314 Miles with an Idiot
I was sitting home one day after calling in sick to work (not really sick though) when I was contacted by a running friend of mine asking if I wanted to run the Vol State 500k with him. My first thoughts were “are you f*****g crazy” but for some reason what I said was, “I don’t know, let me look at it some”. After reading about the race on the website and looking at a couple of race reports, I realized that he was indeed crazy and that I needed to be there to keep him from doing damage to himself (That’s my story and I’m sticking with It.) So I signed up then asked my wife if she would mind. Luckily she did not.
We had decided on a plan of running the first 30 miles then resting out the heat of the day. (From noonish until 5 or 6) then running another 40 miles during the night when it was cooler. After reaching our target miles we would rest for 2 or 3 hours then do it all again. Funny thing about plans, they don’t always go as you might think, then again, sometimes they do.
The first day went pretty much as expected with the exception there was no real resting during the midday break. Within the first mile we saw our first road kill and I mentioned to my friend Jbob that we should take a photo of all of the ones we see and make a coffee table book called “the road kill of VolState 2016” with captions on what animal we thought each one might have been and where it was spotted. We didn’t bother taking photos but we did count them along the way, I ended up with 176 with the majority going to the armadillo closely followed by the opossum. Tennessee is not a friendly state of either.
Day 2 was more of the same making our goals in and around the same time as day 1.
Jbob is a very good runner who is always occupied with the details. He would on occasion (several times an hour) call out the pace and mileage. I on the other hand am a run by feel kind of guy. Pace is dictated by external factors such and terrain, heat, humidity, fatigue, nutrition etc. I try to feel the effort I can sustain based on all those factors. So far it’s worked for me. But I do enjoy the data as well and it gave us something to talk about. We are very different types of runners but we seem to mesh well anyway. We don’t all have to do things the same way. It’s the outcome that matters.
Day 3 brought some added heat early in the day and we started to slow to keep from overheating. We still got our mileage in but it took longer than the previous two days. It was during the noon day break that I really started to notice the discomfort in the legs and knees during our rests. I would lie on my back on the floor with my legs on the bed trying to keep my feet elevated but within a short period of time my knees would feel like they had been packed with hot coals. So I would take my legs down. Then my calves and or feet would start to hurt. During these long breaks I was only able to sleep about 1 ½ hours. During the shorter 3 hour breaks after the night run I was able to sleep about 1 ½ hours . No matter what I was only going to get a short nap each time. Luckily the pain in the legs would go away when I started running again.
Day 4 broke hotter than the others with no relief in sight. Early on the heat took its toll on Jbob, he was starting to slow to a walk and couldn’t keep anything down, not even water. We got him to his wife/crew who was very worried about him. She got him cooled down some and he and I talked. We both know at some point we would have to part ways and run our own race, and this seemed to be the appropriate time. But here’s also where I need to say something about Jbob Jones. He is the toughest man I have ever met. We had run over 200 miles together but we weren’t running the same race. This man has been through more than most could imagine and still can get it done.
He has had multiple back, shoulder and knee surgeries as well as others that he hasn’t talked about. And not once does he use it as an excuse. He man’s up and gets it done. He is an inspiration and I am proud to call him a friend.
I think it was about 2 pm when I made it to my crew and rolling aid station where I showered, ate and settled down for a nap. When 5 pm came around I was up and ready to get at it. If everything went as planned this would be my last night of running, but this time I would be running it alone.
The start of the night went without incident but as it got darker, the roads got more twisty and the shoulders got narrower. At one point I was coming up an incline on the inside of a curve, I was running toward traffic but in that situation the drivers of oncoming traffic couldn’t see me. I saw the lights approaching and as they rounded the corner and I could see they were hugging the shoulder. I had just enough time to bail out into the ditch as the car went flying by me. I felt my left foot go through something as I landed in the ditch, I’m not sure what it was but it felt like a culvert pipe perhaps. Either way there seemed to be no damage done and after that I made it a point to cut back and forth across the street to run on the outside corners when there wasn’t a sufficient shoulder to run on. The last 25 or so miles for the night had really started to wear on me (along with the previous 200+) and I was struggling to keep moving at a decent pace. I remember thinking that when I got to my crew I would stop for the night even though I hadn’t met my goal. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
Now here’s where I need to say something about my crew, which consisted only of my friend Jade Oaks. I had met Jade last year while running Eastern States. She was running the Call of the Wilds Marathon, which was going on at the same time as my race. Jade noticed our teardrop camper and came over and started talking to us prior to the event. Then when she was done with her race she and her husband and brother waited for me, with my wife, while I finished mine. When I signed up screwed (unaided) for VolState, Jade was quick to jump on the “opportunity” to crew for me. She said she had never crewed before but was willing to give it a go.
So, back to me getting ready to tell Jade I was done for the night even though I was 15 miles short of our goal. She must have somehow known what I was thinking because she took control of me from the second I stopped at the truck to the time that I found myself running down the road again. It was like a whirlwind where I had no control, I was fed, watered and kicked back out the door before I could protest. At this point we were doing 5 mile segments between stops, so I could go 5 more then drop for the night……only to find myself, pulled in and spit right back out again….. How the hell did she do that? On my last 5 for the night I was jolted awake because I had kicked something in the road. I had been sleep running! (how long I’m not sure but i doubt it was very long). What I had kicked, with my big toe no less, was what seemed to be a 3 lb magneto or coil of some sort. Needless to say I was now fully awake. I made it to my rest point for the night at around 5 am or 6 am. I still had about 35-38 miles to go to finish the race.
The Last Day
The start of the 5th day was ugly, but I was optimistic. My big toenail was ready to fall off, whatever I had done to my leg when I jumped into the ditch now was starting to hurt enough to affect my running…..and I was tired. Very tired. But this is what I had signed up for, to see what I could give when I had nothing left to give. Up to the point where Jbob and I split, we had been running in 4th and 5th. After the split I had been in 4th. But by the last morning Jbob was only 2 miles behind me. He’s one of those guys you never count out, even when he’s lying motionless on the ground. He has the ability to spring to life and run like it was day one. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t there to beat Jbob, I wasn’t there to beat anyone, I just wanted to do the very best I could. And having him, or anyone else closing in on me helped give me fire. After a hard push up Monteagle, a 3 mile 17% grade, I was having a really hard time running. The pain in my left shin was extreme and running was near impossible. I power hiked for what seemed forever. Finally Jade told me I was going to have to get a move on. We iced my leg for a few minutes then I tried a slow run, it hurt like hell but I kept it up. Within a few minutes the leg went numb enough to run on. I think we did this for a 3 or 4, 3 mile cycles before I couldn’t bear it any more. By then we were in Jasper, somewhere around mile 295. I told Jade I wanted to ice my leg again and that I needed to rest for a minute. I found a shade tree and lay on the ground for just a minute. I woke up with Jadelooking at me worried. She had been talking to me and I went out like a light. I wasn’t on the ground very long but I realized I better make that push to the end now while I still could.
We saw the RD (Laz) in the town of Kimball as we passed through (mile 300 ish), he told us to give him a text when I was crossing the blue bridge. We did and I told him I thought I would be done in about 2 hours. (I think I heard him laugh out loud.) I saw Laz again at about mile 308 (10k out) it had been about an hour and a half since I sent him that text. He told me any man worth his weight could do a 10k in an hour. This 10k was mostly straight up I think. It would be another 1:45 before I would see him again, this time at the rock. But I didn’t care. I had finished the Vol state 500! Something I didn’t know if I could do or not. I was scared as hell when I hit the submit button way back when. And here I was standing on the rock, just 4 days 14 hours and 30 minutes after starting. 4th place over all.
It’s all still a blur to me but it’s coming back in small bits and pieces. It was a grand adventure and one I was so blessed to share with Jbob and his wife Bonnie and the best crew money didn’t buy, Jade Oakes-Hatt.
So how do you top something like that? Well, there’s always next year running it screwed, but that will have to be decided another day. For now I’ll enjoy this one.