|Runners going the distance in race across Tennessee |
|Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4:20 pm |
The usual pedestrians with backpacks making their way along the sidewalks next to Martin’s University Street are students headed to and from classrooms on the University of Tennessee at Martin campus.
Not your average pedestrians — Competitors in the Last Annual Vol State Road Race 2009, including (from left) Floridians Richard Burrell and Scott Maxwell, passed through Weakley County last week during a 319-mile race across Tennessee.
Thursday, those same sidewalks were trod upon by competitors just beginning a race that — if they finish — will see them traverse 319 miles from one end of Tennessee to the other. Instead of text books, the racers’ backpacks were filled with supplies for their journey.
“We’re hoping to finish in six days. We have as many as 10 to complete it. If it gets to be seven days before we finish, we won’t cry,” Robert Burrell said with a smile during a quick break to talk about the race. Burrell, from Vero Beach, Fla., was keeping pace with fellow competitor and ultra racing veteran Scott Maxwell of Melbourne, Fla.
Optimism was at a peak on Thursday, the first day of the competition which actually begins outside the state with a ferry ride across the Mississippi River from Dorena, Mo., to Hickman, Ky. The scenic course traverses rural Tennessee and ends just over the state line in Castle Rock, Ga.
Both Burrell and Maxwell are new to this particular race, but not to ultra racing in general. Burrell races distance about four times a year, while Maxwell is competing in his fourth such race in the past four months.
“In 1979, I was already marathoning. Someone said, ‘Hey, there’s a 100-mile race. Why don’t we try it?’ We did. I wanted to kill him, but I haven’t stopped since,” Maxwell joked about how he got into the sport.
According to Susan Reynolds, who is following the runners as part of the administrative staff, the race fielded the highest number of competitors – 18 – in the more than two decades it has been run with three women and 15 men leaving the ferry. Some of the racers have a support team with them; others are making a solitary trek. Some of the racers stay in motels along the way to rest and shower, while others carry bedding with them and sleep under the stars.
“Basically it’s a beautiful run with most of the course on back roads,” Reynolds added. “We never want them more than 20 miles away from food, water or where help can be available. That’s kind of how the route has evolved.”
The racers will pass through 14 county courthouse squares. One competitor — 71-year-old Texan Don Winkley — is having his photograph taken in front of every courthouse along the way.
As of Monday afternoon, only one of the women and two of the men have been forced to withdraw from competition.
There has also been a winner, or “King of the Road” declared. DeWayne Satterfield, from Alabama, finished the 319 miles in three days, 17 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, crossing the finish line at 1:30 a.m. on Monday morning.
“He was an hour faster in his overall pace the second half than the first half of the race,” Reynolds pointed out. The unseasonably cool weather played a role in Satterfield reaching his goal of crossing the finish line in less that four days.
While Reynolds said there had been no “serious injuries” there had been plenty of encounters with canines.
“We’ve heard some funny dog stories, but at this point in the race the runners are stinky enough the dogs will likely stay away,” the race staffer laughed.
Racers have also benefitted from the generosity of those whose homes and hometowns they have passed including offers of both water and watermelons.
“We’ve had a farmer offering watermelon to the racers, and one of the racers got hosed down in a front yard in order to cool off,” Reynolds noted.
“The slow pace allows you to get the flavor of a town. You get to meet a lot of nice people,” Maxwell said.