By KATIE DONALDSON
Thursday brought another hot, humid July day. While most northwest Tennessee residents chose to stay indoors and avoid overexertion, about 30 people began a 314-mile footrace across the state.
They are running in The Last Annual Vol-State Road Race, a mega marathon that takes place each July and runs from Dorena Landing, Mo., to Castle Rock, Ga. The race does not require registration or a fee to sign up. It is also not associated with any type of organization.
“It’s never been much of a formal race,” Gary Cantrell, founder and organizer of the Vol-State Race, said. “It’s just a bunch of crazy people.”
Many Tennesseans will be thinking that over the next few days as the runners race across the state.
The race’s name came from its route, which cuts through rural parts of West, Middle and East Tennessee.
The “last annual” part of the race title is a joke among the organizers. It has taken place every year since 1981.
The current course has only existed since 2006. Before that, there have “probably been 10 different courses” Carl Laniak, a race organizer, said.
The race started Thursday at 7:18 a.m. After taking the ferry from Dorena Landing to Hickman, Ky., the runners ran about eight miles before entering Tennessee. They continued to Union City’s old downtown district (18-mile mark).
Several runners stopped at Subway in Union City before making the trek to Martin’s old downtown district (31-mile mark). They only have 283 miles to go after that.
“I’m having a blast here in Tennessee,” Southern California native Jay Dobrowalski said when he stopped at Subway.
The runners aim to complete the race in 10 days, the race’s time limit. Runners must average a little more than 30 miles a day to finish within the limit. DeWayne Satterfield of Huntsville, Ala., holds the course record of three days, 17 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. He completed the race and made the record in 2009.
The overall winner of the marathon will hold the title “King of the Road” for the next 12 months. The current “King,” Don Winkley, 73, of Corpus Christi, Texas, will not be defending his title this year. While the runners pound the pavement in Tennessee, Winkley will be competing in a footrace across France.
Each participant may enter under the aided or unaided race categories. Aided entrants have a support crew and vehicle follow them on the route to provide fluids and food. The crew may pick up their runner to get food or go sleep somewhere, but the entrant must return to the same spot before they continue the race. Unaided entrants rely solely on what they can carry or purchase along the route.
Both categories must finish the race on foot.
Dan “the Feral” Fox of Seattle, Wash., holds the overall unaided record of five days, 12 hours, 19 minutes and 11 seconds. He is entered in the current Vol-State Road Race.
Abi Meadows of Chattanooga aims to beat the men’s unaided record this year. In 2011, she was third place overall and first place for female runners. She wants to finish this year in five days.
Meadows gave up an all-expense-paid trip to France to run in the race.
“I love this race, and I need to meet my goal for this race,” she said.
Several other runners hope to reach a certain goal for the race. Sal Coll of Riceville, Ga., wants to finish in six days. Last year, he reached Castle Rock in eight days.
Others view the race as a personal challenge. These runners signed up simply to see if they could finish.
The entrants and organizers, ranging from age 20 to 74, met Wednesday evening at Ryan’s Family Steak House in Union City for their “last supper” before the big race.
Several of the entrants are returning Vol-State competitors, who use the race to reunite with other racers each year.
“It’s like a family,” Coll said. “A crazy one.”
As they ate, the participants swapped memories from former races, chafing and blister horror stories and ideas for sleeping locations.
Some entrants plan on stopping at a motel each night, but other runners will sleep wherever they can find a safe place.
Fred Davis of Cleveland is no stranger to these unique sleeping spots. This is his fourth year running the race. He said when he stops to eat he will “nap at the table or something like that.” He also talked about sleeping inside churches or their entryways in former races.
“One church was open, and I slept on a pew,” Davis said while laughing.
Finding these rest spots will not always guarantee sleep according to Coll and other runner Paul Lefelhocz of Cleveland. Both are competing in the Vol-State Race for the second time and have experienced trying to sleep on the road without success.
“It felt like I got sleep, but I didn’t,” Coll said.
Lefelhocz said sometimes sleep is not necessary. The body just needs recovery time.
Along with sleep issues, finding food and dealing with the heat, the racers face a long stretch of loneliness.
“You’re out there on your own,” Lefelhocz said about the long run.
“The people who go by you on the road may as well be on a different planet,” Cantrell added about the many car drivers who will pass the runners.
To deal with these race factors, Vol-State Race alumni gave newcomers several pieces of advice.
“Fix issues before they become problems,” Lefelhocz said. “And remember you’ve got a lot of time.”
Coll re-emphasized the “patience” factor and said to not start out fast because “you’ll burn yourself out.”
Cantrell also said to remember that everyone will go through different stages during the race.
“You go through these lows, and you come back if you just don’t quit,” he said.
The race is a strenuous, mental and physical challenge to the human body, but it holds a certain kind of appeal for these runners.
“It’s definitely like a quest,” Cantrell said. “Part of the appeal is you don’t know if you can do it.”
Others offered up explanations about how it feels to pass someone.
“There’s no better feeling than passing a competitor’s crew car at a hotel and thinking, ‘I just passed him,’” Cantrell said.
The feeling at the end of the race is worth it, Lefelhocz said.
“(It’s) awesome, incredible,” he said about finishing the race. “It’s hard to describe. I did not expect to feel the way that I did.”
The runners are supposed to check in twice a day during the race to give their location. Race organizers then update an online map showing each individual runner’s position. To follow the runners along their route, go to http://www.tinyurl.com/VolState2012.
The race ends July 22, the last day runners can cross the finish line and remain within the time limit.
For more information, visit the race’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/volstaterun.
Editor’s note: Messenger intern Katie Donaldson, daughter of Jim and Cindy Donaldson of Union City, is a rising senior at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Published in The Messenger 7.13.12