Mad dogs and an English woman go out in the Midday Sun

“Arghhh, grrrr, Arghhh”. I occasionally get mild cramp in my calves while sleeping, but I never get cramp while running. At least not until Dresden, 40 miles into the Last Annual Vol State 500k road race. My left calf started feeling tight early on, but I put it down to the camber of the road and assumed/hoped that it would ease off as my body adapted. But as I lifted my foot up onto the curb, the calf locked up and I collapsed onto the sidewalk. The pain was agonising and I screamed out loud. Normally night cramps ease up after a couple of seconds. But this just kept going. My leg looked really strange, the muscle had tightened up into a lump just below the back of my knee. And when I tried to drag myself along the ground to a nearby bench, the other calf went, followed by both thighs. I thrashed around and screamed some more. A car stopped and asked if I was OK. I somehow convinced them that yes I was, and no I didn’t need any help. Eventually I got myself onto the bench and then a bit later hobbled into the farmer’s market in Dresden where thankfully the mayor and his wife were running an unofficial aid station. I’d dug myself a big hole and now I needed to crawl back out of it.


The Last Annual Vol State Road Race is, at its name says, a 500km road race across Tennessee, the Volunteer State. It wasn’t however the Last Annual, that part of its name apparently apes the “First Annual” races which were common when it first started. There are no official aid stations. Like most of the participants, I ran “screwed”, without a support crew. There were however Road Angels, people providing support either at fixed locations or while driving past. This has apparently become much more common over the past few years as locals have become more aware of the race.



I’ve got a long standing fascination with the Barkley Marathons, dating back to the early days of the internet. (I don’t intend to ever enter the Barkley though, I’d struggle to finish one lap within the cut-off, which would be a waste of a place.) And in recent years a lot of Barkley race reports had mentioned Vol State. Single stage, multi-day races seem to be my thing. I enjoy them and I finish far further up the field than I do in shorter distances, even 100 milers. But I didn’t ever really contemplate doing Vol State myself until (infamous British ultra-running author, blogger and “ultra runner v. ironman” video maker) James Adams did it in 2015. If he could do it, why couldn’t I? And that Summer, while drinking espresso martinis in a bar in Vientiane, I cooked up a plan with the OH. In 2017 (I’d already entered the Northern Traverse as my ‘biggy’ for 2016) our Summer holiday would be a US road trip followed, for me, by Vol State. I’d already bought John Price’s road book and I also signed up to the Vol State mailing list to glean further information. A year later, the moment entries opened, I was in. I rashly clicked the ‘post on Facebook’ button on ultra-signup and was a bit taken aback by the responses I got, which ranged from congratulations (thanks, but hold fire with those until I’ve actually finished it) to asking if I knew what I was getting myself into (yes).

The build-up
Day 0
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
The aftermath

British English - American English translation
petrol station = gas station
nappy = diaper
pants = underwear
pavement = sidewalk
insect repellent = bug spray
scones = biscuits
crisps = chips
car boot = car trunk
kit = gear
bin = trash can