Guest Post by Alan Abbs, a.k.a. White Trash
Midnight Saturday morning, and I was well on my way to Hohenwald- the signs even said so. We were over 40 hours into “The Last Annual Volunteer State Road Race”, a 500k race from the Northwest to the Southeast corners of Tennessee, and I was hoping to hit the 48 hour mark with over 150 miles behind me. I was racing unsupported- nothing but a small pack with a 3 liter bladder, some socks and medical stuff, a jacket and poncho, a handbottle, some cash, a drivers license, and health insurance info. I was three hours on the road from a brief stop at the Commodore Hotel in Linden, where for $56 I spent an hour and 45 minutes showering, working on my feet, digesting some food, and getting a 45 minute nap. Other than 10 minutes the previous night, it was the first sleep I had.
I was eyeing a sub 5 day finish and banking some serious time, but having a bit of an emotional lull, and looking forward to getting to Hohenwald to charge me back up. It was the City of Hohenwald, however, that taught me the cruelty of Tennessee municipal planning. Sometime after midnight I passed the Hohenwald City Limits sign, but the city itself teases you. I alternate running and walking and my feet are killing me, but I don’t see the lights of city. Miles later I see two people walking with a flashlight towards me, and I note it’s about 3:30. “How far to downtown?” I ask. “A long way.” “Really, like miles?” I ask. “You’d be surprised.” When I finally get to something that resembles a downtown I figure I’ve gone over 10 miles since I passed that city limits sign. I find out latter that Tennessee cities incorporate huge strips along major roads for tax purposes, but a recurring theme on my run is the giddiness of passing a city limits sign only to be disappointed when a populated area doesn’t immediately appear.
It’s too early in Hohenwald for anything to be open, so I plop down by a vending machine on the main drag and buy two bottles of soda, drinking one and putting the other in my handbottle. I start running out of Hohenwald, go up a short climb and down a long downhill into a sparsely populated valley. There’s a bit of fog and it’s pleasant to run a bit and then fast walk a bit. At 7:30am I check in with 154 miles for 48 hours, and I’m feeling good, but sore in the feet and tired. As the fog starts to burn off I can see it’s going to be a hot day, and I haven’t filled up on water since the night before. But this highway is nothing but road with an occasional driveway going off to a farm in the distance. I check my guide book and its miles before I come to the campground at the Natchez Trace overpass. Depressed, I send a text to Bev itemizing my ailments.
Highway 412 has major construction work going on, but on a Saturday there’s not too much activity. I start looking at every piece of road equipment for the ubiquitous water cooler, but there’s none to be found. On the right side of road, however, I spot a half full bottle of water. Could it be? Yes, it is! Water left over from a road flagger from the day before. It’s only 8 ounces, looks like water and tastes like water. I drink some and pour the rest into my handbottle. I find another, and then another. Who’s lips the bottle had touched was not my concern. I up my game (or lower it if you will) and dig a bottle out of a ditch that had been tossed, and when I get to the campground I decide to press on rather than take the detour inside to stock up. Five days looks well within reach, and I start wondering how much more I can take off.
I restock in the town of Hampshire, and the next big town is Columbia. The sun is high, it’s hot, and the road to Columbia has no shoulder and is punctuated with rolling hills. Some of the relay teams had taken a few hours rest the night before, and we began leapfrogging. Chasing relay runners pumps me up, but my feet are really burning on the hot asphalt in the sun! I look down and also realize my shoes are black. I wonder why on earth I would bring black trail shoes and black socks to a hot road race. I stop and slice some blisters with a pocket knife, apply some lube, and keep moving. Laz is at a turnout and I stop for a moment and chat. Everyone’s wondering whether I can keep the pace up to break the hallowed 5 day barrier. I’m feeling good I assure him, but I’m worried about my hot feet, that I’m not sweating, and I have some serious chaffing, with infections, going on “down there.”
Hot feet and chaffing. That’s all I’m thinking about as I make the approach to Columbia, birth place of James K. Polk. We’re just into day 3 and I’m thinking about my shoes. Should I try to get some new shoes? I look at the tread and I see I’ve done a pretty good job of wearing them down close to the sole. The distance from the hot asphalt to my feet is a centimeter or two. I should take them back to the store and say- “Look at these, I’ve only worn them for 3 days.” Ha Ha. On the outskirts of Columbia I stop in a minimart, stock up, and ask if there’s any shoe stores nearby. The cashier starts giving me directions somewhere and I rapidly determine that’s way off course for me. Across the street I stop in a Dollar General. There’s no shoes, but I get some flip flops and a tube of triple antibiotic for “down there.” Shoes in hand, I flip flop for a bit and my feet feel a little cooler in the hot sun. A mile later I stop in another minimart for fluids, and ask again about shoes. The dude there talks about a sporting goods store that sounds like it might be on the course. Good deal. Scott from the relay team says he’ll be eating at a local café in Columbia square, but I decline because I want to hit that sporting goods store before it closes. It’s a bust though, as there’s nothing over a size 11 available, and at any rate it’s only Keen sandals.
Dejected, I push on. I’ve made a lot of stops in Columbia with only a pair of flip flops and some antibiotic cream to show for it. Still, before leaving town just before 5 I need to make one more minimart stop to stock up. I’m not feeling hungry, but I eat two sandwiches. I’ll stock up next in Glendale at the Bench of Despair for the long night. My feet feel like they’re burning up, so I stop just outside of Columbia to work on them. A lady drives up and asks me if I’m o.k. Another stops and says she gave some other folks Gatorade, but she ran out, and would I take money instead? I’m fine I assure them, and at any rate, I’m going to get to the Bench of Despair before it closes at 6pm.
Just after 6:10 I arrive at the Bench of Despair. It’s locked up tight. Stopping for my feet blew my chance of getting there in time. The owners left a cooler of bottled water outside, but food wise I’m screwed. I have 2 gels for emergencies. I consult the guidebook and there’s a “café” 4.5 miles up the road in Culleoka. If it’s a café, it must be open later in the evening, but I get there, and it’s locked up tight. I’m really screwed. Next up is a minimart in Mooresville 5.8 miles away, and it’s about time to check in so I turn on my phone and log in 187 miles, which is right on schedule despite all my stops. Wow, I have a lot of text messages here. Its lots of friends telling me how great I’m doing, some with pictures! How can I feel sorry for myself with people rooting me on like that?
That still doesn’t address my food problem though. The café has a vending machine, and with the small bills and change I figure I can get 3 bottles of soda, but the machine steals enough of the coins that I come out with 2 bottles of Sun Drop, a Mountain Dew equivalent. I drink one with a gel, and put the other in my bottle, stand up, and prepare to leave.
The bag in the garbage can catches my eye. Lays. The end is rolled up, but could it be possible it has food? I pick it up, knock off bits of who knows what, unroll it, and sure enough it’s half full! I will hold onto this just in case, I tell myself, but I knew I would be eating them before the night was through. Armed with one more gel, some potato chips, a Sun Drop, and the adrenaline from a phone full of text messages, I decide to shake off feeling sorry for myself, and I start running. I hit Mooresville 55 minutes later in a light rain and as I suspected, the store was closed. I laid on their table, ate the chips and gel, slept for 15 minutes and woke up shivering. My metabolism was going haywire from the day’s heat, intermittent hydration, lack of food, and nonstop effort. As I leave I notice the repair business across the street with all the junk strewn out front, and I walk around it looking for garbage I might consider eating.
The next big city is Lewisburg, and it looks promising as there’s a major highway that intersects with the road I’m on. But my feet are still having problems, and I alternate with flip flops, shoes, and even a hundred or so yards barefoot. Nothing feels good. But as I finally crest the last hill and start heading down into Lewisburg at midnight, I see lights! I enter the minimart at 12:30 and the owner is getting ready to close up. He gives me a discount on the fried chicken he was about to throw away, along with a biscuit and red beans and rice. I buy a few other items and ask if it’s o.k. if I hang out in front of the store. No problem he says, so I grab some concrete, prop my feet and eat dinner upside down.
It was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time, but there was no time to savor it. This was a race, I had to keep moving, and I had to deal with this foot issue. It was Sunday, and the road was beckoning.