Ask the Goat: The Last Annual Vol State 500K Part 2

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series of a trans-Tennessee footrace earlier this month. Part one was published July 24. Part three will be published on Aug. 7.

Two observations were made at the Vol State starting line.

First, I was carrying (on average) 25 pounds more than anyone else. Second, I seemed to be one of the few that had decided to avoid surplus out-of-pocket costs by carrying food and “lodging” with me.

Ask the Goat by Chris Knodel

Ask the Goat
by Chris Knodel

My training leading up to the race was effective. I had created two pull-tires (Fat Mike & Big Agnes). The first is the larger of the two, and became my primary companion. Occasionally, I would also throw on either my 20-pound or 40-pound Gold’s weighted vest, and make the “square” in my neighborhood where I can safely pull a half-mile circuit.

You do 10 miles in the Texas heat on these hills with 40 pounds and a tire behind you, and I guarantee a 30-pound sack across Tennessee will feel like a reward. Carrying the pack had become second nature, but seeing everyone else flitting about feather-light did cause a mental weight. I knew I would be trudging down hot Tennessee roads with a surplus overall mass. It couldn’t be helped at this point. My goal was to keep daily costs under $10.

We paid the ferryman a dollar to cross to the start line in Missouri, and at 7:32 CST, Laz lit the starting cigarette. The race began as we all got back on the ferry, paid a second dollar to the crew, and went back to our initial point on the KY riverside. Already in my second state of the day, and I hadn’t even moved 10 feet yet –not a bad start.

From the Missouri start to the Kentucky line is about 500-meters of ferry crossing the Mississippi River. From the Kentucky shore to the Tennessee state line is about 8.5 miles. The next 275 miles is Tennessee highway –and could range from a blazing hot shoulder the size of a car lane, to a thin white line pocked with “rumble strips” along the side of a ravine. You have it all here.

Author Chris Knodel snapped this pic of the Missouri shore at the start from the ferry.

Author Chris Knodel snapped this pic of the Missouri shore at the start from the ferry.

The Tennessee sections are not truly stages, but cities along the route that serve as waypoints for food and shelter. Believe it or not, there are vast distances along major highways that do not even have gas stations (and if they do, they could be closed at night or because it is Sunday).

The sections for the Tennessee stretch is as follows: Union City to Martin (Miles 20-32), Martin to Dresden (Mile 32-46), Dresden to McKenzie (Miles 46-55), McKenzie to Lexington (Miles 55-90), Lexington to Columbia (Miles 90-176), Columbia to Wartrace (Miles 176-232), Wartrace to Monteagle (Miles 232-273), and Monteagle to Jasper (Miles 273-300). The final stage from Jasper to the rock crosses across Alabama to end at “The Rock” on the Georgia line. All done, one has crossed five states and 314 miles in 10 days.

I made the ferry crossing and the Kentucky leg without incident. The pack felt fine and the road surface was reminiscent of my time on North Carolina country roads. I did push out a bit fast for the first day, but slowed the pace as I crossed into Tennessee and made my way towards Union City (ironically where we awoke the morning of the race before hitting the busses to the ferry start.

Photo by Terrie Wurzbacher Chris Knodel at start by the ferry.

Photo by Terrie Wurzbacher
Chris Knodel at start by the ferry.

I stopped once for some water in Union City, and a second time for some salt and a quick rest in Martin. After that, I began a death march to bank up some miles. You only need to average 31 miles per day to complete the Vol State. Anything over that initial 50K is banked time you can use when things go bad –such as catastrophic weather anomalies, rain or minor injury.

I slept a while on the floor of a brick factory, ate a bit and continued on my quest of doubling up miles for the first day. The days are actually calculated in 24-hour chunks from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. After 12 miles with a friendly mutt I dubbed “Miles,” I trudged into the small town of Gleason for a rest. I managed to stay a couple of hours in a pre-paid room for another runner, bathed and collapsed.

Day one total was 57 miles.

Chris Knodel is a Mangum Track Club member and Sandhills Region native. He is the author of “More, Better Quicker – The Irish Goat: A Fat-Boy & His Path to Ultra-Distance.” His column will appear each Thursday on

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