me eating out of gas stations (or worse). As a pest control operator, I am super selective about what hotels I stay in, at VS, I would be staying in hotels you don’t have to be a PC operator to know you shouldn’t be there.
I had a pretty stacked race schedule for what I am used to. I would have ATM (8 hr OCR), then 3 weeks to the next ATM, then 2.5 weeks to VS. I reached out to Dennis Welch and asked him if this were doable. With a green light from him, I was all in on his training and the Endurance Project. If I were to do this, I wanted to do it well – not just finish.
I spent a lot of my training time cross training. I spent time in the pool, water jogging, frustrating hours on the track jump rope running, and many super slow miles walking with a tire behind me. Most of my actual running was between 5k and marathon paces. Several training weeks were in the 30-mile range and rarely did I go over 55 miles per week.
I spent a lot of time studying the course and resources available. While it was helpful, the bulk of my plans went out the window pretty early, but the foundation held true.
A big piece of my prep work was in working with a friend of mine to build a wall map for my kids to track me. I wanted something to help my family get through this event as well as something to keep me accountable. With that in place, and business partners willing to cover while I was out of commission, I was off.
I was running this race screwed meaning I would have to bring or buy anything I would need with me. I brought running shorts, under armour heat gear shirt, my package underwear, ASICS running socks, injinji socks, a waste pack with 500 & 250 soft flasks, orange mud hydration pack, bug repellant, sun screen, lots of gurney goo, small Swiss Army knife, two headlamps, batteries, flashlight, and chargers.
Race Lead Up
I have never had this much of a journey to get to the starting line itself. I took off Monday morning and drove down to Nicholasville, KY and stayed with Felipe. I woke up, did my last walk workout, and headed down to Kimball. I checked in to my room, saw some people standing around chatting VS, observed for a bit, felt out of place and went up to my room to work. I joined in the second to last supper at a Chinese buffet and felt just as disconnected from the group. I started to wonder if I was where I belonged or if I was watching my race unravel already.
I woke up the next day and drove up to the parking lot near the finish line (I thought it was the finish line). I went to hop on the bus and realized that my last-minute double and triple checking had put me scrambling for a seat on the bus. I can’t believe how many times I would check my bag over for such a simple pack. I grabbed the only seat available and sat next to John Price. I didn’t know him at that point, but I would get to know him over the next 10 hours of bus ride.
John has done the course many times forward and backward. Normally, getting one of the most experienced folks would prove advantageous. Not this time. The tour mostly consisted of pointing out the obvious Walmart and gas stations. Anything difficult or insightful was buried along with too many miles and too many facts to be of any help. I did hear countless stories of past running experiences that others had and many training and course execution tips that completely contradicted my plans. Half way through, I was wondering if the bus ride or the race would be more torturous. Overall, it was helpful to see the course in reverse and see it in the light as I would see very little of it in the light in return. A few of the tips somehow found their way to the forefront at the right time.
The night before the race I was paired up in a room with Seth Wolpin. I was concerned sharing a room the night before, but he was a great roommate. We chatted a bit but mostly just prepped and tried to sleep. Normally I don’t sleep well the night before, but I knew that I was going to be sleeping mid-day, so I was able to relax.
Leg 1 7/12
I spent the bulk of the time on the ferry sitting on the side in the shade saving my feet as much as I could. Little did I know I was sitting with individuals with whom I would spend some long hours later in the race. When we got across the river to approach the starting line, I headed for the tree line to wiz…as I turned around I realized that I was not alone in this genius thought. The whole tree line was lined with male runners emptying bladders. We then hopped back on the ferry for the most anticlimactic start I have ever experience. When we disembarked the ferry for the second time, the race was rolling.
I was surprised at how quickly people were moving. I was holding my own with them despite being weighed down, but that was going to end soon. When I clicked over the 1st mile, I started to walk. I heard people comment on how smart this strategy was, but nobody wanted to join me. I watched in confusion as people continued to run including some fairly significant hills. I just held steady at 5 mph doing my own thing.
I had brought two bottles full of tailwind powder and a lot of hammer gel packs which I felt would limit my water early on but would pay off in not having to consume so much gas station garbage. Unfortunately, I highly underestimated the number of water stops available in the first stretch as well as how miserable the mornings were. I just needed to make it to Union City – roughly 14 miles of running.
My water quickly ran dry. No big deal was my first thought, but I started to feel dehydrated. I still had a long way to go, so I started to get nervous. I hunted for anything that could supply me with water…great, nothing. Finally, after increasing my walking bouts to conserve myself, I saw a town coming up. There was a store on the corner. It was an antique shop, but surely, they had running water. I popped in, explained my plight, and listened in great concern and confusion as the two gals sitting there denied me water and sent me on my way hunting for gas station “down yonder.”
I seriously started to doubt my ability to manage this race. I looked down yonder and just saw an interstate exchange in the distance. It could be a couple more miles before I reached the end of yonder. I would survive for sure, but starting the race in a dehydration hole was not a good omen. These can be hard to dig out of…especially with TN heat and humidity.
I was following another runner who was trying to figure out the best way around some construction. He started right, but then went left. I just went left bringing me by a couple of guys tearing up some road. I saw one reach for a water bottle from a cooler in the tractor. I hit the brakes and reached for my money asking if they had a spare bottle they would sell me as I feared a repeat antique store experience. Luckily, I saw the full spectrum of people in two exchanges. The kind worker just handed me the ice-cold bottle and said I was welcome to it and to keep my money. Gratitude welled up inside of me and that little gesture saved day 1.
I eventually passed the runner I was following, caught up to blue girl, and right as I was about to pass her, I was at my turn off from the course. Everyone had mocked my plan of stopping so early…anyone who finishes well, shoots for 60-100 miles the first day. Even back of the packers don’t consider stopping at Union City. I questioned myself for a second, but I had cleared this plan with my coach and I knew my strengths and weaknesses. I was going to have to run this race unconventionally if I wanted to have a shot. I settled into my plan and hunted for Scott’s grill which I had planned on eating two blocks before the air BnB I would stay at. I looked around and saw nothing. Though listed on google maps, I saw nothing I could get food from.
I started to freak out. I didn’t want to hunt for food. I needed to get resting. Time was ticking; the mental clock was loud and ominous. I decided I could make do with tailwind and gel over the next 8 hours and hopefully get some solid food on my way out. I bounced into the rental with no problem and set to doing my chores. I would get smoother with these as I went, but I got the clothes rinsed, showered and laid things out to dry. I had called my family on the couple of blocks walk over, but determined I would change this up in other days to coincide with chores.
I crawled into bed and was hungry. I googled delivery and the only thing that came up that I could trust was dominos. I called and heard the horrible news, they don’t deliver to this house. I laid there in dismay, but then I tried again…online. Score! A few minutes later, the pizza was at my door…. but I was naked. I had no other clothes to wear and I didn’t know where a towel was. I just opened the door and did the lean around. Perfect, a delivery gal… oh well. I had my pizza.
I reviewed the progress thus far with Coach Dennis and solidified the plan for the night.
I didn’t sleep well, but I dozed off a few times. I knew the goal wasn’t to get a great chunk of rest, but to just lay still and let my body recuperate. I knew I had overdone the first leg just a bit, but I tried not to think about it. I had hit the timing I wanted within 5 minutes. My alarm went off and I was out the door. I felt a little bit of pressure knowing just how far behind I was. The echoes of claims of running 60, 80, and 100 miles on day 1 weighed on me and tried to crush my hope. I could feel the temperature cooling from impossible to miserable and pushed on.
Leg 2 7/12-7/13
I made good time coming out of UC and soon started to wonder if I would survive the night. I could not believe how many gnats were flying in the air around me. I was blanketed in them. I was scraping them off like bug jelly and flinging them to the side while spitting wads of them out of my mouth and constantly blowing them out my nose. Drowning in gnats was not how I thought I would go. As I approached Martin, I started to feel better about life. The bugs cleared, and I would never experience that many bugs again.
I didn’t burn through water near as fast at night as in the day which was good because I couldn’t find water near as often in the middle of the night. Middle of nowhere convenience stores and gas stations close early. Also, I was keenly aware that knocking on doors at 3am in backwoods TN was a bad idea. I also learned the value of choosing well which place I got water. WalMart may be open all the time everywhere, but the first time I stopped and analyzed the fence I would have to circumvent only to trek across the parking lot, through the store, find the water, haul the water out, pay for it, then refill; I determined Walmart would not be my place to frequent. In fact, I never once hit up Walmart. I hit more random church spigots than large stores.
I was plugging along fine in the night when a van pulled over in front of me. My suspicions were confirmed that it was Jan in the meat wagon pulling up to check on me…the runner in last place. She gave me a bit of a pep talk not knowing that I was right where I wanted to be. She told me if I kept at it, I could make it to Gleason where the fire station had opened itself up as a resting spot and offered showers. I thanked her and plugged along knowing that Gleason would just be the half way point tonight, but figured it would be a good place to note for refilling water.
At some point during the night, I cruised by a guy standing on the road having a face off with a skunk. The skunk had claimed the road as its territory and the runner was afraid to get sprayed. I figured I would eventually smell a lot worse than skunk spray, so I just blew by with no issues. Hopefully he followed suit, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
As I made my way through Gleason several hours later, I saw a truck hit the brakes in front of me. Terry Teague hopped out and introduced himself. He is a huge fan of Vol State and takes the week off of work to help runners out. He lives in Lexington, so he was about 40 miles from home at this point. He took my picture, had me sign his book and gave me some cold peaches. I felt bad knowing he was helping me right before the fire station, but I didn’t want to be ungrateful. I chatted with him for a bit and plugged forward.
I spent most of my nights flying with the lightning bugs. I have always called them fireflies, but when they run with you, they light up above your head and give the illusion of lightning striking. It would freak me out constantly. Sometimes they would crash into my face, but they made the run pretty. Sometimes the bats would fly alongside me or overhead. They were a bit creepier, but fun nonetheless.
The fire station looked like a WTM death tent. There were bodies wrapped in thermal blankets, people doctoring wounded feet, people waiting for showers, etc. They asked me what I needed, and I just asked for a faucet. They told me I could refill with water bottles, but I opted for the warm tap water to match my body temperature better. I struggled with my hydration pack, but luckily had someone there to help me get it open. I saw a tube of Vaseline which I applied liberally to stop myself from getting it stuck in the future. I grabbed some pizza on my way out and hit the road. I hadn’t seen many people on the way there which was disconcerting, but knowing I would pass more than 20 people just by leaving through the door gave me a bit of a boost.
I blew through McKenzie on my way to Huntingdon where I stopped at the cop shop to use the restroom and refill water again. I felt about 20 hotspots kicking in, so I pulled off the socks to re-lube and keep plugging. At 7am, I wasn’t far from the heat of the day and I briefly considered stopping at the motel there. I hadn’t come far enough so I plugged along toward the next motel just over 14 miles away. In retrospect, I would have been far better off hitting the road at about 5:30 since I wasn’t sleeping at that point anyway and I would have dealt better with the heat of the evening (as I would learn in subsequent days) than the heat of the morning. I also would have avoided the gnarly gnat fest between Union city and Martin.
This was the ominous view which would greet me each morning. Once that sun peaked over the clouds, I would start baking like a cookie.
I ended up catching up with Jim and running with him the last couple of hours to Parkers X. Neither of us (nor the girl along with) were doing great in the last few miles, but they were good company. As we got a little closer, I broke away as I had picked up some extra energy and wanted to load up on goodies from the gas station before hunkering down for the day. It was already beyond my heat tolerance, but I pushed on ahead before it got worse.
That hotel was a little bit dicey, but not as bad as I would run into. The light switch was busted up on the wall and management or someone had written “light switch” and an arrow pointing to the nub. That is a sign of class. I showered and did a quick rinse of my clothes eager to get into bed.
My description as sent to my coach at this point was that I was wrecked. My leg muscles hurt like I just got done with WTM which was amplified by the knowledge of multiple days ahead on the same legs. Also, my feet. I had never dealt with serious feet issues, just minor things by the end of a race…never at the 20% mark. I squeaked through blister free, but just barely. I decided to switch to the injinjis for the next leg. I was slightly concerned that my sausage toes would not fit inside of the individual toe slots.
I also had noticed that my pack had worn through the skin on my left shoulder and made a note to adjust my pack. I hadn’t noticed the rubbing due to other things hurting far worse. With that, I hit the hay.
Leg 3 7/13-7/14
I was surprised upon waking that I felt as good as I did. I really hadn’t expected that level of recovery in such a short time, but the training I had been doing with the Endurance Project had apparently trained my body to repair quickly. My left ankle was a little tighter than I would have liked, but even the skin seemed rejuvenated. I did a physical and nutrition inventory with Coach as I walked on down the road. I was already half way through my tailwind supply and figured I’d be slamming Slim Jims in no time.
I was cruising through today knowing that I had a choice of hitting 44 or 63 miles. Hohenwald would have put me on the money for plans, but Linden was the safety net. My feet were a roller coaster and a half. I would feel good making great time and then they would hurt and anchor me to a slow walk. There were points where they hurt so bad that I could do nothing but just look for the next place to sit down. I made sure I was sitting on a guard rail for any bathroom breaks or pack adjustments. I needed any excuse I could somewhat justify to get off my feet. They really felt like 2 giant bruises that I was pounding away on. It hurt for both walking and running, just different areas so alternating made it bearable.
I caught back up with Jim for a bit and we commiserated together. We were both struggling with foot pain, but Jim was also starting to deal with peeing blood. I appreciated the perspective that I was still OK internally as far as I knew. We plugged along toward Linden and I had accepted the fact that 44 would be the best I could hope for today. As the sun was coming up, I realized that my bowels hadn’t taken kindly to some of the gas station food I had introduced. I found a guard rail and performed a balancing bowel clear since no cars were around. Just as it was too late to reverse strategy, cars started zipping by. Oh well, it had to happen.
Along the road good ol’ Terry found us again. I was excited to see him, but also just wanted to keep going. He passed along some mandarin oranges to us and we continued on our way. I wondered if he ever slept. He wondered the same about us.
When we finally made it into town, we found out that there weren’t enough rooms for Jim and I and we would have to wait. We enjoyed breakfast while we waited, and Jim decided to hunker down in Linden rather than pursue Hohenwald as he wanted. I conceded the first room to him just as Carl caught up with us and joined us while we waited. The room was much brighter than I had anticipated, and I found out that this time the foot pain didn’t subside when I laid down. My feet just throbbed as the minutes passed with no sign of diminishing. Also, I got stuck with a room that was getting blasted by the sun. It was bright as day despite the shades and hot as can be.
The bad news was the shower was so ridiculously tiny, I couldn’t figure out a good way to get my clothes washed. I just rinsed them quick and hung them to dry. The good news was my clothes dried out better than normal due to the hot room.
Leg 4 7/14-7/15
I set out today knowing that I only had motel options at 19 or 53 miles. Normally 19 would seem ridiculously low, but I was in bad enough shape that I really wanted coach to tell me to do the 19. When I called him upon waking, he didn’t answer. I don’t know if this was just bad timing as he is having to go on living a normal life and can’t just be sitting around waiting for my call, or if it was strategy on his part, but I had to do some math and thinking. If I shoot for 53, I risk a major heat span if I am not moving quickly, but I tee myself up for a 45 51 41 series of the next 3 stretches. If I did 19, I would likely recover better, but would have to stop in the 30’s the next day and would likely push my race to high 7 or low 8 days.
I made the decision to push for 53 and sent it on to my Coach. He got back to me within the hour and reminded me to take a fair assessment at 19. If I was risking serious harm, stop. A finish is more important than time. If it just sucks, keep going.
Later that night, he reminded me that we had discussed prior that it was going to really suck and it has hit that point. These races are great for taking us to a whole new level in regard to what we think we can do. Even though this was the ultimate suck right now, there would be worse in store. I was to keep moving forward and playing it smart while assessing damage.
Speaking of smart, I let myself pass through Hohenwald without getting water. I knew there was water past it at the campground and thought it would save me the traveling into a store since I had enough food. I didn’t realize just how low I was until I was a couple of miles out of town I sucked down the last sip of water. I now realized I was close to an hour past the last water stop so going back would be 2 extra hours of added wasteful travel, but I also realized that I was just as likely 2 hours from the campground if I proceeded at a slow walk to conserve internal fluids. I sat down to assess the situation and figure out what I would do.
I felt the panic button pressing inside me and I tried to think clearly, but just then a pickup pulled up across the road and shouted asking if I was the runner at Walmart looking for a gallon of water. I quickly thought about how badly I needed that water and a gallon was just the amount that would fill me up and get me to Natchez. I honestly responded that no, I was not that guy. He said he had been looking for him for an hour and couldn’t find him and asked if I could use some water. I sprinted over and thanked him profusely. I sat down on the curb and refilled my pack and downed the rest of the gallon for good measure. Those might have been 2 of the highest and lowest points in such close proximity throughout the race. There is something special about having a perspective reset like this. All of the petty cares in life were gone, I just cared about a basic piece of survival: water.
I found myself in the middle of nowhere with long stretches to cover. I was chafing pretty dang bad since I hadn’t been thorough enough on the cleansing of the clothes and I was starting to itch all over the place. I was worried this was going to get much worse, so I decided to follow the only logical route and just strip down to nothing. It felt good to have no clothes next to my skin for a while. I figured nobody would know any better. Sorry Hampshire if anybody did peak out their window at the wrong time.
I hit some points of serious highs and some awful lows. I tried to ride the highs and survive the lows. I had no clue what each set of 15 minutes would give me, but I was making great time and was confident I would hit the 53.
Then the dogs started. I had a few try to attack me, but I warded them off. Then it got super creepy as 3 dogs followed me for over an hour. I dog trailed while the other two flanked me on each side. I felt like I was being hunted. I now believe they were just friendly dogs wanting to join me for a run, but at this point in the race, everything is out to get you and the longer it went, the more paranoid I got. I was walking and running backward through the bulk of this hour just waiting for the attack.
With my lamp off, this is basically what I could see, just a flash of the light of their eyes from time to time reminding me they were there.
I hit a store and picked up some hydrogen peroxide, some new socks, some bandages and cruised toward the hotel. I wish I would have realized the store I stopped at was on one side of town and the hotel was the other, but it was worth hauling the bag around. I caught up to the gal ahead of me and passed her. I then watched as she missed the wrong turn and headed down the wrong highway. I hollered at her and pointed the other direction. She waved me off and continued on her way. Sucks for her, but there is no way I was chasing her down to correct her. I then looked at the map and realized she may end up taking a shortcut. Oh well, either way, it doesn’t affect me.
I got into the hotel with ease and was treated like a king. I had called ahead and the guy who answered didn’t want to help me, but when I called back, the gal was very accommodating. I arrived after breakfast, but she immediately went back and made me some fresh microwave breakfast and gave me the room closest to the course and away from people. I enjoyed my food and washed a waste basket using it as a mini foot wash place and tiny washing machine. I had developed a blister between my big and long toes that was buried beneath a callous. I poked around for a while and finally decided it was time for some minor surgery. I washed my swiss army knife scissors as best as I could and started hacking away until fluids started flowing. I dunked my foot into the peroxide mix and hoped it would be enough to keep me from getting a horrible foot-losing infection. I tossed on a new pair of socks from the bag and went to washing my clothes. I wanted to be extra thorough as everything was covered in some kind of heat blister or rash. I was starting to turn into a mess.
Leg 5 7/15-7/16
I was feeling pretty excited about the prospects of today knowing that I had pulled off the long day and had a nice even series of days laid out to be just over or maybe even under 6 days. I cruised toward the bench of despair which is the place where your chances of success significantly increase. It is just shy of 60% of the way there. I pulled into it and was feeling the entirety of my feet burning. The new socks sucked…go figure Dollar General socks weren’t the way to go. I sat down on the bench grateful I hadn’t tossed my germ ridden nasty other two pairs of socks. I peeled off the new socks and dumped the other two new socks I had been hoping to wear at the start of each night. As I set the socks next to the bench, I noticed a pear. It was beat up and mangled, but so was I. And…. I was hungry. I bent over and picked it up and decided to rub it on my shirt…. mostly out of habit as there is no way my shirt was carrying fewer germs than your average porta pottie. I started gnawing away on that delicious thing when I car pulled up and encouraged me to not rest there but continue on. Apparently, there was a wonderful family up the road waiting for runners.
I hopped on my feet and pushed forward. I eventually found a group of people with a canopy and chairs set out. I nestled into a chair and enjoyed some light conversation and a lot of encouragement. They had been tracking me and figured I was close to arriving. They gave me what could have been a restaurant menu worth of options to choose from and I went with a cheeseburger. I waited in amazement as the gal went in to cook it up for me (I had expected them to pull out a cold cheeseburger from a cooler). They were a wonderful family/group of people and really bolstered my confidence. I left there excited to be plugging along again.
Somewhere along the road, Terry ran me down again. I was astounded. He asked where I had been, and I told him I spent most of the night running without a head lamp. I couldn’t calculate how far he was from home, but there he was with a fairly fresh pizza that he wanted to share with me. I couldn’t thank him enough for his selflessness and he wished me luck on the rest of the race as we parted ways.
As I came into Shelbyville I looked for another place to get peroxide and just ended up at a gas station that had some rubbing alcohol. I planned a repeat foot treatment with even more blisters to tackle. I got in the lobby and couldn’t find anyone anywhere. I don’t know how long I sat there calling and waiting before I got in, but I went right to work as soon as I could. The room was horrific. The tub was cracked and stained, mold and mildew growing everywhere, the light fixture was hanging from the ceiling, the shower head was hanging out of the wall with the plumbing, and half the lights were broken. I looked at the trash can and figured I would most likely get an infection from it as I could identify way too many colors of gooey nastiness stuck all over the inside and outside of it. I made sure the liner didn’t leak and used that as my foot wash and washing machine.
I was getting things set out and in order for a quick load and leave when the door opened. There stood the hotel manager wide eyed staring at my rash covered nakedness. I explained I already have this room and he can leave, but I knew he didn’t speak English very well. I had no choice but to let him take an eye full as I went about my business. When the door finally shut, I crawled into what was just as likely to be a bed bug den as a syringe infested mattress. Great….it didn’t even have a fitted sheet on it.
Leg 6 7/16-7/17
I had discussed with coach a plan to stop and rest my feet every once in a while. He suggested 50 on 10 off. I went with this for quite a while causing several people including a police officer to stop and check on me. The cop had watched me stagger to a stop and go down which he was sure was a heart attack occurring. I assured them all I was just resting and continued on. Finally in Manchester, I had a break through. As I laid down to put my feet up, I felt my feet throbbing the same way that they would if I had wrapped a rubber band around my ankles. I was cutting off my own circulation! What had worked for a tightness at the motel, was too tight by the time I got rolling. I felt so stupid.
I loosened my shoes and started to plug on. I felt a lot better, but it still hurt. I started diminishing the 10 min breaks and soon was doing just a quick foot rub and retying the shoes so they would be the right tightness for that hour. It got better and better until I felt very little pain at all. How long had I been causing unnecessary suffering?! I started to increase my speed. There was a storm on the horizon threatening me. I could see the lightning in the distance and wondered if I should stop in a lightning storm or plug on.
I had started the race off at run a mile and then walk to the 15th or 20th minute. I eventually matched it up with songs on my iPod when I got tired so I would run for one song and walk for 2. Tonight, I had been walking for 3 and running for 1 and then breaking at the end of the hour…. turtle progress. Now I turned it back up to a run1: walk 2 ratio. After an hour of success at that, I turned it up to 1:1. Then I got stupid and pushed it to a run 2, walk 1 ratio. I made amazing time and felt like the king of the world. Like I said, stupid. I came crashing down. I imagine if I would have been smarter and just stuck to the run1 walk 2 ratio, I would have been much better off maybe even throwing in a few 1:1s here and there, but no, I got greedy. My feet quickly fell apart and would not recover the rest of the time.
As day was upon me, I stopped in Pelham which was the last oasis before the big Monteagle climb. I went into a café and ordered the fastest thing they could make me. The waitress looked at me funny and said, “like an egg sandwich?” I told her that would be great. She wondered what all I would want on there and I told her egg and bread would do just fine if I could get a big pitcher of water to refill my bottles. She was confused but obliged. I left her a nice tip and headed out stuffing the sandwich down my throat.
I didn’t mind the Monteagle ascent. Sure, it was hot and it was miles of ascent, but it was different on my feet and I had spent plenty of time on the incline trainer with the Endurance Project. The tire played into this as well. I kept a steady pace and only paused to pee. I got to the top and had my next interaction with the world that did not understand my pace of life or the world I was living in. I wanted to stay at a motel that was on course on the way and I stopped at a diner at the top of the hill at the decision point between on course motel and going off course ¼ mile. Yes, ¼ mile is a big deal 270+ miles into this thing. Not to mention, I had already made a few wrong turns that took some hoofing it to get back. Wrong turns were fairly minimal, but they still could sneak up on a person in the dark unless I spent the whole time just staring at my gpx map.
The hotel on course was a fancy theme hotel that I would have gladly paid for, but the receptionist wanted to have the owner call me back to go over the sale. It was ridiculous, I told the gal just charge me the max rate and let me in and I would be there in two minutes. No dice, she was following protocol. She took my number and I started walking the other direction. I made it to the closest hotel, got checked in and washed all of my clothes before the other place even called back. I’m glad I didn’t roll the dice on the on-course option.
As I lay there in bed I got another message from Charles. Few had figured out that I was answering FB messenger. I enjoyed some encouragement from Chris and Charles at various points, but mostly tried to stay focused. My communication with Dennis was through messenger and I had some exchanges with Cody, a teammate who was going to stop by to say hi, but we were unable to connect…. bad timing is all. This time Charles wondered what I was doing answering messages. If I wasn’t sleeping, I should be moving.
This was the sign at the air BnB from day 1. I took a picture thinking it would be relevant at some point in the race. This was it.
I checked the weather and the clock and figured he was right. It was the last day, no reason to wait. I got up and got dressed and headed down the road.
Leg 7 7/17-7/18
I passed Jim on my way out of town and waved as I went. I couldn’t believe how often I crossed paths with him. I also cruised by Bo & Carl. Carl was shocked I hadn’t finished yet. I reminded him that I stopped every day for 8 hours. I trucked on by them with less than 40 miles to go.
Coming down from Tracy City to Jasper was fast moving, but pure torture. The downhill would never end. I decided I would much rather go up than down. When I finally reached the bottom, my hips, knees, feet, and everything were just in tatters. I regretted running, but I have no clue what else I could have done. In the shape I was in, walking wouldn’t have been much better. Perhaps I should have barrel rolled down it, that might have been easier on my body.
I was clean out of fluids at that point and quite concerned, but right at the bottom of the hill was a lovely place inviting runners into the carport. There was trail mix and Gatorade including green apple. I loaded up, observed the offer to be able to go in and sleep if needed, wished I could meet the generous soul and pushed on. Fluids held up until Kimball where I went into the first gas station I came to and crawled around on my knees gathering food and water. It hurt the knees, but it seemed wise to save my feet as much as I could.
It was mentally rejuvenating to pass the motel I had stayed in when I got down there before starting the bus ride. I didn’t realize just how far I still was from the finish. I started up toward the blue bridge and realized I should have been on the right side of the road instead of the left side. Between me and my exit stood a 5-foot-tall cement divider. This should be nothing for someone accustomed to obstacle course racing, but it was crappy nonetheless. I felt like I was ripping my abs in half and everything started cramping.
I pushed on and enjoyed watching New Hope come and go and was glad I refilled in Kimball instead of there. Carl said they were already up there on the phone call, so I just plugged along. It seemed like the turn should come much sooner than it did. It just wouldn’t come. Then the next turn was even worse. That climb was relentless. After Monteagle, I was looking forward to the climb, but a few miles up on Sand Mountain, I wanted to die…it was brutal.
Then, I thought my race was over. I had been experiencing neuropathy/prickly heat for days. It was normal, but what was not normal was something slamming into my ankle from the side and had a near slimy feeling as it wrapped around. I knew before I clicked on my lamp what I was dealing with. It was a snake, but what freaked me out was its resemblance to a pit viper. I’m not a huge snake expert, but being in pest control, I know just enough about them…just enough to completely freak me out in this moment. I felt the pain when it hit. I was likely bitten. Pit vipers have a specialized heat sensing pit on the front of their head…this is probably what set me up for the attack. I fumbled with my light, my phone, and tried to get close enough to get a positive identification. I didn’t dare get close enough for a second attack. I looked down at all of the sores and bumps and everything covering my ankle that made it near impossible to tell if I had been bitten.
Did I feel fangs or prickly heat? I didn’t know. Should I call for help? Should I wait? If I wait until I feel awful, will I get enough warning to phone later? I didn’t know how this would work. I slowly backed away. I decided to continue onward. It was most likely a copperhead which is the least venomous of the TN venomous options, but responsible for the most bites. In my state, I might be more susceptible to its, bite, but time would tell. A few minutes later I punted either an opossum or a skunk. That was it for me…. headlamp on the rest of the way!
When I finally saw my pickup, I was elated and started to run. Then I peaked at the map and realized I was just getting going…more climbing yet ahead! What a cruel trick to park there. I seriously considered hopping in my pickup and calling it good. This seems absurd a couple miles from the finish, but finishing was becoming less and less valuable with every step. The trails were sloppy and rutted from the rain, but I plugged along through the beans. I was afraid I would roll an ankle since the fog was so thick, I could barely see even though I was holding the light at waist level.
When I finally reached the end, it is best described as surreal. I didn’t believe it was done. I really believed I had to get up and run the next day. The race was too long to believe in an ending. It was a journey that had to become part of the plan, the daily routine. It was a plan to manage suffering and progress. The bulk of the race was change of song, time to rest (cool down, check pace, check map, if the time passed 30 mins, it was time to take a shot of tailwind, if it passed the hour, it was time to eat a granola bar and some salted seeds/nuts); change of song time to ramp up; change of song time to run. I’d get to the hotel for the night, call the family for a few minutes while I washed clothes and then try to sleep. Kneeling on the side of the road to pee become commonplace…it was time off my feet. Crawling around the hotel was normal…time off my feet.
40 minutes later, Bo and Carl came in. This means over the last 40 miles, I averaged about a minute per mile faster. Finishing ahead of them still wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Charles’s message. If I hadn’t had that last bit of motivation to get moving right then, I probably would have hung out for at least another hour.
There were so many amazing and generous road angels along the way. So many of them saved my race and saved my pace. I didn’t even get to meet most of them as they would just leave things out for us night runners, but I was extremely grateful. Seeing these random people rally around other random people just for running through their small town was inspiring and touching. This was a unique experience that I am glad that I tackled. At the end of the race, a gal asked me if I ever thought I might fail. I told her every step of the way. She asked if I ever thought about quitting. I reiterated, yes, every step of the way. I never once felt like I fit into this race and that it met up with my strengths. This was out of my comfort zone from start to end, but I pushed through with the help of many others. Back at home, my kids got to move me along the path and see me go from start to end. Hopefully, this will be a powerful building block in their memories.