Posts Tagged ‘cross country’

Westbrook tells of his incredible feat (and his INCREDIBLE feet)

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By Brett Hess, Associate Editor of the CLAYTON NEWS DAILY

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2,971 miles.

$1,000.

500-plus hours.

400 cities in 12 states.

64 days.

Six pairs of running shoes and dozens of pairs of socks.

Two removed toenails.

One badly swollen leg due to severe shin splints.

Fourth place overall and first place in the Master’s Division.

Those are just some of the figures associated with Richard Westbrook’s summer vacation.

Westbrook, shown here celebrating the Wildcats' state championship in cross country last fall, was probably just as excited Saturday when he reached New York.

Westbrook, shown here celebrating the Wildcats’ state championship in cross country last fall, was probably just as excited Saturday when he reached New York.

The Lovejoy teacher and cross country coach spent his summer – or 64 days of it – seeing the United States. Westbrook competed in the Runner’s World Trans America footrace, a Tour De France-style competition from Huntington Beach, California to New York City.

It was the first such competition since 1929 and it attracted the world’s best ultra-distance runners as 28 athletes from seven countries assembled June 20 on the west coast.

The race ended this past Saturday and Westbrook returned home Sunday morning – just in time for the start of school Monday. (But the coach took a well-needed personal day and returned to classes Tuesday.)

“Though tired, he wasn’t entirely happy to be done. Finishing was kind of bittersweet,” Westbrook said. “We were all tired, but we were all a little sad to be done and going our separate ways.”

But the trip satiated Westbrook’s strange thirst for an incredible challenge.

“It was everything they said it would be,” Westbrook said. “The scenery, the comraderie, the challenge. It was the experience of a lifetime.”

Westbrook’s Ramble

Ten facts relating to Westbrook’s cross country journey:
10. Shelly Tyler, a runner for Westbrook at Riverdale High a few years ago, drove the support van.
9. Several former and current runners teamed up with the coach and ran with him through parts of Utah, Colorado and Indiana.
8. Colorado, Illinois and Indiana were the three ‘most beautiful states.’
7. Day One: Was his toughest day. A bad choice of fluids nauseating Westbrook to the point of nearly passing out one mile from the finish. “I thought I was in real trouble. Here it was the first day and I couldn’t make it.”
6. The run helped prolong his personal running streak of running at least one mile every day for the last 17-plus-years.
5. What’s next: He plans to run the Blue Ridge Parkway (500 miles) next summer.
4. Averaged 150 miles of running each week for six months leading up to the competition.
3. Better that he ate his Wheaties: Westbrook’s preferred breakfast choice during the run.
2. Favorite state: Ohio. “The Ohio Running Club took care of everything all the way through the state. We had everything we needed.
1. Yes – he would do it again. But only when they change the course so that he could see a different part of America.

But it wasn’t as tough as the “experts” said it would be. Running experts and scientists predicted that no more than four competitors would reach New York. But 13 finished and the baker’s dozen posed for a group picture Saturday.

Despite being competitive, Westbrook said the runners supported each other in achieving the main goal: finishing.

“We all wanted to win, but it was more important to finish,” Westbrook said. “We had a great time trading advice and getting to know each other in the evenings.”

But the mornings were strictly for making progress. At 5 a.m. each day the group – along with a dozen or so ‘journey runners’ who ran portions of the race just for the experience – set out on a pre-determined course that would take them to an average of 45 miles.

Lovejoy coach Richard Westbrook shows off the six pair of shoes that he wore in his cross-country run this summer. Note the shoes second from the left: Westbrook had to cut the toes out because his feet had swollen in the desert.

Lovejoy coach Richard Westbrook shows off the six pair of shoes that he wore in his cross-country run this summer. Note the shoes second from the left: Westbrook had to cut the toes out because his feet had swollen in the desert.

Westbrook: Thought trip was worth the trouble

The runners were aided by their own support groups and just five Runner’s World staffers. Along the way volunteers chipped in with drinks or a post-run meal. Many of the towns scheduled welcome parties for the runners and donated sleeping quarters and home-cooked meals.

“I’ve had so much spaghetti and pasta that I can’t even look at it,” Westbrook said. “It was great that people came out to help, but 60 straight days of spaghetti and pizza is enough.” 

A day with Westbrook

Following is a rough diary of what Westbrook did each day along the 64-day journey.

4 a.m.  Arose and prepared for the day’s run. Ate a large bowl of Wheaties with a spoon of sugar.
5 a.m.  The run (anywhere from 30 to 55 miles) began. He chose not to eat any fruit or solid food along the way, instead alternated drinks of Kool aid, Coca Cola and fluid replacement drinks like Gatorade.
Noon-2 p.m.  The day’s run was over and he drank a large glass of milk to settle his stomach. After a light bite to eat, he would nap for two to three hours.
6 p.m.  Arose again to do a little stretching before eating the day’s big meal (usually heavy on pasta).
7-10 p.m.  Enjoyed the evening’s festivities or just sat around talking with the other runners.
10 p.m.  Went to sleep in preparation for the next day’s run.

Considering the daily grind, Westbrook said many of the runners thought the biggest challenge would come later in the race. But the desert proved to be the testing grounds. If runners make it into Colorado – as 15 of them did – they had proved their mettle and went on to finish the voyage.

“I knew the desert would be tough but it proved to be the greatest challenge,” Westbrook said.

Runners battled blisters from head to toe and swollen feet while running for several days in the intense heat. Although many of the runs were completed by noon, runners still encountered temperatures as high as 114 degrees.

“It was hot 24 hours a day,” Westbrook said. “Everything was hot, even the water we had to drink seemed hot.”

Westbrook was hot – literally and figuratively. Literally in that his feet swelled to the point that his shoes didn’t fit. Since he only had six pairs of the same brand, make and size of running shoes, Westbrook had to cut out the toe box of one pair of shoes to allow his feet adequate space. He lost the toe nails on his second toe of both feet.

Westbrook overcame this minor obstacle to jockey for position in the overall standings.

The 45-year-old entered the race with the hopes of experiencing the trip and finishing. But as many of the runners dropped by the wayside, Westbrook moved up to second in the standings.

“That was a real surprise because a dozen of these guys were famous for this type of thing,” Westbrook said. “I kind of caught the bug and started thinking about winning.”

After eight days in the California and Nevada deserts, the field ventured into the wilderness of Utah. For the better part of two weeks the field of runners were on their own. Primitive campgrounds were the likely evening rest stops and the food was basic (usually out of cans).

Westbrook said the beautiful scenery of Colorado helped off-set the pain of running at altitude, but then the 10 days spent in Kansas took their toll.

“It was hard to keep it up because it was so boring and there were few towns to break up the monotony,” Westbrook said.

Meanwhile Westbrook continued to cruise through the days feeling better as he grew accustomed to the daily ritual. A strong performance through Missouri (July 28-31) allowed Westbrook to gain on overall leader David Warady.

But little did Westbrook know that when he went to sleep in Hannibal, Missouri on July 31 that everything would change by morning.

August dawned and Westbrook awoke with a severely inflamed left shin. It didn’t feel like shin splints but the race doctor diagnosed it that because, according to Westbrook, he didn’t know what else to call it. Luckily for Westbrook, a relatively short (35 miles) and flat stage was on the day’s menu and he was able to walk-jog to the finish line just seven minutes [short] of the day’s cut-off time.

The shin problem never worsened, but by the time Westbrook was able to run comfortably again (five to six days later) he was back to fourth place.

Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania proved to be an enjoyable time for the field as cool temperatures and extremely interested local citizens chipped in to pamper the runners.

Westbrook was happy just to be running again and had no chance of winning the race. He was able to hold off Emile Laharrague of France for the  master’s title.

“That’s my little piece of fame,” Westbrook said.

No one, including the race’s overall winner (Warady) received anything more than a certificate for finishing.

Richard hugging his wife and youngest daughter at the finish of the TransAmerica Footrace.

Richard hugging his wife and youngest daughter at the finish of the TransAmerica Footrace.

Runner’s World has scheduled a race for next year but the entry fee will jump from $200 to $1000. Don’t look for Westbrook to sign up, though.

“I’d do it again some day but they would have to change the course,” Westbrook said. “That was the best part of it – seeing America.”

           This is a look into some books that are running related.  The relationship may seem like a stretch at times, but it is there.  That may include tapping into the psyche of running and not just the obvious physical aspect.  But, as most serious runners know, our running is affected in one way or another by everything we perceive.  Reading helps us to broaden that perception.

BOOK:  An Honorable Run

AUTHOR: Matt McCue

COPYRIGHT: 2009

 

Me, Richard Westbrook, and Matt McCue, the author

Me, Richard Westbrook, and Matt McCue, the author

            I met the author, Matt McCue, at last summer’s (2011) Nike Smoky Mountain Runner’s Camp in Asheville, NC.  Matt gave the speech at the end of camp, and I must say that his speech (which was not perceived as a “speech”) was one of the best I have ever heard at camp.  Other long-time staffers also thought so.  Matt and I had a good talk about running, coaching, and high school versus college running.  We had our picture taken together after which I told him that I would destroy the picture if I didn’t like the book, which I got from him and would be my next read.

            An Honorable Run is a very good and easily read book.  It captured my interest right off the bat and carried me through its 157 pages quickly.  It is about a journey of a walk-on collegiate runner at the University of Colorado.  The runner, McCue, ran high school cross-country at Regina High in Iowa City, Iowa.  He worked hard, probably harder than any other team member.  He loved running.  He had a good coach.  He was not recruited by any college.

            The book tells of his relationship with his high school coach, Bob Brown.  Brown started the program at the school and built it to a championship level.  Because of his love of running and his thirst for success, McCue looked for a top program in which to run after high school.  The fact that he was not recruited did not deter him from reaching for the Colorado Buffaloes.  He had read Chris Lear’s Running with the Buffaloes, which gave a day-by-day account the University of Colorado’s 1998 cross-country season.

            Matt’s writing is laced with humor in giving the situations he encountered in trying to just make contact with Colorado’s coach, Mark Wetmore.  This dry humor is intertwined throughout the book but does not affect the seriousness of the story.  Matt makes the book realistic in being able to communicate to the reader his apprehensions, confidences, and cases of reality shock that he encounters in his running journey.  His style of writing makes it such that we can all relate to his situations.

            Starting with his junior high track experiences in which he aimed for the shortest events possible resulting in being smoked in the beginning 400-meter time trial through his getting “assigned” to do the mile time trial, Matt leads us through his running career.  The guts of the story are the two coaches, Brown on the high school level and Wetmore on the college level.

            It is clear that Coach Brown probably had a deeper and longer lasting influence on Matt than the seemingly more impersonal Wetmore.  And, one of the great characters in the picture is Matt’s mom.  She is perceived as being in the background but a careful reader will note that his mom aimed Matt on his journey and gave him the tools to complete the task.  She seems to be a very interesting character and one I would like to meet because of reading this book.

            Lessons were learned during Matt’s journey.  These lessons dealt with workouts, running distances, relationships with teammates, goals, first experiences, expectations, dealing with coaches, and most significantly…determining what was of value.  The reader of this story will thoroughly enjoy vicariously experiencing these with the author.

            This is a short, soft back book that is a quick read.  It did not get a lot of “hoopla” that I have read or heard.  But, it is one of the most enjoyable books on running that I have read, and I read everything on the subject that I can get.  I strongly suggest that you read this book.  You will not be disappointed.

Richard Westbrook

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To be serious is the greatest joy.”

                                                                                                Gustav Mahler

            This is a look into some books that are running related.  The relationship may seem like a stretch at times, but it is there.  That may include tapping into the psyche of running and not just the obvious physical aspect.  But, as most serious runners know, our running is affected in one way or another by everything we perceive.  Reading helps us to broaden that perception.

BOOK:  My Life On The Run, The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon

AUTHOR: Bart Yasso

PUBLISHER: Rodale, 2008

           

            The author, Bart Yasso, is the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World magazine…Whatever a Chief Running Officer is.  As the dust cover leaf states, Yasso has competed in more than 1000 races, triathlons, biathlons, and eco-challenges over the past 28 years.  He was inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions.  He has also been called the “Mayor of Running”…Whatever.

            I met Bart when I was running the 1992 Runner’s World TransAmerica Footrace.  He was sent out west by Runner’s World to quiet the rebellious runners who seemed to think their running was what the race was all about.  After his ranting, raving, and threats, we continued doing things our way with no problems.  Bart was replaced with a more sane liaison.

            But, Bart did write an interesting book about his various running adventures.  Most of these were initiated by Runner’s World sending him to differing races in order to report on them for the magazine.  That sounds pretty sweet, going to races with all expenses paid, and Bart readily recognizes this fact.

            The book is easily read and is entertaining.  It is not just a compilation of races in which he competed.  It gives good descriptions of the background of the races.  Personalities are described when they are important to the character of the events. 

            Bart’s racing adventure takes him to far off places like Antarctica, Africa, and Nepal.  He recommends marathons that should give the reader the best and most enjoyable experiences.  This is intertwined with the stories of his travels to and from the events.

            He, also, relates health problems that hampered his adventures.  This was complicated by his location being out of the USA.  Medical treatment could get suspect when you get away from our medical system.  The reader can appreciate Yasso’s determination in completing assignment under these conditons.

            Just as the reader is immersed in the stories, Yasso changes gears and starts telling the reader the more practical aspects of such runs.  This leads to training program for 5-K’s up to marathons.  The programs tend to be on the easier side of training as typical for the parent publication, Runner’s World Magazine.

            I liked the book, especially the accounts of the races.  The pictures of the sites and of Bart through the years add to the enjoyment of the book.  An overriding message from the book is that each of us can find adventure in our running and races just may be the best source.

            That’s well worth the read.   

  Richard Westbrook

           

“I had taken running for granted or at least put too much emphasis on the wrong things.  I had never won a race of the mythical 26.2-mile distance, and at age 43, I probably never would.  It was time to appreciate the sweaty exertion for what it was – an affirmation of life.”

                                                                                                               Bart Yasso

          This is a look into some books that are running related.  The relationship may seem like a stretch at times, but it is there.  That may include tapping into the psyche of running and not just the obvious physical aspect.  But, as most serious runners know, our running is affected in one way or another by everything we perceive.  Reading helps us to broaden that perception.

BOOK:  Born to Run, A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

AUTHOR: Christopher McDougall

PUBLISHER: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009  

          Born to Run is an incredible book.  It doesn’t matter if you are a serious runner or a couch potato.  It doesn’t matter if you like mysteries or adventure.  It doesn’t matter if you as a runner are interested in training or injury prevention or running for fun or fitness.

        This book encompasses all the above and more.  It is one of my favorite books.  I’m an avid reader who reads a lot of different genres.  I like fiction and non-fiction.  I read a lot on running.  I read classics.  I read mysteries.  I read adventure.  I read westerns.  I read philosophy and religion.  I read science.  I read geography.  I read travel. I read biography.  I read history.  I read sports.

          Some of my favorite books are The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour; The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles A. Lindbergh; Once A Runner by John L. Parker Jr.; Bunion Derby by Charles B. Kastner, and others.  Now, added to that list is Born to RunIt fits nicely into the list ranking very high.

          The book takes us from Colorado to Mexico and some other related sites along the way.  We meet interesting characters.  The characters are so varied that we can see ourselves in there somewhere.  The great thing is that the characters are real, but as we read the book, we would swear that these characters are made-up for the story.

           Therein lays the allure.  Born to Run reads like a novel, one that is both a mystery and adventure story.  It is biographical, historical, and scientific.  The characters engage us.  We want to read the next page to see what happens to them.  It is the story of the land, people, philosophy, and running.  For what more could you ask?

            The author, Christopher McDougall, is a runner himself, so he writes with a sincere interest.  That interest is made evident in the beginning of the book.  In his search for answers on some running problems, he finds out that a lot of conventional wisdom is misplaced.  Through his search, he learns.  We learn along with him.

          The mysterious Caballo Blanco is the catalyst that takes us into the Copper Canyon region of Mexico.  That is where the Tarahumara Indians live and run.  The Tarahumaras are linked with an elite ultrarunner, surfers, and barefoot running.  The story leads to the epochal point of a race in its truest form.

          The race is not one of the glitzy, corporate sponsored events we are familiar with in this country.  It is almost a “secret” event.  You will remember the race and the setting long after you read the account.  You will identify with the runners in the race.  McDougall paints a startling picture in which our mind will be engaged with the vision, smell, and heart-pounding feeling of the sites both there and here.

          The book would go on your bookshelf with the books on ultrarunning.  But, it is so much more.  Delving into lifestyles, it gives the reader a glimpse into differing philosophies.  This ranges from the “why” of running to the importance of life.

          Telling you too much about the specifics of the book and the story would give too much away.  It is better to explore the story like one would explore a new running route.  After starting the book, the runner will want to run more because of learning what can be done and what the human potential can be.

          Read Born to Run, and you will become a better runner.  You will share experiences you never thought possible.  You will understand Kuira-ba…We are all one.

 Richard Westbrook

                                                “The best runner leaves no tracks.”

                                                                                      Tao Te Ching

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            I have run through Georgia’s Whitfield County two times.  The first time was following U.S. 41 highway through the county in my third run across Georgia, this one via U.S. 41 through the state, north to south, Tennessee to Florida.  The second time was this last one of running the length of the county in my quest to run across all of Georgia’s 159 counties.  The previous Whitfield County crossing on the state run on U.S. 41 was not the long way across the county, so that required me to run another crossing, making it the long run across.

            My Georgia County Quest is now at 71 counties completed.  That leaves 88 counties to go now that Whitfield County is on the completion list.  A string of counties was completed in my first run through the western side of the state along U.S. 27 coming out of Chattanooga, Tennessee and leading into Florida toward Tallahassee.  I had a crew on that run, one crew on the northern part and a different crew for the southern part.  Being the first run through the state, I learned a lot from that run.  As they say, “Experience is the best teacher.”

            I learned basic lessons.  Controlling my mental disposition was paramount, and I learned that early in the run.  Surviving the heat and humidity provided many lessons that were learned the hard way.  Fueling was learned by trial-and-error.  But, I made it.  Lessons were learned.  And, that led me to the second run through the state.

            The second run that completed another string of counties on the eastern side of the state followed U.S. 441 from North Carolina to Florida.  This run was a solo run with no crew.  Being unsupported, it provided me with a different set of lessons that were learned through experience.

            The third run through the state was more or less through the middle along U.S. 41 from Tennessee to Florida.  The southern part of this run was supported.  The  northern part had a highlight (or lowlight) with my escape from death though a blocked windpipe from lodged electrolyte capsules blocking my air.  I couldn’t breathe.  I had no fluid to wash the capsules down.  I was trying to figure out what to do.  I was in a rural area north of Cartersville with no houses around and no cars in sight on the road.  After five minutes, I decided to stay near the road so my body would be seen after I had passed out and collapsed.

            Then, I heard voices.  Walking on down the road toward the voices, I saw some workers cutting bush from a bridge.  I couldn’t scream at them…no air.  I just walked toward them, waving and placing my hands at my throat giving them the “choking” sign.  Eventually, one looked my way.  Then, they both ran to me for rescue.  Fortunately, the younger one knew and administered the Heimlich maneuver.  I felt the capsule dislodge and oxygen rush into my lungs.  It had been almost six minutes of blocked air.  My biggest surprise was how calm I stayed during the whole ordeal. After that, the rest of the run was a breeze…just in one of the hottest summer on record for Georgia.

            Those runs plus sporadic counties that I have run on weekends have gradually added to my county total.  My coaching in the fall with cross-country and in the spring with track cuts down on the time I have had available to travel to and run far reaching counties.  Usually, I would have to have someone drop me off and then pick me up once I have finished a particular county.  A lot of times, no one is available for the drop-off and pick-up.  Their schedule does not fit mine.  (I can’t really understand why they don’t change their schedule and sacrifice sleeping time to take me for a drop-off for my usual early start…Oh, well.)

along Cleveland Hwy., north of Dalton

along Cleveland Hwy., north of Dalton

            Fortunately, my daughter, Season, was up to the task to take me to the Georgia-Tennessee state line in Whitfield County.  I drove up while she slept.  She dropped me off for the 6:00 a.m. start, which means we left the residence in Trion, Georgia about 5:00 a.m.  We drove up the Old Alabama Highway north of Trion and turned on State Road 136 leading through Villanow.  Turning north off of SR 136 lead us into Dalton and then to the state and county line.  Twisting and turning through Dalton, my instructions to Season were to make sure she knew where to turn to find her way back to SR 136 and then to Trion.

north of Dalton

north of Dalton

           I should have listened to my own advice.  After easy directional running south on SR 71, Cleveland Highway, and running through some new towns (to add to my “Running Site List”), I entered the Whitfield County seat, Dalton.  The terrain leveled off from the rolling hills north of town. In the north part of town , I ran by some old carpet mill buildings that seemed to be closed up or relocated.  This stretch also had a preponderance of Mexican businesses and a lot of Mexican billboards that I could not read.  I kept a sharp eye out for street signs and highway signs so I could find my way through town.  I thought of Season and wondered if she made it through with no trouble.

            Somewhere in this town, I knew I had to turn right on Walnut Avenue and then look for a left turn on U.S. 41, South Dixie Highway.  Several times, I had mentioned these turns to Season so she would not get lost on her return trip.  Again, I should have listened to myself.

entering Dalton from North

entering Dalton from North

Before I knew it, I was running out the western side of Dalton, having missed the left turn on South Dixie Highway, U.S. 41.  When I ran up on the I-75 junction sign, I knew then that I had messed up.  Just to be sure, I asked the guy at the counter in a garage where South Dixie Highway was, and he gave the answer I did not want.  He told me it was, “Five lights back that way…two miles back.”  That means that I just ran two miles out of the way and would have to run that same two miles back to the turn.  Once back at the turn, I thought, “How could have been so blind or stupid or both to miss such an obvious turn?”  Then some frustrated anger set in when I remembered missing a turn in my last run through the state coming into Dalton on U.S. 41.  That resulted in running four miles out of the way even though I did not have to back track.

            So, two times running through Dalton resulted in me missing turns both times.  Each time resulted in a four-mile addition.  Two times Dalton equals eight miles the wrong way.

            Once my mind cleared the wrong way mistake, I was cruising along South Dixie Highway south of Dalton.  I ran past a yard sale.  I ran past another yard sale.  Then, I ran past another yard sale.  Then, the yard sales started to look like one big yard sale because they were side by side.  That’s when I remembered that this was the section of U.S. 41 that was dubbed the country’s largest yard sale…And this wasn’t even the time of year for the big weekends.

South Dixie Hwy near Carbondale Road

South Dixie Hwy near Carbondale Road

            I was back running over rolling terrain but nearing the southern end of Whitfield County.  I turned off of South Dixie Highway onto Carbondale Road and would run out of the county and into Hill City in Gordon County.  That was the plan.  But, the rain came.  I felt some light rain and kept running.  The light rain became a heavy downpour.  I looked for shelter and saw a church ahead.  I looked for a pavilion in the back but only found a cemetery.  That left me getting out of the rain under the small overhang at the church’s front door.  I took off my backpack and sat down to wait out the heavy rain.  The wind started blowing the rain up under the overhang, so I picked up the heavy floor mat at the front door and draped it over me to ward off the blowing rain.  It worked well.  I stayed dry and out of the wind.  A pleasing sidelight here was the car that stopped and two young girls got out and came over to offer me a blanket to keep warm…saying that they saw me here when they passed by a few minutes ago.  That’s the kind of people you meet out there in the real USA.

            I determined that if I had not gone four miles in the wrong direction, I would have finished the run at the county line and then into Hill City before the rains came.  But, the rains came, and I waited.  Then, when I thought the rain had stopped long enough for me to finish, I got back on the road.  I immediately started down a big hill where the Georgia Highway Patrol was monitoring traffic because of a car having slammed into a tree, probably sliding out of control in the curve because of the rain.

            Just crossing the county line, I saw Season and Nick, my nephew, driving up.  They told me I had less than a mile to get to the depot in Hill City. That was good news.  Hopefully, the rain would hold off until I got there.  It did.

            My distance for Whitfield County was 31.70 miles because of the additional four miles.  The total mileage for the run was 33.82 miles finishing in Hill City in Gordon County.  One more county completed.  Eighty-eight counties to go.

            But, Who’s counting?

                                                                                                                                              Richard Westbrook

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The long runs on the weekend are a genuine adventure for me—a physical challenge in an otherwise mostly cerebral, abstract sort of daily life. And, you don’t have to go to a mountain or anything. It starts right out the front door of your home.”

                                                                                                                                               John Walker,

                                                                                                                                              Runner and Journalist   

A JOURNEY OF THE BODY, MIND, AND SPIRIT

Or, The Last Annual Vol State Road Race 2012

            It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the summer of hope, it was the summer of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct to Hell – in short, the period was that of extremes, highs and lows with some moderates.  In comparison, each runner experienced his or her esoteric learnings brought to the surface by the monumental task of the Vol State Road Race in the month of July in the year of 2012.

            Thus, the paraphrasing of the opening lines of the classic, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.  The book was written of other things and other times.  But, the often quoted opening lines apply to the Vol State Road Race 2012 just like the bonding of the Vol State to thirst and fulfillment, joy and anger, pain and euphoria, loneliness and camaraderie, hunger and satiety, staleness and excitement, stubbornness and anxiety, complacency and spirituality, doubt and confidence, patience and impulsiveness…and, maybe, a little insanity mixed in to what we think is normalcy.  Each runner in the 2012 event can relate to many of the aforementioned qualities.  Now, that it is over, more questions may arise.  But, more importantly, more answers may have been found.  Therein lies the real truth of the long run…discovery.  Each finisher is not the same person as he or she was at the start.  Each of us is someone different.  Only the runner can know to what extent.

            The journey of the mind and body began by running off the ferry in Hickman, Kentucky.  In a race where anything can be expected, the start was the start of great unexpectations.  The ferry was grounded which prevented the crossing over and back on the Mississippi.  Instead of starting in Missouri, we adapted and started on the ferry deck and ran into Hickman.  Gary Cantrell modified the time in order to equate with past Vol States, equality being the key.  Each runner’s mind was working to adapt to the run and apply one’s biology to the mileage, duration, terrain, and environment ahead.  Problems were to be predicted and, hopefully, solved.  If not solved, the runner would suffer.  The amount of suffering would change over the 314-mile distance lying before us toward the southeast.

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In the midst of regular life, running is the touchstone that breathes adventure into my soul. I can feel the trail under my feet, the press of the hill, the gallop of the track, the burn of my lungs, the stir of wonder and possibility. Running reminds me that there is more to me than what is readily apparent much of the time. I don’t always need to see it. But, Oh, how I need to know it’s there. Like having an alter ego, or a super-cool super-hero identity.”

                                                                                                    Kristin Armstrong, Author and Runner

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            I ran easily, slowly up the small rise leading into Hickman.  I glanced around feeling like the rookie that I was in this event.  Most were walking.  Did they know more than I did?  Obviously, since most had run this before.  Still, I ran up the small hills talking to some of the others that were running.  Two guys were taking it out.  Not me. 

            The hills got severe in old Hickman until we were at a high point overlooking the ferry and the course behind us.  I stopped to take a photo and to breathe.  My mind was doubtful about what was out there ahead of me.  I did feel good about my pack and its non-obtrusive presence that marked me as part of the solo or “unscrewed” division…as were most of us in this parade.  But, that did not sway the malignant doubt and anxiety about the immediate future.

 

image001A hardy group of adventurers on the ferry to start the Vol State 2012.

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Westbrook has run the length of each colored county

Westbrook has run the length of each colored county

 By Season Westbrook

    For as long as I can remember my dad has been running across the world it seems, or, at the very least, Georgia. I would be visiting my grandparents in North Georgia with my brothers and sisters while he would be gone for days running. I became used to the fact that Dad would travel to my grandparents’ with us all and then we might not see him again for half, whole, or even several days. That was our life…Dad’s on a run again. I like it though. I was convinced (still am actually) that he could run forever. I think when his time comes, he will simply run off into the distance and never return, nothing tragic, nothing dramatic, just disappear….

            I don’t really like to think about that, so on a more uplifting note. I have included a map of Georgia with the counties colored in which he has run across. No cheating! There is a county or a few that are not colored in that he has run across but it was just the short length. According to Dad, if it’s not the full length of the county then it has not been included.

            Georgia has 159 counties. He has run through 70 of then and has 89 left to go. Who wants to wake up at 3am and take him to the beginning of the next county he plans to run?

Below is an article Richard wrote about his quest to run the counties of GA…

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