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    Philosophy seems to have a variety of meaning to a lot of people.  I think for most, it is the general beliefs, attitudes, and concepts of the individual.  For some, it could be summed up as a pursuit of wisdom.  Or, in general, it is a search for understanding values and answering the question of, “What is real?”

    Personally, I tend to lean toward a definition espoused by Dagobert D. Runes.  That would be “philosophy is the search for the indefinable.”  That leaves things wide open and, more or less, a mess.

    I think everyone is a philosopher whether they realize it or not.  That does not mean that we all sit around “thinking and meditating” through life.  If we did that, normal life would kind of kick us in our flabby ass.  The French philosopher, Rene Descartes, stated, “I think, therefore, I am.”  We all think.  So, we exist.  We are real.  But, what else is real?

    After the running boom got into high gear, it has been said that our running for distance is the western world’s form of meditation.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

    The Vol-State Road Race is indeed a distance run.  It is real.  The 314 miles gives one plenty of time to meditate, plenty of time to think, plenty of time to become a zombie.  What one thinks about on the way to The Rock is as varied as differing personalities in the race.  And, all those different personalities have different goals, different attitudes about the race, different racing plans (with some, the plan is to have no plan…which is a plan), and different levels of competitiveness.  While traversing the Vol-State course, everything can change and usually does. 

    It is interesting to talk to other runners during the race.  After some chit-chat, each one usually gives an indication of their philosophy about this thing to each other…whether the “other” wanted to hear it or not.  They tell each other their goals, their racing strategy (plan), their problems, how they feel at present, and what they are planning in the immediate future…“immediate” meaning in the next mile or two.  If one listens carefully, one can tell a lot about the runner doing the talking.  And, some will talk and talk and talk to the point that you would wish that they would take a break…or, you fake some excuse to take a break in order to return to some semblance of silence.  A “restroom” break usually does the job quite well…even though, women tend to wait on each other, so another strategy might have to be hatched.

    A runner or walker in Vol-State will come to the point that they are staring eyeball to eyeball at themselves.  We begin to see who we really are, beginning to answer “What is real?” on a personal level.  What we find out can be exhilarating, or, heaven forbid, depressing.  It’s hard to escape reality when our bones hurt, we have been soaked with sweat for most of the day, we’re thirsty, we’re hungry, we’re tired, and there’s no end in sight.  We see a fellow runner and hope we do not look that bad…but, we do, or worse.

    Spending a lot of miles alone on the road can be mind-opening experience.  It is when some questions are answered.  Questions such as, “Why is running important to me?” Or, you find out it isn’t as important as you thought it was.  “What are my goals in running?”  Or, right now, after that 33rd plus mile for the day…your goal is to find a place to rest.  “Is this really worth all I’m going through?”  Or, this chafing is rubbing me the wrong way.  

    Many questions asked, many questions answered.  There is truth in the distance.  As stated in the X-Files, “The truth is out there.”  Way, way out there, probably beyond forty miles.  At that point, if you’re not a zombie, you can face it.  Zombies are the walking dead, and the dead are out of the race.

    We all come to the ferry from different backgrounds and are melded in one common pursuit, getting to The Rock.  We are more alike than different.  We all share some characteristics such as strength, commitment, toughness, endurance, dedication, focus, fitness, as well as, fatigue, stink, dirty, uncoordinated at times, forgetfulness, hallucinations, impaired speech, and general insanity.  But, we are all an athletic event of one.  The most important thing about Vol-State is how “we” do in the race.  How does our finish compare to our previous finishes.  Down deep, it is a matter of survival.  It is our own personal adventure.

    We may change because of the Vol-State experience.  Some of us are in the “one and done” school of experience.  Others of us keep coming back for more.  Obviously, we like what we experience, what we feel.  We return for more or different changes in our psyche.  Or, we just reinforce changes we have already experienced in previous Vol-States. 

    Race director, Laz, understands the intricacies of change and experience in the distance of the race.  He understands and respects what the race throws at the individual.  (He doesn’t care, he just understands and respects.)  His creation gives the ultrarunner the opportunity to have this great experience.  We have the opportunity to accept a grand challenge.  In doing so, we learn about ourselves, the world, people, and reality. 

    The learning from the experience is itself reality.


“There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.”

                                                                Kristin Armstrong, author and runner


Richard Westbrook

OK, I know, the title of this writing makes no sense. So, I will explain. “Kyotee” refers to the Nike Kyotee trail shoe. Nike, in their wisdom, has chosen to discontinue the shoe. Nike does that a lot.

            I own two pair of the Kyotees. The oldest pair is used for physical education teaching outside in the mornings when the grass is wet. They keep my feet relatively dry. Ah, but the other pair…they have been rediscovered by my feet.

            The Kyotee’s are a fat pair of shoes. They are trail shoes and have a thick sole, much thicker than any of my other running shoes. I run on the roads 95% of the time, so I started using the Kyotee’s in my rotation of shoes for my runs. I wasn’t using them much on the trails since I wasn’t getting to trails very often. The Kyotee’s give plenty of cushioning with their fat soles. They make the asphalt feel soft.

            As I was wearing them in my rotation every once in a while, I found them to be very, very comfortable. My feet enjoyed the softness of the fatness. After a few rotations, I started working them in the rotation more often. Then, I started looking forward to the “Kyotee” day.

            They felt so good on my feet and legs that I started using them on longer runs. This was an addition to the usual long run stable of shoes, Brooks Glycerin 9’s; Brooks Glycerin 11’s; and Brooks Flow’s with the Flow’s bringing up the rear. The Kyotee’s were coming up fast.

            Finally, I took the Kyotee’s for a 30-mile run to see if they would hold up and feel as good as they did on shorter runs. They hung in there. The fat-soled Kyotee’s felt great all the way through the thirty miles. Now, I’m thinking about using them in ultra races. Hmm…

            My go-to shoes right now for ultra races are the Brooks Flow 2’s. I wore them in the Last Annual Vol-State Road Race last summer and in a 50K on trails this last October. They performed with no problems. I wore the Brooks Glycerin 11’s last May in a 24-hour run with no problems in that one. But, the Kyotee’s make me rethink the “go-to” selection.    

            You know, one can become thoroughly confused by reading the shoe analysis reports in running publications such as Runner’s World and other running magazines. And, if you read the advertisements from the shoe companies about their latest models, that will only add to the confusion for the runner in search of new and better shoes. There is just too much conflicting information out there about which is best for the runner. Over there, they tell me that the zero heel drop is the best ever. Over here, they tell me that barefoot is the way to go; after all, it is all natural and what could be better than that? Then there are the guys telling me that their latest and improved model makes it best for comfort, protection, and durability. Oh! Don’t forget the shoe improvisers who want to get me into the wide toe box for natural function of the foot.

            If I didn’t know better, I would just flip a coin to pick a shoe. But, I do know better, so I tend to go with the simplicity approach. If it feels good, it is probably a good shoe for me. Not that I eschew the information about the new shoes, but I will put more stock in the information from other runners who have used the shoes in question…those runners in an on-line forum and who have no vested interest in anything connected to the shoe except, maybe, the money they paid for the shoes. These forums have positive and negative feedback about particular shoes. After reading the remarks, it is just a matter of deciding to try or fore-go the shoes.

            So, now I am in deep thought about the feeling I’m getting from the Kyotee’s. Should I stay with the traditional big company shoes such as the Brooks Glycerins or the little less traditional Brooks Flows and Flow 2’s? The Nike Free shoes have definitely been surpassed to leave that level of minimalism behind. Should I try the fatter soled shoes that promise more cushioning with some stability? Hmm…

            Hoka in the title refers to the Hoka One shoes. Some runners in the Last Annual Vol-State Road Race have worn the Hoka shoes. Just about all the feedback from those runners is positive. Durability seems to be the only question. At first, I looked upon the Hoka shoes as another gimmick, but after the Vol-State feedback, I began to give them more serious thought. I haven’t tried them; haven’t even thought about trying them. But, after rediscovering the feeling of fat shoes through the Kyotees, the Hoka shoes have entered my brain scan. If the Kyotees feel that good, would the Hokas feel even better?

            I don’t know. But, maybe, I will have to find the answer. Or, maybe not. The Washingtons, much less the Jacksons, might not agree.

            I will have to ponder on taking the step of trying the Hoka shoes. I’m still searching out feedback on these fat boys. So far, it is all positive except for the aforementioned durability aspect. I have a “Shoe Hall of Fame” on my website,, in which a pair of shoes will make the hall of fame if they reach 500 miles. There are several pair of shoes residing in that Hall of Fame. The durability question of the Hoka shoes might prevent their entry into the Hall of Fame. That would be a big negative against the Hoka shoes. Decisions, decisions…

            That leads to the term, “Poka.” That term in the title doesn’t mean anything. “Hoka” just reminded me of the term, “Hocus pocus” which I would use before my lame magic tricks as a kid. “Hoka-Pocus” just doesn’t sound right, so there you go. “Hoka-Poka.”

            Come to think of it…That sounds a little strange also.


                                                                                                                                     Richard Westbrook

                                                                                                                                      November 5, 2014

            Father’s Day, 2014 was coming up. I was to be in Dearborn – Detroit, Michigan on that day. The family and I were driving up to see my youngest son, Casey, and a week-long workshop with an iron pour. That’s just what it sounds like…melt some iron and pour the molten stuff into forms that have been made by artist and would be artists. This was all done at the 555 Art Studio in Detroit.

            We stayed in a motel in Dearborn on Michigan Highway, U.S. 12, which was created to make a direct connection between Detroit and Chicago. If I ran east and almost to the end of Michigan Avenue, I would just have to take a couple of turns and be at 555. So, it seemed that I could run there and not get lost (and possibly murdered.) It did turn out to be a good, safe run.   

            I spent some time running in the mornings in both directions on Michigan Avenue. Going east was definitely a better run than running west. A little over two miles to the east was the discovery of the Rouge River Trail, a multi-use trail that meandered by the Henry Ford Estate. This trail was a jewel.

Rouge River Trail running toward Michigan Avenue

Rouge River Trail running toward Michigan Avenue

            I entered the trail on a slight descent that led to the Rouge River. I was struck by the sudden change in environment from the previous two miles. All of a sudden, I was in a forest secluded from all traffic noise. The trail eventually entered a population area as it skirted the University of Michigan at Dearborn. Still, I was on the edge of the green space and enjoying it. There were quite a number of walkers, cyclists, and some runners on the trail, but it wasn’t crowded.

            I ran the trail on the way to 555 on a Saturday morning. I would be at 555 all day for the workshop-ending iron pour. The Rouge River Trail ended at Hines Road at the trail’s two-mile mark. But, across Hines Road was another trail which, in reality, extended the Rouge River Trail to who knows where. The ending sign across the road had a mileage mark of 17.5 miles. So, I knew I would return the next morning and run my fourteen miles on these trails.

            The next morning had me continuing on the trails running through a very pleasant surrounding of park areas. The trail ran adjacent to a few parks and eventually into a residential area. That was my turnaround point for my mileage. The only problem was the lack of water fountains. I found one fountain at a park building, but, as my luck would have it, it was out-of-order.

            The lack of water was not a big problem because of the weather. I had been running in the mid-Georgia and north Georgia in warmer temperatures than Michigan. And, the humidity was super low compared to Georgia. So, I felt cooled and almost completely dry as I ran. My mouth just got a little dry and water would have helped. But, I was OK.

            I was running in new areas and enjoying the exploration and the weather. I was seeing new things. In my running life, I have always thought that I was lucky to be able to see things in such a way, to be able to explore on foot, stopping to notice things one might miss speeding by on wheels. I almost felt sorry for those people trapped in their vehicles riding along in comfort. But, maybe I’m crazy…a little bit.

            Anyhowever, as I was running by Henry’s house on Sunday, the day after the pour, I had a thought…actually, several thoughts together. I was really enjoying my running in the present time, just totally involved in my surroundings. I recognized my passion for the rhythm of my running in this green space. I was “into it.”

            Then, I thought back about seeing my son involved in his iron pour the previous evening. Now, admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about his art stuff…just don’t understand some of it, but I do recognize one important and, maybe, the most important thing about it. And, that is his passion for what he is doing. He is totally involved in the process that took all this day for completion. He was totally absorbed. He was physically setting up the venue for the pour. He was mentally checking and double-checking every step of the process. He was planning several steps ahead in order to insure that everything was not only done but also done correctly. He answered a multitude of questions, some very abruptly and some with the diplomacy of a politician…whatever fit the situation and the person asking, and to get the results needed. He was multitasking to the extreme, everything was coming together. I was impressed by his energy, knowledge, skills, and social tactics.

Casey's furnace for the iron pour

Casey’s furnace for the iron pour

            His passion for what he was doing was evident to a proud father. I couldn’t think of a better father’s day present than seeing a son doing something well in a highly accomplished manner. I kept hearing remarks from the crowd about how accomplished Casey was during this event. I wanted to put on a t-shirt that stated, “I’m Casey’s Dad!”

            Nothing could be better than knowing your children will find something positive to become passionate about in their lifestyle. Art is that passion for Casey. I think nothing could be worse than to just drift through life without anything to value with intense passion.

Pouring the molten iron into an artist's mold

Pouring the molten iron into an artist’s mold

            As previously mentioned, these thoughts came to me as I was enjoying my running and recognizing my passion in my running. My running is a fairly private affair, especially since 99% of it is done alone…the exceptions being races. My expressions, feelings ,and actions are almost completely unobservable, coming from the inside out. About the only one detecting this is me, the artist practicing his private art. Even with this difference in observation, Casey and I have something in common…passion.

            Sometimes, family members get perturbed about my running. I didn’t detect any of that during this trip (I probably just missed it)…perhaps, because father’s day was stuck in there. That made me realize how lucky I am in having a supportive family for all the running and some of the ultra races I do.

Richard with son, Casey and daughter, Season at Belle Island in Detroit

Richard with son, Casey and daughter, Season at Belle Island in Detroit

            Casey’s project made all this possible. So, thank you, Casey!! You make a father proud!



                                                                                                                                    Richard Westbrook

                                                                                                                                    June 21, 2014



Posted: January 18, 2014 by smrtnsasy in Articles
Tags: , , , , , ,

Numerous studies and research have shown that there is more to running distance than the obvious “one foot in front of the other.” All of us that run distance know this without having the experts in white lab coats informing us. We find out in the real “lab,” the outdoors where our running takes place. Our experience in our running educates us to what is really happening.

The stuff that is really happening is varied. Even in it’s variety, there seems to run a commonality that bonds the runners. And, this doesn’t depend on how fast the runner is, or what level the runners practice his or her craft, or even how long the runners have been running. The running itself is the sticky stuff binding all this together.

Probably the most obvious thing that happens to runners is the feeling of accomplishment derived from sticking to your running plan or from running on that day that you would really like to just “can” it. But, you do it and feel better for it. This is a feeling of success reflected in self-discipline. If we are serious about our running , we have all felt this.

The aspect of self-discipline leads to a more physical feeling of relaxation leading to the mental “feel good” level during or after a run. Commonly known as the “runner’s high,” it has its basis in biology. We know the brain will increase the endorphins in the blood during a relaxing (or not too demanding) run. The afterglow is a direct result of the endorphins.

The act of running continuously can increase the level of serotonin in the brain. This is the reason aerobic running has been used in the treatment of depression. Depressed patients have found remarkable improvement through running aerobically. Some have improved dramatically while reducing the amount of anti-depressant medication.

Go for a run, and your self-esteem will improve…if it needs to improve. You may be grossly overweight, slow, painfully aware of how you look in running attire, and having to work at a death defying intensity just to jog one-hundred yards, and yet, the act of completing that one-hundred yards will elevate your self-esteem. Run more, self-esteem will get higher. The actual proven reasons for this are unclear, but no matter. We runners know it works, and that’s the important part.

Running in our modern society may have taken place of the predominance of physical labor prevalent in our society in earlier years. Before mechanization and technology had put manual labor in the minority of activity, the number of U.S. citizens suffering from depression, lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, the absence of a sense of self, and a feeling of a day spent well leading to relaxation was in itself a minority. Now, we are bombarded by advertisements for products that will solve those problems. All you have to do is buy and take the cure-all medication, and you will be a happy citizen…if you can get by all the side-effects.

Running gets us around all that. It is our manual labor. It is our exertion that brings together the brain, the heart, the adrenaline, the endorphins, the mysterious actions of self-esteem, the musculature used in locomotion, the DNA of our evolution…everything that makes the runner a relaxed and aware individual in our society. The running makes us a good animal.

The good animal is one of clear-headedness , one of creativity, one of simplicity. The runner seems to be able to see the true meaning of anything. Just as running itself culls out the gloss in activity, sport, work, and recreation, the runner uses this developed talent in other aspects of life. Therefore, life becomes one of clarity and simplicity in which creativity can prosper. This may explain why one can feel creative during a run while sitting tends to stalement that act.

This biological wonder we call a runner is an evolutionary animal that is aware of his or her surroundings both immediate and distant, past and present and future. This awareness is heightened during a good run, and this reinforces this runner-animal in his environment while not running. It makes the runner better at work, play, and daily life.

This awareness is connected to the real physical changes that happen in the brain and body during the run or immediately afterwards. During the run, the runner will notice things previously unnoticed, hear things heretofore unheard, sense things that have been oblivious up to now. All animal senses will have been sharpened. Eventually, this running animal can carry all this into the normal “civilized” life.

The runner will then be a better person in that life. All will be good.


“As we run, we become.”

Amby Burfoot,

The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life


By: Richard Westbrook

by: Richard Westbrook (October 2010)

Almost forty years ago, I was running in the northwest region of Tennessee while attending graduate school. My running was, as George Sheehan has said, and “experiment of one.” I was going to coach cross-country and track upon graduation if I could find that kind of job. I had spent a lot of time researching training methods and the history of the sport of distance running.

My running was an activity of finding out what worked best. I tried everything just to see how it worked. Some worked well, some were OK; and some almost killed me. But I learned.

I was also increasing my mileage to see what effects it had no my racing. The allure of the marathon was right around the corner. I ran right into it. Now, you have to understand that marathons were few and far between back then. Boston was king as it is now, but now it is serious competition for the crown. Finding a marathon to run to get ready for Boston was a serious quest. Now, it is no problem, but then, it was different.

I had subscribed to a new magazine on running, Runner’s World Magazine. It was a black and white publication on coarse paper. But, it was about running, and nothing else outside of Track and Field News came close. I took a plunge and sent my $75.00 in to answer their call for lifetime subscribers. It was for those of us who had faith in the magazine to fork over that much money to give to impetus. It was a big step for me being in graduate school to part with that much money. My financial level was such that I would buy the fish sandwich special at the local Fish Hut that would give me five sandwiches for a dollar. That would last me several days. But, my gamble on Runner’s World Magazine turned out to be a good thing…one of the few gambles that I have won.

With my mileage increasing and long runs stretching out, I was thinking about trying a marathon. There were some up north, but the south was a little sparse. Then I read in the Nashville Banner about an upcoming marathon in Percy Warner Park in Nashville. It would be the first marathon in Tennessee. I would run it.

The race had eight entries including me. The publicity focused on a Nashville runner who was a Boston Marathon veteran. So, that gave me my plan. I would run behind him and do what he did. I may not be close behind him, but I could still copy and learn.

I finished that one and learned some stuff. I was patient enough in my first marathon to give me the winning result. I was able to run past the Boston veteran in the last three miles and felt pretty good. I began thinking about my next marathon which was kind of against the grain after one’s first marathon. Usually, the first thought after finishing is, “I’ll never do this again.”

Marathons then were skeletal affairs. There were aid stations but not like now where aid stations are events all their own. Aid stations now can have a multitude of workers and even workers dressed in theme costumes for the event. There will be a variety of energy drinks, sport drinks, energy snacks, gels, medication, lubrication, fruit, candies, cookies, ice, cold compresses, and just about anything else they can think of putting out there. There may be music, scales to check your weight, clocks giving your projected finish time, porta-potties, chairs to sit and rest awhile, cheerleaders…anything but a local zoo animal.

Today’s marathons will have really big medals and the obligatory race shirt. the “tech” shirt is now very popular – not better, just popular. Chip timing is in vogue and works great. Race expos are the rage. It is rare that a race will not have their expo. It might be small, but it will be there. There may be special posters for the marathon. Cash prizes for the top overall finishers add luster to the race. And, to get runners there, the race will be listed in national publications.

Well, I stepped back in time this last September (which is time travel month) when I ventured to New Mexico to run the Turtle Marathon in Roswell. You may know Roswell as the site of the extraterrestrial crash landing near there in 1947. Flying saucers and stuff…and the town has its own UFO museum and festival. Also, a marathon that would fit in just fine in 1947. It just happens to be in 2010.

First of all, the entry fee was just $20.00 compared to $85.00 o up for today’s races. The race did have shirts for finishers, but you couldn’t find that out at the expo. There was no expo. In fact, it was hard to find anyone who knew anything about the race.

I tried to find out just where it started in the park that was named, but that didn’t work. Therefore, I couldn’t find out where the course went. I did have a starting time, so I showed up then to find out the rest of the information.

“What would be at the aid stations?” I asked. “Water,” was the answer. It would be every five miles…”or so.” It turned out to be “or so.” Actually, some aid stations or water, wasn’t there. The person assigned to place them didn’t make it for the ones near the turn around point on the out-and-back course. When they were there, they were just bottles of water sitting on the ground beside the road. Under the New Mexico sun, the water heated up pretty fast.

The course ran west from town into the New Mexico countryside. The day started a little cool and then warmed up fast under the cloudless sky. These absent water stops were on a rolling course near the halfway point. And, true to the past, there were no spectators to cheer on the runners. Heck, there weren’t even people at the water stops.

The runners charged into the finish in the park in a multi-use trail. The time was called out as we finished. The finish line was hard to find. I just ran into a crowd of people until I heard a time called out. The awards ceremony gave small ceramic turtles to the top three in the age-groups. They walked up and chose their turtle out of the box. Overall winners got real big turtles. After that, the runners just parted and left. There were no announcements or any postings so the runners could see what place their finish happened to be. A runner could very easily run the race, finish, and leave without knowing their place or time.

What they would know is that they just experienced a marathon like marathons used to be. No frills, no gloss, no extras, just running 26.2 miles and surviving. I enjoyed it. I liked the course, but I could have used a little more aid out there. And, maybe some Gatorade. One has to be self-motivated because there were no cheerleaders out there. One may be running alone for quite a spell. I had no problem with that, but some did.

So, if you want to be a time traveler and run into the past, this is the race for you. You might want to bring your own water bottle belt, or you might not make it back to the present. That guy might not make it out there to put water out again.

“A marathon is a time capsule.”                                                                                                                       Benjamin Cheever,                                                                                                                                                     Strides