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Title:The Last Annual Vol State Road Race 500K - The Third Time is a Charm
Date:Thursday July 10th, 2014
Author:Juli Aistars
There are so many reasons I love Vol State. Maybe it is because I feel loved when I am out there, not only by my family and friends, but by the people of Tennessee and even most of the dogs. I brought things with me that made me think of people I love, a small metal mathematical sculpture that fills me with wonder, like the person who gave it to me for my 50th birthday. Kristi's "anti-sweat sleeves and "magic" energy shots, a pair of earrings from one of my sisters, a flashlight given to me by one of my dearest friends and running partner, Ken. I never run an ultra without earrings. They make me feel feminine no matter how bad I may look or feel :).

This was my 3rd trek across Tennessee, and every run was so different. There are many good things about having a crew, even if it is just one person and sometimes I have to convince him that I am really ready to get back on the road, even if he's not. This is the second time Val has crewed me at Vol State - who would do that more than once? That makes me feel loved! Being crewed by a spouse can be a disadvantage, depending on the relationship. I worry about him and he worries about me. When I was out there by myself in 2012, there was no one to worry about but myself. I didn't hope Val would be close if I got into trouble, because I knew he wouldn't be, that he was not just a matter of minutes away, and that I would have to rely on myself - or if all else fails, call Carl :) Being out there alone can be less stressful then being crewed, if that makes any sense.

One thing I really missed out on without crew in 2012 was running in the middle of the night. If I was with another Vol Stater, I would run in the wee hours. If I ended up alone, which started to happen by the 3rd night, I checked into a hotel and didn't go out again until daylight was imminent. If I found myself on a deserted back road and a car stopped to ask me what I was doing, I told them that my husband was just up ahead, even if he wasn't. This year I was glad Val really was "up ahead" when a man in a pickup truck, smelling strongly of beer, asked too many questions and wondered if I was alone.

In 2010, Val was falling asleep crewing me because I was hobbling so slowly in the final miles, all bent over with back spasms. He never complained at the time, but later he said it was like watching paint dry :) In 2012, I tried to match my time from 2010 to prove that being "screwed" can be easier in some ways and there is no reason you can't run as well as you could with a crew. A lot of things you think you need, you don't even think about when you can't get them. You have only one real objective or directive as Gary called it -- "move". A crew can actually hamper your progress in some cases. If used efficiently, a crew can be a huge advantage. Being efficient is not easy, especially when your crew is someone very close to you. You worry about them...

You also blow up at them when you are sleep deprived and they tell you your goal of 5 days is out the window and you might as well try for 6 days :). This was my worst moment this year and embarrassing to admit... It was on my way to Wartrace, one of my favorite vacation spots and home of the Strolling Jim. It was in the dead of night and I was moving slowly. I wanted to stop for a nap. Val was sleep-deprived and getting a little frustrated with my lack of progress, or so I gathered. I was appalled that he could be so negative as I was ahead of both of my previous VS runs. There were 6 hours left before 0730. He said, "Well, today is gone and then you would need blank miles each day and that is not likely the way you are moving, blah, blah, blah..." I saw red, told him to fill my camelback because I would need it at the next stop and I would no longer be needing his assistance. I was changing my status to SCREWED. Only I didn't say it very nicely at all. I was NOT a positive Juli - just ask Val.

So I picked up the pace - quite a bit. As I was running along muttering to myself - I think this was after I threw the filled camelback on the ground by the car, I was suddenly startled by thunderous movement and looked up to see several gigantic dogs running towards me from a field. "Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh......." Again, not really that mild if you were there, but I screamed. Then, somewhere in the depths of my foggy mind, I realized the thunderous sound was horses' hooves and these were not great big dogs. I reminded myself that this was horse country and I was running on Walking Horse Parkway. I needed to get some sleep or be committed. Val had heard and turned his vehicle to drive back towards me. I knew it was Val in a car and not some mad night creature whose eyes were lit up - so I was not totally hopeless...

The time for a huge, heartfelt and sincere apology had come, not just because I needed him to save me from large dogs who were really horses, but because this man not only supports me on runs when I ask him to, but he supports me every single day, unselfishly. How could I have talked to him like that??? To be fair, he also had some choice words for me when I threw my camelback on the ground :) I deserved it, in spades.

The moments I remember fondly from Vol State 2014 are many. The ones that come to mind right now as I reminisce on what seems like ages ago are:

The Last Supper where so many were never gathered before, greeting friends, meeting new ones, Fred's mischievous laugh, talking with Mike and Elaine about strategy, seeing Marcia and John, Don and his crew, Becky, and Gary, Carl, John Sands, John Price, Randy, the sprinkle of past Kings of the Road. "The next King is in this room", Gary said.

The Ferry Ride, feeling the cool breezes, being mesmerized by the water, meeting some new Vol Staters, seeing the familiar faces of partners in crime and feeling the warmth of memories of shared miles and moments, missing those who didn't make it this year, thinking about the journey ahead...

Running the early miles with Elaine, having a conversation that I can remember in detail about family. Running some miles with Scott, recalling the exchanged emails when he had the belly-button bleed, missing him at a few races, to finally meet him in person and hear about his wife, his job, things that are meaningful in his life. Sharing some miles with Sue, witnessing her calmly deploying Plan B when she thought she lost her money and would need to call in crew...

Running to catch up with Dale and Eric, after a long rest in Lexington and having to backtrack to find the landmark I had left, finally meeting the mastermind behind the Midwest Grand Slam which I completed in 2013. I told Dale what that meant to me, how I used it in my work with lung cancer patients, and all the people I got to know better or for the first time - Anastasia, Crystal, Ramon, Karen, Dick, Adam...

Seeing Marcia heading into Lexington as Val drove me in the opposite direction back to the landmark - she was moving so well in the heat of the day. I wondered if I could catch her, but then I walked with Dale and Eric who were "wasted" I think is how they put it, and Marcia must have stopped to rest in Lexington. I never did get to see her on the course again...

A trucker named Josh, pulling over his semi at night to ask if we had a flat tire, a conversation, me saying that truckers took care of people on the roads, he saying, "It's really more about being Christian."

A woman, a kind stranger, stopping at the roadside, imparting words of encouragement, pressing a cold bottle of water into my hands as I reached her - her smile and words just what I needed when I needed it.

Leaving the Celebration Inn, convincing Val finally that he could leave me to run the course on my own while he resupplied. "I did this by myself in 2012 and now you won't let me run without you waiting up ahead???" I am enjoying my new-found freedom and remembering the solitude of 2012 when I ran solo for miles. A nice-looking man pulls alongside me on his motorcycle and says, "Excuse me, I saw you earlier and it's really hot out here. I brought you some cold water." I start to tell him I have a crew-- instead I smile, take the water, and say "Thank you so much!" He drives away. I am using a multi-colored umbrella for sun protection and I sure do feel like a Southern Belle :)

Sitting under a tree in the shade on a hot day after Val has brought me a bacon-wrapped steak burger and fries, some ice cream, and root beer. I have died and gone to heaven, even as the insects demand their due. I am wallowing in the cool relief of the shade, the blue skies peaking through the tree branches overhead, lulled by Val's voice as he relates stories of what happened to him when we were apart, who he met, what he did, things he had realized about how much time we unwittingly waste and how we can make the Rock in 5 days if we are efficient.

Getting stopped by 2 road angels who turned out to be good friends of Gary, the Ruckers (Linda and Corey?). They opened their hatchback and offered me anything they had. Talking with or waving to crews, Kathleen's parents, Emilio's parents, Mike's wife, Randy's wife -- there were so many families on this road trek besides the Vol State family...

Startling a deer at dawn, a small rat visible in the circle of light from my headlamp as I climb to Mont Eagle, neighbors out late encouraging me on my journey and offering anything I might need... Fireflies, the full moon lighting the way, the deafening sound of a chorus of bullfrogs, crickets - beautiful sounds of the night. Birds of so many kinds announcing the morning, roosters crowing... Who needs a watch to tell time on the roads?

Talking with 2 bikers who are riding 100 miles, Mike and Sandy. They are from Georgia and Sandy ran the Brazil 135. I ask her if she knows Elaine and she does. I tell her Elaine is not far behind.

Mike is driving Elaine to a hotel for the night and they stop to talk. I ask Elaine if she has ever run this far. She says, "No, and it sucks!" I know that is only for the moment and she must be having some fun out here :)

Our fearless leader at the relays, Dr. John Spencer, appears as I climb some steep roads somewhere around Tracy City. I can't place him as he passes with words of encouragement. Then I round a corner to see him chatting with Val and I realize... He tells us he is headed to find Diane Taylor next. What a very nice surprise and a morale booster to see friends on the course! Joe Fejes stops by in the dark of night and again in the morning - I have to think about it to remember at what points on the course that was, but it was definitely in the later miles. It is so nice to see familiar faces that you didn't expect to see. We visited the course in 2011 where I first met Paul L. Once Vol State has taken up residence in your heart, it is there to stay.

A man asks Val if he is crewing both of these runners after nightfall heading to Jasper. "There is a tall gentleman with a light on his head about 1 and a half miles back." Val says he is only crewing one runner. I know it is Randy when he mentions it. We had been hopscotching with his crew for many miles and I had run with him a few times.

One of those times we were headed into Columbia, Randy walking with his long stride, me running to keep up, talking about this and that. Randy stopped for the night. We kept going as we passed an arrest in progress, were stopped by a couple wanting to hear all about what we were doing and offering anything they had including a bed to sleep in... Being stopped by 5 police officers through Columbia, "It's a slow night and I was just wondering where you are running to." He was younger than our oldest son. "I'm not gonna stop you from running, but be safe," from another officer. "Enjoy the rest of your run!" Tennessee has the nicest police officers in the country -- from my perspective and about 17 or so days spent on these roads :)

Heading into Lewisburg as the sun was just getting hot, thinking how nice it would be to have 200 miles done in 3 days when Emilio comes up beside me. We run together for a short while before he pulls ahead. "I am trying to hit 201 miles but I don't know if I'll make it." I saw Emilio leaving Hohenwald as well, but when the shirtless man waved to me from up ahead, I didn't realize it was him. What a very nice young man he is...

The language of dogs...

Dogs do not frighten me so much as in 2010. I learned how to read them better in 2012 and how to deal with them. I thought I had conquered this fear completely. I find this year that it is not so, and by the 4th night, I am concerned about all the barking and growling I hear and expect to be bitten from behind at any moment. I ask Val to follow closely. I carry a stick that Val had carved as a Boy Scout. "I wish I could get at you so I could tear you to ribbons." "A tasty meal you would make." "You stay away from my property or else..." Isn't that what they were saying in the dead of the night??? Dogs seem to be everywhere but they are mostly harmless or secured - in reality :)

Remembering finding shelter from the thunderstorm in that community center in 2012 as I pass... All those storms with the best light shows and not a one this year. Meeting Charlie and Mike the Omeliator while we napped in a gas station lot in Culeoka. Napping in a cemetery before going through Kimball. The whoosh of the semi trucks, the closeness of the traffic when the shoulder is narrow, the way the camber of the road and the rumblestrips wear down your feet. The hills, up and down... I descend the 4 miles of 7.5% grade into Jasper with no problem. Not the case in 2010 when my sore quads made this downhill torture. A different year, a different race.

While heading for Kimball, Randy passes, running strong. "Go Randy!" After his cross country run, I figured one state has to seem easy. Maybe it is the same as when people say "A 5K must be a walk in the park for you," but it can be more intimidating than a 50 mile race.

Val and I repeat the same debate we had in 2010 about how to get to Route 156 and cross the Tennessee River for the last time. I run back and forth across the 4 lanes of traffic before we decide I will exit the same way as the cars. We meet Gary on the blue bridge. I tell him how we figured out how to avoid wasting time. He says, "You are wasting time right now talking to me." I agree and move on. The trip from the bridge to the Rock is slow but steady and seems like half the time it took in 2010. It rains steady but briefly. The cornfields are cut and there is actually signage. The race has gone to hell in a hand basket since an official fee is being collected :)

Randy is in the finisher's chair near the Rock and I stop to congratulate him. Carl reminds me the clock is going and I haven't touched the Rock. I do my duty with a fairly straight back this time and then rest a minute on the bench. Not the 5 days I wanted but only 6 hours and 16 minutes overdue. A PR at Vol State and I am satisfied and happy to be done with trek # 3.

Satisfied enough to never run it again? I did tell my Mom on one of my phone calls on the road that it was my last and she was ecstatic. I know Vol State will call again, but will I answer???

Congratulations to all who dared to try this year, all who finished, King Greg for the win and a new record, Johan for a new uncrewed record, Sue for her incredible run and record, and Carl and Gary for managing the biggest Vol State to date!!!

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Posted:July 29th, 2014 4:02 pm
Last Update:August 1st, 2014 12:47 pm
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