(A Race Report on The Last Annual Vol-State Road Race, 2014 by Richard Westbrook)

 

            As the largest group to run the Vol-State ambled down to the ferry to cross the Mississippi River to Missouri, the old man had some negative thoughts about the upcoming race. Looking around at the crowd, he wondered if he belonged in this group. Was his training enough to run with these people? They were from distant points on the globe and probably trained a lot better than he did. Maybe, his training and his age would limit his performance to the point it would become a DNF.

            The ferry plowed through the water to Dorena Landing. The runners left the ferry, walked up the small incline to await the race director’s, Laz, lighting of the cigarette, and they were off. Jogging back to the ferry to cross over to Hickman, Kentucky was the start of the 314-mile journey. His mind was still unsettled about the run as he watched the wake of the ferry expand much like his doubts about the adventure.

Final instruction at the start at Dorena Landing, Missouri

Final instruction at the start at Dorena Landing, Missouri

            This was his third year for this run. His goals were to finish, improve on last year’s time, break into the 5-day time frame, and possibly place in the top ten of the unsupported, screwed, division. With the depth of talent this year, that last goal seemed too far out there. The first year, his time was 6d:20:13:55 (6days, 20 hours, 13 minutes, 55 seconds) for 5th place in the unsupported division. Last year, he improved to 6d:04:56:16 for 6th place in the same division. He ran faster but finished higher in places of the screwed runners but still in the top ten. He had problems in the first two days last year that he hoped would not appear this year. Still, the top ten looked very doubtful. Only time would tell.

            The ferry docked and feet hit the ground running and walking. Most walked at the beginning. He ran easily and slowly while checking his pack for comfort and lack of bounce. It was the same pack he had used the previous two years. The Camelbak Octane pack served well then and was expected to this year. It was packed tight with miniscule room left in each compartment. It contained what he thought he might need. He had one shirt for running, one long-sleeve shirt for warmth while resting, one extra pair of running shorts, one extra pair of socks, one rain poncho, a sleeping bag liner, an emergency sleeping bag for ground cover, three Cliff energy bars, two tubes of Aquaphor, insect repellant, phone and charger, container for money, card, and identification, glasses, visor, cool cloth, water in the lumbar reservoir, toothbrush, and turn sheets. Everything that might be damaged by wetness was in a plastic bag. With all this weighing in at eight pounds, he wondered if he would need it all or if he was missing something. Miles would tell him the answer.

            His pack rode comfortably on his back as he ran and walked the large hills in Hickman. Running out of town, he was able to sustain the running while concentrating on his biomechanics and conservation of energy. This took him through some pretty farmland to Union City, Tennessee. The day felt good so far. It was a far cry from how he was feeling last year at this point. He was beginning to feel a little better about the race, telling himself he must be patient. It was still waaaaay early!

The first town, Hickman, Kentucky.  Running up the hills from the Mississippi River.

The first town, Hickman, Kentucky. Running up the hills from the Mississippi River.

            He is more or less a solitary man. He is most comfortable running alone. Thus, running toward and beyond Union City was fitting into his psyche. (By the way, where was Psyche Wimberly this year?) He was struck by the rural beauty of the landscape. He was almost religious in his appreciation of the simple panorama of the land. He knew if he could consciously think of this, then his running was going well.

            After a Coke in Union City, he ran past Laz and Carl under the bridge and in the shade. A friendly volley of words and he was on to Martin. Last year at this time, he was running and urinating bloody urine with pain in the lower back and abdominal area. Once he got to Martin, he was better with the help of magic tea. This year the thoughts of that and the many stops he had to make for the pain to subside crowded his mind and fed doubt for the upcoming miles.

            But, once he concentrated on the facets of his running, those doubts subsided. He was having no problems with the pack, hydration, shoes, socks, blisters…not even one hot spot. His energy level seemed more than adequate. All he had to do was run.

            Tea at McDonald’s in Martin; seeing children play in the fountain in downtown Martin; running through the green countryside leaving Martin, and he was running toward Dresden. After passing through the tunnel outside of Dresden, he came upon a man riding a mower cutting his front yard. The friendly man asked what was going on and then offered the old runner some nourishment. He brought out several drinks of which the runner could choose or take all. He also had food available but the runner only took the drinks.

            He took two drinks and answered the good Samaritan’s questions about the race and how to keep track of the progress and results. Nearer Gleason, the old runner was greeted by a man in a van full of his daughters in the rear. He gave the runner bananas and oranges. This was a godsend for the runner had nothing solid since the race began. He remembered the van man and girls from last year and told them so. The girls were ecstatic because they and what they were doing was remembered. The old man smiled and ran on down the road and into Gleason. He felt better…more from the exchange with the people than the nourishment he had just received. Even a loner can enjoy human interaction, he thought.

            Gleason had some ladies giving out food and drink near the square. Last year he took a sleep break on the ground in Gleason. This year, he ran through. Onto McKenzie for the sleep break.

            Then the road widened into four lanes and aimed for Huntington. He ran in the breaking dawn with its cooler air. The wide four-lane was not to his liking even though, overall, it was safer by allowing more shoulder on which to run. But, the small, intimate two-lane roads were his passion. “Back roads” are what most people called them nowadays. He remembered riding on those “back roads” when his dad would take him and his mom for drives…just to see what’s there. Now, he runs just to see what’s there. And, many times he thinks of his dad during those runs. His dad has been dead many years, but he wonders what he would have thought about his son’s running such an event as the LAVS. Probably, a few choice, profane words would pepper the conversation.

            Huntington would mean breakfast, and it was a big one. Six fried eggs, one order of toast with grape jelly, a large orange juice, followed by a large chocolate milk. It made his stomach happy. But, once again on the road, it was jog and walk until the gastriczilla settled down. During this time he was with John Hansen, the smoker, and underwent a barrage of conversation. He found himself in agreement with John’s criticisms about the state of Louisiana. In spite of himself, he enjoyed the conversation. John eventually left him, and he thought he would not see him again.

            Next rest stop was Clarksburg with its store with inside eating area. There he drank a Gatorade for the electrolytes and then downed a Snickers ice cream bar. Marjorie “Yogi” Pugh came into the store. She was having blister problems, so he suggested she use some Aquaphor and gave her some to smear on her feet. Feeling better with something in his stomach, he jogged about 200 meters and promptly threw up the Snickers ice cream. Ah, you gotta love the Vol-State! Then it was on to I-40 and McDonald’s.

            The heat was increasing but he was feeling OK after the Gatorade. This was a lot better feeling than last year, he thought. Seeing no runners on the way to I-40, he again contemplated the surroundings and the beauty of the land and homes. He wondered what the other runners thought about in this run. Probably more direct issues such as their pace, their goal for the day, the next nourishment, adapting to the heat, solving blister problems, moving up in their position in the race, and a plethora of other things that would directly affect their outcome.

            Was he different? His thinking seemed to convolute in and out of more esoteric stuff. Things like how the place he was running through was years and years ago…particularly in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. These decades were attached to his psyche because he was born in the ‘40’s and grew into the ‘50’s. Then, things started to change drastically as he entered the ‘60’s. Here his mind ran back to those earlier decades. He couldn’t get his awareness away from the panorama of the U.S.A. Did the other runners appreciate this like he did? Did they realize how lucky they were to be able to do this? He thought about his immediate future. He couldn’t get the image of his four-month old granddaughter out of his mind and the delight in being able to watch her grow physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. He delighted in seeing his daughter growing into motherhood and doing the right things in raising her daughter. It was all good.

            And, what were those other road warriors thinking? That thought bounced in and out of his head. Like him, did they think of their biomechanics in relation to fatigue? Did they think of energy conservation over the remaining miles? Did they think “survival?” He was sure they did in their particular way. He figured they all had more in common than different. All in all, they all had his highest respect for accepting the challenge of the Vol-State…no matter what their outcome. It was a special group. He kept thinking he ought to be more social with this group, and, at times, he was. He was better with a person here and there rather than a group. Maybe, that’s one reason why distance running appealed to him…it gets him away from the “group.” In this case…far away. He liked the solitary nature of this race. He still liked the contact with other runners along the way. At least, he knew then that the race was still going on. At times, he felt like the race had been called off, and they forgot to tell him.

            These kinds of thoughts took him to I-40 and a cheeseburger, Coke, and then off to Lexington. The stretch to Lexington seemed longer than it actually was. A family relaxing in their front yard and in the shade, gave him some very cold Gatorade and wished him luck. It reinforced the reality of all the good people in this country. It made him smile. The Gatorade made him feel good. Downtown was close.

            Downtown meant chocolate milk, and he looked forward to it after making the big left in Lexington. He still felt good with the expected fatigue. He would run out of town and take a rest break at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall where he took a sleep last year. The only thing was that it seemed longer to get there than he thought it would. But, that made the rest even better. It was dark as he lay down for about 45 minutes. Then on into the darkness.

            The dawning day brought good running toward Parsons. The road was gentle and even though it was four-lane, it was pleasurable. Again, he was on a less-liked wide open four-lane road even if they usually did have good, safe shoulders on which to run. The smaller “blue highways” were a lot more enjoyable and intimate. Here he was close to the fields, towns, and people. On these “blue” roads, he felt a part of the setting instead of just running through it.

            OK…Charlie Taylor…He came cruising by with his relay team. It was like a comet passing through. Here now and then gone! They were moving. Charlie was in good spirits coming off his cancer operation.   And, here he was…out here being Superman. The old man thought of what he would have done in Charlie’s situation. Could he be as tough as Charlie? He would hope so, but he didn’t know. Anyway, he ran better after seeing Charlie on the road.

            Parson had a Sonic Drive-In, and the old man was looking forward to getting there. Short striding into town and the Sonic, he rested at one of the outside tables. There was no public restroom, so he ventured next door behind some bushes to relieve himself. Sipping on the cherry slush cooled him, and it tasted great. Charlie and the relay team arrived. After a few words and refreshment, they were off not to be seen again.

            He was feeling pretty good physically. He was dreading the stretch from Parsons to Linden. It was hot, hilly, no shoulder to speak of on which to run, no stores for drinks. He could easily hate this part. In fact, he did!

            He was transitioning into a run-walk pattern through this hellacious section. Feeling the heat and the fatigue, he looked for a grassy shade for a rest. Finding one on top of a small rise beside a road to the left made him plop down for a little nap to get a break from the heat. Just as his ass hit the ground, a girl in a SUV pulled up and asked if he had anything to drink. Before he could reply, she told him she would be right back with something. Her home was a couple of minutes away. Off she drove. Then, she was back with a Gatorade, a Coke, a half frozen bottle of water. She said she wasn’t sure what he would want, so she brought one of everything they had. He slowly drank as much of each as he could get down. Again, he marveled about how helpful the population was to strangers.

            This refreshment break got him to the Tennessee River and to the store on the far side. While there, Dusty Hardeman ran in and took a little rest and refreshment. She and her partner were off. The old man left afterward. He still had the hills leading into Linden. He would feel a lot better when he got Linden behind him. The road was better leaving Linden. He ate a salad at the hotel restaurant in town and grumbled for having to pay too much. His wife’s salads were much better…and cheaper. But, he did get free refills on tea, and he took advantage of that.

            After a little sleep time, he stumbled into the dark at the edge of town. He crossed the Buffalo River, a river he once spent three days canoeing, and looked forward to the split that led to Hohenwald. To his disappointment, the store at the split was closed. So, he ran on…and on…on the straight road. He was alone which was to his liking. Still, it would be good to see another runner just to make sure he wasn’t the last man on earth.

            The lone runner didn’t last long. Approaching Hohenwald, he coupled up with a cute, talkative, little damsel in one Liz Thompson, whose mother, Sherry Meador, was already bedded down in a motel in Hohenwald. The old man humorously thought to himself as they ran toward Hohenwald, “I don’t have to worry about talking and trying to keep the conversation going…because this girl talks a mile a minute…with no apparent lack of oxygen…so, all I have to do is run and listen.”

            Ah! Here they are. The hallucinations that seemingly pop up in this run at the most odd places. With a slight separation from Liz, his mind started playing tricks. As he entered Hohenwald, he could see a series of residential lots that were full of giant satellite dishes. It looked like Socorro, New Mexico with all of its S.E.T.I dishes all jammed together and aimed in different directions. Weird?

            Then, farther down the road, he saw his daughter, Season, standing up ahead. He spoke to her telling her she shouldn’t be here; she couldn’t help him anyway or he would be disqualified as an unsupported runner. And, she should be home taking care of his new granddaughter. What was she thinking? After the verbal explosion, he realized that Season wasn’t there, and he was actually talking to a hallucination. Hell, his mind was just barely there. All this subsided as he entered downtown Hohenwald. Such is the Vol-State.

            In Hohenwald, he and Liz were together. He ran with her to the motel where she rested in her mom’s room. The old man ambled on to find a good piece of earth on which to lay and rest. Then, he wobbled on to McDonald’s for some breakfast of two of those burrito-like things. He was anxious to get Hohenwald behind him even though he liked the town and enjoyed running through it.

            The next thing in his mind was the Natchez Trace which would be about 150 miles into this thing. A campground is there, and the proprietor, Bill, is a very gracious host to any Vol-State runner. He puts out drinks and some snack food, but one can get a meal for a cheap price and drinks with free refills.

            The day was a grand one and not too hot but with plenty of sunshine. The rolling hills presented a minimal challenge to the old runner. He just took his time and kept moving. Like “they” say, “Relentless forward movement can get you through most ultras.” He hopes “they” know what they are talking about.

            He felt good and rhythmical as he approached the Trace and campground. True to his memory of the last two years, Bill still proved to be the gracious host. He enjoyed this rest and refreshment time more than any other on the route.

            He said his goodbyes and left the campground and headed for Hampshire. The hills on the way were more challenging. He took advantage of a stream flowing over bedrock to cool off and enjoyed the sounds of Johnny Cash wafting through the trees. The handler for Kathleen Wheeler had parked near the stream and had the sounds of Cash coming from his truck. It was a good respite.

            The deli in Hampshire served ice cream and sandwiches and drinks to the old runner. Some rest from the hills, some company of other runners in this popular stop, checking out the Gentleman’s Club and the sales of assorted everything across the street put him on his way to Columbia, a major city in route.

            He was running well and was about the same pace as last year. The big difference was that he felt a lot better than last year. He had an easier time getting to this point than he did a year ago. That must be some sort of progress, he thought. Maybe, he could improve on last year’s time. Or, maybe not. He had no idea what place he was in among the screwed.

            It seemed like most of the runners kept checking on their progress as well as the progress of the other runners on their cell phones. He did not do this and did not want to do this. He just wanted to get within himself and challenge the distance, terrain, and weather. He liked to be part of the environment through which he ran. This “intrinsic” challenge was what he liked about ultra running. This got him across the US several years ago as well as across the length of Georgia several times and across Iowa and through some adventure runs in various geographical sites with their own unique character. He enjoyed this aspect and wished he could do it forever. But, he might not even be able to do this one next year. Time would tell.

            Maybe, if he thought more competitively like the other runners, he would do better in the eyes of his opponents. Was this a weakness? Could be, but his attitude fostered a great deal of enjoyment. That just might be more important. He smiled at his thoughts of this sounding pretty good…until he would see the race results and see how far down the list he had positioned himself. Oh well, at least, he enjoyed it at the time.

            Running alone in this philosophical vein, brought him into Columbia without seeing any other runner. Last year in Columbia, he entered a grand funk and when he reached the big left turn, he just sat down and blanked out. After awhile, he came back to reality, got a bite to eat, and moseyed on toward Glendale. This year was better. He still took a sleep break on the ground near the big left turn, but he didn’t fall into a funk. Upon waking from his short sleep, he realized he was a little behind last year’s pace. It was the difference between Columbia and Glendale. He figured he could make that up fairly easily…but, one never knows.

            He ran on through Glendale and past the Bench of Despair without having a feeling of despair at that point. Refreshments at the store, and he was on to Culleoka and another refreshment break.   He looked forward to Mooreville and the store there for some ice cream. He entered the store, could not find ice cream, asked for ice cream, and the lady found a cup of homemade vanilla ice cream that seemed like a little piece of heaven. The revved him up for Lewisburg.

            He felt pretty good running slowly toward Lewisburg. He interjected walking breaks and still felt like he was making good progress. It was “relentless forward motion,” the ultra runners’ mantra. The thought of a “mantra” amused him. He had always thought of mantras as a little too new age stuff for his running. Now, he thought, “Maybe, not.” Besides, he did start running in the ‘60’s. That decade was full of that stuff.

            He reached the outskirts of Lewisburg. He didn’t like running through Lewisburg. He couldn’t really put his finger on the reason. It was just a perception. One thing about it…he always had trouble finding a milkshake on the route through town. He did like leaving the burg, however.

            The route after the burg was prettier, more scenic, flat and a lot more pleasurable to run. It did help that he didn’t have any undue stress along this section. Just the normal fatigue, and, so far, he felt he could handle that positively.    

            Checking in, mentally, on the run…running technique seemed OK…running form seemed correct…footplant was good…arm swing OK…head position efficient…arms in good position…backpack still positioned well and comfortable…shoes still feeling good with no hot spots or blisters…no chafing…handling warm temperatures adequately…So, just keep going on down the road.

            He looked forward to the area of Farmington, Wheel, Bedford and Shelbyville. He liked the landscape. The sky was collecting big, dark, heavy clouds as he sauntered closer to Wheel. He felt a slight, cooling tailwind. It all increased as he ran. The clouds became lower, darker and was trying to tell him something through their rumbling. The wind hit high gear. At one point, a series of intense gusts blew him toward Wheel. One blew so hard that it almost knocked him to his knees. Luckily, he caught himself and prevented a fall. But, the storm-like conditions felt great in their cooling effect. It was a great respite from the high temperatures.

            He kept wondering how bad it was going to get. Was the storm going to force him to seek shelter? Was the lightning going to be a problem? How wet was he going to get? Were other runners in the area seeking shelter? How would the shoes hold up when soaked?

            These questions would be answered in one way or another. The rain from these two separate conditions was negligible. He barely got wet. The lightning was staying far away. He knew there was a pavilion in Wheel where he could seek shelter if needed. The tailwind, even with the gusts, made it easier to run.

            At this point, a cute, freckle-faced, pig-tailed, young mother in a small, dark Ford four-door slowed to a stop along side of him. She glanced at the baby in the car seat latched to the rear seat behind the front passenger seat. She told him that the weather was going to get bad and asked if he had any people to help him. After his negative reply, she told him where her house was and that the door was unlocked. She said he could go in and get out of the oncoming storm and help himself to any food in the kitchen. He thanked her and wondered how much her house was off the course.

            The storm seemed to stalemate, and he didn’t need to take advantage of the ladies’ offer. He proceeded into Wheel where he took a break under the pavilion. The rain had stopped, the wind had lessened, and the air was a bit cooler. So, after a twelve minute break laying on a picnic table, he ran on.

            His running was feeling OK. He felt he could stay close to his pace he ran last year and finish close to last year’s time. He was refreshed at the Bedford Market, and this elevated him into Shelbyville.

            Shelbyville was a pleasant town to run through. It was clean and friendly. On the other side of the town was the store on a hill at the corner of US 41 and 64. He would get a drink and ice cream there and then look forward to Wartrace, home of the Strolling Jim Ultra.

            Still running through pleasing landscape, he felt good. But still, he didn’t see any other runners. He hadn’t seen any since Hampshire. And, that was OK…But, he did wonder how they were doing. Perhaps, if he clicked in to race website, his curiosity would be satisfied. The other runners seemed to keep track as such, so why didn’t he do it? Thinking through this while running, he decided it took some of the adventure out of the race. His way seemed to keep him on edge and might prevent some satisfaction with his place in the race. Maybe, it was a backdoor method of survival keying on the edge of alertness, fear, self-imposed goals, and challenge. Maybe, he just didn’t want to take the time to go through the act.

            Wartrace came and went. Climbing the hills leaving town, he finally saw another runner coming up behind him. It was Sal Coll, and he caught up and left him behind. Later, it was Sal, Karen Jackson, and Salt Shack. They ran by the old man and disappeared down the road. That answered some questions. How were other runners doing? Were they running well or just surviving? How was he doing compared to them? He notched the answers in his head as he watched the trio leave him behind. He figured he would not see them again in this race.

            He ran on the uniquely named 16th Model Road between Wartrace and Manchester. It offered some hills that were less of a problem than they were last year. Then, he approached the Whispering Oaks Campground where there was a drink machine. He looked forward to this. As he spied the campground building, he saw the trio leaving. They had not completely left him behind like he thought. But, now they would after his break.

            A Coke made him feel slightly energized. He used this energy to run through more beautiful farmland to U.S. 41 that would lead into Manchester. From Manchester, he could smell the finish at “The Rock.” Or, maybe, that was a multi-day odor of sweaty running clothes wafting off of himself. Hmm…

            Again, they left him behind with his slower pace. He took that pace into Manchester. A stop at McDonald’s had him in there at the same time as Brad Compton. He could easily recognize Brad because of his ZZ Top beard. On the road, he was easily recognized by his strong running and walking. They were both in McDonald’s when the rain came.

            Brad ventured into the rain first. Another big cup of tea later, the old man followed in his footsteps. It was the first time he used his poncho…which didn’t help much with passing cars and trucks splashing road water all over his lower body. He had wondered how his Brooks Flow 2’s would hold up in rain. Now, he would find out. Truth was…they were great. Nary a blister or hot spot, even though they were soaked. Whoever designed these shoes did a great job. He remembered back two years ago when he was in this race in the rain wearing Nike Frees and getting in a little blister trouble. This was a lot better.

            Outside of Manchester, the rain stopped and the running was good. He was upbeat because he knew he was entering his favorite part of the Vol-State. The road between Manchester and Monteagle Mountain passed through the most beautiful scenery of the race. It was classical American farmland and small towns. There was green everywhere. It even smelled beautiful. He was a happy runner here.

            He looked forward to the first town, Hillsboro, where he would down a chocolate milk like he did last year. Cruising into the crossroad town, he decided to forego the milk and keep moving. He felt that good. He would put off the break until Pelham, the next town which was about ten miles down the road. There was a café upon entering Pelham that catered to the Vol-State runners. Last year at this café, a woman customer paid for his meal. This year, the only customers there were Brad Compton and himself. Unlike the lady customer last year, Brad didn’t pay for the old man’s meal. They had some good food, good conversation, and good rest. Then, the old man left Brad there as he was back on the road first.

            Up ahead was Monteagle Mountain. This would cause him to run and walk up the grade. Just as he was cresting the thing, Brad was coming up right behind him. Brad sure flattened out that grade and then left the old man behind.

            “Oh well,” he thought, “I’ll just take a Sonic break.” He then walked off the course to his right to the Sonic for a cherry slushie. Then, he was back on the road. He was determined to keep going until he finished. Besides, there was only one hill left on the course.

            From the town of Monteagle to Tracy City, he was with his old friend, fatigue. He used his run-walk pattern to reach Tracy City. Now, this was a place he did not look forward to running through. It was just confusingly there…a place to get behind him, and that’s the way he approached it. He kept a steady run-walk while trying to fight off the fatigue.

            The next seventeen or so miles were fraught with mental convolutions. He left Tracy City and entered the long stretch to Jasper located at the bottom of Monteagle Mountain. The miles out of Tracy City were encapsulated by…trees, nothing else…just trees. Well, there were a few mailboxes signifying a residential entrance, but the residences were usually way off the road and out of sight. For some unexplained reason, the old runner became confused. He was not sure he was on the right road leading to Jasper.

            He was in total darkness with no peripheral light available. For the first time, he took out his headlight, held it in his hand and scanned the light down the road and into the trees. Nothing seemed familiar from the last two years. He thought back to where he might have missed a turn. Was there a fork in the road? Did he wander left onto the wrong highway? If this road did not go to Jasper, where did it go? Should he continue on ahead or turn back to make sure of a missed turn? How much time would it take to go back toward Tracy City? Could he find a house, knock on the door, and ask if this was the way to Jasper? Was it too late for that?

            He did see a house and thought about knocking on the door. But, the house was completely dark, and it was very late. So, he just kept on with relentless forward motion. Then, he saw headlights approaching from the rear. “Ah ha!” he thought. He would wave down the car and ask, and that would solve the problem. Three cars were coming by as he shined his light and waved his arms. But, the cars did not stop; didn’t even slow down. Zoom! They were gone toward…somewhere.

            On he ran toward what, he wasn’t sure. There is hardly anything worse than self-doubt in a situation like this. He ran on but not with confidence.

            About forty minutes later, he spied headlights again. This time they were coming from the direction toward which he was running. It sounded like the same cars. Again, he shined his light and waved his arms. Again, there were three. Again, they zoomed past. But, the third one slowed and stopped. It was driven by a high school girl and loaded with four other high school girls. He asked if this was the road to Jasper and felt huge relief when they answered in the affirmative.

            “Yes sir,” the driver said. “and you are not too far from those other two. They are right down the road.” Again, he felt relief and a rising surge of energy upon hearing about the “other two.”

            One of the girls in the back seat said, “It’s a long f#&*%-g way to Jasper. There is nothing out here.” Then, another back seat girl said, “Why should there be anything out here? There is nothing in Jasper.” After that remark they all wished him luck and sped off to catch the other two cars. Those were the only cars he saw on this road all the way into Jasper.

            Running comfortably and energetically through the dark, he came upon the “other two.” They were Karen and Salt Shack. He ran behind them awhile, ran with them awhile, and then ran ahead. He was still at his comfortable pace and figured they would pick up their pace and pass him like they did earlier.

            After his mind was put to ease by the high school girls in the car, he ran well and felt well. Then, he started the long downhill into Jasper. The downhill was OK at first but got worse very quickly. The constant decline was punishing his legs as his quads absorbed the pounding. He slowed, but it didn’t seemed to help. He tried walking a bit to relieve the discomfort. It didn’t seem to help. This is the first time he has had this problem on this section of the course. But, he was also pushing the pace somewhat over what he had done the previous two years. His feeling better coming to this point resulted in his feeling worse at this point. “Ironic,” he thought. It got to the point that the old runner would yell to the heavens for the end of the decline to be around the next curve. That didn’t work. Then, he cursed those that laid the route this way. He did this for no apparent reason but to vent some anger and frustration. That helped a little. But, the only thing that was helping the situation was to just keep running and get it behind him.

            He ran and envisioned the finish at the Rock. All he had to do was keep moving through this dark expanse, down the mountain, into Jasper, into Kimball, cross under I-24, cross the blue bridge over the Tennessee River, roll through New Hope, climb Sand Mountain, cross into Alabama, turn left, cross into Georgia, then finish at the Rock. That’s all. Simple.

            He finally hit bottom. He ran to a store, took a short break, drank a Coke, and left. He was too close to linger.

            It would be about eighteen miles from the stop in Jasper to the finish. He felt like he could run most of the way and have some walking breaks but not any long stops. He would stop only for drinks and walk while he finished it off. If he could do this, it would be a daylight finish.

            Everything was going well. He ran through Jasper. He ran and walked through Kimball. After I-24, he ran steadily to the blue bridge crossing the Tennessee River and then…Bam!! He came to a halt. He knew he was getting very tired but managed to run steadily but slowly. The slowness changed to a stop.

            There seem to be bodies lying along the shoulder of the road up to and along the bridge. He couldn’t figure out why they were there. He had to step over those that were angled out into his path. Some of the bodies were alive; others dead. He stopped, looked around for clues of what had caused this horrific scene.

            The situation sapped his energy. He didn’t want to but he sat among the bodies just to give his body and mind a rest. He worried that whatever caused this would affect him and he would die right here. Was it the end of mankind? Was some virus or plague killing the human race? Why did he not see bodies earlier? What was going on?

            He had to survive. The only thing he knew to do was to get out of this site. He arose and forced himself to run on across the bridge. The bodies lined the road as he ran. Dawn was breaking. As the day became brighter, he felt better. Then, he realized that he no longer saw any bodies, alive or dead.          

            Running back into reality, he now knew he was once again the victim of that ultra bug-a-boo, hallucinations. He couldn’t get over how “real” it all seemed. But, he was glad it was over.         

            Now, the only objective and mental focus was to keep moving and reaching SR 377. That would send him up Sand Mountain. He was thinking that would put him about six miles from the Rock. But it would be a hard six.

            He was trying to visualize running technique in order to help him run more comfortably and efficiently. Earlier in the year, he worked on tweaking his running technique to help in the long run. He could feel a difference, but he knew he regressed when he became very fatigued. If he could gain the technique back under fatigue, the fatigue would be less. His visualization seemed to help in this.     

            He approached the right turn on SR 377 and caught a glimpse of someone making the turn. He was able to speed up a little to hopefully gain on the runner ahead. He didn’t know who it was or how well he was moving. The old man made the turn up the mountain but did not see any runner ahead.

            The curves would keep the runner ahead out of sight making it difficult to know if he was gaining on him or not. All he could do was push the pace through the discomfort zone. He ran what he could and then walked a set number of steps before running again. All the while not knowing what was happening ahead.   Breathing harder, legs feeling the climb, he kept running and walking and hunting. Then, he saw the runner ahead. He was running and walking ahead. He seemed to have some trouble.

            The old man ran and walked to a closer position to the runner ahead. The runner had a slight limp or more of a caressing stride. Catching up to the runner, introductions followed, and Frank Dahl was having blister problems. They were near the top of the climb, and upon reaching it, they took a picture to celebrate the last climb in the race.

Frank Dahl and the Old Man after cresting Sand Mountain

Frank Dahl and the Old Man after cresting Sand Mountain

            The old man ran on ahead anxious to reach the rock. Frank would make it as fast as his blisters would allow. It was a beautiful day with lower than usual humidity that resulted in a slight crispness in the air. This fostered the old man to faster running to reach the finish. He wanted to reach one goal of the five-day time frame, and it was within his reach. He did not know his place among the screwed but would have to take whatever it would be. He was just glad to be finishing.

            He made the left and ran through the stone pillars marking Castle Rock Ranch and his home state of Georgia. Down the hill, left of the dirt road, another left at the tower, across the field road, into the woods, into the clearing, and then to the “Rock.” The “Rock” was actually an imbedded boulder on a cliff side overlooking Nickajack Lake.

            Carl Laniak and Laz were there on duty for the old man’s finish. Carl put his life in a position of sacrifice as he formed a human barrier to prevent the old man from toppling over the edge to sure death as he ran onto the “Rock.” It was over. 5 days, 23 hours, 49 minutes, and 59 seconds…that was his finish time. He just made it into the five-day time frame. That goal was reached…barely. Frank blistered in with 6 days and 54 seconds. Then, he sat on the throne which was a fold-up camping chair and gave his feet some well-deserved relief.

Carl Laniak on duty at the finish

Carl Laniak on duty at the finish

            He finished as the eighth unsupported, screwed, runner behind Brad Compton of Indiana. He was surprisingly in the screwed top ten…his other goal was achieved. Brad was already sleeping in the sun, warming his body on an early fall-like summer day. Indeed, the sun felt good on the skin on this day at Castle Rock.

Brad Compton in recline after finishing The Last Annual Vol-State Road Race 500K in 7th place for screwed runners in 5days, 22 hours, 56 minutes, and 44 seconds

Brad Compton in recline after finishing The Last Annual Vol-State Road Race 500K in 7th place for screwed runners in 5days, 22 hours, 56 minutes, and 44 seconds

            The old man had finished his third consecutive Last Annual Vol-State Road Race 500K. Earlier in the race, he had thoughts of not running this thing again next year. Now, since he has improved each year…well, maybe.

            Postscript to the race: After resting and enjoying the camaraderie at the finish area for quite awhile, he walked back to the parking area which was near the entrance to Castle Rock. He arrived to find a flat tire on his truck and had to go through the trouble to change the tire on uneven ground. A little more difficult and time consuming, but it was completed with some slight fatigue.

            His home town where he was born and raised is Trion, Georgia which is fifty-two miles from Castle Rock. He would drive there and visit with his daughter, Season, and granddaughter, Rainbow. He had driven through this area many, many times which made the following circumstances rather unusual.

            Driving this route to Trion, he became aware that he had taken a wrong turn after descending Lookout Mountain. Then, he took another wrong turn, then another and another. He could not find his way home…in a area he knew very well. Even after thinking logically and picturing the route to Trion, he kept taking wrong turns. Finally, he stumbled on the correct road and followed it to his destination.

            Was this a result of fatigue? He felt fine and not unusually tired. Was it a lack of electrolytes and glycogen? He took no drinks since Jasper, so maybe that had something to do with it. Did he have a minor stroke? That thought entered his mind as he was trying to figure out why he couldn’t find his way home. Was he just too old for this s#*t? Maybe.

            But, he made it home. He celebrated with an old-fashion banana-split. And, it was great!

First turn on Castle Rock on way to finish.

First turn on Castle Rock on way to finish.

Second turn at the tower on Castle Rock

Second turn at the tower on Castle Rock

Sign post up ahead.  You are entering the Twilight Zone...uh, the finish at Vol-State

Sign post up ahead. You are entering the Twilight Zone…uh, the finish at Vol-State

To the finish beyond those trees

To the finish beyond those trees

Beautiful scene on Castle Rock on way to the “Rock”

Beautiful scene on Castle Rock on way to the “Rock”

Entering the woods before the clearing and finish

Entering the woods before the clearing and finish

The “Rock” overlooking Nickajack Lake

The “Rock” overlooking Nickajack Lake

From Vol-State Parking Lot

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Comments
  1. msf5k says:

    Hello- This is Randy Ashley. Below is a short interview that Jess Daddio from a regional magazine, the Virginia down to Florida, called Blue Ridge Outdoors did w/ me. She interviewed me because I won 2015 Best Coach for the Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, which was awarded by a reader-voted poll. Sorry I missed the retirement party.

    1) How did you come to be a runner? My 1st recollection of running was as an 8 year old. My parents were chain smokers and loved to take these long Sunday drives along the dirt roads of Central Georgia. The windows were always rolled up and I just could not breath. So on 1 of the rides, I asked my parents if I could get out the car and run along the dirt road. My dad said yes and my mom said I was crazy. Anyway, my dad let me run about 3 miles and then I got back in the hot, smokey car. On this run, I felt real freedom for the 1st time in my young life.I really became a runner at Riverdale Senior High School. I had a great coach, Richard Westbrook, and he told each athlete that he could make them as good as they thought they could be. I thought I could be a Georgia State Champion and he helped me win 2 track titles my senior of high school.2) What made you decide to start training other people? Because of Richard Westbrook, I started studying running, endurance training, and physiology at 18 years old. I simply picked up every book on coaching techniques and read the biographies of all the elites from the 1950s-1980s. From all of the reading, I learned that the Grandfather of modern distance running world wide was a man from New Zealand named Arthur Lydiard. His methods, practiced on himself, then on local “lads” in the rugby club, would change the methods of training champion distance runners around the world from 1960 and still to this day. Personally, I competed at a fairly high level from 1984-2001, but I always knew I would be a coach. My 1st experience as a coach, w/ 3 different athletes simultaneously, went very well and I knew I had found my calling.3) What is the most rewarding part about your job? The most rewarding part of the job is training people to reach their goals. To get to the goal takes athlete/coach teamwork. So a bond to achieve is formed and the training and communication between coach and athlete creates a cohesion for the bond to hold strong. I have had 17 high school athletes win 27 individual State Championships and each of these kids had a goal to excel. And they all went on to compete at some level of college as well. I have had a runner win the USATF 50K National Trail Championship, another athlete make the 2012 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. I have also had many runners qualify for the Boston and New York City marathons. All of these individuals had goals they wanted to reach and we as a team got the job done. 4) If you could offer up-and-coming competitive runners 3 pieces of advice, what would they be and why? My 3 pieces of advice would be as follows:#1- Belief in yourself. And an athlete must have the confidence in themselves 1st and foremost and then you have the right mind set to achieve.#2- Remember that training is simply the method to stronger racing. An athlete performs best when training is put in perspective and the goals of the training, which is faster racing, are the prominent focus.#3- Always keep running in perspective. Having a life balance is far more important. This will help the runner that has a bad race as he/she will understand that failure is part of the process of growth. Running equals a freedom that not all have so lighten up on yourself.

    Randy Ashley(828)280-04391 Dunkirk RdAsheville, NC 28803www.rarunning.comUSATF Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certifications

    Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:19:02 +0000 To: wrashley@hotmail.com

    • Randy,

      I really enjoyed reading the interview. It looks like you are doing a great job, so keep up the good work. You seem to have the right priorities in your coaching and life. Also, your reference to your early reading about those who have influenced training over the years reflected a spark that I have always thought you had. I feel privileged to have been able to coach you.

      Coach

  2. Nonetheless there are numerous other games where the only issue that matters anytime it comes to being effective is undoubtedly the luck aspect.

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