Archive for the ‘Journey Running’ Category


LAVS 2017

The LAST ANNUAL VOL-STATE ROAD RACE.  Every year I get emails stating that the writer was going to run this but was sad to hear that this version was the last one.  They just don’t know.  It is the last one until the next one is run.  It all comes from the convolutions in the brain of Lazarus Lake, the race director.  I tell them that if they want to run the LAVS, think long and hard about it…because, the race is long and hard.

This was my fifth finish of this, my favorite race.  This is on the present course.  I had some finishes on previous courses which are not counted in the mix.  I had a dreaded DNF (did not finish) two years ago because of severe pain in my lower back that worsened even after breaks and walking gingerly.  I stopped in order to run again another day.  That was very late in the race which increased the mental anguish melded with the physical pain.

For me, this 2017 race was plagued from the outset shortly after coming off the ferry in Hickman, KY.  I was planning to run by “feel” through the hilly town and then settle into run-walk pattern to, hopefully, carry me through the heat.  My best time in this race is 5d:23:49:59 (5 days, 23 hours, 49 minutes, and 59 seconds).  This year’s time of 8d:00:44:24 of was not in that neighborhood, but it did improve upon last year’s time which I did not think would happen.  I ran more last year, albeit on blistered feet in the last half of the distance.  Oh well, the best laid plans…stepping off the ferry and all that leads to ?????

This thing is tough enough without having trouble pop up so early in the race.  But, that’s what happened.  I quickly changed goals of improving on last year’s blistered run (that’s “with” blisters, not a blistered pace) to staying ahead of Oprah.  Singer Toby Keith and his, “I’m not as good as I once was…” kept bouncing around in my head as I tried to run out a tight and painful hamstring.  It didn’t happen.

Still, I enjoyed the race…and, I had a lot of time for that enjoyment.  I got to the point that I could only run five steps and then walk five steps.  I just had to adapt.  Overall, I walked more than I ran.  For the past two years, problems have arisen that I worked to solve afterwards in order to do better in the next one.  Now, that is for three years and back to the drawing board. But, there’s always next year.

Being one who thrives on solitary running, I had pleasant experiences with other runners in the race.  We talked, suffered, complained, joked, encouraged, helped, hurt, and generally just had the normal Vol-State experience.  I fondly keep these moments on the road in my mind.  They involve BJ Timoner, a man of many facets and a treasured companion…until he left me behind.  Also, there were Sherry Meador who talks her way to the Rock, and Ed Masuoka, Ken Chappell, Johnny Adams, Chris Valenti, Dallas Smith, Cherie McCafferty, Byron Backer, Tait Robinson, Tasha Holland, Noah Moore, Shenoa Creer, Harold Donnelly, Olivia Coker and others whom I do not know their name or (as happens) I’ve forgotten their names through the stress of the road.  For that, I apologize.  Some of these runners were outgoing, some very taciturn in nature.  But, all were bright spots in my mind as we all shared in the adventure, and I thank you all for that.

But, through all the miles, I missed Charley.  I had good memories of Charley and I running easily at the same pace and sharing rest stops…and guzzling down chocolate milk; and shaking a drink machine that took our money in the middle of the night; and hanging on until we got to a store that we hoped would be open.  I passed places in this race that Charley and I shared, and Charley was there.  His spirit pervades.  His enthusiasm and jovial outlook helped me endure.

Thank you, Charley Taylor.  You will always be there.

In a broad scope, this report will not finish with my details of my daily trial and tribulations.  It will finish with a generalization of the race and some observations.  And, that will be it.  This will not satisfy some who thrive on in-depth reports and will delight those who don’t.  And, for those who don’t care to read it, it won’t matter.

I have a sense of adventure, so I run the LAVS for that reason but not that reason alone.  I run to compete even though that hasn’t been evident in the last few races.  I run to see a UFO in the night sky (or day sky even) but that has yet to happen.  I run for the comradery of like-minded individuals and to see friends whom I only see at this race.  I run at the speed of human endurance to see the countryside of the USA of which I am enamored by its beauty and grandeur.     

I started with my 6.2 pound pack carrying all that I thought I would need.  This pack was two pounds lighter than the last few years.  Even with this, I found that I had some stuff that I would not pack next year.  Getting lighter and lighter but running slower…something’s wrong here.  Am I getting older?

The night running is special in the LAVS.  I look forward to it.  I am invisible out there running beneath the stars on the open road.  I carry a headlamp but only use it when channeled into a narrow trek with oncoming vehicles.  I feel that I am safer if I am invisible in the darkness.  By the time a thug decides to hassle me, he has already passed me since he couldn’t see a light in the distance.

At times when using a headlamp because of the complete darkness from the lack of moonlight, it seems I am running in a world that is only open to the light ahead of me.  And, it immediately closes up in the darkness behind me.  There is a world on either side of me but is only detected by sound.  My footsteps, my light, the sounds, the road is the only world existing for me during the run in the dark.

I like the beginning roads into Union City, TN with its rural variety.  From Union City to Martin is comfortable and scenic, and running through Martin, a college town, is pleasing…as is Martin to Dresden.  Dresden is a picturesque town with its puzzle-like route through it.  It has improved with the farmer’s market aid station on the way out of town. 

Dresden to Gleason is one of my favorite stretches.  I’m usually there in the dark and have a frog concert entertaining me as I run through the low, wet areas.  The night sky is usually ripe for a UFO, but I’ve been out of luck so far.  But, Gleason has one of the best (if not the best) aid station set up at the fire station.  They do everything to please the runner and make it a memorable stop.

Gleason to McKenzie is so-so, just a vanilla stretch to get to the next town.  That sets up the open range going into Huntington.  Divided highway, SR 22, no shade, rolling hills, nothing to write home about.  Huntington is the reward at the end of the rainbow.  Places to eat, places to stop and take a short rest, a place to get mentally ready to head for the I-40.

I’m always glad to get that part of SR 22 done and arrive in Clarksburg even though it seems like I can never gain on that freakin’ tower as I approach the small town.  A store for refreshment and then on the way to Parker’s Crossroads.  That means McDonald’s and a place to cool-off.  Crossing I-40 puts footsteps on the way to Lexington for the big left turn.  I find this part deceptive as to when I’m approaching the town.  That seemingly endless sidewalk eventually gets this tired runner into town.  I have slept here at times when going through at night.  Atop a staircase behind a building makes a good hide-a-way for a snooze, and there’s a store close by.

I like passing through the large town of Lexington to get on the road to Parsons.  I’m usually refreshed for this scenic trek to make it enjoyable.  I aim for Parsons and the Sonic so I can fill by gut with a milkshake. 

There are parts of the route that I do not like.   The worst is the stretch from Parsons to the Tennessee River.  I hate it and am glad to get it behind me.  I usually hit it in the heat, and the hills and lack of a road shoulder to run on makes it a little piece of hell.  Slightly better is the segment from the Tennessee River into Linden though there are parts of that road than gleam.  From Linden on is good stuff.

Hohenwald pops up after Linden and is one of my favorite towns on the course.  There is a motel if needed (I don’t use them) and places to eat.  A Walmart going out of town is handy for supplies if needed. 

After Hohenwald is Hampshire, a unique little village with a deli for food.  It is looked forward to by most runners.  I took a nap on the post office floor which was already occupied by Bryan Backer and Solane Machado.  Then, it is on to a biggy…Columbia.  In my mind, things are getting good (as well as it could) once into Columbia.  I get my tacos, drink, rest if needed.  The course gets a little easier going out of town. 

Passing through Columbia, the route collects various towns such as Glendale, Culleoka, Mooresville, and then Lewisburg, another biggy.  I could get food and drink in Lewisburg that I would need for the upcoming distance through Farmington, Wheel, Bedford, and into Shelbyville.  I was struggling trying to stay ahead of Oprah, trying to survive.  I was reminded of a remark stated by a European in my race across the U.S. in 1992, “There are no winners, only survivors.”

Shelbyville, Wartrace, Manchester…trying to get them behind me.  Slowly but surely.  Nothing great.  But, still moving.  Relentless forward motion.

One of my favorite stretches of road is from Manchester to Monteagle.  The towns of Hillsboro and Pelham sit in a beautiful valley of farmland.  It is a treat to run on U.S. 41 through this valley and then up to Monteagle on Monteagle Mountain.  This is the beautiful U.S.A in its glory and grandeur.

Like a slow moving phantom, I run-walk through Tracy City and White City, headed for Jasper.  But, there is a mean downhill coming off of Monteagle Mountain.  I was stopped by police on my way down.  They said it was reported that I was in obvious physical distress and needed help.  I convinced them that I was OK and was not in danger.  But, it was good to know that there are concerned people out there willing to offer help.  I looked forward to the aid station at Steve Smalley’s house, nineteen miles from the finish.  Steve, a fellow member of the Chattanooga Track Club, offers up a good aid station with drink, food, and a place to nap if needed.

Jasper and then on to Kimball and South Pittsburg and New Hope gives the runner the aroma of the finish line.  The blue bridge across the Tennessee River (the second time) has been an area of severe and very realistic hallucinations for me.  I was talking to people that were not there.  This year was no different.  I passed through New Hope with the hallucinations behind me.  I zoned out and passed the turn that goes up Sand Mountain, and the next thing I remember, I found myself on my knees with my head in my hands on the ground.  I was on a patch of grass beside the road near a warehouse type building.

I popped up and wasn’t sure which way to go.  I had to flag down a car in the dark to ask in which direction was road 377.  How long I was on the ground in the zone, I did not know.  But, I found 377 and headed up and finally onto Castle Rock Road and onto the trails to the Rock.  The uneven terrain of the trails caused more pain in my leg and in the uprising sore area in my foot.  But, I would finish ahead of Oprah!  Whew!

The run was largely uneventful for me, but I was drawn to the route, the landscape, the runners, the goal of 314 miles, the achievement.  Comradery with Laz, Bill, Mike, and Sandra at the finish is always a welcomed treat…mainly, because it is over.


“The real opponents at the Vol-State are not the other runners. They are heat, hills, humidity, blisters, cramps, fatigue, hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, and incredibly sore feet.”

                                                                           Lazarus Lake, 2014, Vol-State Race Director


Richard Westbrook

“The land of Iowa is in the middle of the Middle West, and the civilization that grew there reflects that geographical fact.  It is a middle ground, a Mesopotamia lying between two great rivers that drain the continent, whose settlers and citizens have quietly gone about tilling the rich black soil, laying out towns, and building churches and schools.”  From Iowa, A History by Joseph F. Wall.

Summertime was here and time for another adventure.  My adventures tend to take the form of adventure runs.  According to Jerry Schad’s Adventure Running, an adventure run is running on scenic and challenging courses, typically in wilderness or backcountry areas.

Why be typical?  I think an adventure run can be anywhere in which there is a sense of adventure within the essence of the run.  This can be a business man taking a lunch break run in a new city of which he knows nothing.  His run will be charged with new sites, sounds, odors, decisions, efforts, and wonders.  He will be on an adventure run…be it a couple of miles or lasting the whole afternoon.

My adventure run this past June happened to be across the state of Iowa.  Heaven?  No, Iowa!  I had wanted to run across Iowa for a long time.  Now, I had a good reason to imbed my adventure run.  My son, Casey, and his wife, Dana, were having a baby daughter in late June.  They lived in Iowa City.  I was going to run across the state to celebrate the birth of the granddaughter.  Hopefully, I would be finished before the birth.  And, my oldest daughter was to have a baby in Pike County, Georgia about the same time.  But, I had run the length of our state three times on different routes.  Iowa would be new and an adventure.

My youngest daughter, Season, was going to serve as my handler on the run.  She had valuable experience handling emergencies from her U.S. Army service in Iraq.  It would be her first time to help her old man on an adventure stage run.  I was not disappointed.

We drove to Iowa City in early June.  After spending a day with Casey and family, we drove to western Iowa to camp at the Lewis and Clark State Park just west of Onawa.  The next morning, early, would begin the adventure run.

The run began in the Nebraska town of Decatur which is on the Missouri River.  It was a cool morning as I ran through the town toward the narrow bridge connecting Nebraska to Iowa.  It was one mile to the state line in the middle of the river.  From there, it was Iowa and all it had to offer.  The run started in 56° weather and climbed up to the mid to high seventies.  This made for very comfortable running throughout the day.

Decatur, Nebraska: start of the adventure run

Decatur, Nebraska: start of the adventure run

I ran on the flat road into Onawa which had the only McDonald’s that I would see until ten days into the run.  Iowagave me the flats until I got to the Loess Hills which was the home of the archeological discovery, the Turin Man, in 1955. This area gave me hills to climb leaving the river delta area behind.  The hills were long with gradual inclines.  They were not very challenging and, in fact, gave some respite from the previous flat terrain.

The Loess Hills in western Iowa

The Loess Hills in western Iowa

I ended the first day in Mapleton which happened to be one of the few towns with a store in it until day three…quite a difference from running in Georgia.  My daughter and her friend, Paul, made camp on the eastern edge of town.  Paul would leave on the second day after helping us get the day started.  He had joined us in Iowa City.

From the Loess Hills, the terrain turned to more of what I expected…long stretches of flat road that stretched out forever straight ahead.  A turn in the route was a novelty.  I really enjoyed running in this environment being accustomed to the convolutions of Georgia.  It added to the adventure.

Mapleton, Schleswig, Kiron, Boyer, Carnarvon, Ulmer, Auburn, Lake City, Lanesboro, Churdan, Paton, Pilot Mound…small towns… and sunny days with clouds and a slight breeze all made for good running in the heartland.  Between each town were the ubiquitous cornfields that lay on my right and left and seemingly stretched out forever.  My shoes were changed each day and included Brooks Infiniti, Brooks Defyance,and Brooks Glycerin.  I had Nike Strap Runner sandals in which to run if my feet became blistered or the toes hammered, but that didn’t happen. Season would drive three to five miles ahead, play with her dog, look around at Iowa, and be ready for aid when I arrived.  She did a great job and made the run one of the best I’ve had.

Season sometimes had to drive off course to find a town big enough to have a store so we could have supplies.  We had a lot of stuff in the SUV but had to buy ice, etc.  A lot of the towns were what we called “sidetowns” in that they were to our right or left of the roads on which we traveled.  In Georgia, most of these same type of roads go right through the middle of the small towns.  Iowa has these roads on the edges to the towns.  I felt cheated in these cases because I seemed to be passing the towns instead of running through the heart of the settlement, therefore, not getting the real “feel” of the town.  It did make it a real treat in those town that centered the roads.

I was running thirty miles a day, sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag at ground level.  I had trouble keeping warm in the evenings after the runs.  My body was still in a cooling stage, and I had to wear pants and a light jacket to keep warm in the campsite.  I did have a shower each day, and that was a big plus.  Iowa was superb in having a campground with facilities at or somewhere near our day’s destination.

This led me up through day six.  Day seven was a treat in that we had an offer to sleep in a bed on a farm.  At a rest stop, two guys stopped to offer help if we were broken down.  Finding out what we were doing, one offered his farm as a place to sleep for the night.  It had rained the night before in camp.  This Iowa family’s hospitality was a welcomed offer and promised a break from the ground.  We had to backtrack to get to their farm of corn and pigs.   This was the pure hospitality that I had stereotypically thought of as being characteristic of Iowa.  It was good to see that it was true.

I was approaching the center area of the state.  The towns were a little closer together.  The towns were a little larger, but still small.  I had run on pavement and dirt.  I had run into Vinton, a virtual large town that seemed alien to the previous ones.  Upon inspection, it was still a small town. It just had stores, even had a McDonald’s…the first one in 243 miles.  Ah, civilization.  Nine days between cheeseburgers.

I was running slower with residual fatigue ingrained in my body.  Mentally, I was eager to run more and see more.  My total time was now about an hour and a half longer.  I had some aching in my right hip that slowed me and made starting each morning a little harder.  Still, the finish was never in doubt.

The course in Iowa

The course in Iowa

            Approaching Shellsburg, I had the worst segment of the run.  I was on a dirt road that undulated over several large hills.  Added to that was heavy rain and a stiff headwind.  This made running very difficult.  I was soaked to the bone.  Running in mud was not what I had looked to in Iowa, but here I was.  But, true to the previous weather, the rain stopped…the road leveled out…the sun found me, and I was happy again.  It didn’t take long to dry out in the increasing heat and sun.  It felt good by being extreme to my previous condition.

I was now in the eastern part of the state with three days left.  Hiawatha, which is just north of Cedar Rapids, was getting near.  I left the countryside behind and entered the urban environment.  It was disconcerting and noisy.  It was not enjoyable.  The hardness of the urban driver made the running more dangerous.

The bright side was that we could drive down to Iowa City and stay the night at Casey’s.  This was a welcomed break in the routine.  I was in a race against the birth of the granddaughter.  Looking at Dana, Casey’s wife, I wasn’t sure I would win, but nature favored me, and I finished before the birth.

The weather was warmer and more humid.  We had some rain at times, and we took a break because it was so hard.  Traffic was heavier, but that wasn’t hard to achieve.  I was slowing down even more and taking more time.  The hip problem was getting worse, but I could smell the finish and was confident of making it.

Hiawatha, Marion, Springville, Anamosa, Wyoming, Monmouth, Baldwin, Nashville, Maquoketa…towns that I had looked forward to reaching…towns that told me I was in my last two days of the run.  They led me to State Road 64 from U.S. Highway 151.  State Road 64 would lead me across the Mississippi River into Illinois.  I was getting pumped, but it didn’t do me any good.  I couldn’t run faster because of the hip pain and fatigue.

Day 12, the last day.  I ran into Sabula.  This was a town that boasted the claim of Iowa’s only island city in that it was surrounded by the Mississippi River.  I ran slowly onto the island and then onto the causeway leading to the bridge across the mighty Mississippi.  I was tired and hurting but happy to have completed the adventure.  358 miles completed.  An adventure that I had looked forward to for a long time had been accomplished.  My daughter, Season, being there to help made it even more special.

The running in the heartland made my running seem even more basic than usual.  It seemed like a natural thing to do to run in such a place.  My thoughts during the run were laced with a great appreciation for the expanse of the USA; for the basic beauty of the countryside; for the spacious skies; for amber waves of grain; for the fruited plain.  I had always thought that one of the greatest aspects of our country is the pure bigness and variety of our geography.  This geography builds the great American who stands on basic values.  It is a great adventure to see the country and to interact with the people.  Running through that adventure makes it true to the human experience.

The last city in Iowa

The last city in Iowa

Completing the adventure

Completing the adventure

by Richard Westbrook

“Thousands of miles of backroads and pathways are out there for the exclusive use of foot travelers.”

                                                                                    Jerry Schad,

                                                                                    Adventure Running

Richard with son, Casey, and new granddaughter, Sera in Iowa City Hospital

Richard with son, Casey, and new granddaughter, Sera in Iowa City Hospital. Born July 1st.

Richard with new granddaughter, Mya, back in Georgia

Richard with new granddaughter, Mya, back in Georgia. Born July 1st.

Mya Wellmaker, Richard's granddaughter, on her 4 year birthday.

Mya Wellmaker, Richard’s granddaughter, on her 4 year birthday.

Sera Westbrook, Richard's granddaughter, on her 4 year birthday.

Sera Westbrook, Richard’s granddaughter, on her 4 year birthday.

By DIANNE BEARD, Sports Writer

Richard Westbrook was traveling down Georgia’s U.S. Highway 441 and made a wrong turn. For most people that’s no problem. They just stop, turn their car around and get back and it’s no big deal.

But what if you’re not in a car?

Westbrook was on a journey across Georgia on foot when he strayed off of Highway 441 and jogged an additional 10 miles.

“It’s different when you’re in a car, but when I got off track, I decided to keep jogging until I hit 441 again rather than go back,” Westbrook explained.

The physical education teacher at Riverdale High School, started the 372 mile trek July 9 and finished on the 15th. Westbrook said that he had calculated how much he could run each day and figured he could finish in six days rather then seven, but the heat was too much.

On the second and third days, the heat took its toll and Westbrook was unable to keep his food down and was forced to limit his jogging those days.

“I jogged more the first day than I did on the second two combined,” Westbrook said.

The heat reached 96 degrees several times during his trip so Westbrook changed his schedule around to include night running.

“I started running harder in the early mornings so I could take longer afternoon breaks when it was hottest. Some nights, I would run until 1 or 1:30 in the morning and then get up the next day at 5 a.m.,” Westbrook said. “I got less sleep than the previous days, but I felt better than I had when I ran during the middle of the days.”

He also said that many of the people who saw him running were concerned about his running in the heat. “They gave me food, drinks, fruit, shade and shelter,” he said.

Westbrook’s dream is to run through all of Georgia’s counties and if he continues the way he’s been going, then he will.

This was Westbrook’s second trip across the state. He took U.S. Route 27 the first time and said that “it was a lot harder because the hills lasted longer and continued down past Columbus.”

Westbrook said that he chose Highway 441 because it is a continuous route and flatter near the end of the journey. Although it was flatter, this trip was made difficult by the extreme heat.

“I will never run in July again,” he said.

Westbrook’s trip, which ran from the northeast to southeast sections of Georgia, began two miles north of Dillard, went through 15 counties, and ended nine miles below Fargo.

Westbrook said that his next trip across Georgia will be Highway 41 which starts in the northwest tip of Georgia and runs south and he feels will be the easiest.

What is it that makes this exhausting trip worthwhile?

“Not only is it a challenge, but it’s like a mini-adventure. I cover geography and see people and places that I have never seen before,” Westbrook said. “It’s easy to travel by car or bike, but it’s unique to travel across the state on foot.”

One might say that carrying only one small bag weighing only 8 pounds is traveling light, but Westbrook said that he wanted the bag containing emergency items and a one-man tent to weigh only six pounds.

Westbrook camped when he could find a safe place and spent the other nights in a motel to “get away from the heat.”

THE WESTBROOK FAMILY HITS THE TRACK L-R Father Richard, Daughter Season, And Son Casey

THE WESTBROOK FAMILY HITS THE TRACK L-R Father Richard, Daughter Season, And Son Casey

“I didn’t eat very much at all. I forced myself to eat at night because I knew that I had to, but I wasn’t hungry, just thirsty,” Westbrook said.

The farthest that Westbrook traveled in one day was 68 miles on his fourth day. He said that “when you’re out there, you have got to go somewhere and you don’t want to go back.”

“Reaching Fargo was the highlight because right before that there were long stretches of land without towns and stores so I couldn’t get any fluids,” Westbrook explained. “I doubted whether or not I could make it, but when I knew Fargo was only nine miles away, I knew I would make it.”

When he arrived in Fargo, he relaxed, ate a good meal and then started back home – this time he drove with his wife.