THE ROAD

Posted: July 2, 2019 by coachwestbrook in Uncategorized

THE ROAD

A Vol State Pre-Race Report 2019

    The road is waiting. It is out there after cooling through the night. Now, it is warming in the morning sun. Later, it will be baking in the hot sun and giving off heat waves that will curl images on the horizon. It will be yearning for the cool of the evening and the sweetness of the night.             

And, on that road is the runner trekking through the 2019 version of the Last Annual Vol State Road Race. That runner is full of hope, expectations, self-promises, determination, sense of adventure, and no matter how many other runners are with him or her…a sense of solitude. And, all that is wrapped up in a bundle of self-doubt. Doubt about the training, about equipment, about pace, about nourishment, about rest. To tie it all up, that bundle is bound up with some amount of fear. But, the runner still smiles, jokes around with race mates, tells stories, listens to stories because it is all normal for Vol State. The runner? Maybe, not so normal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Off the ferry, Hickman, Kentucky greets the runner with some pretty steep hills. Most runners will walk these and start running seriously on the other side of town. Then, the landscape levels off and surrounds the runner with pretty farm land that leads into Union City.                                              

In the mind of most of the runners, the race doesn’t really start until Union City is left behind. The town is a huge aid station that gets the runner on down the road. It is a scenic trek from there to Martin where a splash pad can refresh the runner with some cold water springing from the park surface.  Now, the race (or trek) has really started.                                                                                                                                                               

As each foot strike sends shock waves through the body, the runner’s head is bouncing details about the immediate future hours off the walls of the skull. Details concerning food, energy expenditure, fluids, places to rest, motels, convenience stores, darkness, to be invisible or visible in that darkness, chafing, bugs, sunburn, traffic, the day’s goal, to run with others or run alone, heat, humidity, rain, not forgetting to check in, phone charged, sleep, miles ran and miles to run are bouncing around inside of the skull. Yep, that’s the pinging you feel in your head and can’t figure out from where it is coming.                                                                                                                                   

The landscape gently rolls as the runners runs deeper into northwest Tennessee. Farm land still dominates the roadside. The picturesque town of Dresden greets the runner with an aid station and rest area. But, the runner has to decide to rest or move along down the road. A compromise is made, and after some refreshment, the runner is on the road again.                                                                                                                                                                                          And so it goes. The road offers darkness where the runner hears frogs bellowing and sounding eerily like a human voice in the wooded darkness. The black sky may delight the roadster with bright pin points of light and an occasional shooting star. Possibly, the moon will bathe the road in a soft glow. It can be strangely peaceful.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The runner will pass through the cooler air of night and the promise of morning as the miles pass. The day will bring heat, odors, traffic, and some “road angels” here and there. Those angels will give the runner a restful respite and some refreshment to energize the physical and bolster the belief in human goodness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    After Dresden the runner will trek into the small town of Gleason with its welcomed aid station at the firehouse. Leaving Gleason, the runner will head south along the old version of state road 22 that parallels the newer version somewhere off to the left. Both will merge on the other side of McKenzie, a larger small town. Then Huntington, Clarksburg, and I-40 at Parkers Crossroads. Some will seek refuge in a motel at this point. Other will relentlessly move on toward Lexington and the big left turn onto US 412. Then things get interesting.                                                                                                                                                                                       After this many miles, approximately ninety-four, a pattern will have been set by the runner as to running, walking and taking breaks and sleeping. The pattern may last for a good distance or may be abandoned for an adaptation. Patterns come and go depending on the various elements of the race…such as fatigue, weather, and fuel. And, the mental state of the runner will determine his or her immediate future for the still long road ahead.                                                                                                                                                                                              Passing through the wide spots of Chesterfield and Darden, it’s straight into Parsons with its Sonic awaiting. Then, in my opinion (which is usually of no importance to anyone) is the worst stretch of the race. That is from Parsons to the Tennessee River. Rolling hills; hardly any shoulder to run on make this stretch a dismal one. Plus the on coming traffic and heat (when I usually get there) add to the challenge. Ah…Vol State! You gotta love it!                                                                                                                                                                                                    Aid awaits on the other side of the river at Fat Man’s. After that, there are still some rolling hills leading into Linden, but this stretch isn’t as bad as Parson to the river so it offers some respite. Linden will be a welcomed temporary destination.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          And, the road keeps calling through heat, sunburn, hills, fatigue and other maladies. Through Hohenwald with motels and stores, Hampshire with its deli, and the big town of Columbia with everything. Culleoka, I-65, and another big town of Lewisburg, also with everything. After that, Wheel with a pavilion shade and water and then Bedford with its market and onto the next major oasis of Shelbyville.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The runner is really into the race after 225 miles. The runner can smell the finish line from here. The terrain is more forgiving, but the miles still stretch out there…waiting…and waiting. An open stretch of road leads the runner into Wartrace, home of the classic Strolling Jim ultra. It is very picturesque leaving Wartrace heading into Manchester. Manchester will give the runner a lot of aid opportunities. Also, the odor of the finish line will get stronger.                                                                                                                                                                                          Once past I-24 on the other side of Manchester, the runner will be in the most and scenic and enjoyable part of the route (in my opinion, about which I’ve told you) as he or she treks through tiny Hillsboro, Pelham and up the mountain into Monteagle. In Monteagle and somewhat after that, aid is available. The course is enjoyable traipsing along the spine of the mountain into Tracy City and beyond, and “beyond” has a store serving burgers and such. It will be America at its best, and it is out there on the back roads and small towns.                                                                                                                                                                                      The runner knows he or she is going to make it to the Rock at this point barring unforeseen calamity. It’s down the long, challenging grade to Steve Smalling of the Chattanooga Track Club and his aid station. That aid station alone can get the runner to the Rock. This is the outskirts of Jasper with the mountain behind. Ah, so close. But, not there yet.                                                                                                                                                                                              Kimball, South Pittsburg, and the blue bridge crossing the Tennessee River the last time tells the runner that there are about eleven miles left. A piece of cake…as the runner passes through New Hope headed for the right turn that leads into Alabama…and a helluva hill going up and up and up looking for that state line. It’s about three miles in the upward plane. The runner will run, walk, stop, run again knowing the finish is near. Then, a left turn and straight into Georgia.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               It doesn’t matter what place the runner is in at this point. What really matters is the questions that kept popping up in the runner’s mind as he accepted the ongoing challenge of the distance. Footstep after footstep brings the reality of accomplishing the deed into focus. The mental focus on the simplicity of the run is gaining importance. Daily details fade in the last strides up the mountain and into the corn fields and give way to the human animal doing what he or she was meant to do. Run.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      That will be Vol State…if one doesn’t die (or worse…just give up and quit) somewhere between the Mississippi River in Missouri and Castle Rock in Georgia.

Richard Westbrook                                                                                                  westbrookrunning.com

Comments
  1. David Warady says:

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I (Richard Westbrook) will fear no evil, for I am the baddest motherfucker in the goddamn valley (well, tied for first).

  2. Ben Yancey says:

    Great description, Richard. Best of luck in this years adventure. I’ll be following.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s