The Last Annual Vol State Road Race – Dan Fox – The Unbearable Lightness VS 09

Date: Tue, 28 Jul 2009 22:43:16 -0400
From: Daniel Fox
Subject: The Unbearable Lightness VS 09


This won’t be a chronology of my VS 09 race. It would take far too long to do justice to that tale, and I just don’t have the time. After all, it was 5 and a half days of intense experience, and that’s a lot to bring together into a unified story.
Probably also beyond me as a writer as well. I’ll leave that task to our able chronicler Susan R, who has most all the stories that unfolded this year.

Instead, I’d like to attempt to adequately describe an important few hours of that race, and why they came to be so. It was a run through the night, what would become, blessedly, the final night on the road.
At mile 250 the hours remaining were crucial to finish position, and I was desperate to make up for a terrible wrong turn earlier in the day that had cost me 16 extra miles, 5 hours and probably the lead for 2nd (Dewayne having already finished in record time). At the same time, the accumulated days of effort had produced fairly severe injuries to my left leg: a pulled semitendinosus hamstring; and foot flexor tendonitis bad enough that each step was like a blow to my shin and ankle. No sleep since Lewisburg (202) nearly 24 hours earlier, and I knew the pack would overtake me if I rested that night. But then, somehow, other forces came into play that had, maybe, less to do with position and times, but were more about commitment, and the desire to give everything to the run.

For context, here are a few stats:

Finish: 5d; 12h; 19m; 11s (3rd overall; 1st un-aided division – new course record)

Approx 132 total hours on the road

20.75 hours sleeping / 111.25 hours awake

2.5 mph avg overall (based on actual miles of 330 i.e. the bonus miles)

3 mph avg (waking hours)

My wrong turn had cost me the opportunity of re-supplying for the coming night – the stores I needed would be closing as I arrived in town (Manchester). By luck, or fate, or divine intervention a helpful civilian provided me with what I would need. I paid for an extra blanket he had in his car, and he drove miles to the only open real food store to get my stuff. An angel indeed.

Armed now against a nutrient-deficient bonk and the unseasonable cold night, I staggered on course through the city searching for a resting place. Behind the library I laid my pad on the grass, wet with night-dew. I hoped that the overwhelming sleepiness would be cured by a hour or two of rest.

The pain woke me up after an hour (another lesson from the run – recovery is painful!), but it was better now, at least my eyes weren’t closing automatically, and I readied my gear for the road.
Here I began the process of lightening my load for the final push and left a number of things hidden nearby for later retrieval. Out to the night streets again, walking for a couple miles wrapped in the blanket.

Stopped by a cop, license checked for warrants, it cost me 10-15 minutes before he returned my document with a caution to stay clear of traffic. Yep, OK. I was creeping out of the city and the familiar country dark was flowing back. Here the road seemed to widen with broad shoulders, and stretch out in a flatland on either side. The houses were set back from the road, and the dogs lay sleeping at some distance from the road. A perfect scenario for running.

Digression – Dogs on the Road

I like dogs. Really – I’ve had a couple. But these mother****s in Tennessee are somethin’ else. A never-changing charade was played out over hundreds of country miles, consisting of the dogs steaming out, pretending that they were going to disembowel me, and I, in due course, pretending to rip their heads off. All good fun, really. I have images of werewolf-like creatures snarling in pure hatred, lit by the sickly glow of a sodium vapor streetlight that are seared into my brain. I tell you, more than once I recited, “Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil, for I am the meanest sonofabitch in the valley!” I try not to be a victim, ya know?

< end digression >

And then I ran, water bottle in hand, rolled blanket under the other arm. Pain fell away and it was as if I were running downhill. The wide deserted road, so made for running, flat. Above, clear, clear stars and galaxy dust and faint nebulae. But all that was nothing: it was the moving and breathing and stretching it out. Almost afraid to go too fast. Carl and I had talked before the race about those glorious times of effortless speed that turn to bite you after their fires have burned out. I let it take me completely and some part of myself was just along for the ride, outside the person running.

By the clock and map the avg overall mpm for 23 miles was 9.1. Considering some downtime for buying cokes and reading maps, I think many miles were sub-8. 8 is my marathon pace. For me, this pace was about double that of the rest of the race. And it came just when I needed it most. By 7am I was 26 miles down the road and atop a formidable climb.
I did not know Keith’s position (in 2nd) but Gary told me I had opened 10 miles on the rest. Since Keith was in the aided division, I had gained a comfortable lead in the un-aided. The gambit had succeeded.

There were still 40 miles to the finish, but that’s another story. I held on to 3rd, finishing an hour behind Keith in the evening of that day. The feeling that it’s finally over looks like this: daniel_fox

So why did that moment of grace, so to speak, come at just the right time? Fresh from the bible belt, some would surely say it was God’s way: the angel, the open road, God’s breath pushing me along.

Digression – How to Speak Tennessean

Replace all long “i” phonemes ( as in “ice” or “eye”) with an “ah” phoneme ( as in the English “ah-ha!”)

English: ” I have five bibles”

Tennessean: “Ah have fahve bahbels”

< end digression >

Well, maybe. But I believe it has to do with the psychology of commitment (also a precursor to religious rapture). VS was my goal race for the year – most of my training was designed for it. I very much wanted to run what I perceived to be my potential. Things were going well early in the race, and I felt the happy results of my training. By the time a couple hundred miles rolls around I was fully committed to the actuality of the thing: my dreamed-of race was happening right now!

And then the pain hits with over-use injuries. Marshall Ulrich said of his transcontinental run that his body had to be broken down and repaired while on the road – that there’s no way to train for the distance until you do it. VS is actually not long enough to recover while running. It’s just short enough to think you can muscle through it. So we fools allow our commitment to ride us over the last 100 miles, scraping the flesh from our deteriorating bodies.

And that’s the beauty of it. We get together and create meaning from nothing. Laz creates Adventure on the back roads and parks of Tennessee. Honed over the years, modifying the stresses, events like VS are peculiarly difficult to the human animal. And a few crazies revel in them.

So come to Vol State and have your body broken and your will tested. Give yourself to it. Do it because it’s meaningless, and will entertain you enormously. Do it if you’re fast or slow, because Laz has said, “Both are worse”.

Thanks to the Band of Brothers (and Sisters) who stepped off the ferry.

Thank You to Carl and Susan: cool, cool messengers on the gritty road.

And Thanks to Laz: coyote trickster, provocateur, humanist, conceptual artist, historian, cantankerous hillbilly and gentleman.


Dan Fox

Posted on the Ultralist and reproduced here with kind permission. The home of multiday running news and events.

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