The Joy of Suffering: The Last Annual Vol State 500K Race Report
There are many parallels between life and running, especially ultra running. On the completion of my second VolState 500k (314 miles), my lesson is the “Joy of Brokeness”.
Completing an event like the VolState 500k is humbling and strips a runner to their absolute core (at least that was my experience). It forced me to reassess my goals and strive to not become self defeated. On multiple occasions I wanted to quit, doubted my ability, feared for my health, and just simply felt BROKEN!
I had and verbalized a lofty goal of completing the 314 miles in less than 72 hours and had a very detailed plan (hour by hour) to complete the goal. There is a 12 hour check in so my goals were based on 12 hour increments. Since the race started at 7:30 A.M., I broke it down into segments: 12 hour days of extreme heat and humidity and 12 hour nights.
The first 24 hours went exactly as planned (120 miles) and I felt strong going into day two. Day two was not as kind. Since the course runs west to east, shade became a rare luxury. I found out early on day two that the heat was a factor sooner in the day than I had anticipated. I made a few mistakes managing the heat early on and paid for it dearly. The first 12 hours of day two only produced 32 miles. The next twelve hours (7:30pm-7:30am) the wheels almost came completely off. I found myself in the middle of the night incapable of even walking a 30 minute mile. I was fighting to remain conscious and contiplated just laying in the ditch multiple times. The night of day two only produced 24 slow miles. My goal of completing the race in under 3 days was a distant memory.
Day 3 brought temps in the high 90s with an index over 100, but after modifying my approach to dealing with the heat I was able to muster a respectable 35 miles in the 12 hours of the day. I struggled through the night again with only 30 miles.
My goal now became to complete the race in under 4 days. That meant I had to complete 70 miles in 24 hours. Keeping in mind those 70 miles include 20 of little to no shade in 96 degree temps, two 3 mile climbs at a 7% grade and a brutal 3 mile descent at a 7% grade. Day 4 blessed me with strong legs, 37 daytime miles and 30 miles to the Rock just in time for a beautiful sunrise!
I must say one of my greatest motivators was my good friend, Johan Steene. He trailed me the entire race by just a few miles. The difference is that Johan was not crewed, meaning that he had to carry all his gear, fluids, food, etc. Considering the heat and the long stretches between aid, his performance is one of best I have ever witnessed! I thought to myself frequently “if Johan can do this at this pace without a crew surely I can”.
Romans 5 tells us that we can find “Joy in Suffering (Brokeness).” It goes on to say that “suffering leads to perseverance, perseverance leads to character, and character leads to HOPE!” This is the passage for the ultra runner. The Brokeness/suffering I experienced in this race taught me volumes about myself, far more than any joyful occasion ever could.. I hope and pray that my character has been enhanced as I glean from life’s experiences. But ultimately HOPE is what we long for! Hope is the expectation of future good! It helps us to remember how we will be delivered and that completing the race can be done.
Experiences like this remind me what my late grandmother Armstrong said about living through the Great Depression, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars to go through that again, but you couldn’t give me a million dollars to take away the memories/lessons learned.”
Currently I feel the same about the VolState, but like most ultra runners I will soon forget the intense pain/suffering and probably sign up for next year!
– Greg Armstrong (RIF #373)
[Greg founded Run4Water which is a nonprofit organization that strives to raise awareness and provide solutions for the worldwide water crisis. R4W builds wells and help provide water in the state of Tennessee and countries of Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua. Read more about this great organization at Run4Water.net]