Ask the Goat: the last of The Last Vol State 500K

Editor’s note: This is the finale of a three-part series of a trans-Tennessee footrace in July. Part one was published July 24. Part two was published on July 31.

After banking an extra marathon on day one, I was convinced I was set for the remainder of the race.

I could drastically slow my pace and effectively run minimally. I would power-walk for around 16 hours a day, mostly at night to avoid traffic and the heat. I could easily sleep a few hours at the churches, cemeteries and/or for the last couple of hours in other pre-paid runner rooms.

Ask the Goat by Chris Knodel

Ask the Goat
by Chris Knodel

I did feel kind of “squirrelly” mapping out naps in areas denoted for worship and last rites, but the Last Annual Vol State handbook maps out a list of all areas along the route that are “suitable” for sleeping, water and food procurement. Now this does not mean that the local police agree with these choices, and a few runners have been questioned and temporarily detained –but on the whole, most folks know the race is going on and even help a bit.

As a “screwed runner”, I can accept no aid from a crew or crewed runner, but I can accept anything from anyone else. For instance, there are “road Angels” that troll the highways giving aid to Vol State runners throughout the night. They aren’t part of the race and there is no rhyme or reason to their hours or locations. They just are good-hearted people that feel sorry for this motley assortment of “the walking dead.”

As I moved on from Gleason (without my adopted dog Miles, who is apparently scared of cows and would not cross by a field of them to stay with me), I got into a fairly good groove of fast-packing. I slowly (and softly) ran the downhill sections and marched the ups. Towards the end of day two, I was closing in on Lexington at mile 85.

With about five miles to go to keep my banked miles in the high 20s, I looked up from a daze to see headlights in the distance. The wide shoulder had disappeared as I closed in on the Parker’s Crossing/Lexington areas, and the only walking area was the thin white line that had been “marked” by rumble strips. I decided to stop and try to stand as much off the road as the big rig passed. It was dark, and as he closed in on me, I waited for the outward swerve into the other lane that always happens at the last minute. It did not come. I tried to step back and felt my left side lunge down about 8 inches with all my weight (and pack weight) behind it. I felt a small pop across the bridge of my foot as the truck rambled by, obviously still unaware that I was there. My foot didn’t hurt, exactly, but I already suspected the damage done.

Photo by Chris Knodel Mile 12 companion, "Miles."

Photo by Chris Knodel
Mile 12 companion, “Miles.”

I had rebroken (the same stress fracture point) the bone bridge of my left foot. Walking was fine on the ups and flats, but any excessive lateral or downhill stretches were extremely painful. I holed up in Parker’s Crossing and began the soaking, taping and strategic remapping. I began early on day three and worked my way towards Linden at mile 125. As I moved forward, the terrain became hillier. Even the road angle began to grind on my left side. I tried walking on the right side of the road in areas with wide shoulders, but remained so paranoid that any benefit it offered was negated in stress. Thing were bad, and even though I felt I had the time to complete the race, I needed to make sure I wasn’t causing more damage.

Linden, Tenn., became my final stop. After the stress fracture at mile 80, the additional 45 miles was ample time to reassess my position. The added pack weight and increasing elevation profiles were doing their part to further aggravate the injury. Three weeks after Vol State was the TransRockies Stage race – immediately followed by the 6-day Silverton Challenge.

Photo by Chris Knodel The scenic view between Kentucky and Tennessee.

Photo by Chris Knodel
The scenic view between Kentucky and Tennessee.

I needed to bail on this one, and as I made the decision I expected the depression and remorse to set in. After my first DNF (Did Not Finish) at the Georgia Jewel 100 in 2012, I was racked with “quitter’s guilt.” But stopping due to injury felt different to me. I was almost relieved to have made the decision.

The take-home from VolState is this: Lightweight is king. Hotels are valuable, but expensive. Buy your food as you go. If tired, press on –if broken, try again next year. And last, “Miles” showed me I can love a dog.

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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  • Mark Long

    I’ve enjoyed reading these post from The Goat. Am I to assume that by naming him Miles, he’s a part of the family now?

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