Posts Tagged ‘vol state’


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



Day one is complete. Per the update, Westbrook has finished 61 miles and is past Mckenzie. In the screwed division Westbrook has moved up to 27th place. The map above has him listed as 41st place, but that is out of all the competitors combined to include the crewed runners. We are only concerned with the screwed division. It is a whole other type of race with no support on the road.

This update is from 7:30 am. Westbrook called home to check-in this morning as well. As of 9:50 am, he had completed 65 miles and was just past Huntington. He continued moving through the night with only 30 minutes sleep behind him, saying he wanted to go on while it was still on the cooler side. He intends to get a bit more sleep sometime today.

Here a couple of pictures from the Last Annual Vol State facebook page:

The start of LAVS 2016

The start of LAVS 2016


Local people know they are coming, yay!


Vol State 24 hour check-in, Westbrook's location

Vol State 24 hour check-in, Westbrook’s location

A little after midnight Richard was in Gleason, TN taking a 1/2 hour break…”feeling ok…break over…headed toward Mckenzie.” His official 24 hour check-in put him at 64 miles, past Mckenzie. At that point he was 19th in the screwed division (28th overall). Around an hour or so later, he was in Huntingdon for breakfast. I hope he ate a good meal to fuel him on in this high heat of July.

Vol State 12 hour check-in, Westbrook's location

Vol State 12 hour check-in, Westbrook’s location

Westbrook reported in after 10 hours or so, from Martin, TN. He was having a cheeseburger and a coke, and stated he felt ok but it was hot and humid all day. At the 12 hour time frame, competitors consist of 19 crewed (25 registered) and 61 screwed ( 72 registered). I guess several decided not to run the race, although this is a great turn-out for the screwed (unsupported) division.  This map is his official check-in with the race directors at 12 hours. He is 36 miles in, somewhere past Martin. They have him placed at 52 but that is overall, to include the crewed runners as well. I only track his placing within his screwed division, which will be in the next update.

2015 Last Annual Vol State Run from Dorena Landing, MO to Castle Rock, GA — 314 miles


The LAVS is here again. The start is tomorrow morning at 7:30 am, July 9, 2015. The runners are given 10 days to complete the very hot 314 miles. The registered runners consist of 25 crewed (aided) and 72 screwed (solo – without aid). In the crewed division, there is one competitor from Sweden, and one from Norway. The screwed division includes 2 runners from Sweden, one from New Zealand, and one from the United Kingdom. All the others are from the USA or Canada. Of course, we have to see who actually shows up to run the race. This is the highest number of registered runners for Vol State. Richard Westbrook, as always, is in the screwed division. Wish him luck and stay tuned for posts on his updates throughout the race.

The 314 mile Last Annual Vol State Race is here again. The race begins this Thursday, July 10, 2014.

Race patch from last year's race

Race patch from last year’s race

Of course, Richard will be running in the unsupported, solo division. He will carry only what will fit in this pack.

Photo from last year's Vol State.

Photo from last year’s Vol State.

We will post as many updates as we receive, as soon as possible. Stay with us to see Richard’s progress along the grueling 314 miles. Wish him luck!

The Last Annual

Vol-State Road Race

Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Things

The Vol-State is not just another ultramarathon. It is much more than that. The Vol-State is a journey, an adventure, and an exploration of inner space. It begins with a ferry ride across the Mississippi River, from Missouri to Kentucky, and finishes at “the Rock,” high atop Sand Mountain in Northwest Georgia. What lies in between are 314 miles of the great unknown. From the time the Vol-Stater steps off the Ferry, until they reach the Rock, they are totally reliant upon their own physical and mental resources. For the next four to ten days, in the face of the heat and humidity of July in Tennessee, the Vol-Stater must make their own way on foot, along highways and back roads, from one small town to the next, over hills and across rivers, up mountains and down long valleys, all the while accounting for all of their most basic needs, “what will I eat?” “When will I find water?” “Where will I sleep?”

Success is not guaranteed. There are no aid stations, teeming with volunteers waiting to tend to your every need and encourage you to continue. There are just miles and miles of empty road. Your friends can follow your progress from afar, but no pacers can carry your burden for you. If you do encounter another runner, theirs is the same desperate plight as your own. You will have doubts. Finishing will often seem an unfathomable dream. Your worst enemy may become the knowledge that an air-conditioned ride to your car at the finish (in the dreaded seat of “disgrace”) is but a phone call away.

Many will fail. But, for those who find the steely will and muster the sheer dogged tenacity to overcome the impossible obstacles, and reach the rock on foot, the Vol-State can be a transcendental experience. No words can adequately describe the sense of combined relief and amazement to be experienced at the Rock. No one can explain the regret that this incredible journey has actually come to an end. Former King, Barry Crumrine, probably summed up the Vol-State experience as well as it can be put into words:

                              “I found in myself something that I never knew was there.”

                                                                             From the Last Annual Vol-State Website, 2013


The 2013 Last Annual Vol State Road Race started with a ferry ride across the Mississippi River to Dorena Landing, Missouri. Odd as it was, but fitting for the group of ultrarunners, everyone went ashore in Missouri to run back onto the ferry to cross the Mississippi, and hit the ground running in Kentucky. Well, that sounds good, but actually, only a few hit the ground running. Most just walked off the ferry and continued to walk up the first gentle hill. Then, they ran.

I ran from the ferry until I tired going up the first big hill in Hickman, Kentucky. The hill was steep and led to a great view of old Hickman and the Mississippi River. However, we were only in the first mile of the 314 mile race, so walking up the last half of the hill seemed like a good idea. I ran up this hill last year to no great benefit. This year…a new tactic, which I was sure, would improve the outcome several days later. Ha!

The weather at 7:30 in the morning was comfortable. But, we could tell, it was going to heat up quite a bit later in the day. I wore my trusty Camelbak Octane LR backpack, which I used last year with complete satisfaction. The “LR” signifies a lumbar reservoir with fluid resting in the hip area. That makes it infinitely more comfortable for me, especially when running in the heat. The pack held my essentials and water for the run.

I ran comfortably leaving hilly Hicksman and striding into the long level terrain. It would stay this way through the first day except for a few rolling hills that offered no great challenge. It always seems that I find myself running alone in these types of races. Perhaps, I subconsciously find those gaps in which to run, so I can stay away from people. Antisocial? Maybe. Or, perhaps, I’m so slow that I’m just behind everyone. Whatever.

I felt good in my Newton Gravitys as I strode toward Union City, Tennessee. About the only “plan” I had was to try and run as much as possible without getting totally fatigued causing me to spend too much down time. Hopefully, my sleep sessions duration would be minimal.

Before getting to Union City, I accepted a bottle of water from a man who was checking his mailbox. After greetings and brief conversation about what we were doing (he had seen others running by his house) he gave me the water and wished me luck in my run “home.” It was “home” because the race ended in Georgia, my home state. The water carried me into Union City and higher heat.

Even though the distance was approximately twenty miles, trouble raised its ugly head. I found myself feeling weaker and more fatigued than I should have been. I found Coke to drink which usually peps me up but not this time. I ran on hoping for a change as usually happens in these runs.

It changed all right…for the worse. At one point, upon urination, I had blood in my urine and slight pain when I ran afterwards. I took in more fluids. I rested in the shade and took a thirty-minute nap. That helped for a while, but the problem returned later. I had to repeat the process. This was not good. This was the first day, and I was still under thirty miles. I dreaded to think what lay ahead.

The running, the breaks, the pain continued as I ran toward Martin, home of the University of Tennessee at Martin. I was losing valuable time taking the breaks to make the pain subside. The drinking didn’t seem to help the dehydration problem.

I deduced that I had a dehydration problem by thinking back to the days before the start of the race. I knew I was drinking enough now that I was in the race. I think the problem was that I didn’t drink enough in the week previous to the race and so reached this state of dehydration causing the bloody urine and pain. My drinking during the race could not catch me up to an adequate hydration level. I tell my high school runners whom I coach to make sure they drink water throughout the day so they will not suffer dehydration problems running in the heat once we start the cross-country season in August. Then, I do what I tell them not to do. Great!

After losing a great amount of time, I finally made it to Martin. I was at approximately 28 miles. I was still wondering if I was going to make this thing before the days ran out. We had ten days to complete the 314 miles. I was a turtle.

Then, something happened. Entering Martin, I noticed a man pulling out of a parking lot driving a 1959 Ford Fairlane; I noticed this because that was the kind of car my family had as I was growing up in Trion, Georgia. Anyway, the man stopped right in front of me, asked me if I wanted a cup of tea he had just bought at McDonald’s. Of course, I took it and drank it. I ran on.

After about ten minutes, I noticed that I had no pain and was running a little better. Was it the tea? Did I finally get my hydration caught up to its proper level? Whatever the answer, I ran into the McDonald’s and rested and drank more tea. Running through Martin, I felt a lot better. But, it had taken me into the evening to run 30.9 miles. I wasn’t only a turtle, I was a slow turtle.

The turtle kept running through Dresden, which would be 39 miles. Feeling better but still feeling weak. Dresden is a comfortable looking little town. I try to envision me living in the towns I pass through, and, I think, Dresden may top the list. Putting Dresden behind me aimed me toward Gleason.

Gleason would be my sleeping point in the first day. I ran into town late into the night only to discover a fellow runner, Charlie Taylor, sleeping in a sleeping bag liner while lying on a nice, soft, cement, store front deck. I opted to sleep beside a church and on the grass in my SOL emergency bivvy. It started as a restful sleep but was interrupted by a barking dog that sounded like it was just next door. It seemed to bark continuously. I wondered why the owner didn’t come out and shoot it. After about three hours of sleep, I cranked up again and headed toward McKenzie. McKenzie was where I made it to last year to find sleep the first night. I was behind last year’s pace but still moving forward.

I was feeling weak even though I was confident that I was over the bloody urine and pain. Still, I was concerned about my extreme fatigued state. This hounded me as I trudged toward Huntington in the increasing heat. My legs felt unresponsive with the general fatigue. And, I was running soooo slow.

My thoughts during this section were to get out of the heat, get a motel room and then soak in a tub of ice water. I hated the thought of doing that, but the results proved positive. Running into the center of Huntington, I asked a mailman where a motel was, and he told me there was one about a mile straight ahead.

I ran out of downtown Huntington which was, thankfully, downhill and reached the motel. Once there, I remembered passing the place in last year’s race. Luckily, they had a room available. I checked in, got ice from the ice machine and poured it into the bathtub filled about a quarter with water. I plopped down into the ice-cold water. The sound that any other guests heard was my screaming like a middle school girl as I sunk into the cold abyss. Ugh!

After about twenty minutes freezing my #&*^% off, I eagerly exited the wet pit of hell, dried off, and took a nap. Forty-five minutes of sleep in air-conditioning with frozen legs seemed to make me feel better as I stumbled to get dressed to continue the adventure.

I saw a fellow runner checking in as I left the motel. I did feel better. I don’t think I was running any better, but I did feel better. I took this “better” feeling toward the big town of Lexington. I looked forward to reaching I-40 which would be 80 miles. This would provide another break from the heat and some food and drink. My oasis was the  golden arches where I downed a Big Mac meal with a large Coke. After that, the road. But, the thing was…After a few miles, I would see the Lexington City Limit sign which was a clever ruse making a tired ultrarunner think he was entering a town. Oh, but no! That point was just where the sidewalk started and seemed to go forever before actually getting into the town proper. But, I did get there late in the evening as darkness was swallowing my route.

I took a break and drank two chocolate milks as I watched the local teens cruise around the courthouse. With that entertainment behind me, I left Lexington and ran the hills to the east toward Parsons. I was tired; it was dark; I had 48 miles for the day. Time to find a place to sleep because I wasn’t sure there would be a suitable place between here and Parsons.

A Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall served my purpose. It had a covered area for cars to drive through at the entrance doors. I spread my bivvy on the hard concrete drive under the roof. I didn’t sleep well…My legs didn’t seem to want to stop moving. But, I did get some rest. The night was cooler than usual, and I had trouble staying warm as I tried to sleep. I pulled out my long sleeve shirt from my pack, slipped it on and was a little warmer.

After a night of constantly rearranging myself inside my bivvy in order to stay warm, I finally decided the warming measure was to get up and run. I kept my long sleeve Dri-Fit shirt during the first few miles until I warmed up. A long sleeve cotton shirt would have felt warmer than the thin Dri-Fit, but I survived the cool as the miles warmed me up on the road to Columbia passing through Chesterfield, Darden, and into Parsons.

It was morning as I sauntered into Parsons, which was a little over 100 miles into the race. Well, maybe I wasn’t “sauntering” at this point…more of a jog as I approached Sonic. The Sonics are great places in this race if only because they have the big milkshakes. I sat at a table outside and promptly fell backwards on the concrete as the bench and table fell over with my weight. Three employees ran to my aid sputtering all kinds of apologies. They explained that a lady drove into the table the day before and bent the opposite bench and knocked the table from its moorings. I picked that table to sit for my milkshake. But, the management did give me the shake for free with a Coke chaser. So, I was satisfied.

With a tummy full of milkshake, I headed toward Perryville and the Tennessee River. I took a break at Fat Man’s on the other side of the river. Fat Man’s is a combination restaurant and store. It has a large covered deck beside the restaurant, and I took advantage of this for a rest before climbing into Linden. The stretch from the river through Linden is one of the least enjoyable parts of the race for me. The hills are part of it, the almost non-existent road shoulder is another part. I was glad to get Linden behind me.

Tennessee River at Perryville (Picture taken by Charlie Taylor)

Tennessee River at Perryville (Picture taken by Charlie Taylor)

Then, the long road to Hohenwald. After the hills of Linden, the road flattens leading to a few hills going to Hohenwald. I ran into town and reached the east side. Here, I came to a motel and the temptation of sleeping in a bed after a shower was great. But, I resisted and slept on the ground on top of a small ridge across the parking lot from the motel. A tree and bushes kept me out of sight during the night. I went to sleep after eating two Clif Bars and drinking a Dr. Pepper. This was approximately 150 miles.

One of the most pleasant points of the run was the campground at the Natchez Trace. Last year, Charlie Taylor and John Price introduced the place to me as a great aid station stop. Bill, the campground owner, fed us food that he had and even offered to cook something up if we wanted it. I ate the salads and had endless refills of tea and Coke. This year I was alone upon reaching the place, but Bill took care of me. He cooked me some eggs for breakfast and filled me with orange juice. He asks for no payment, but upon my insistence, he took two dollars and wished me luck. He is surely a friend along the road and is there to help the weary traveler. He is one of the high points of the race.

Hampshire. A very small, postcard town and very friendly. I got to the store too early and had to wait for church to end before the store would open. By the time it opened, a few other LAVS runners were there to eat some sandwiches and drink some fluid. I chose to eat ice cream and drink Coke. After eating, I took a break at the “Mens Club,” which was a big, rundown room in a two-story building. They offered a shower if needed and sofas for a nap. While sitting in front on a bench, I was startled by a piercing Tarzan yell that seemed to come out of nowhere. Upon looking around, I then noticed a sign across the road that stated Tarzan yells for $2.00. I guess someone paid. They also had Elvis hair for sale along with an odd assortment of used items. Quite a place!

US 412 took me into Columbia. There was nothing spectacular or even noteworthy about this stretch of asphalt. I traversed some rolling hills and felt comfortable running through a lot of level terrain. The expectation of reaching a large town like Columbia was the driving force during this section of the run.

I was pretty tired on the south side of Columbia after making the turns through town. At this point, the road took a ninety-degree turn to the left and headed east. I was tired and hungry and was not sure what was ahead in terms of food. I knew I was headed out of town, so I took advantage of the available food in close proximity. That put me in a Mexican restaurant with me as the only customer. I wanted black bean burritos, but, as luck would have it, they were out of black beans. So, a bean burrito meal served the purpose…and it was really good and filling. I felt a lot better and energized after the food, Coke, and rest.

The next point I was looking forward to was the “Bench of Despair” in Glendale. The “Bench of Despair” is an ordinary wooden bench in front of a store that also serves sandwiches and milkshakes, etc. Once there, I decided to take a nap. The store was closed at the late time I arrived. The bench was so named because, as legend has it, several runners would make it to this point; sit on the bench and give up on the race. The store owner learned of this nickname for the bench and had the name painted on it. Now, it is a pictorial part of the Vol State legend.

Me sleeping on the "Bench of Despair" covered by my rain poncho. (Picture taken by Charlie Taylor)

Me sleeping on the “Bench of Despair” covered by my rain poncho. (Picture taken by Charlie Taylor)

After sleeping on the “BOD,” I had an easy run through Culleoka and Mooreville. I stopped at a store and deli located in the big curve in Mooreville. This place looked and felt like it had not changed since the 1940’s, if it had been there that long. Some old men gathered in the back at the tables and talked over the country’s problems. Most of their solutions sounded good to me. They asked me about the run and where I was from and wished me luck telling me what lay ahead on the way to Lewisburg.

Lewisburg was another large town and was about 200 miles into the race. I was treated by finding a Cheerwine drink as I left town on the east side. This Carolina based soft drink tasted really good…I don’t know how much energy it gave me, but it tasted good and was refreshing.

I was on my fifth day of running. I felt a lot better than the first two days. My feeling of staleness and general fatigue in the legs had abated. Now, I experienced the normal fatigue a multi-day race offers. I now felt confident of finishing. The terrain from Lewisburg to Wartrace was fairly easy with some rolling hills and a lot of flat road. I ran through Farmington, Wheel, Bedford, Shelbyville, and into Wartrace at night. Wheel was a place with just a few houses and a church with a large pavilion that had a water pump beside it. The pavilion offered a break from the sun and a picnic table to lie on for reclined rest. The pump water was refreshingly cold. I drank my fill, doused my head and hit the road after a ten-minute break on the table. This would be a good place to camp if I ever got here at a time for sleep.

I slept on a rear porch with a cement floor at the post office in Wartrace. It had a roof so I was satisfied in case it rained during the night. Again, I did not sleep well. It wasn’t the hardness of the sleeping surface that kept me up every fifteen minutes or so. I just felt restless and could not get into a deep sleep. I started to get up and continue to run, but I wanted to wait until the store across the street opened up for the day. Then, I would get some chocolate milk and be on the road again.

Wartrace was 232 miles into the race once I crossed the railroad tracks. I knew I would have some hills leading me out of town. And, when I got to Sixteenth Motel Road, there were some serious hills. I just kept looking forward to getting closer to Manchester where the road would be flatter. I slept behind an abandoned fruit stand last year as I was leaving Manchester. I was ahead of last year’s pace and ran through Manchester in the daylight.

Even with the fatigue of five days of running and restless sleep, I looked forward to the valley I would run through before running up Monteagle Mountain. This was a flat road with lush farmland on each side. It was a valley of green. The small picturesque towns I ran through were Hillsboro, Glen, Ruthledge Hill, Pelham, and Mt. View before the climb to Monteagle. Even though there was a mountain between me and the finish, I could smell the finish line on “The Rock.” Once I got to Monteagle, I sat at Sonic drinking my milkshake and contemplated the rest of the race. It was about forty miles to finish this thing. I would keep going until I finished.

I liked running on Monteagle Mountain, not up it, just on it…that would be along the top where it was basically flat until going down into Jasper. Once on top, it would lead me into Tracy City in darkness. Tracy City seems to be a haphazard town the way the route leads through it. I was glad to get through the Tracy City maze and back on the lonely part of US 41. Here, there was nothing but forest along the road…and darkness. I think  I saw a T-Rex chasing a Brontosaurus across the road ahead of me. They paid me no mind being intent on bigger game or survival. At the finish, I was assured by Laz and Carl, the race directors, that it was just another Vol State hallucination. Just normal stuff…not to worry.

I was nearing the finish in good spirits. I felt good the last few miles crossing the Tennessee River for the last time. I had run through Jasper at the foot of Monteagle Mountain, ran through Kimball and into South Pittsburg. I had run through the night but felt good. I picked up the pace through the rolling hills in the New Hope area. It was hot, but I was not bothered by it. I increased my lead on Ray K through this area.

I was in 6th place in the sole, uncrewed division (called the “screwed” division by the runners) but I didn’t know that at the time. In this race, one can get the feeling of running alone and being detached from the other runners and race directors. A lot of time is spent running by oneself, and the runner may be within a mile or closer to other runners but would not know it. How the runner handles the running in solitude may determine the runner’s outcome.

I struggled up Sand Mountain with its severe climb for two plus miles. It was run and walk to make it up the incline. Crossing into Alabama brought me closer to the top, and I was able to run on in to the finish. Last year, I finished in the dark. This year…daylight.

I turned left and headed due east toward the Georgia state line at Castle Rock. Two stone columns marked the entrance to the Castle Rock Ranch and the state line. After crossing the line, I ran between a row of shades trees until I took another left that headed into the fields and to the “Rock.”

It was a good finish. I was lead to the finishers’ chair, a canvas folding camping chair under a tent. My time was 148:56:16 (6 days, 4 hours, 56 minutes, 16 seconds). I improved over last year’s time by 15 hours, 17 minutes, 39 seconds. I was satisfied with that especially after the trouble I had in the first two days.

Hmmm…I wonder if I can do better next year…

Richard Westbrook


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.


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



            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.