No More Storms – 2019 Last Annual Vol State 500k

If you want to read race reports that uniquely capture the essence of  “why do we feel the need to run 314 miles across Tennessee in July” from the 2019 Last Annual Vol State please check out these three I listed below with links.

The first one is from my adventure buddy Christina Pierce who said yes the first time i ask out loud “Who wants to join me on a 2 day 80 mile run from Katy Tx to the Gulf of Mexico? Christina finished Vol State in 5 days 23 hours. I think she’s amazing.

Casey Thivierge, one of my new favorite Canadian running friends. He and his merry group weUltra are full of #BadDecisions like the FAwR, a 100+ mile journey run that circumnavigates the county of Essex in Southwestern Ontario.

And Cory Reese, runner, author and all around great guy who I enjoyed meeting. I love his style of writing.

I’ve started writing this a few times since I’ve been home and it’s grown and grown. It’s wordy and I’ve decided just to dump what’s in my head onto the page. I’m still recovering and trying to sort and file all of these memories I created over the 8 days. I still can’t figure out what morning I applied Carmex to my feet. I wish I knew. I guess it was one of the days it was raining. I have zero clue why I was so convinced that I needed to put cherry Carmex on my feet when I had perfectly good foot lubricant in my vest. I do know I wasn’t dreaming  and that this really did happen. One early morning before leaving my hotel to run I went over to the sink and applied Carmex and then had a struggle washing it off with the inferior hotel bar soap. That’s how I know it wasn’t a dream.

I already know what my Why was for signing up and completing Vol State but I have been struggling with how to tell my story.  Last weekend I had a conversation with a running friend before the start of her half marathon in Minnesota. She was struggling before the start with nerves and anxiety because she was under trained (life gets in the way. it happens) and the temps and humidity were very high. She reported after she finished that several runners had to be assisted off the course by medical for heat related symptoms. The great news is that she finished her race and had no issues. She has run this distance many times before and our conversation focused on a few things. Right now there is someone at this race and it’s their first half marathon and they are probably as nervous as you are and you have done this before. That there are probably a few things happening around her to smile about, like the music getting the crowd excited before the race and since she’s a dog and animal lover I said I bet there is a dog around that is having a great time. I also found out later her two sons and her sister and family were there cheering her on. Plenty of reasons to shake those nerves. We address the unfavorable conditions too. She knew to slow down before she became over heated and to walk when she needed to and use ice and water on the course to help make her comfortable. And no matter what she knew she could finish this distance.

I sat down and started writing more of this report that afternoon and i realized that probably all of us, runners and non-runners, have had issues with self doubt. i have spent years perfecting the art of selling myself short, downplaying my accomplishments, unfairly comparing myself to others as well as giving up on myself before i even had a chance to start. There came a point over the last few months as i started specifically training for Vol State that i better start believing in myself and what i was doing because i was not about to go to Tennessee and come back without that finishers patch.  When i finished Vol State a friend messaged me, “Now you can silence your critic that said you couldn’t finish” and that’s just what i did. I have successfully made it impossible to ever doubt myself again with my 8 day 5 hour finish.  That is my Why.

Over the last 2 years i have probably watched the Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young documentary 314 times. Each time i heard John Fegyveresi say, “I have to believe that i could at least do it” and that became my mantra. Sure, i practice my affirmations every day, I am enough. I am patient. I am calm and relaxed. I accept myself. But for some reason even these affirmations were failing me. It wasn’t until i started repeating that I believed I could finish Vol State that things started falling into place. I started believing my my training. i put a post-it on my calendar. every monday i would move it from the previous week to the current week. It said, I trust my training.  I started trusting my coach and the process she put before me. I believed that i could finish. i know a lot of the time we are happy to have made it to the start line of our goal race #SeeYouOnTheFerry but then you still have to cover 314 miles on foot and complete it self supported. i had to start repeating to myself that i had 10 days to finish and no matter what happened i would be out there moving forward and i would finish. What i didn’t expect to happen was that all this mental training left me feeling happy and confident every single day of those 8 days. I had some people ask me how it was possible to be happy and smiling every day if it was 100+ degrees or when i was running in 4″ of water. How was it possible i could lay down for 2 hours knowing i had to get back up in the middle of the night and get running again? I knew i was going to finish. Here was this task in front of me that seemed at one time absolutely impossible and at the end i was going to find my name added to that very special list of finishers and now part of a very special family of people who have finished The Last Annual Vol State. Take that low self esteem and no self worth.

Now the story. How far back do I take you? To when I started running in 2010? How about 2015 when my friends made the movie Running the 184. 2 guys and one spectacular lady ran 184 miles from the northern most tip of New Jersey, High Point, to the southern most tip, Cape May. Ryan Donnelly, Anthony Russo and Connie Gardner.  Ryan and Anthony weren’t able to complete the entire run. Connie did. Anthony went back a few months later and finished the last 50 miles he was missing. this was the first contact i had with Journey Running and i didn’t even know it yet.  In 2016 i was fortunate enough to attend an ultra running camp in Italy that was hosted by the International Running Company and i spent 2.5 weeks running with Traci Falbo and Connie Gardner. By this time i knew that running more than 100 miles was possible. i had already completed 2 50k’s.  The turning moment for me was one night in italy when my dad and i had dinner with Connie and Bob Hearn and Connie looked at me and said so matter of fact, Sure you can run 100 miles, just put a plan together., and then the plan falls apart and you make a new plan. She told me that i should consider using a timed race to work on my next mileage goal, a 50 miler. so in September 2016 i signed up for the 1 mile out and back Jackalope Jam 24 hour race and completed my first 50 miler that day.

i’m telling  you all of this to get it out of my head and process everything that it took to run 314 miles in 8 days. most days are a mix of can’t believe it and totally proud of myself. silencing that critic that has been with me for years and years. i never once doubted myself. i never ever thought or entertained not finishing. laz asked me that when i finished. i felt great to tell him that i never thought it. never. i’m telling the story in 12 hour increments since that’s how my life was for those days. i didn’t actually know what day of the week it was or what day of the race it was. at one point i thought it was day 7 and it was day 6. very easy to get confused when your running on so little sleep. my day was sandwiched between the 7:30 am and pm check’ins either a google doc to fill out and type in the mileage or select the point you were near from a list of landmarks and towns or texting into the man behind the curtain keeping tabs on 120 runners Mike Dobies. he was the mastermind of the tracking spreadsheet that everyone used to follow us.

Christina and I arrived in TN on Monday night late. Tuesday up early and followed Benjamin Timoner to the rock to see the final turn into the corn. not any further. i wanted it to be a surprise. then we drove to Steve Smalling’s house at 295 to see where that was. Steve was at work that day. i had met him at Strolling Jim in May at the half marathon and looked forward to getting to his house at mile 295 where he was known to patch you up and get you on your way for the last 19 miles of the race. boy did i find out later that i really  needed his services that night i arrived at his house. he’s an asset to the Vol State runners. his help is priceless. Tuesday night was the second to last supper at the China Buffet in Kimball with the other screwed runners since we had to be on the bus early wednesday morning. sleep and up wednesday and put on my throw away clothes that i would wear until that night when i would sleep for the last time and wake up thursday and put on my race gear. thursday am everyone got on the buses and headed to the ferry. I enjoyed that. it was fun. i wasn’t nervous. got to meet so many people and say hello. lots of pictures and smiles. arrived MO got off. Laz lit cigarette. we got back on the ferry and landed in KY. and off we went. Hickman was a small older town that had sea walls surrounding it to keep the river from flooding the town. they had been painted with murals and were beautiful. around mile 2 Laz, Carl and Jan were sitting at the Gazebo in town and were checking us in as we ran by. Mile 5 was my first stop. Gas Station for bathroom and a new bottle of water. the next push to union city was going to be long and hot in the sun. 18 miles. along the way we crossed the KY TN state line (mile 10) and then i had a note on my cards that i was able to stop at a local bank in a small town called Woodland Mills mile 11 and at this local bank we were allowed to fill up our bottles at the kitchen sink in back. i took advantage of that. my goal was to make it to the Union City Subway mile 18 by 1 pm that afternoon. it was a very hot humid day. as i made my way into Union City on main street i was just a few blocks from sitting down for lunch when i was chased down by a mother and her daughter offering me 2 bottles of water which i happily took and thanked them for. we all had a good laugh because i didn’t hear them behind me and they were chasing me down for a block or two.  i arrived at Subway on time and enjoyed a sit down and a lunch and my first surprise visit from my Coach Jan. She is the meat wagon driver who patrols the whole course keeping watch out over the runners and in the unfortunate circumstance where a runner quits she will pick them out and drive them back to the finish line to collect their ride home in the very famous “seat of disgrace” if you take a ride in this seat your ride back to the finish could take a few days as she still must patrol the race. the entire time you are in her company she will visit with other runners who have not quit and are still suffering as you sit in the air conditioning and enjoy some rest and cool drinks. no runner wants a ride in this meat wagon. there is an ongoing joke that Jan is coming to get you but that can’t be further from the truth. she is actually there to help keep you going when you don’t believe it in yourself. she has helped many runners get to The Rock. She’s an invaluable asset to the race. This was my first of many chats with Jan as she watched out for me as her athlete and as a runner in the race. it was a good visit and i was quickly on my way. around the corner was my first Angel Station put out by the First Baptist Church of Union City. it was a few tables with coolers of drinks and snacks and fruit. i happily took a banana with the bible verse Philippians 4:13 on it.  my next goal was Mile 20 and the check in at the Stinky Bridge. Here is our second check in with Laz and Carl and Jan if she happens to be here. Laz records your split which is kept for his own records and serves no purpose in the race other than for you to say that you checked in at the Stinky Bridge and that you are on RECORD PACE. which at that time you are! HA! Next was an Angel Station set up at the Final Flight Outfitters a local sporting goods store where you can sit, enjoy cold water and come inside if you need to rest or use the bathroom. they have supported the race for a few years now. after this quick stop i called my boss at work to chat and talk about the race and how it was going. she loved it. we had a great time chatting. my next goal was my hotel in Martin. i was going to get dinner and stop and rest for a few hours. i reached a burger joint Cook Out which was a set up from the Burger King next door and it was a fantastic stop for me. i made friends with the hostess and told her and a couple who were standing in line with me about the race. this would be a regular thing for me. talking to everyone about the race as i stopped somewhere. i started developing a speech that would cover the basics about the race (starting in KY and ending in GA and how many people and that most of us were self supported “screwed” and then i started adding my name, where i was from and that this was my first year. the people i met that knew about the race loved to hear this. i sat down for a few minutes and ate and then packed up my leftovers to eat after i woke up from my nap before i started running again and headed over to my hotel. this was going to be a short stay and i asked for a 9 pm wake up call. i also set my own alarm which was good because the call never came. HA!

Hotel stays: i developed a system for my hotel stays based on what i read from race reports and what worked for me. i stuck to this so that i could make sure i took care of everything that i needed to do and that i wouldn’t forget any of my gear if i was rushing. if there was a C store (convenience store) before the hotel i loaded up with food and drinks that i would use before and after my stay. food before would help me rest a little better and food when i woke up in case i didn’t have any place to stop once i got running again. enter the room. turn the AC down. unpack my vest. remove all the baggies of gear. plug in my electronics, remove socks and shoes and put on ac to dry. if i had a longer stay i would rinse my clothes out with me in the shower. attend to any body issues, chafing or blisters or anything. shower. dry clothes best i could. sleep. wake up on time no slacking. no snoozing. repack vest and go. quickly.

Funny story. during the first stay my hotel outfit which was a sleeveless shirt and a pair of spare shorts i packed only to use when i was in a hotel well it turns out i didn’t use it that way. the tank top quickly became my overnight running shirt and early morning shirt or shit to wear under my poncho. my long sleeve button up white columbia fishing shirt was only for heat of day running or walking for sun protection. so this tank top was now a major piece of my running gear. luckily it was thin and dried quickly.

since i was going to be asleep during my first check in i checked in when i arrived in my room at 29 miles as planned. i woke up at 9 and i was out the door and running probably by 9:30. my goal was to be at the Gleason Fire Dept by the morning Check in which is now my first 24 hours of running.

Thursday 7:30 pm / Hickman KY Start to Union City for Lunch and on to Martin at dinner / 29 miles total

the run from Martin to Dresden Farmers Market was beautiful. i stopped a few times along the way for a soda at any C store i found along the way. the night was perfect for running and along the highway who do i find pulling over at the side of the road but COACH JAN! for another check in. boy i liked seeing her. the Farmers market was mile 40 and i arrived there in the night for a short sit down and homemade orange sherbert. they had everything at this location for you and you could lay down and sleep if needed which many runners took advantage of. i knew i had to push on to Gleason. the run to Gleason was 9 miles. 3 hours and it was through some very dark and desolate low lands. at one point i saw it painted on the road BRIDGE OUT ROAD CLOSED over and over again. and all i could do is trust my directions and keep going. talk about a mind game. you would think that laz did this on purpose. eventually i crossed a sketchy bridge which is probably what was out at one time and i saw the first sign. FIRE DEPARTMENT 4 miles. whew. eventually i got close enough to town that i had to take out my direction cards to make sure i followed the course correctly. however in my sleep deprived brain i made a turn early and realized i was heading to the fire dept from the wrong side of town which meant i had to retrace my steps and go the correct way. it only cost me a few blocks and when i came back to the route i met up with 2 other runners who asked where i came from and i had no problem telling them that i made a mistake and was coming back. there was no reason why i would cheat and i wanted to make sure that i was following the rules and the course. plus now i could follow them and not get lost again. sweet! arrival at the fire dept was not what i expected. for some reason i thought this was a place to sleep for a bit but it really wasn’t. they had showers and pizza and pool floats and cots to rest on but even with my ear plugs i wasn’t able to sleep much. here is where after the race thinking about strategy and planning with a clear head i can see where small mistakes like this where i didn’t get sleep set myself up for issues that i had to struggle through and overcome later. may things in this race build on each other. sleep and food help you run more and if you skimp on these you take away some of the foundation you need later if you want to run more miles. it’s like chess where you set yourself up later for success by making smaller successful moves earlier. i will learn later how this will effect me and i will struggle with it later as i continue to not always set myself up for later successes. i left Gleason before check in and i checked in with the 48 miles i needed for my first 24 hours. on schedule.

Friday 7:30 am / 19 miles run at night from Martin, Dresden and on to Gleason in the early morning / 48 total

Leaving Gleason in the early morning i was heading to McKenzie on secondary country roads. i would pass the occasional cooler with water but i had my own supplies and didn’t need anything. it was hot and swampy and the sun coming up was brutal. i was heading to McKenzie at mile 56 where i could get something to eat. i found a little general and forced myself to sit down and refuel. i was feeling sluggish and these stops have to be short because i have to keep going. from here i had to make it to Huntington mile 67. there was a sleeping center set up at the Public Safety building downtown where i could rest during the heat of the day. but the issue is that i am walking to get there on a 4 lane divided highway with no shade. i had my umbrella and my white shirt and my smile but it was very hot. i finally came across an angel station on the highway at mile 60. A nice man from the local mental health facility was there with chairs in the shade under a tree and cold water. he was so nice and was taking pictures of everyone as they came through. i joked when i posted mine as my proof of life picture. it was the truth. i was very hot and tired and out of it. i just had to keep going to Huntington. just before i got into town i had another meeting with Jan. she suggested that i try and get a hotel room on the far side of town (which i never got the phone number to it wasn’t listed on google plus it was full which was to be expected) and she had Sherry walk with me. Sherry is now a 9 time finisher and her experience helped get me to Huntington where i could have a pretty good sized meltdown at the Cornerstone Eatery located 3 blocks before the place i could sleep and low and behold there are about 10 other runners here eating and hiding from the heat. after a good sized cry and some lasagna i made my way to lay down. unfortunately it wasn’t as good as i needed. the room was about 10 degrees and i didn’t have much in the way of blankets to keep warm. i did sleep for a bit on and off and cleaned myself up in the bathroom and get ready to put a few miles down before the evening check in. i changed into my evening running gear and laid down miles and was happy to report i was at mile 70!

Friday 7:30 pm / 22 run since the morning even during that sufferfest in the heat  / 70 total

my goal this next segment and night running was to get to a hotel at mile 82. lay down a few miles in the evening. get some good rest in a hotel and more miles tomorrow before and after check in. i successfully got myself past the deficit that i had from the day before. it’s later in the evening and the only c store on the way to the hotel closes at 9 pm. i got there at 9:20. i decide since it’s on the same side as i am that i would pull on the door. and the wonderful ladies of the J & J c store let me in. i grabbed a soda and used the bathroom and kept going. the angels of the Vol State are all over. they are wonderful. before my hotel was a truck stop and my chance to load up at a c store. guess what i found??? a single serving baggie of EPSOM SALTS sure it cost me 4.99 but it was worth it. i loaded up on before and after sleep food and hit the hotel. check in around 11:30 pm which was about 30 minutes ahead of my schedule so i was happy. eat. unpack. soak. hang up clothes. sleep. i think i got up around 3 or 4. Not sure. and i packed up and head out on this beautiful divided highway. and guess what?? i was RUNNING. it was a great night and i was slowly heading to a huge milestone. the first big turn at Lexington which turns us onto highway 412 east and on my way to 100 miles. there was a chance that i was going to see about pushing past Parkers Crossroads during the night and try and make it the 10 miles to Lexington. i decided sleep was better and i took the early stop. it’s hard to tell what is the right choice while you are out there but this worked for me. i hit the city limits for Lexington and logged in my morning check in at 87 total miles. i was flying and happy.  on the way into lexington i stopped at a c store where i got a chicken egg and cheese biscuit. and had a short sit down in the beer cooler. a selfie was taken. apparently many people took that same picture. HA!

Saturday 7:30 am / 17 miles / 87 I started this segment back outside Huntington and ended almost in Lexington feeling great and had a sleep. Now on to the 100’s

after check in i’m making my way to the big turn and a huge angel station located in the church gymnasium. i got there in the late morning and was met with Beth who was a 2018 Vol State finisher and another woman. these two incredible ladies were there to patch us up and send us on our way. i had a short sit down and a sandwich they made me and i got out of my tank top and cleaned up in the bathroom and ready for hot weather running. the ladies helped me roll up my sleeves and with a fresh coating of lubricant applied everywhere HAHAH i set out along 412 in the heat with my trusty umbrella to lay down some miles. now comes the long stretch on 412 that i will take until Columbia mile 177. yep 177. next on my list was to get to the Pentecostal Church of Darden at 102. so i headed out of Lexington and along the highway headed for the church. along the way i found a cooler with water and a sign in book. as i flipped the pages in the book to sign my name i passed my friend Christina’s check in. it was exactly 12 hours before my sign in to the minute. 12 hours before me. she signed in at 11:34 pm friday and i signed in at 11:34 am Saturday. amazing. i grabbed a water and kept going. not long after a pick up truck stopped on the shoulder and i gave the man that stepped out my biggest smile and howdy. he seemed confused and asked if i knew who he was. was i out there last year. i said no. but anyone who is stopping to say hello and provide aid deserves a hello and a smile. he introduced himself as Terry the cold peach cup guy and then i realized i have heard who he was. for a few years now there was a guy who patrolled 412 offering ice cold peach cups to the runners. AMAZING. and he found me. ME! i ate those peaches and smiled even bigger. and went on my way. a few more miles down the road another pick up stopped. two people who were from the Fat Man’s truck stop were offering water. i wouldn’t be able to make Fat Man’s before it closed that night at 9:30 but i took a water and said thank you. as i got closer to the church another car stopped and i was handed a zip lock bag with a cold capri sun pouch and a baggie of trail mix. these were a husband and wife from the church congregation up ahead and they were patrolling for runners. and then again…what stops in front of me but COACH JAN!!! and i was all smiles for her as i made my way to the church. a quick stop and off i went. i made it to the church just after noon and decided to clean up in the bathroom and sleep on the pool floats in their quiet room. they had real food set up for lunch. and fruit. and washcloths that you could use to clean up and they were laundering all day long. it was a treat to be able to be clean and dry before my nap. a short sleep until evening and i packed up and away i went. now the storms were coming in. we knew this was going to happen. Storm Barry was making it’s way to Tennessee. i made it two miles down the road before it started raining. luckily there was a tent set up as an angel aid stop where i met with Pam who is AMAZING and i would continue to see her over the next 2 days. i waited out the first storm cell and donned my poncho and umbrella and headed out. this was an unplanned delay but it happens and i just had to roll with it. i got into Parsons and it was dark and i wanted a snack and i found a local walk up ice cream and burger walk up joint. grabbed a burger and a milkshake and headed back out and checked in shortly after.

Saturday 7:30 pm / 18 miles/ 105 this was a good day from before Lexington to Parsons i felt i was on track and feeling good.

as i left parsons it was very dark. raining off and on and there was no shoulder. my goal was at mile 125 Linden. it felt very far away. i was about to cross the Tennessee River bridge at mile 111 and this was another big milestone. just over the river was the truck stop Fat Man’s but it closed at 9:30. i arrived there around 1 am and i was sleepwalking. i needed to rest. i took out my tyvek tarp. found a quiet place to lay down on the concrete next to some pumps on the side of the building that were keeping me out of sight and protected. sleep was terrible and eventually i was woken up by runners coming by and i decided it was enough sleep and it would be better to travel with them to Linden. away i went. sometime early in the morning i was exhausted. again here is that time where i didn’t quite set myself up for good miles but i had to keep going. i could rest in Linden. a few hours away. during the approach to linden i ran some miles with Stacy Saunders a crewed runner. we had a very strange conversation. sometimes things said in the throws of exhaustion come out very deep and philosophical. i’ll probably write about it later as an addendum because after i slept and thought about it more it turns out it was a very interesting thought that is worth sharing. The trip into Linden was rough. it was hilly and i was spent and as i got into town around 7 am i passed the local hotel which was booked and a runner i met earlier Matt Frazier was walking out of the lobby. i basically ran right into him and asked if i could use his hotel room for a few hours but not realizing that he was leaving not entering. i asked if we could go back and get his key and he said sure 🙂 that’s what we all did for each other during this trip. we went to the host and i was allowed the key to use the room. i still feel to this day that this stay where i was able to shower and rest and then get food at the cafe after i woke up changed the entire outlook for my run. i will never change my mind about that. i showered. dried my gear. slept. and got up around 10 am and went to the breakfast cafe and they made me a waffle and eggs and bacon. best meal i have had so far.

Sunday 7:30 am / 20 miles / 125 this check in was made before i went to sleep at the hotel that was gifted to me. those were hard earned miles.

this next segment was going to take me to Hohenwald at mile 144. this was a long hot stretch during the heat of the day. i left Linden and along the way had a few angel cooler stops and a wonderful car port stop at Mr. Hinson’s house. this was a great place to lay down. eat. power electronics if needed. he had everything we needed and has been helping for years. i made it to town for the check in.

Sunday 7:30 pm / 19 miles / 144 from Linden to Hohenwald

when i got to Hohenwald the only hotel in town was booked. on my way into town i passed a parking lot that was used as a weekly farmers market and found a fruit stand that looked like a great place to sleep after i ate dinner. i made my way one block from the course to the Lewis and Clark and sat down at the bar to have dinner. it was at that moment when i finally got to rest that i cried. big ugly tears. i was tired. hungry and it was a long day. the wait staff didn’t know it yet but they were to become the biggest angel stop for me. i mentioned that the hotel was full and i was going to sleep at the fruit stand. rain was expected and i didn’t want to get on the road without some rest. an hour later i had the cell number to an air bnb that was one block from my location and i was able to rent it. the owner met me at the house. i paid for the house and she even delivered me a small hotel size shampoo and bar of soap. my good fortune left me with a bathtub to soak my legs in. a kitchen to store my leftovers from dinner and a place to dry my gear. again. this was so important to my trip. i waited out the rain and slept a few hours and got up around 2:30. by 3 am i was refreshed and running down the highway to my next check in. my goal was to make it as close to Hampshire as i could before the next check in. it was a rainy early morning and i was feeling great and i rain a few miles and met my goal by check in.

Monday 7:30 am / 14 miles / 158 these miles were run just in the morning after my dinner and rest. my check in the night before was before dinner. this was one of the singular best runs i had and i met my goal of where i wanted to be by check in.

the run to Hampshire was mostly 4 lane divided highway with a large shoulder. it was great. and i had another check in with Coach Jan. i made my way to Hampshire where i was going to be able to rest around lunch time. just an hour or so. after Hampshire my goal was to get to my hotel which was clear at the far side leaving Columbia. i was able to get something to eat later in the afternoon as i got closer to town and i checked in at the hotel on time as i planned. feeling good for the miles i just put down.

Monday 7:30 pm / 21 miles / 179 this check in was from just before Hampshire all the way through Columbia. i arrived at the hotel before dark.

i was able to unpack. clean up and rest for a few hours and set out before midnight for Gleason and the famous Bench of Despair where i would sign my name and take a picture. i wasn’t upset that it was night time. sure. all of these things are a big part of the race but the race is bigger than a selfie even if it’s in the dark. well it turns out it wasn’t in the dark after all. i arrived at the bench shortly before midnight and Kim Nutt was waiting for me. amazing. Kim and Jimbo have had an angel station in their yard for a few years now. kim knew i was coming and she was going to make a sandwich for me but she would be going to sleep this night and couldn’t stay up for my arrival which was fine. what she and Jimbo do for the runners is more than enough. we are grateful for the set up they provide in the yard at mile 186. i was at mile 156 at the Bench when kim met me and she took my pictures with the headlights of the car. we said our hello’s and good bye’s and i took off to her house where i arrived around 1:30 am. i had plans now to sleep for a few hours and get some good rest here so i could have a good run the next segment. i got up around 6 am after good sleep and ran down into town and had breakfast at the local cafe. eggs bacon and toast. i was fixed.

Tuesday am / 21 miles / 190 this check in was after the hotel in Columbia to the Cafe in Culleoka. it was a great run. lots of miles.

the day was sunny and warm and perfect for running and i set off for my next goal which was very far away. Shelbyville. i had a hotel there. it was mile 223 and although the day of running was good and i passed through Lewisburg without any issues when i turned out of town during the heat of the day got me hard on the side of the highway. i was dressed in my white shirt. had my umbrella and plenty of water. but i was frying. i logged some of my slowest miles here. i still had to make it to mile 207. turn east and continue on the long road to Shelbyville. still so far away. and now let’s throw in a storm cell. great. so at 207 around 4 pm i’m hiding in the Dollar General for a few hours before heading out which as before is another unexpected set back but turned out fine. i was able to run a few more miles after the storm and check in at Wheel. not bad for a long day.

Tuesday 7:30 pm / 24 miles / 214 another long but good day. hot. not hot. running. not running. and making it to Wheel which is just short of Shelbyville where i will sleep.

after check in i had to finish to 223. it was some of the longest slowest miles to get to the hotel of the week. i arrived exhausted but able to dry my gear and rest. i woke up on time in the early morning and checked in just outside of town. my goal when i woke up was to make it 4 miles to a BP gas station outside of town which was on the way to Wartrace. my next goal. it was POURING rain i was running in 4″ of water. but i was moving and loving it.

Wednesday 7:30 am / 13 miles / 227 this was a short segment but it was good quality as i got rest and was able to get running again.

the run into Wartrace was another great segment. the road was made for running. the countryside was walking horse farms and ranches. and the rain was done. and i was making great time. i arrived at the c store in town before lunch and sat down to dry my feet and eat and rest a few before setting out for Manchester. a long hot slog that was out of town.  the first few miles out of Wartrace was on the Strolling Jim course. some of the most beautiful running along the course. i was very happy i had been here before. not only did i not miss the left turn that was in my notes that everyone kept reminding me DO NOT MISS THIS but i got to run by the horse farms and countryside again. Eventually that sun and the heat came back and i slowed. my goal was to make it to the Campground at mile 245. This angel stop offers showers and food and rest and is the perfect stop before making the push through to Manchester. i went and booked my hotel for the night on the far side of town so that i would be running out of town in the morning. before i made it to the Quality inn i stopped at Mc Donald’s for a 5000 calorie meal. i was a little bit behind in my calories for the day LOL.

Wednesday 7:30 pm / 25 miles / 252 this was a good long stretch for the day. starting at that BP gas station that i made the push to arrive at for morning check in all the way to my hotel in Manchester. i felt very good. i was tired when i got to the hotel and was ready to rest so i could run a long in the morning.

unpack. soak in the tub. get to sleep. up at 1:30 am and head down the road. today was going to be a big day. there were two small towns to get to before check in so that i could rest and make the mighty climb up Mounteagle. i’m starting to get ready to finish and i still wasn’t playing my cards right and set myself up for that sub 8 day finish. the next few segments would set me back and i would have to roll with it again and keep going. you see glimpses of what is possible and the road hides them again around the next corner or up the next climb and down the plateau. i had no idea what was to come. i knew that there was a 3 mile descent down the plateau which would be the hardest stretch of the trip in the 290’s. but first. i had to get there.

left the hotel on a mission. i wanted 16 miles to check in at the second of the two small towns i passed which was at the base of the first climb. however around 3 pm that changed. i was approaching mile 256 Hillsboro a very small dot on the map. the road and shoulder was very good for running. the morning was humid and the full moon was out. i was wearing my headlamp and running in the shoulder and laying down good miles until a car passed me. the driver was traveling fast and yelled out of the window “get off the road it’s dangerous” and something else. i’ve been running for almost 10 years and have had this happen before and never through much about it. however this time the car came back in the other direction and the driver yelled the same words again. now i was uncomfortable. i called 911 and worked with the dispatch to explain the situation and a patrol car was sent to my location. at this time i had stopped running and every car that passed me i was starting to duck into driveways and other places to stay out of sight. the next time i expected the car to come back coming towards me based on the last two trips. i was watching every car coming at me and wondering if it would be that car. the officer stopped by and we spoke about it and they were going to keep an eye on me until the county line. they knew about the race and had no other issues with us traveling through their towns. i felt much better as the sun rose over the farms and countryside but when i tried to run again i had zero energy. i had spent all the energy i needed to run by being nervous about the car coming back and the extra running around back and forth trying to hide. my goal was to make it to a rest area at a house located in the next small town. there was a cot on the front porch and i needed to sleep for a bit. i made it there just in time. had some food and water and put my ear plugs in and laid down for 2 hours.

Thursday 7:30 am / 14 miles / 266 -this segment went as planned even with the issue overnight.

the sleep helped. i woke up and got myself ready to run. next up is the 3 mile climb up the plateau to the town of Monteagle. i set out from the angel station and into town stopping at the fire station for a bathroom and they gave me a bottle of gatorade for the road. as i was leaving town for the climb i came across another runner, Wayne Sylvester. This was his second Vol State and he was having lots of blister and foot issues. my time with Wayne would be the longest i spent with any one other runner along this trip. we left Pelham together and set out to climb to Monteagle. it was wonderful to have company. the climb was beautiful and steady and at the top we stopped for tater tots and a short rest and decided to push on to Tracy City to get us set up for the descent. the road to tracy city was uneventful and the short break and food helped. as we approached Tracy City a storm was forming and we had agreed to take another break at The Lunch Box to duck out of the storm. we were very lucky. as we were leaving our rest spot it was late in the afternoon and we had agreed to stick together to the finish but we did agree that if we needed to separate feelings wouldn’t be hurt. as it turns out as we left Tracy City jamming out to awesome 80’s hits my legs started to perk up and i took off running. for some reason i had this thought in my head i could make it down the 3 mile 7% grade descent before dark. i was wrong. what came next was a meltdown of epic proportions that ended when Sherry Meador found me in the last mile and helped me down to arrive safely at the mile 295 angel stop known as Steve Smalling’s house. i had the pleasure of meeting steve back in May at the STrolling Jim where we both ran the half marathon. before the race Steve said to me, ” just make it to my house and i will fix you up and get you ready for the finish” Boy was steve right. once you make it to his house, at the end of a very difficult day of running that includes usually both the include up Monteagle and the ridiculous Jasper decline you need to regroup before making the last 19 mile trek to the finish which includes the next wicked climb up Sand Mountain. Earlier i wrote about laying out the foundation day after day segment after segment to help you get along this course. sometimes you have a great section and sometimes you fall behind either with lack of food or sleep or just expending too much energy. when i began my day at Pelham i thought i would be making it up and over the plateau and then be able to make me finish for the final 19 miles. what i ended up realizing was i was about 6 hours short in my planning for that finish. over the last few segments i wasn’t putting in place what i needed for this finish push. when i arrived at Steve’s he gave me a cherry coke and a bathroom to clean up so i could rest and sleep for a few hours. when i woke up early friday morning i was finally rested and ready to leave and finish my run. i set off around 6:30 am and headed for Mc Donald’s in Kimball my last stop before heading up Sand Mountain into Alabama and then turning into Georgia for the finish at Castle Rock. if i kept my 3 mph as best i could i would be finishing around noon. not a bad finish for a rookie.

Thursday pm / 20 miles logged during the day / 286 recorded this after leaving Tracy City hiding from a pop up rain storm in the afternoon. The day was spent running from Pelham up Monteagle towards the finish. Ending at Steve’s house at mile 295 at 10:30 at night.

Friday am check in I was already on the road to the finish. 19 miles to go. i took my mcdonald’s to go and saw Cory Reese and the Manwaring’s there. i followed behind them and passed them at the blue bridge and started putting effort into getting to the rock. temps were starting to climb and for some reason even though i had driven this a few times and am usually quite good with navigation it seemed to be taking forever.  As i left the Blue Bridge and was making my way to Sand Mountain a car passed me going the same way i was running. beep beep HEY You’re one BADASS BABE!!! the guy yells out the window. let me tell you. Mike Melton knows how to make an appearance. i wish i could have kept the giant smile on my face from when he passed me right then but over the next few hours i was getting beat up by the heat and humidity making my way to the finish. What a great guy he is. That was such an excellent memory. I kept on trucking down the narrow twisting road now that i was no stranger to running on the road with no shoulder and my next stop was Dollar General. i got to the DG and treated myself to a mt. dew and the woman at the register even gave me a bottle of water. little did i know that i would go through all of my water by the top of Sand Mountain and another road angel gave me 2 more bottles. that Vol State heat and humidity really can beat you down. When i left DG and headed along the road waiting to make my turn up the mountain i started getting frustrated. one of the few times during the whole race. it was taking so long. i was moving really well but i was having trouble judging how far i had to go even looking at my map and notes. i finally crossed the train tracks and it was still a bit more to go and there is was! FINALLY. the right turn up the mountain. and that brought more frustration. i just wasn’t able to get my emotions in check. i wanted this to be over. during the climb i was treated to thunder. a storm cell was forming up at the top. great. more rain. this is when i decided i would get to that Rock before the storm hit. no matter what. not long after i started my trip up i was passed by a car going my way. CHRISTINA! i had called her when i got to the blue bridge and she was now recovered enough and was going to meet me at the finish. that was so nice of her to finish in less than 6 days so she would be there for my finish. i know i’m joking but it really did mean a ton to me. making this whole trip with her and all the other bad ideas i’ve had have included her. we said our hello’s and she took off up the hill to go park and head to the finish area. i kept on hiking and hiking and hiking and getting hotter and hotter in the sun and i was almost there. just before i got to the top a car passed me on the way down. WAYNE! what a great moment. he had finished 2 hours ahead of me. and this whole time i felt terrible i left him after Tracy City (even though we agreed it was okay) turns out he kept chugging along and probably passed me while i was sleeping. he made it to Kimball and slept about 2 hours and kept going. i was very happy to see him. we said our congratulations and then i took the rest of that mountain. started running again in Alabama and looked closely for my Party Hardy sign for my left turn. i hit the left turn and then it was into the cheese grater. a short 1.5 or so mile neighborhood section of chip seal road that was a never ending washing machine hills rolling up and down over and over just enough to make you work before your finish. i took the last uphill and stopped at the gates to Castle Rock for a picture and saw my first “one more mile” sign. nice try Laz. Ran hard down the driveway into my left turn and another “1 more mile” sign. run through the corn and another sign. at the end of the corn it was a left turn into a forest and some of the best single track trail running of the whole race 😉 i was really hauling now. my left felt fresh. i was shouting to the heavens above NO MORE STORMS over and over again as i was making my approach. the thunder answered my calls. later i found out that Christina at the finish line could hear me in the field shouting.  i tore through the trees and into the clearing. a quick look around and i could see i had to make my way right to the opening and the end of the line. i saw the tents and Christina and Mike Melton and Julie and Laz and just before the end Sandra grabbed me and stopped me and made me take a moment before she would walk me out there to The Rock and claim my finish. i was a little over excited and it’s a bit dangerous to be hauling butt to the end of a 500′ cliff in the woods in Tennessee. Not a bad moment to have your biggest race finish to be caught by Sandra Cantrell. i dropped my pack on the ground. i walked with her and squatted down and placed two hands on The Rock. I was done. I Finished Friday July 19th 12:39 pm 8 days 5 hours 9 minutes 37 seconds since the start.

Because i finished by myself with no other runners i was able to sit and chat with Laz for a few minutes. Once the monsoon hit that i was running in front of he got busy trying to keep his notebook and supplies dry but before the rain we had a few moments to talk.  He asked me two questions and it’s funny if you have seen any of the documentaries or read any of the books you might have formed an opinion about his character but i can tell you that sitting and chatting with him for those few minutes i formed a new option of him. he really cares and is interested in your experience. he created this race to test each on of us and he really wants to know what you think. not sure what he does with this information since he has cataloged so many runners over these years but he collects it.  Laz asked me if i ever thought i would quit. the answer was No. i never even entertained the idea. no matter what happened to me i knew that if i kept moving i would finish at some point. Then he asked me if it was as hard as i thought. and i said yes. no more no less. it was exactly as hard as i expected. i went on to tell him one of my own stories about when i went to Italy with Traci Falbo in 2016 and i was a new ultra runner and had only finished 2 50’ks. Laz was with Traci when she set the new women’s indoor track 48 hour record in Alaska. when i mentioned to him my time with her and how she helped me overcome some fears and start to work on my own self esteem issues i could see him smiling. I think Laz has a special place in his heart for Traci because of the incredible grit and determination she showed that day she set the record.

I arrived back in Houston around 7 pm Saturday night. there were 12 hours left in the race. it ended at 7:30 am Sunday morning and there were still people on the course and finishing. some veterans some rookies. all giving 100% of themselves and overcoming so many obstacles to reach the rock. They were all battered and bruised and falling apart but they never wavered on the goal. To finish. It was thrilling to cheer and follow them to the finish.

Recovery has been a long process and after 4 weeks i’m finally pulling out of it. I’ve enjoyed a bunch of sonic ice cream cones with my dog on our recovery walks. I’ve slept a ton. and i’ve started eating better to give myself all the opportunities to feel better.

happy trails xoxo nicole

I am a Last Annual Vol State 2019 finisher