VS: day 4

The remaining few miles to Columbia went by quickly. It looked to be a fairly big place so I stopped for breakfast number 1 (ice cream and Mountain Dew) at the first gas station. As I was eating it on the concrete outside Alex came along. He still looked happy, but said he was struggling at bit and was planning to stop at a motel and ice his legs. A little bit down the road an elderly man came out of his house and asked me to sign his guest book with my name, home town and profession. This was one of several occasions where I struggled to convince someone that I really lived in England (“Yes that’s obviously were you’re from, but where do you live now”). I guess travelling a significant fraction of the way around the world to run across Tennessee, on roads, in Summer is a little strange.

A few miles later the stomach cramps hit again, but this time I was in a built up area. What to do? Knock on someone’s door early on a Sunday morning and ask to use their toilet? Or try and find a bush which looked like it didn’t belong to anyone? Thankfully a small patch of overgrown wood appear and I dashed in, oblivious to whether any of the plants I was pushing through were poisonous. This time what came out was not just yellow, but pure liquid. Time to hit the Immodium...

I thought finding a cafe in the City centre for 2nd breakfast would be easy, but everything was shut because it was Sunday. Eventually I found somewhere that was open and went in. The “open 24 hours a day” sign and the single, toothless customer should have rung some alarm bells. But I went ahead and ordered some pancakes. I sat down, looked around and realised quite what a dive this place was. A trip to the dirtiest toilet I’ve ever seen in a bar/restaurant confirmed that eating here would probably give me even worse stomach problems. So I made my excuses (“I’m suddenly feeling ill”, which wasn’t that much of a lie), paid for the pancakes (since they’d already started making them) and left.

A bit further up the road I spotted a restaurant which seemed to be very popular, and therefore presumably a safer bet. However it was a ‘point at what you want at the counter’ job, and I had no idea what any of the food was. So I left in the hope of finding somewhere better. Finally, on the other side of town there were a bunch of chain restaurants. I went into the nearest one and ordered a stack of pancakes, which I almost managed to finish. It was nearly mid-day by now and all I’d managed to do with the morning was eat 2 breakfasts and have explosive diarrhoea in a bush. I was feeling fairly fresh though, and after stocking up on water at a gas station I set off for Glendale and the infamous bench of despair.

This 4 mile stretch went by quite quickly and I only stopped briefly at Glendale market. I took advantage of the toilet to relube my undercarriage (ditching the pants and “going commando” was now seeming like less of a good idea...), take a not particularly flattering selfie and drink a bottle of Mountain Dew (I accidentally picked up diet, but thankfully realised before I’d opened it).


The rolling road to Culleoka, with narrow shoulders soon wore me down and I was happy to stop at the best road angel aid station I’d seen since day 1: sun loungers under a gazebo and a selection of cooled drinks and snacks. The road continued to undulate and the heat of the afternoon ground me down some more. My legs were really sore, from a combination of sun-burn and road rash. Everytime anything (my shoe-laces, a blade of grass, a bug,...) touched them it felt like I was being stung. The new factor 100 sun cream was unpleasantly sticky and seemed to be making things worse rather than better. I was happy to stop and talk to Jeff, a local who’d finished the race last year, who appeared with a car boot full of cold water. I’d booked a room for the night at the Celebration In in Lewisburg, but it was 10+ miles away and I wasn’t going to get there until the evening. I was worried that all the food stores would be closed, like they were in Columbia that morning, and I’d be without food, not just for that evening but also the long stretch to Shelbyville the next morning, so I asked Jeff’s advice. He agreed this could be an issue and suggested stocking up at a gas station by the interstate ~6 miles out of Lewisburg.

The afternoon had another pleasant surprise in the form of the Mooresville market. For some reason I hadn’t marked it on my map. I got the impression that in previous years they hadn’t been particularly welcoming, but this year they were giving all Vol Staters a free gatorade. I declined though in favour of buying (“my precious...”) Mountain Dew. I also bought a couple of fruit turnovers (which, unfortunately, it turned out had been deep fried). One of the locals tried to talk to me. I initially felt bad that I couldn’t understand a word he said. But on leaving I overheard someone else having exactly the same problem.

Next up was one of my worst dog encounters. A smallish dog charged out of a house and drove me into the, fairly busy, road. There was what looked to be an extended family outside and they eventually managed to call the dog back. Phew, I thought, and started walking again. The dog charged again. I looked both ways quickly and darted across the road. The dog, without looking, tried to follow and nearly got run over. At this point the oldest woman appeared to get angry with me. She shouted that I should have looked before crossing the road and that waving my water bottle at the dog would stop it chasing me. Eventually I made a, very cautious, escape.

A bit later I stopped at the gas station and stocked up on food for the next ~15 hours. I’d have to carry a plastic bag in my hand the rest of the way to Lewisburg, but that was better than going without food. A bit later a guy in a truck stopped. He’d driven a huge distance that day, trying to see and help as many Vol Staters as possible. I clearly had plenty of food and water, but the fruit cup he thrust into my hands made a nice treat that evening. A few miles out of Lewisburg I made my 7.30pm check-in: 197 miles.

There was a gentle downhill into Lewisburg that I should have run. But the combination of the plastic bag and drivers veering towards me when they spotted me (due to a few too many Sunday afternoon beers?) meant I ended up walking. This was one of the toughest patches of the week, I wasn’t feeling miserable so much as irritable. On the outskirts of Lewisburg Doug caught me and, with a big effort, I just managed to keep up with his fast walking pace. I was generally glad of his company; the motel was on the far side of town and it would have been a long slog on my own. A throw away comment he made, which I could have even taken as a compliment, made me even more irritable though. He asked whether I’d seen Salt that day. I replied no, he was now consistently in front of me. Doug said something along the lines, that Salt didn’t look like he should be as fast as he is. And then added “just like you” on the end. My mood wasn’t helped by walking past several, decent looking, open grocery stores. I’d carried a bag of groceries 6 miles for nothing...

When we got to the motel it looked completely shut. It was only 9.30pm, but it felt a lot later. Doug’s one-man crew had already checked-in, but I was suddenly paranoid about where I’d be sleeping (Doug kindly said I could to go to their room if I couldn’t get into mine, but that would have rendered me crewed). To my huge relief, we spotted a small boy sat in the window, and he summonsed someone to open the door.

After check-in my shower, sleep, get going again routine went as before, with a couple of changes: I binned the new sun cream and switched my shorts for the baggy long trousers which I’d brought in case it got cold at night. I was tempted to bin the shorts too, but kept them just in case the trousers were even more uncomfortable. I knew my thighs would chafe really badly in the trousers, so I took the slightly radical step of covering them both in KT tape. I suspected this would either work really well or go very badly wrong. The new diaper rash cream was a completely different consistency to Sudocrem (should have checked the ingredient list...). I reserved the Sudocrem for the most important body part, my feet, and coated everything else in the new stuff.

I didn’t have many hours of darkness left, but as usual the first post-rest stretch went quite well. I ran most of it and the turn onto SR 64 to Shelbyville came much sooner than I expected. I started dragging arse soon after that though. A combination of my usual post-dawn drowsiness and not wanting to get to some aggressive dogs that we’d been warned would need to be “driven back by any means” if they came out. I solved the first problem with a quick nap on a very nice church porch (although accidentally lying on the bite valve of my bladder made it a bit soggy) and armed myself with a small branch. It was actually more like a twig, and probably not up to driving off a mildly bad tempered elderly cat even.

As I plodded along, I heard some strange tapping catching me up from behind. I turned my head to see JBob accompanied by a couple of friendly looking (stray?) dogs. I’m not used to being caught from behind by someone I haven’t seen before at this point in a race. This initially made me feel a bit miserable. But a quick conversation revealed that JBob is a much faster runner than me (he finished 5th at Vol State last year with a crew and is running Spartathlon later this year) and was only temporarily behind me because he’d spent 12 hours laid up in a motel with a bad back. He soon ran off, but his dog companions stuck with me. I hoped they’d help me ward off the dodgy dogs, but realistically they were likely to be even less use than the twig which I’d already ditched.

I was a bit fuzzy about exactly where the dodgy dogs were. The Pittesville market came into it somewhere, so when I spotted it I crossed to the other side of the road. JBob was sat outside eating breakfast and was presumably somewhat perplexed about why I’d actively avoided the first gas station in miles. (I later discovered the dogs were a few miles further down the road and they must have been safely locked away when I went past.) There was luckily another gas station not far along the road, where I stopped for my by now habitual breakfast of ice cream and Mountain Dew. The 7.30am check-in came somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where) in this midst of all this: 215 miles.