VS: day 1

We got on the buses one last time for the ~15 mile trip from Union City to the banks of the Mississippi river where we paid our $2 each and boarded the ferry for the crossing to the start at Dorena Landing, Missouri. After a brief stop at the other side, Laz lit the starting cigarette and we got back on the ferry.


After the first ‘free’ couple of miles it was finally time to start running. The route through Hickman, Kentucky was a bit fiddly, but with the field still tightly bunched I didn’t need to use my map & notes. It didn’t seem too hot initially, although I was walking a lot more than I usually would on day 1 of a multi-day. Some annoying large insects kept biting me through my sleeves, but I couldn’t get my bug spray out easily, so I resorted to swatting them instead. I was a bit surprised to see people coming out of the first grocery store, a few miles in, with drinks. Surely the 2 litres of water I was carrying would be enough to get me to Union City? An hour or so later I realised it wasn’t and started rationing it. And I was very happy when my first road angel appeared: an elderly lady with a car boot full of water. I filled up my water bottle (but not my bladder) thinking this would be enough. A few miles later I was rationing it again and counting down the miles to the first gas station on the outskirts of Union City.

There were nearly a dozen runners stopped at the gas station, refuelling and drenching everything we touched in sweat. I was in a bit of a flap and put my cash back in the wrong pocket, which led to a panic that I’d lost it. My nose stud had nearly got sweated out and I wondered whether I should tape it in (which would have looked “interesting”). I got my phone out to make the navigation through the city centre a bit easier. Another runner had recommended the Galileo Pro app, and it worked really well, better than Google Maps or Apple Maps. I’d marked a Subway on my paper map and decided it would be a good place to stop for lunch. There was a longish queue, but I convinced myself that a 10 min wait would be worth it. The 12 inch veggie sub wasn’t great (the filling was just cheese and salad), but along with a big bag of crisps and a large soda I got a decent number of calories down.

I headed back out with the remains of my soda in my hand. Once I’d finished it and found a bin for the cup (the lack of public bins would become increasingly irritating) it was time to start running again. And soon it struck me that it was actually really rather hot. Jeff was a couple of hundred metres ahead of me walking. When I was running I’d close him down, but only very slowly. And when I walked he’d slowly move away from me. Slowly it dawned on me that running was taking a lot of energy, but not actually getting me anywhere particularly fast. So I switched to just walking too. At the 20 mile mark, Laz and crew were stationed in the shade under a bridge, (ironically) taking 20 mile splits. I told them it was nice to see the Sun, we don’t get much of it back home...

I thought I had enough water for the 10 miles to Martin. I didn’t. And was very glad to get to the outdoor store, which not only had a vending machine, but were giving us drinks for free. They were also getting a fair amount of business, as runners bought hats and cooling towels. I’m not a fast walker and a fair few people overtook me, but I managed to keep up 17-18 min miles (I was wearing a cheap digital watch rather than a GPS, but the mile markers meant I could still check my pace). In Martin I stopped briefly in a gas station to eat another large bag of crisps and an ice lolly, and resupply with water. A group of us stopped in the town centre to cool off in the water fountains. I got a couple of miles down the road before I realised I hadn’t put sun-cream back on and my legs were burning. I also made another mistake, walking past a grocery store because I still had plenty of water. A couple of hours later, on the endless straight road towards Dresden I was rationing it again. I’m not usually this slow on the uptake, but it took me a while to learn the ‘in the daytime always leave towns with lots of water’ lesson.

Eventually the orange markings which one of the locals had sprayed on the road to show the route into Dresden started. Two women on lawn loungers asked us what we were doing, was there a 5k going on? No it’s a 500k we shouted back. I suspect they didn’t believe us. A bit later a man and two girls appeared up with popsicles and water which I was extremely grateful for. I downed the water, the centre of Dresden was close so I didn’t need to ration it. And a few minutes later I was rolling around on the pavement in agony with cramp.

I eventually made it to the farmer’s market where I slumped on the floor and the cramp started again. Just my calf this time, and the pain was ‘grimace & grunt’ level rather than ‘scream’. The mayor, who was running the unofficial aid station, asked if there was anything he could do to help. He mentioned someone last year having an IV at this point. I said I just needed to gut the cramp out and then eat and drink. The race rules this year banned IVs and I’m not sure it’s something I’d have wanted to try and get past my travel insurance in any case. Nicole kindly got me a gatorade and somebody else offered me some salt tablets. I had some, I just needed to actually take them. I hadn’t forgotten, I just thought I was eating lots of salty food and I’d previously been sceptical about the benefits of salt for avoiding cramp.

I spent an hour in Dresden, eating, drinking and trying to recover. As well as the cramp there was the first hint of blisters on the ball of one of my feet. I’d expected to have to deal with this eventually, but 40 miles in was way too soon. I taped it up with KTtape and hoped this would keep the blister at bay. I also made my first 7.30 check-in (a bit late). I initially considered getting a motel to rest properly, but I started feeling better quite quickly. Sufficiently better to try cracking a joke which no-one apart from the Mayor’s wife got (and I’m guessing laughing at bad jokes is part of her role). I wasn’t the only person suffering. There were runners with badly blistered feet and a nasty allergic reaction. Andrew Snope, last year’s first screwed finisher, came in looking pretty wrecked and went off to a motel.

I headed out into the dark for the short stage to Gleason. There’s some debate about whether it’s best to be visible or not. The argument for invisible is that you don’t want to draw attention, particularly from drunk drivers, to yourself. Initially, being used to narrower British roads, I went for visible, wearing a fluorescent vest and also 2 red lights on the back of my pack. The route turned onto a quiet back road, and I was amazed by the noises coming from the verges, not just Katydids, but what sounded like the frog chorus. Together with the flashes of fire-flies, it felt slightly surreal. My calves were tight, but I eventually got back running again. Someone had reported two aggressive dogs on this stretch on the race WhatsApps group, so I armed myself with a branch. I’d contemplated buying some mace, but never got around to it. There was some barking, but no loose dogs, so I eventually ditched the branch.

On the outskirts of Gleason a van skidded to a halt next to me and a young bloke stuck his head-out the window. Uh-oh I thought. But actually they only wanted to give me water. There was another unofficial aid station in the fire station in Gleason. I stopped for a short while, tried to eat and took advantage of an indoor toilet to relube my undercarriage. There were quite a few people trying to sleep here, but I wasn’t tired and quickly got cold. This was a common problem. Air-conditioning is great, but not when you’re drenched with sweat.

The next short stage to McKenzie went by fairly quickly. There was another unofficial aid station here, where I had some more food and forced another Gatorade down. The enthusiasm and support of the locals was fantastic, but the frequent aid on this section made it feel more like a normal race and possibly slowed my transition into the Vol State mind-set.

Huntingdon was only 11 miles away, but most of it was on a wide, straight road which really dragged. I got there at dawn, just as a really long train came through. I soon regretted not sitting down when the barriers first came down. Salt and Angie caught up to me and Salt led the way to Misty’s All Star cafe for breakfast. I was feeling tired and did a bad job of finding veg food which I could eat. I ordered toast and pancakes, but didn’t manage to finish them. Angie was also feeling tired and we headed back to the Police Station, which was offering support, to see if we could grab a nap. It was far too chilly inside though. Angie went off to try and find a motel while I sat down for a quick nap on their door step. I don’t think I slept, but 10 mins with my eyes shut perked me up and after checking in (67 miles) and booking a motel in Lexington (25 miles down the road) I set off again.