What sort of person would want to run 314 miles across Tennessee in mid-July?
On the morning of Thursday, July 10, some eighty-six runners from across the US, and around the world, will board the first Mississippi River ferry from Dorena Landing, Missouri to begin just such an adventure. The finish line will await them some 314 miles away, at Castle Rock, high atop Sand Mountain in Northwest Georgia. In between the ferry and “the Rock” they will take on one of the most daunting challenges in the running world, the Vol-State Road Race.
The pre-race favorite is Johann Steene from Stockholm Sweden, fresh off a 260+ mile National Record for 48 hours. Other top contenders include 2010 winner Juli Aistars of Lake Zurich, Illinois, the only woman to have won the Vol-State, 2011 winner Don Winkley of Corpus Christie, Texas, who won at the age of 73, and 2012 winner Dan (Feral) Fox of Seattle, Washington. Joe Fejes, 2013 champion, of Hoschton, Georgia, who set the current course record of 3:08:10:16 (3 days-8 hours-10 minutes-16 seconds) will be participating as a member of a 4-man relay team that starts on Saturday. Fejes is “saving” his energy for an attempt to become the first American to go over 600 miles in 6 days, in more than a century, at the Six Days in the Dome race in Anchorage , Alaska in August.
Hopes for the first Tennessee winner since 2007 are pinned on Friendship Christian School Cross Country coach, Nelson Armstrong of Castalian Springs, who has logged 140 miles in 24 hours, but will be running in his first multi-day race.
Marcio Villar do Amaral, of Rio de Janerio, Brazil, had been among the top contenders before suffering torn tendons in his ankle two weeks before the race. Marcio, his Vol-State attempt tied to a fundraising effort for Cerebral Palsy victims in his home country, has chosen to run the race anyway rather than see his fundraising efforts go for naught. Without a crew, speaking only Portuguese, and running on a severely injured ankle, Marcio faces long odds in his attempt. The knowledge that medical care for 200 children is riding on his effort will put him on the ferry. Only sheer determination will get him to the Rock.
While the contest for the win will be between the elite runners in the field, the most remarkable aspect of the Vol-State is the very ordinariness of the majority of the entrants. College students, college professors, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, housewives, and retired; people from all walks of life, ranging in age from their twenties to their seventies will pit their will and endurance against the heat, hills and humidity of a Tennessee July. Participants will run, walk, or crawl in the effort to finish within the 10 day time limit. Many will be on the road for 20 or more hours per day. With no official race aid stations, the Vol-Staters will have to rely on what they can carry or find along the way. What most of them find is Tennessee’s famous hospitality. Every runner finds their spirits bolstered by words of encouragement. Many a Vol-Stater has been saved by something as simple as the timely gift of a glass of ice-water, or a piece of fruit. The only assistance they can expect from the race is an ignominious ride to the finish, should they decide to bail.
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. While the winner will hold the coveted title “King of the Road” for the next 12 months; every runner who manages to reach “the Rock” will receive the real reward. In facing and persevering through the pain and despair, which will stop the majority of those attempting the race short of their goal, the runners who reach the rock will find something inside their selves that they never knew was there. The emotional reward of overcoming such insurmountable obstacles is a memory that will last a lifetime. No Vol-Stater ever forgets the feeling that comes when they finally reach “the Rock,” and join that elite club of Vol-State finishers.
Progress in the event can be followed on the internet: http://www.tinyurl.com/Volstate2014
Landmarks on the course, and their distance: Dorena Landing, MO ferry landing 0 miles, Hickman, KY old downtown district 2 miles, Union City, old downtown district 18 miles, Martin, old downtown district 31 miles, Dresden, square 40 miles, Gleason, high school 48 miles, McKenzie, square 56 miles, Huntingdon, square 67 miles, Lexington, square 92 miles, Parsons, downtown 107 miles, Linden, square 125 miles, Hohenwald, square 144 miles, Hampshire, downtown 162 miles, Columbia, square 177 miles, Culleoka, downtown 188 miles, Lewisburg, square 201 miles, Shelbyville, TN square 223 miles, War Trace, downtown 233 miles, Manchester, square 249 miles, Pelham, downtown 266 miles, Monteagle, downtown 274 miles, Tracy City, downtown 280 miles, Jasper, downtown 296 miles, South Pittsburg, Tn River Bridge 303 miles, Castle Rock, GA scenic overlook 314 miles