Wednesday Morning: The Bus Ride
The Last Annual Heart of The South Race is a Lazarus Lake Race. The First Race was in 2020 after there was a snafu relating to registration of the better known Last Annual Vol State Road Race. Unlike LAVS, The HOTS course changes every year. The course and even the starting point are unknown until the night before the race.
On Wednesday, all participants meet near the finish of the race in Castle Rock Georgia and are bussed to the start. While some people are crazy enough to run both HOTS and LAVS (separated by only 3 weeks), I was only crazy enough to run one. I figured I would go for HOTS, because the unknown appealed to me.
The consensus is that HOTS is generally the more difficult race because you cannot pre-plan or count on the abundance of Road Angels that grace the LAVS course.
Of course there are a ton of other factors, including weather that come into play. Really, I probably had no business running HOTS, but what the heck.
The start of the bus ride left many of us with a bit of dread as we traversed the mountains with many turns and narrow shoulders. We went through Chattanooga, and began on a course to The north. Around the halfway point we stopped at a park in Pall Mall, TN for lunch. There was a stream for swimming, an outdoor shower and power outlets in a picnic shelter. This was a spot I was looking forward to, if I made it back that far.
The rest of the drive was marked by dozens of Dollar Generals, lots of long exposed stretches, and more hills. Laz announced that we would not be following the exact route through the last part of the drive. We did however cross over the Cumberland Dam. I looked forward to this and dreaded this at the same time. It was beautiful, but I worried about heavy traffic on Father’s Day weekend (That wouldn’t be a problem).
Shortly after we crossed the Dam, I guessed that we would start in Frankfurt Kentucky, at The State Capital. I was correct.
We arrived at the hotel just in time for dinner. I ate quickly, and made a trip to the closest convenience mart to stock up on essentials for the first part of the trip. Back at the hotel, we awaited the map. It arrived via e-mail around 10pm. From Frankfurt, our next major city would be Lexington. After leaving Frankfurt, there wouldn’t be much opportunity to re-stock on water and food until mile 13, and then nothing would be available until mile 24.
Temperatures throughout the race would generally reach highs in the 90’s with ‘Feel like’ temperatures in the 100’s
Day 1 Thursday 9 AM to Friday 9 AM
At 8am Eastern Time we met at the Capital building, posed for pictures and Laz lit his cigarette and we were off. A few runners took off running , but most of us were walking. We started on walking trails before re-entering traffic. There were a couple gas stations around mile 5, and most everyone stopped to grab something.
Shortly after that we were on Old Frankfort Pike with rolling hills and endless horse farms.
I was walking a consistent pace, a bit under 20 minute miles. My goal going in was to average 20 miles per 12 hours and 40 miles per day. I arrived at mile 13, and there were probably 20 other runners there as well. I grabbed a picnic table where I first met Lonnie and waited until the line shortened and got lunch and drinks.
I cooled down and relaxed for maybe an hour or more and continued on, solo. Lonnie left just ahead of me, but I passed him as he was napping at a church. Not long after re-starting, I felt the desire to rest and get out of the heat. I made a few short stops, and found a port-a-potty at a very fortunate time.
Around mile 16 I took a break and when I kicked off a shoe, I experienced the worst cramps I’ve ever experienced – in my left calf. Eventually the cramps subsided and I carried on. A couple miles later Lonnie caught up to me and we would walk together the rest of the evening.
At mile 20, Laz, Sandra and Carl were logging runners. We weren’t quite at the back of the pack, but we were the last runners that they stayed to log. At first, I thought they were an Angel Station (unofficial support offered up by locals who learn of the race), but Laz didn’t offer us any of his Ale-8 that he had by his side.
We carried on, but we were running out of fluids. We stumbled upon Case Construction, and noticed a service door was open. We went in and the workers were very nice and allowed us to rest and fill our bottles, and even gave us electrolyte freeze pops.
We spent a half hour or more inside and went outside to rest at a tree. When we sat down my legs cramped again. It looked like an alien lived inside my calf. It was moving on its own, and while it hurt like hell, but I had to laugh at the same time. It was at this time I agreed with Lonnie that we should get a hotel, and we booked a room in Lexington at mile 26.
You are required to check in every 12 hours by entering your mileage into a Google Sheet. Our first check in was at mile 24. We stopped for ice cream. I had a float, but Lonnie was unable to eat or drink anything. The last 2 miles were tough. Any uphill grade caused my cramping to return with a vengeance. We stopped at a gas station to re-supply and went to the hotel. Lonnie was nice enough to carry our bounty. The store was out of bags, and he had to convince them to give us a garbage bag.
We got to the hotel at about 9pm and set our alarms for 1am and quickly hit the road. A few miles in we stopped at a Waffle House, I didn’t have much appetite, but ate some eggs and hash browns. We ran into another runner, Diana, she was moving well, and eventually her and Lonnie broke away from me. There was one more 24 hour gas station open that night. I don’t remember what I got there, but at that point I only was really able to handle chocolate or strawberry milk and soda. The rest of the night/morning was decent, the route broke off of the main trail and on some less traveled roads and pedestrian only paths. I pushed until check in and got to 40 miles. Right on target.
I will reference The Grim Reaper. This is the pace you need to maintain to finish within the 10 day limit.
Day 1: 40 miles Total 40 miles. 7 miles ahead of the Reaper. 287 miles remaining.
Day 2 Friday 8AM-Saturday 8AM
I rested along with William, Jessica and Kelly just past 40mm.
They left while I continued to rest. These 3 stayed with each other for the duration of the race. I would see them occasionally throughout the race, but they were usually leaving town while I was entering. It was an interesting dynamic to see who was working as a team, and I wondered what happened when teams had to split up.
The next opportunity to replenish was not until mile 50, at least 5 more hours. It would be over 20 miles between services, and there were no road angels on that stretch. It would take awhile before word spread about ‘The Walkers’.
The route would take us down a valley and back up through The Boone Tunnel and overlooking The Kentucky River.
The road from The Boone Tunnel was the first significant elevation change, and the first winding roads. Although looking at the elevation map (Thankfully I didn’t until much later in the race) this was just the beginning. If you look at the elevation map, this is the dip down followed by the climb back up.
This was also where I had the only real threat of rain until the final day. I heard thunder in the distance and got some scattered rain (which felt good), but nothing significant.
From there, it was a few Miles to Shakertown, where I was able to sit down and order a meal (which I was barely able to eat). But, I refilled my multiple bottles.
My eyes were set on Harrodsburg by evening check in. I took a couple short breaks and got to Harrodsburg (mile 58) by check in. I stopped and got a freeze at Taco Bell and then went to Pizza Hut. I was not able to eat anything. This was concerning, and somewhat typical of my experience in 24 and 48 hour races. On the way out of town, I got an Ale 8 and other drinks.
I continued towards Danville. I was moving well and got to the edge of Danville around 1:30 a.m. I saw police and lights and was worried something happened with one of the HOTS participants. Luckily it was nothing of the sort. I didn’t know it at the time, but Lonnie was stopped and talking to the police, and Mary was also nearby (as I learned from her race report).
There was a Speedway open and I got a large Blue Freeze, some milk and Gatorade to carry. After drinking the freeze I proceeded to get violently sick. As I walked through Danville I was throwing up in every container imaginable. I fully expected to get stopped by police, but I did not. I then embarked on an obsession to find a working vending machine. I was craving something cold and I found one, but it wouldn’t take bills, after hunting for what seemed like 20 minutes for change, I learned that the machine wouldn’t accept coins either. I felt Sprite or Coke would settle my stomach.
For the next couple miles I thought that every rectangular object I saw was a soda machine. Finally there was Wal Mart. It was waaay off the road, but I needed something. I had Gatorade and water and should have just drank that. I made the trek to Wal-Mart bought an Ale-8, a Doctor Pepper and Sprite. Nothing seemed to work. At this point, Lonnie caught up to me.
He told me that I was just looking around as he saw my light moving all over. His company was welcome. I tried to drink, and with every sip, I would vomit. We had what seemed like an eternity until daylight and the next chance to get anything to eat or drink.
Finally, at mile 73 I bought orange juice. One sip and I got sick again. But somehow I was able to keep the rest down. A few miles later, I was able to drink some chocolate milk. I was feeling close to vomiting, but managed to keep it down. Lonnie was dealing with some foot issues, I went ahead, but at check in I was only 1 mile ahead of him, so he was moving. When the day was finished, I was a little behind my goal (which I was already adjusting) but put more miles on the Grim Reaper.
Day 2: 37 miles. 77 Miles total. 12 miles ahead of the Reaper. 250 Miles remaining
Day 3 Saturday 8AM – Sunday 8AM
I was able to make the reservation at the Bedford Inn at mile 93 and relayed to Lonnie that if we were separated, to meet there for some rest. Turns out that Lonnie was quickly able to catch me. We spent most of the day together or near each other. He would often move faster and I would catch him while he was taking a break. While Saturday was the coolest day so far (High of only 88 degrees), much of this section was unshaded. I was struggling simply from lack of sleep and probably lack of calories. Edward and Elizabeth were working as a team and they caught me somewhere near Hustonville and noticed I was a bit wobbly . Elizabeth offered me some salt tablets. Thankfully there was an Angel Station and some shady spots shortly after.
I was really sleepy heading to the next gas station at mile 88. I was wobbly and starting to halucinate. I took multiple breaks. The map said there was a Hunt’s Brothers Pizza. There was not, but the gas station did have ice cream, which hit the spot. Lonnie was waiting for me, and after Ice cream and drinks to go, we took off.
Shortly after this spot a road angel offered Lonnie and I some water and shade. We fell asleep for about 30 minutes, which was enough to energize us for the final push to Liberty at mile 93. We sat at Hardee’s where I was able to eat a couple bites of a burger and a shake.
Edward and Elizabeth came in and mentioned they weren’t able to get a room, so we split ours 4 ways. We got there before the 8 pm check in, stocked up on supplies and took care of medical needs, etc, and planned to head out at 1 am.
Edward and Jessica were up and out before midnight. I forgot to set an alarm, or I slept through it, so, Lonnie and I didn’t get started until after 3am.
We did have a strong 5 hours before the next check in and logged 12 miles, for a total of 105 miles, sacrificing 5 miles to the Reaper for the day in exchange for some much needed sleep.
Day 3: 28 miles. 105 miles total. 7 miles ahead of the Reaper. 222 miles remaining.
Day 4 Sunday 8AM – Monday 7PM (Time Change)
A key moment of Sunday morning was hitting our first Dollar General. It was this morning that I was becoming nauseous from the smell of my shirt. After obtaining the restroom key, I saw a can of Fabreeze, and proceeded to empty it’s contents on my shirt. It did the trick. I left the Dollar General smelling like wildflowers.
We caught up to Diana shortly after leaving the hotel early Sunday morning, and she caught back up to us while we took a break at a Marathon Station at mile 110. A local man had walked 10 miles with Diana. After a longish break, and after being reasonably confident that the local wasn’t a serial killer, Lonnie continued on, and I continued shortly behind. That was the last anyone ever saw Diana (just kidding). We would see her one more time.
Lonnie was moving well and I caught up At mile 115, where I met Lonnie for lunch at a Mexican Restaurant in Russell Springs. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but ate part of a baked potato and maybe one slice of cheese quesadilla. I was concerned about the lack of solid calories. Lonnie went ahead to stop at a drug store, as he was having issues with his feet, and I met up with him a short time later. We found some shade, and rested. He got up before me and continued towards Cumberland Dam. I rested some more, and would have my first real interaction with police.
I was awakened by an officer who told me that they received a couple calls regarding a potential dead body. So, sufficiently awakened, I started moving. I made a few stops. I got some mashed potatoes at Lees’s chicken and managed to eat most of those at a nice shelter at a church.
My evening check in was 16 more miles, right on track with The Reaper. I had a good night heading towards Cumberland Dam. Enjoyed the quiet walk and the stars.
The only issue was that there was a variance in the map due to construction and I missed the turnoff.
Eventually I found the right spot, but realized I hadn’t fully charged my headlamp. Right at the moment a car came by and gave me some drinks and a couple gas station. I found a safe spot behind a guardrail and sufficiently charged my lamp to make it to the Dam. Unfortunately, I was unable to eat the sandwiches.
Knowing I would arrive at the Cumberland General Store after they closed, Lonnie left me some jerky and Gatorade by a pump. I took a short break and began the climb.
I got to the Dam at 1:40 am. This was a long, seemingly endless climb, but I made it up without much problem.
I ran across Mary napping on the Dam, and then Lonnie. Lonnie was at the far end of the Dam. It was the first and inly time I’d really feel cold. We tried to sleep in our emergency bivvy sacks but that proved unsuccessful. They did provide warmth, but the condensation made them very uncomfortable. We decided to power on and descend down from the Damn Dam.
This was a rough night for both of us. I was wavering due to lack of sleep and Lonnie’s blisters were becoming a major issue. Both of our situations were not helped by the steep descent. Thankfully there was no traffic on this road.
Lonnie made the call to Jan early that morning. Jan drives “The Meat Wagon” and is who you call when you have to drop from the race. She also serves as the sweeper. If you get too far behind the Grim Reaper, she will be the one to pull you from the course. Lonnie immediately regretted making the call, and decided he would continue. It was clear Lonnie wasn’t going to go down easily. Also at this point my feet were also becoming a bit of an issue. Thankfully Lonnie had a drugstore’s worth of blister products.
Day 4: 36 miles. 141 miles total. 10 miles ahead of the Reaper. 186 miles remaining.
Day 5 Monday 7AM – Tuesday 7AM
Jan stopped by and offered advice for Lonnie’s feet and we continued toward Albany KY where Lonnie had reserved a hotel. We had 12 miles to go. At this point we saw Odie and Kate. They seemed energetic, and mentioned how they got some great sleep on the Dam. Apparently they found a secret cubby of some sort.
Somewhere on this stretch we rested in someone’s yard, and I was oblivious to a man on his riding mower. Thankfully Lonnie was there, and averted a disaster. As was becoming normal, my limiting factor was needing to sleep. When I was moving, my pace was a blistering 20-22 minutes per mile.
Lonnie walked ahead and beat me to the hotel. I also learned that I really do well with bomb pops, and frozen juice bars (typically carried in the Good Humor freezer at Dollar General).
Eventually I arrived at the hotel. Lonnie ran next door to McDonalds, and I went to Family Dollar and Dollar General to get Desitin, bandaids and other foot care items for the both of us. We slept until just before 11pm. We gave some time back to The Reaper in exchange for rest. The plan was to rest during the day and make up for it at night. That did not always work out.
We saw Diana checking into The hotel maybe a few hours after we did. I noticed at the next check in she hadn’t progressed very fay. She overslept, and would be locked in a battle with The Reaper – A battle she would ultimately win.
Tonight was to be a landmark night. We would cross into Tennessee which also was just about 3 miles short of the halfway point. I was feeling great but Lonnie was having issues with his leg. I went ahead, with an uneasy feeling that this might be the last time I saw Lonnie. But he has surprised me before with his resilience.
I crossed into Tennessee a short time later. I was moving great, and looking forward to getting to Pall Mall. I stopped at The Forbus General Store, 7.5 Miles past the state line. There were statues that I though were more ‘walkers’, and was disappointed with their company. I drank a soda from the vending machine and took a short break. I messaged Lonnie and did not immediately hear back.
Forbus General Store
I made good progress and arrived at Pall Mall early in the morning and ended up logging 18 miles for the 12 hours despite the hotel break. Unfortunately it was dark, and a little chilly, so I couldn’t take advantage of the stream or outdoor shower at Sargeant Alvin C. York State Park. But I did charge up at the picnic shelter, and warm up in the heated restrooms.
Unfortunately, my gut was right about Lonnie. His leg issue ended his race. He called Jan from The General Store. I posted on Facebook that the night was bittersweet. I literally was crying. When you do something like this your emotions are always heightened. Sure, I almost cried when someone drove by with a Gatorade on Day 2 as well. I was sad, and felt awful for Lonnie, knowing what he went through to make it this far, but I also felt ready for the challenge of going solo for a bit.
I saw Mary at a restaurant just outside of Pall Mall, and she offered me her Tater Tots – she was unable to eat. I declined, and they went to a stray dog. She continued on, she seemed down, but was moving.
I did sit down for breakfast. This was the first meal I truly was able to dig into since the Last Supper over 5 days earlier.
I ate and continued on with what would be the toughest stretch of terrain so far with 800 feet of elevation gain over 5-1/2 miles of busy, winding road. I logged 18 miles overnight in 9 hours which included my breakfast break. I was happy with this progress, only giving 3 miles back to The Reaper over the past 24 hours.
I arrived at this store 5:30 AM on the dot, right when the sign said they would be open. I’m guessing they last opened in 1983, if not earlier.
Day 5: 30 miles. 171 miles total. 7 miles ahead of the Reaper. 156 miles remaining.
Day 6 Tuesday 7AM – Wednesday 7AM
The ascent was hot, and mostly unshaded. It was after the ascent that I was reminded that any misstep could end the race. I think I was a bit careless after the constant uphill and blind turns. I stepped off the road and down a slope into a yard. I flipped onto my back and landed on my pack, my Life Straw dug into my back. I lay there for a minute, and fortunately the damage seemed minimal.
A mile or so later at mile 177, I came across Maple Hill RV Park and Cabins. There were shade trees, a cooler and snacks.
One of the owners, Val, came out and re-stocked. After laying for a bit, I decided this would be an ideal time to get a room and take a real break. I saw Mary at a cabin, she likely arrived an hour or so before I did. Val gave me use of a cabin and refused payment. I was again near tears, overwjhelmed by their generosity.
I rinsed my clothes, hung them to dry and got a few hours of sleep before heading out towards Jamestown TN. I also stopped at a store shortly after the cabins and had drinks and ice cream.
Even with the sleep, I managed 14 miles in the 12 hours before evening check in. I did make a bit of a mistake by not stopping for a rest in Jamestown. There were ample restaurants, but I only grabbed snacks and drinks. I was disappointed that the slush machine was broken at Dairy Queen and left the downtown area of Jamestown in a huff but did manage to grab a bunch of ‘fuel’ heading out of town.
Shortly after the Dairy Queen, I was surprised to hear Edward calling me from behind. He and Jessica had spent time in a hotel just outside of the city, and stayed longer to deal with medical issues. Edward and Elizabeth would pass me later that evening. I mentioned to them that according to Facebook there was an angel station and expected I’d catch back up to them there.
But I missed the angel station. That sent me into a bit of a funk. I saw a lit up sign with an arrow and what I thought were shadows of people moving around, almost like a party. While there was an arrow, it was not pointing to any aid station. I spent the next mile or so trying to find a place to nap.
I stopped at a closed service station in Clarkrange to look at my feet when a police car pulled up and asked if I needed an ambulance. I explained that I was fine and was just working on my feet. I continued on and found an empty row of display barns, but was unable to relax for fear of being seen by the police. My feet were relatively OK, just very swollen.
I continued on to The Cumberland General Store, where a cat lifted my spirits a bit. I spent maybe 15 minutes with my cat angel and moved on. This video tells a good story of where I was, mentally.
In another mile, at The Clarkrange IGA I was in a panic as I thought I lost my car keys. I was ready to throw in the towel, and also wondered why the hell I didn’t leave my car keys at the finish.
After this, I witnessed a car drive to the gas pumps and security alarms started blaring. I started to record, but decided if anything illegal was going on, I’d be better off not being spotted by the perp. Also, I’d probably be a suspect as I was already approached by the police a couple hours earlier.
It is amazing how a change in mindset can make all the difference. I decided I needed to book a hotel. I made a couple calls and reserved a room at The Quality Inn in Crossville and could check in as early as 8 am. The hotel was 13 miles away and it was after 3 am. It would take me until 1 pm to get there. I did go the wrong way for about 1 mile, resulting in a 2 mile detour. But I had a goal and the motivation, and didn’t even let the detour bother me.
Some of the worst nights, resulted in the more productive days in terms of total mileage. I would need my rest, however. Laz did mention me in his daily update, saying I was trending the wrong way. I never really felt in danger of falling behind The Reaper, although maybe I should have. My groggy math did result in cutting things closer than I had planned in the coming days. I did actually picked up a mile on the reaper for day 6.
Day 6: 33 miles. 204 miles total. 8 miles ahead of the Reaper. 123 miles remaining.
Day 7 Tuesday 7AM – Wednesday 7AM
8 miles and maybe 5 hours after the 8am check in, I arrived at The Quality Inn.
I texted with my Dad, who was all in on following the race. He did mention at one point that he didn’t want me to do that Brushy Mountain Race (Barkley). I told him he didn’t have to worry about that. We talked strategy. Despite Laz’s doubts, I was confident in my strategy because when I wasn’t resting I was moving very consistently. I would find myself daydreaming about getting to The Rock when “We Built this City With Rock ‘N Roll” wasn’t stuck in my head. I don’t know why that’s the song my brain chose to torture me with, but it was almost as tortuous as the smell of dead armadillos.
I showered, rinsed off my clothes and slept for about 4 hours. On the way out of Crossville, I ate – a lot. Had a whopper, Dippin’ Dots, fries, Frozen Coke, strawberry Milk and just outside of town, some pizza. I seemed to have timed everything out right this day, and I was in good spirits.
I knew I would need some rest overnight, and decided to embrace it.
Mary, recovered after her stay at her cabin, passed me while I was napping, and snapped this photo.
I don’t know why this place looked inviting, but it did. The funny thing is that maybe 1/2 mile down the road was an angel station complete with sleeping mats and a tent. If only I’d known. Mary and I leapfrogged back and forth for a bit that night and into the morning. She also snapped this photo. If you zoom in, you can see me way down the road. I didn’t usually need much rest at a time to keep going. I would just take a 15 minute nap, and continue. If I was still groggy, I’d stop again. Usually sunrise would cure me of my sleepiness for a time.
Day 7: 32 miles. 236 miles total. 7 miles ahead of the Reaper. 91 miles remaining.
Day 8 Thursday 7AM – Friday 7AM
After check in, there were 9 miles until the Town of Pikeville. Or more specifically, until The McDonalds in Pikeville. This was, up to this point the worst stretch of highway as far as traffic was concerned. There was lots of construction traffic, and it was dusty and hot without a hint of shade. This 9 miles seemed to take forever.
One runner reported that upon arrival at this McDonald’s that she received a standing ovation. I received no such welcome, but they were nice. The experience of us in the middle and the back of pack was much different than what was reported from those in the front of the pack. Mostly, those runners were assumed to be homeless, and not treated as well as us “walkers”. It struck me how many completely different experiences there were during the same race. I was reminded of this sketch from Saturday Night Live.
When I arrived at The McDonald’s (Mile 244) I was surprised to see Elizabeth. She, unfortunately was forced to drop. She was such a Godsend to me on day 3 with the salt tablets, and recognizing when I needed a break. I felt bad for her, but she seemed at peace, and really had no choice. She mentioned that Edward had a hotel booked in the next town, and we arranged that I would split the room. So, my decision was made to power forward and get a good rest before attacking the mountain the following day.
From Pikeville to The Mountain Inn was roughly 20 miles (263.5). This was a tough stretch with a 2 lane highway and high speeds for most of it.
I had to take a couple breaks on this stretch. I had a blister pop on my toe, and severe pain and burning in another. I stopped and re-taped, and felt better and hobbled along. A road angel, who is also an ultra runner gave me some soda and I believe some gels. At least someone gave me gels at some point.
My evening check in was at mile 253, giving me 17 miles for the previous 12 hours. There was a Dollar General at this point. I charged my phone and light and I’m sure I got a juice bar, and milk.
If it weren’t for the promise of a hotel, I probably would have stopped in Pikeville for a few hours and been forced to go straight to Chattanooga. It’s these decisions that can really shape a race. In retrospect, I think this worked out the best.
Sidenote (Foreshadowing): I should point out that a couple days prior my charging pack stopped working. So far I managed to keep everything sufficiently charged. But I did have to make some effort to find outlets when I could to make sure I never pushed it too close.
At mile 260, somewhere around Mt Airy RV Park, I saw a building that I assumed was abandoned or at least empty. There was a Dr. Pepper Machine. I stopped at every soda machine I found. It worked, and I got a Dr. Pepper and pulled up a bench and drank it. At this point it was dark. When I stood up, I hear the door behind me slowly open, and an older gentleman with a white beard, in only his underwear, Loudly grunted or moaned something unintelligible – GRRRWWWRRRH. I looked at him and just said “Dr. Pepper” and walked away. I looked back and he just stood there staring. Maybe somewhere in that incident is a future Dr. Pepper Commercial. I knew Mary was maybe an hour or 2 behind me. I messaged her not to get a Dr. Pepper from that machine. Or if she did, to do so quickly and quietly.
Maybe two hours out from the hotel, Edward messaged me that they would not allow him to add my name to the room. Apparently the manager was not happy that some runners were handing off rooms. I was initially panicked, because my plan was to get a long rest before what would be the toughest stretch of the course. Thankfully I called and they had one open room. I reserved it and continued on.
I arrived at The Mountain View Inn just in time. I was getting extremely groggy and started to hallucinate. It was all I could do to get to the Hotel. I did get some drinks at a gas station next door.
When I got to the room, I realized my feet were very swollen. It was very painful to walk on the hard wood floors. I figured this was probably normal. Thankfully I had a handicapped room, and the railings in the shower were welcome. I took a shower, rinsed my clothes, worked on my feet and decided I would get a long sleep and attack the mountain on plenty of rest.
I got to the hotel around 1 am, and left about an hour before the 7am check in. I traded in almost all my cushion to The Reaper in exchange for rest. Laz was right, I was trending the wrong way. But I was refreshed, and ready to push to the finish. I planned to go straight to the finish without another hotel stop.
Day 8: 28 miles. 264 miles total. 2 miles ahead of the Reaper. 63 miles remaining.
Day 9 Friday 7AM – Saturday 7AM
After leaving the hotel, I made a bit of a wrong turn, but quickly backtracked and got some food and drinks from McDonald’s. I almost forgot to get drinks to carry up the mountain, but a hardware store had Gatorade and beef sticks.
I hit the mountain about 10 am and found a stick to help with the climb. From this photo, it looks like I took an entire tree. The climb up the mountain was about 1600 feet in 6 miles. I did this section in a bit under 3 hours fueled by multiple coolers that Road Angels left off the side of the road.
I have yet to point out one major challenge – the grading or camber of the roads. It is not noticeable when driving, but when walking, you can tell that the roads are severely sloped on winding roads. Think Talladega. This can lead to all kinds of missteps and injuries. It is also a major reason, according to Jan, why people who have never had issues with blisters before, develop them in these types of races.
I got to Rollo’s Bar and Grill (277.5) early in the afternoon. They weren’t open when I arrived, but they allowed me to sit there rest and I got to drink some water and Coke. After a little while, they fired up the grills, and I got the best burger and fries I ever had.
While I was eating, Tim arrived. He ordered. I think we talked a bit, but we were both clearly exhausted. I left a bit before Tim, but he passed me as I was resting maybe a mile past Rollo’s.
We met again at The Dollar General around evening check in. My phone was plugged in for some time at Rollo’s but didn’t take much of a charge. I plugged it in at The Dollar General for what I figured was long enough to get me into Chattanooga where I figured there would be plenty of charging opportunities (There weren’t). Tim went ahead, I wouldn’t see him again until early the next morning.
My evening check in was 282 miles – 18 for the previous 12 hours. I added 2 miles to my small cushion over The Reaper over the toughest stretch on the course (so far).
I was dreading this next stretch. The employee at Rollo’s warned me of ‘The W’ – The road down the mountain. There are no shoulders and plenty of blind turns. The actual W part of the road was at mile 285. The cars along the road did not seem pleased with us walkers. I counted at least 5, “Get off the F’ing Roads!!!” I took this stretch very conservatively. Usually stopping and leaning on the guardrail as cars approached. I often walked in the drainage ditch. Finally I made it off of the W and into Chattanooga.
Before the race, I was looking forward to Chattanooga. Had I arrived a few hours earlier, I think it would have lived up to my expectations. But I traded in my much needed rest, and now I had to pay for it. I arrived in Chattanooga around 11pm. Coming off the mountain, I did receive aid from an unexpected Road Angel. I was laying down in some grass, and a man came and said his wife saw me coming down the hill and was worried for me. So he found me and brought me Gatorades.
By far, the best part of the race was the unexpected kindness of strangers. Sure there were some exceptions, particularly amongst the drivers, but generally people were very interested in what we were doing, and very kind. It’s easy to get tired of answering their questions, but their interest in the race was much better than those that would just assume we were homeless.
I say that as a preface to my general experience in Chattanooga. Being a larger city, the “walkers’ didn’t really hit their radar. So, there I was, late at night in Chattanooga. I was dirty, and stinky, and very likely assumed to be homeless. I was here by choice though, but if only for a couple hours, I got a very small glimpse into what it might be like for those not as blessed.
Around mile 289, a few miles before getting into the heart of Chattanooga I came upon another runner, Darlene. Days before, Darlene was blown off the road by a semi. She suffered a concussion, but refused to stop. She had now developed a lean and was in need for a rest. I scouted out an area that seemed secluded enough where she was unlikely to be bothered. As I helped her behind some structures, we saw a police car and lights.
I immediately realized how this must have looked, and we couldn’t help but laugh. We told the officer that we were two of the ‘walkers’. They had seen many more of us the past few days with our American Flag adorned packs.
After running our ID’s we were free to go. Darlene convinced the officer that she did not need medical assistance, because doing so would result in a disqualification. If anyone left it all on the course, it was Darlene. She was reportedly picked up by Jan and the Meat Wagon the following evening, passed out on the road. To me, her effort was the most impressive of all. Victory is not reserved for those that touched The Rock.
After running into Darlene, I continued the mile or so to The Waffle House. This was an experience. I ordered and got my food. There was drama amongst the employees. My waiter left the restaurant and I was unable to get any refills or service after my waiter stormed away. When I left, I saw him sitting in his car laughing hysterically with another employee.
Continuing on, I went through a tunnel, and over The Tennessee River. It was at this part that I started to break a little bit mentally. I hadn’t planned a hotel, but decided a couple hours of rest would be great. It was reported that no hotels had any vacancy. I had no luck in the two that I walked into. The one wouldn’t even come to the desk as I ran the bell. I don’t really blame them.
I tried a second hotel. From the outside it looked like a cheaper motel, one that would be more likely to give me a room. So I thought it may be cheap and more likely to give me a room. I was mistaken. The agent said they were full. Behind me were coolers full of sodas. I asked if I could purchase some drinks. She said I could not since they only accept credit cards. I didn’t bother to explain the situation to her, and I left.
I then stopped at another restaurant. The City Cafe Diner – Open 24 Hours I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I wanted to sit. This was the first time I noticed people looking at me funny. The after hours bar crowd was eating here. The service was good, however, and I got some needed rest.
Throughout Chattanooga I had looked for a place to charge my phone. There were plenty of outlets, but none of them functional. My phone power was getting dangerously low.
After struggling a bit to stay on the path past the Railway museum, I came upon a walking path. and saw a post with an outlet. There was also a bottle of energy drink sitting there. I figured someone left it as a marker. I plugged in, and no power. There were some switches, but none of them powered turned on power up.
At that point my feet began to burn. I looked down and my ankle was covered with ants. The pain was excruciating. I was getting bit on both of my blistered, achy feet. I pulled off my shoes, and then my socks. I was dancing around like a mad man. At some point I also threw off my hat, as the ants had gotten on my hands and I was worried they’d be on my hat as well.
I finally gathered myself, and convinced that I had freed myself of the ants I carefully made it back to the pole and unplugged my phone, grabbed my cord and gathered my belongings. After walking on the trail a few hundred feet, there was a building with a church. I ducked in looking for power and there was nothing. As I left, I realized I didn’t have my glasses on. I must have lost them during the ant incident. I walked back and scanned the path. They were not there. Maybe they were by the church. Nope. I walked back and forth maybe 3 times and couldn’t find them. A security guard came by and even helped. He couldn’t find them either.
I was distraught. I could not see well in the night without my glasses, and my phone was about 5% charged. I was resigned to going off course to a Duncan Donuts that would open in 30 minutes to charge my phone, and wait for daylight. At precisely the right time, Mary and Tim came by. Mary talked me off the ledge. We looked for my glasses as we headed down the trail. Eventually I had to carry on without my glasses.
It was still dark, and we hit a wooded trail section. Mary and Tim flanked me and I just stayed between them. It was tough to see where I was stepping, and I was concerned about stepping off the trail. It seemed that there was a large drop off, but I couldn’t be sure. I also wasn’t sure if I could see enough to continue on the tough section of course that was ahead.
I knew for sure I would be in trouble if I was alone on the course at night. The sun came up, and I felt better. I could see well enough in the daytime to be safe enough while solo. We came upon a self storage facility and charged up. Tim and Mary continued ahead as I charged some more.
Somewhat sufficiently charged, I made it another mile or so and checked in. Despite my adventures I checked in at 300 miles. I basically had 24 hours to do a marathon and I felt good, although I was concerned about finishing at night, and planned to push as hard as possible to be off the mountain by the time the sun set.
Day 9: 36 miles. 300 miles total. 6 miles ahead of the Reaper. 27 miles remaining.
Day 10 Saturday 7AM – 7:50 PM
We had until 7 am Sunday to finish. There was some time zone jumping, but my brain wouldn’t figure that out. Plus I needed to finish within roughly 12 hours to avoid climbing the mountain in the dark without my glasses. I was still very tired, and confused time zones and checked in an hour early, I messaged Bad Mike, the timer, and he adjusted to the correct mileage.
I stopped at a picnic table near a Sonic and dozed off. It was then that I saw a large # of walkers. I had apparently passed them at night, presumably while they rested in a hotel. They also seemed surprised to see me. This energized me, and I popped up and started walking. At check in there were 9 of us within 2 miles of each other.
I stopped at a gas station, where there were a number of others doing the same. I charged my watch a bit more, and headed out. I was going at a decent pace, and took off ahead of the the group of William, Kelly, Jessica, Allison and Todd. I had one moment when I felt I needed sleep, but William was coming behind and I walked with him. I got another burst of energy, and had a two hour stretch where I did 8 miles. The morning was overcast with some rain and I took advantage of the easier conditions.
At mile 315, we stopped at a restaurant/general store and took a break. I believe while I was there 9 of the final 10 runners were either coming or going. I attempted to charge my phone, but after I left, I realized the charge didn’t take. I left alone and was feeling very tired.
I stopped at Big Daddy’s Fireworks, where we were required to check in to Carl, so they would know when we were getting close to ‘The Rock’. In reality, I was about Five and a Half hours away. I struggled for the next mile or so due to lack of sleep where there was a bridge crossing.
William, once again, passed me, and pulled me along. This stretch was rough. It was downhill, and really hurt my quads. The earlier rain had passed and it was brutally hot and humid. After making it through the downhill portion, there was an open flat stretch before we made the final, brutal ascent.
I also ran into another issue – my phone died. I had studied the map, but wasn’t positive on the next turn. I knew there was another group behind me, and I waited for them while I rested under a tree so that I could follow them in. At the moment, I felt that I could go faster than the group, but in reality, they pulled me along. I am sure without this group, I would have finished much later and taken more breaks. I owe a lot to Kelly, Jessica, Todd, and Allison for dragging me behind them.
In my head, I hadn’t comprehended how brutal the final climb would be. It was about 3-1/2 miles and 1000 feet ascent, after over 9 days of walking. Also, I was approaching 36 hours without more than 10 minutes of sleep. Slowly the group pulled ahead of me, but I kept them in view. Heading to The Rock after the ascent, there were 3 signs telling us we had 1 mile to go. I was prepared for this, otherwise, it may have broken me.
At the 12 hour check in, I was 1 mile from the finish. Through all my travails of the past 36 hours, I was 15 miles ahead of the Reaper with 1 mile to go.
After 9 Days, 12 hours, 50 minutes, and 37 seconds later I would touch The Rock as an official finisher.
It’s hard to quickly summarize the experience. I learned a lot about kindness of most people, and about myself. There is nothing tangible that would indicate that I could finish this race. My longest training in the weeks leading up to the race was 20 miles walking around Kings Island while my daughter rode roller coasters.
My only indication that I’d be remotely capable of completing this was running 100 miles in 48 hours at Vernal Equinox this Spring. I was really struggling on day two, but when I needed to keep moving, I did. I finished that race with even splits. 50 miles on day one, and 50 on day two. I knew I could push through pain, but I couldn’t be sure for how long.
The biggest surprise of HOTS was that, after day one, my legs were never tired, and I had no cramping. The hills never really bothered me physically. At times the heat would wear me down, but I was never dehydrated. Only once was I really close from drinking out of a bottle I found on the road.
Had I known how hard this would be, I never would have signed up, because I would have been sure that I would have failed. This race truly forces you out of your comfort zone and beyond your perceived limits.
The other thing that changes is your perception of time. This entire experience seemed like a lifetime, but it was only 10 days. You start to share stories and reminisce about things that happened two days ago, like they were from another lifetime. It is really hard to explain the sensation, but others who have done Vol State or HOTS can relate, I’m sure.
I also had an overwhelming sense of Deja Vu the last couple days. It may have been that parts of the bus ride resulted in some of the course being embedded in my brain. But I had memories of laying under the same stretch of trees where I napped waiting for the group of runners in the last 13 miles. I swore I heard the same finishing stories in the past that were just being told and posted about.
If you can avoid injury, this is truly a mental challenge. For everyone, there are multiple highs and lows every day. You truly have to ’embrace the suck’ to continue walking (or running) every day when relief is just a phone call away.
Key Things I Learned
- Have a Goal. If you have something tangible for the next chunk, it will keep you going.
- Plan ahead. It’s not enough to just plan for the next town. If you take a longer break than you need in one town, it might set things up to arrive in the next town at a better time. You will still make miscalculations, but you will hopefully avoid big mistakes.
- Rest often. Once you get behind on sleep, you won’t likely get it back especially if you are walking the entire distance. Lack of sleep was my Kryptonite. My legs always felt good enough to keep going. Also, if you catch yourself sleepwalking, get off the road as soon as possible.
- When you feel like quitting, take a break and re-evaluate. When I was in Clarkrange, I was at rock bottom. Simply taking time to look at the map and find a hotel was enough to re-set my attitude.
- Enjoy the Journey. Take the time to appreciate what you are doing and the simplicity of a journey run. Clear your head, and just move.
Signup has just opened up for The 2023 version. This version will be 351 miles, but you get 10.5 days to finish. Sign me up!