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Vol State boasts 2 records broken as Angels showrunners the way

By Larry Carroll

There are plenty of ultra-marathons that could be called a “race,” and with that designation give the uninitiated an idea to wrap their heads around something they’ll most likely never experience. Then there are the ultra-marathons that take it one step further – Badwater, Barkley – adding in unique elements and obstacles so intimidating that “race” seems less of a relevant noun and could instead be replaced by something like “near-death experience.” 

The Vol State 500k Relay, it would seem hard to argue, is one of those races. 

On July 11, photos began emerging on social media of what one athlete dubbed “abnormal people,” crowded onto a Mississippi River ferry in running shorts. They were standing under a beautiful sky, which was something akin to false advertising when you consider what they were about to endure.

Once the ferry hit land in Kentucky, participants disembarked and were then on their own until they reached “The Rock,” a destination atop Northeast Georgia’s Sand Mountain. Many have been running ever since.

An estimated 120 participants took place in this year’s Vol State, but it was Greg Armstrong of Castalian Springs who finished first, setting a new course record of 3 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes and 31 seconds. Of course, this being the event that proudly advertises itself as “a journey, an adventure, and an exploration of inner space,” Armstrong won with no crew to help him, finding his own water, food, and resting places where he could during the 314-mile trek. In fact, it was his “uncrewed” status that made his run all the more notable.

“For me ‘unaided’ meant no hotels, no showers, and very minimal road Angel support,” Armstrong tells Tennessee’s Lewis Herald newspaper (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). “I rested for 10 min on a cot in front of a church, maybe 15 on a lawn chair at the Nutt house but all other horizontal breaks were in ditches, park benches or side of the road. I almost broke my vow of no hotels in Manchester but resisted. I applaud anyone that covers the 314 miles on foot, my hat is off to anyone that reaches the Rock!”

Making his time perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Armstrong – the event’s defending champion, 3-time winner, course record-holder, and Tennessee native – ran in Teva sandals. 72 hours into the race, he had already run an astounding 262 miles while his nearest competitor (Johan Steene) was 13 miles behind. Sixteen runners, meanwhile, had at that point quit. Additional male competitors who have finished include:

2. Johan Steene 3:22:07:19

3. Alan Abbs 4:07:18:19

4. Sean Ranney 4:12:54:15

5. Aaron Bradner 5:08:15:13

6. Jeff Stafford 5:13:35:52

7. Henry Lupton 5:14:44:34

8. Tim Purol 5:16:51:02

9. Terry Bonnett 5:17:40:06

10. Seth Crowe 5:18:56:54

Armstrong finished ahead of the race’s typical pace, which is stated on their website as being between four to ten days to complete. Runners must cover 50.24K per day to finish in the allotted 10 days, regardless of whether they run or walk. 

Entering day 8 in the July heat and humidity, participants are still navigating their way along the highways and backroads of Tennessee, perhaps worrying about where they’ll find their next food morsel or drink of water. 

Where those necessities may come from, however, has become a minor point of contention. On July 16, race director Laz Lake complained on Facebook (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) about local “Angels” who have been supporting the racers with food, drinks, chairs and more – and asked them to knock it off. 

“Goodies beside the road, maybe a hose, a canopy for shade, mats or cots to sleep on… this is all great,” he wrote. “But taking people into your home for showers, putting them in your beds, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, letting them hang out like some parasitic relative all day… this is way, way too much! those people are way beyond crewed!”

Vol State racers may sign up as “crewed” or “screwed” (which means uncrewed), but regardless of crew support and bus transportation to the starting line, it seems like Angel help is in abundance for those who want it. 

On the women’s side, Bev Anderson-Abbs finished first in her rookie run of Vol State, setting a new uncrewed women’s course record of 4 days, 7 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds. Comparing her experience to that of her husband Alan (who ran Vol State in 2013, and again alongside her this year, she tells (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) Canadian Running magazine that times have changed. 

“There are coolers all over the place with water, snacks, chairs set up, and I thought, this is not like what I expected,” she says of the course. “There were very few places where you really had to think about what you needed to make it to the next place where you could get water or food. For the most part, you could just hop from cooler to cooler.”

Additional female finishers (as of July 17) include:

2. Kimberly Durst (5:15:51:51)

3. Denise Calcagino (5:21:25:29)

4. Christina Pierce (5:23:46:49)

5. Judy Rupp (6:07:11:32)

6. Karen Jackson (6:07:53:40)

7. Andrea Beasley (6:14:54:23)

Not all the drama, however, played out at the finish line. One racer reported seeing a mountain lion in Twitter, another was reportedly struck by a Dodge Caravan – but kept running Facebook, and there were apparently some very aggressive dogs around mile 210 (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). All of which serves as proof once again that the Vol State 500K is a race…er, near-death experience…like none other.   

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Badwater 2019 breaks records, makes romance

by Larry Carroll

The Badwater is pretty much the antithesis of boring – dubbed “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” it is 135 miles of pain via punishing heat and relentless elevation – but the 2019 installment, in particular, proved to be one worth remembering. Just over 21 hours after the race began, the event had a new male record holder, a new female record holder, and a top contender for the most romantic moment in the history of the sport.

Japanese ultra-marathoner Yoshihiko Ishikawa set a new course record in California’s Death Valley on Monday night/Tuesday morning, crossing the finish line in 21 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second. It was some 23 minutes faster than Pete Kostelnick’s 21:56:32 mark from 2016. Ishikawa had spent 21 hours journey from the lowest elevation in the continental United States (Death Valley) to the highest point (Mt. Whitney), which seems only appropriate since his life was about to also reach a high point – and we’re not talking about the record-setting win.

Moments after Ishikawa crossed the finish line, having conquered three mountain ranges and 14, 600 feet of ascent, he dropped to one knee. But it wasn’t for the reasons you might expect, as the 31-year-old athlete asked his girlfriend to marry him. She replied in the affirmative, which undoubtedly renewed his spirit faster than any Gatorade or orange slice ever could.

The newly-engaged Ishikawa finished on top of a pack of most Americans, with a few international athletes also thrown into the mix:

2. Harvey Lewis (Cincinnati, Ohio) 26:11:18

3. Tetsuo Kiso (Japan) 28:02:04

4. Lee Whitaker (Fort Mill, South Carolina) 28:13:11

5. Richard Kabanuck (Clovis, New Mexico) 28:13:55

6. Grant Maughan (Australia) 28:30:33

7. Steve Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:43

8. Joshua Holmes (Los Angeles, California) 29:35:53

9. Flavio Fernandes Vieira (Brazil) 30:29:14

10. Eric Hunziker (Cincinnati, Ohio) 31:15:46

Although the female side of the race had decidedly fewer marriage proposals, it was not lacking in equally impressive and historic athletic accomplishment. Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland finished second overall with a time of 24:13:24. Setting a new course record, Bereznowska’s time was more than 90 minutes faster than Alyson Venti’s 2016 time of 25:53:07.

Hailing from the small village of Wieliszew (population: 3,122) in east-central Poland, the veteran Bereznowska came to Badlands with a supportive social media team who posted pictures of her running through the desert and videos of them greeting her with inspirational messages as she tackled the last 18 miles of the race. The team also posted photos of baked crackers with the phrase “Go Pati” and a heart on them.

A specialist in 24-hour running, Bereznowska was originally more focused on equestrian racing – competing in such events as the world championship of horse-drawn long-distance rallies. In 2007 she began running professionally, and she has since spent much of the last decade winning medals in her native Poland and setting records throughout the world. Bereznowska is a two-time unofficial world record holder in 24 hours running (no official records are kept), a bronze medal winner in the 24-hour World Cup, and holds a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences in the field of zootechnics from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland.

The 43-year-old Bereznowska is a former Spartathlon winner –– as is Ishikawa. The race is considered similar to Badwater in terms of extreme temperatures and elevation, so it should be no surprise that Bereznowska set a course record there as well.

The women’s field was similarly dominated by Americans overall, with a few international runners in the mix:

2. Gina Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:45

3. Lisa DeVona (Pompano Beach, Florida) 32:36:17

4. Caryn Lubetsky (Miami Shores, Florida) 33:42:39

5. Pamela Chapman-Markle (San Leon, Texas) 34:03:47

6. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, Indiana) 34:16:59

7. Annie Weiss (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) 35:25:31 

8. Silvia Amodio (Uruguay) 36:17:48

9. Kerri Kanuga (Cayman Islands) 37:58:24

10. Estela Vaz Rodrigues (Brazil) 39:18:30

Photos posted to the official Badwater Instagram account show Ishikawa down on his right knee, with the finish line behind him in the darkened evening. His girlfriend, wearing a fluorescent green vest and with a camera over her shoulder, seems overcome by emotion. Additional photos show the couple embracing, wiping away tears, and then posing for photos. On a night when new male and female course records were set, it was just another reason that Badwater 2019 will go down in history.

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