VS: day 6

A few miles later I reached Pelham, where I was looking forward to having breakfast at a cafe. It was closed though, and Pelham was a small place, so I found a vending machine, bought some Mountain Dew and used it to wash down some squashed Ritz crackers. I sent a sulky message to the OH. He replied asking where the finish was, so he’d know when to cheer. But right then the finish was feeling a long way away, especially with Monteagle Mountain looming in the distance.

Leaving Pelham I spotted another cafe, which was in fact open. However it looked a bit fancy, so it might not have been the best place for a smelly, scruffy person to have a quick breakfast. The ~4 miles to the foot of the ‘mountain’ dragged. I kept getting my phone out to check my position and finding I’d barely moved since the last check. In the end I decided to just keep going to the bottom of the hill, where I’d reward myself by having a nap and then getting my iPod out. Setting a goal seemed to work and I got there without any further breaks/sulks. I think that running my long runs harder might actually have helped a bit with pushing on even when my body and head had other ideas.

I found a nice side road for my nap and then dug my iPod out. After listening to Owl Cities rather apt Fireflies several times I finally got it into shuffle mode. And I felt great. I marched up the hill singing along to cheesy dance and chart music. I even added in some hand motions, which were a cross between conducting and dancing. I deliberately didn’t time the climb, but it flew by. Mountain, my arse, it was more like a moderately big hill. Thankfully when Jan caught me at the top I’d reverted to a normal walk.


I stopped for lunch at the Mountain Goat Market in Monteagle. It was the sort of place I’d actually choose to eat at, and it had a range of veggie sandwiches to choose from. Unfortunately I managed to choose one which turned out to be fried/toasted and my lips were too sore to eat all of it. I topped my calories supplies up with some gooey Red Velvet cake though. After a brief stop in their, very nice, toilet to reapply lube I headed out into the heat of the afternoon. The march up the hill had left my trousers drenched in sweat so I decided to lie on a big rock, first face up, then face down, for 5 minutes to dry them off. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous, but I was long beyond caring.

Lunch at the Mountain Goat Market Monteagle

Leaving Monteagle I passed Doug’s support car, with Doug outside having a snooze. Unfortunately, thanks to me, Doug’s snooze didn’t last much longer. A small dog charged out of a nearby house and circled my legs while I ineffectually shouted ‘go home’ at it. Eventually, just as a now wide-awake Doug was crossing the road to help me, I extricated myself. I crossed the road and we had a chat/moan about Tennessee dog owners.

I’d expected to pass a gas station in Monteagle, but didn’t and ended up breaking my “during the day leave town with lots of water” rule. Luckily I did pass a car repair garage with a vending machine, so stocked up there. Otherwise the short stretch to Tracy City went fairly smoothly. Doug caught and passed me, and I took advantage of some shady picnic tables to get out of the Sun for a bit and massage and re-tape my sore feet.

I stopped at the Dollar General in Tracy City for a mid-afternoon snack (ice cream and Mountain Dew) and stocked up on granola bars to see me through to the finish. One of the other customers gleefully told me about how he’d nearly run a runner over the night before. The 16 miles to Jasper was a long haul, but as the Sun started setting and the road tilted gently down it suddenly felt like the end was in sight and I started running. A car pulled up into a drive and two guys jumped out. One I recognised as last year’s first screwed finisher Andrew Snope (the other I later realised was this year’s first screwed finisher Matt Collins). We had a quick shouted conversation while I jogged past. In retrospect I really regret that I didn’t stop and talk to them properly (given that they’d taken the trouble to come out to cheer the rest of the runners on). Yes I was on a roll, but 5 minutes would have made no difference to anything in the grander scheme of things. I don’t remember doing the 7.30pm check-in, but evidently I did: 291 miles.

By the time I hit the top of the long decent into Jasper my trousers were drenched in sweat and really uncomfy. I was really glad that I hadn’t binned my shorts 2 days before. I stopped by the side of the road, mopped the worst of the sweat off, coated everything between my waist and knees in Sudocrem and pulled on the (damp, smelly...) shorts. There were no bushes to hide in, and of course the traffic now got heavier. However I’d reverted to wearing pants, so the passing drivers weren’t seeing anything worse than my KT-tape clad thighs.

The road was quite narrow and bendy, so I had to stop occasionally to avoid oncoming traffic. But otherwise I loved the descent and I still felt pretty happy when I reached (Vol State uber-fan) Steve Smalling’s house at the bottom. I stopped for a bottle of water, a quick chat and a not very flattering photo of me drenched in sweat. He asked whether I was going to keep going to the finish that night. Given that there were 20 miles, and a big hill/mountain still to go that was a sensible question. But I was perplexed, I was feeling good and there were only 20 miles to go, why would I stop? I told him that I was going to keep going until I reached the finish.

Passing Steve Smalling’s house at mile 292.

I navigated my way through Jasper, mainly walking because of the lack of side-walk or shoulder. And realised that getting drenched in sweat when there were still quite a lot of night miles to go hadn’t been the most sensible thing I’d ever done. A few days ago I’d booked a room at the Super 8 motel in Kimball for the following night, but barring disaster I was now going to need a room for at least some of tonight. I decided it would actually be a good idea to stop in Kimball in 4 miles time, sort out a room, dump anything I wouldn’t need for the final 14 miles and dry myself off. With this plan in mind I threw caution to the wind and ran up a, very gentle, small hill. It didn’t feel particularly hot, but soon the sweat was, literally, running off the sleeves of my t-shirt.

At the Super 8 Samir kindly sorted me out with an accessible room, right next to reception and sent me off with a bottle of cold water. I spent 15 minutes ditching the gear I could do without and drying off. I changed into the white shirt which I’d been carrying in case I got cold. Mainly because it was dry, but partly because it wouldn’t look quite as bad in the finish photos as my now very grubby, slightly see-through T-shirt. Some quick maths suggested that a sub 5d 20h finish might be doable. But I resolved to power-walk my way to the base of Sand mountain, rather than running, getting soaking wet again and ending up collapsing in a bush with hypothermia.

The first thing I had to do was power-walk back to my room, as I got paranoid and convinced myself I hadn’t shut the door properly. I then stopped at a gas station to buy one final Mountain Dew. I successfully negotiated the complicated road junction in South Pittsburg (without a GPS track I’d have really struggled) and crossed the big bridge. I was slightly alarmed by quite how low the walls were, and how easy it’d be to fall into the river far below. I sat down (so there was no risk of dropping my phone in the river) and rang the organisers to let them know I was getting close to the finish.

I kept walking, occasionally crossing the road to put more distance between me and barking dogs. Laz and Bill drove past on their way up to the finish at the rock. I reached the rail-crossing just as the barriers came down. This was at least a good excuse to stop and have a wee. I then thought “sod it” and jogged, rather than walked, to the turn up Sand mountain. I put my iPod on again and marched my way up. No singing this time, but I did end up waving my hands around swatting mosquitos (having not needed bug spray for several days, I’d left it at the motel). The first section was quite steep, but it eased off fairly quickly. I crossed into Alabama and started running again, albeit with regular stops to check my phone, to make sure I didn’t miss the turn off to Castle Rock.

Eventually the turn came, 5k to go and roughly an hour to get in inside 5d 20h. I ran the whole way, across the Georgia border and into Castle Rock, past the parked cars and left onto the bean fields. I’d expected to have to get my phone out to navigate, but there was a sign pointing the way, with the motivational slogan “only one more mile to go”. A-ha, I bet I know what’s coming next I thought. And I was right: a series of signs each proclaiming there was only one more mile to go. I was feeling pretty good, so thought this was quite amusing. After 313 miles of roads I wasn’t watching my feet carefully enough though and kicked a rock and nearly went flying. I gave myself a bit of a talking to, slow down, watch what you’re doing. You don’t want to DNF because you’ve fallen over and knocked yourself out less than a mile from the finish.

The finish gazebo came into view. Doug was there with his crew, having finished an hour and a half before me. Bill slowed me to a halt and then guided me very carefully out onto the rock (there’s a big sheer drop behind it). It took a few goes, but eventually we got a photo of me touching it. I then had the privilege of sitting on the thrown (so called because by the time every finisher has sat in it it’s so gross it has to be thrown away). I got quizzed about my experiences on the road, favourite drink (“Mountain dew: it’s rocket fuel!), favourite gas station food (danish pastries) and whether it was easier than I expected. No, but I definitely wasn’t expecting a finishing time starting with a 5. Bill asked if I realised how many people were still out on the road behind me. I’d been following the tracking sheet throughout so I did, but this was the point at which it really sank in: I’d finished 13th out of 88 starters! Having followed the race intently online for the past couple of years (and also watched the Barkley marathons documentary many times) this all seemed really surreal. I felt like I’d gate-crashed a film of someone else’s finish.

After a while I started getting cold and Laz drove me back to the parked cars for my final challenge: retrieving my luggage. I found the right truck easily enough, but finding the key was a different story. Eventually, as Laz lit a cigarette, the penny dropped-it was parked the other way around. While driving back to the Super 8 in Kimball we discussed one of my pet topics: why physicists tend to do well at the Barkley. (It was actually Laz who brought it up after I’d outed myself by saying that as a theoretical physicist I’d have liked a 100 pi car sticker...)

Touching ‘the rock’

Receiving my car sticker while sat on the thrown

Race bling: to be framed