“We were born to blaze new trails and roads, partake in great adventures, take daring risks, be God strong and foolishly courageous. “Let faith not fear be your compass” and so began on Thursday July 9th, 2015 at 7:30am, a journey of a lifetime, a journey to the rock.
Just before the Last Supper, Greg Armstrong and his beautiful wife Shelley spent almost 2 hrs with Lisa and I, going over the route, showing us maps and providing us with amazing insights about the race. We greatly appreciated them graciously giving their time to help us, newbies to Volstate. People like them truly make our sport the best in the world. At the LAST SUPPER, we met Lazarus Lake (the Race Director), got our shirts and went over a few rules. Things were becoming real and nerves were beginning to form.
The next day, we were to meet at 7am at the Dorena-Hickman ferry. I, of course wanted to be there super early for fear of getting caught in morning rush hour traffic or lost. Lisa just shook her head at me. There is no traffic in Hickman Kentucky, none what so ever and getting lost was unlikely. Needless to say we were the first ones there. Due to high water levels, we had a 20 minute virtual ferry ride (which entailed standing for 20 minutes ) and then off we went.
We were quite charmed by the little towns we were passing and were greeted by a few RunItFast members. Thank you Josh and Jamie! It was great to see them out there! ( a special thank you to Jamie’s wife for allowing us into her work to cool off). It was on our way from Martin to Dresden where we caught our first glimpse of heat and humidity. It seemed like the state road was freshly paved and that steam was rising from the ground. It was also the middle of the afternoon which probably didn’t help matters. Our focus changed quickly however because it was here were we first experienced the warmth and kindness of the people of Tennessee. This was to continue through the duration of our journey. Many handed us popsicles, freezes, water, ice and although we had crew, these were still uplifting moments. We made sure to tell every person we met that there were runners doing this on their own and to please find as many of them as they could.
Our goal was to reach 9o miles (the town of Lexington) in the first day. That was our plan ( silly naïve Canadians- throw away the plan right Joshua Holmes? ) We didn’t quite make it there. Our total distance for day one was 76 miles. We knew after day one that our goals from then on would be the following a)not to plan b)survive the heat, c)keep moving forward, and d)listen to our bodies and enjoy this tremendous experience as it was already shaping out to be.
On day two, we made it to Lexington but not before passing some pretty towns, in particular Hungtindgon. In Lexington, we rewarded ourselves with sonic slushies and sweet tea. These two things were to be a staple for the remainder of this “ vacation on foot” as some people have called it. Once we turned left out of Lexington we knew we would be on the US 412 for roughly 95 miles until we hit Colombia. For a moment that seemed quite daunting but we knew it was the only way to get to the rock. We passed many towns on this long stretch of road including Parsons where we enjoyed a nice dinner listening to live music. We made the trek through the town of Linden at night and this seemed to be just one never ending climb with really no shoulder to run/walk on. We made it to the other end of town and took a much needed nap in the car. We ended day two with another 65 miles for a total of 141 miles.
It was much hotter on day three and day four and it was starting to show. These two days were our low mileage days but included some incredible moments. We reached the halfway point ( 157) where we enjoyed a beautiful waterfall.
We made a concentrated effort to look at the miles we covered and not the ones we still had yet to do. We hit the famous “Bench of Despair” which made us quite emotional. The store owners left a barrel of ice and water bottles and markers to sign our names and times on the bench which we gladly did.
The next 7-8 miles were quite beautiful and went by rather quickly. It was also on this road where a family left lawn chairs, an umbrella, food, shirts, salt pills and a number of different items for volstate runners. Again, one can’t help but get emotional at such a selfless act of kindness. We were going through a particularly hard, hot, humid, and hilly stretch into Lewisburg. We jokingly said that we could cross off running on the sun from our bucket list. We honestly felt like our skin was going to peel off. I remember making very small conversation with Lisa at which point she turned me and said “Mare I flatlined 3 hills ago” and that summarizes how we felt at times. Oddly enough, our skin didn’t peel off nor did we flatline. Day 3 and 4 saw us do 44 and 49 miles respectively for a total of 234 miles by the end of day 4.
The start of day 5 brought us to see our fourth sunrise. As the sun rose, so did we. It rejuvenated us. It was a new day, a new dawn. We had made it through yet another day in the Volstate. We also found this on the start of day 5 and were wondering if by using it we would get to the rock faster.
Running highs were amplified but so were the lows at Volstate. We embraced the highs, became humbled with the lows and moved one foot in front of the other. We thoroughly enjoyed running to the town of Wartrace and from there to the US41. It was early in the morning, quiet, scenic and peaceful, just us and the road. The miles flew by during this section and we both could say we were in a dream like running state. I had never felt that before. I made sure I was present for every step because I knew deep down, I was probably never going to feel that again. It was along US41 where Whitney, a runitfast member came to see us bringing with her strawberry popsicles and some much needed salt pills. Thank you! The end of Day 5 saw us climb 3 miles up Monteagle. We stopped at the top, lay on the floor and admired the sky full of stars trying to absorb this whole experience. We ended day 5 with 44 miles and a total of 278 miles. In the last five 5days, we spent approximately 2 hours out of the sun each day and rested on average between two to three hours at night. This strategy worked for us for every time we hit the road we felt re-energized and ready to move sometimes slow, sometimes slower but always forward.
We woke up on day 6 knowing that we were going to make it to the rock. We made it through Tracy City, Jasper and Kimball where we saw Lazarus, Steven ( who had finished Volstate the day before),
Bill ( who crewed Steven but always made sure we were okay when he saw us, Thank you Mr. Baker! ), John ( two time Volstate finisher- uncrewed) and Sue ( women’s record holder for Volstate!) Seeing them made us smile. We were near the 300 mile mark at this point.
We made it to the bottom of the Mountain, dug deep and began our 6 mile climb into Alabama through the cornfields to the rock.
We had done it. 5 days , 8 hours , 6 minutes and 52 seconds later, we had made it.
There are so many people that were instrumental in our success. A special thank you to both our husbands who entertained the thought of us participating in this race and for taking care of things back home while we were away. To our crew. Alissa, Nikki Laura Lee and Bill. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel towards you and all you did for us over the 5 days, stopping every 3 miles, cooling us down, getting us food, being patient while we tended to our feet and just being positive and encouraging. We will forever be appreciative. ( I think Bill was taking the picture!)
To all of you that came by to visit, to those at home cheering for us, and sending us positive vibes, Thank you! We used that to fuel us and keep going. A special mention to Joshua Holmes for believing that I could finish this race when I asked him about it back in December. Thank you. It was everything you said it would be and more. To God, who shined his light on us every day we were out there. Congratulations to all Volstate finishers this year and to those who didn’t finish, congratulations for having the courage to tow the start line. A special congratulations to my running partner and great friend Lisa who not only completed her first multiday but was “officially” the first female to touch the rock. I would not have had it any other way.
This race enters your blood and becomes part of who you are. It touches your core and captures your soul. One lives so much in those 314 miles that it undeniably leaves its mark on you permanently. We are definitely not the same people that started the race. It is an experience that develops your character but at the same time reveals it. It tested our limits and in the process, made us go beyond them. The journey inspired us, brought us to your knees and at times made us feel broken physically, mentally and spiritually BUT it didn’t defeat us. Somehow ,somewhere , someway along this journey we become MORE stubborn and relentless than the VOLSTATE and step by step we overcame and made it to the rock.