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Texans Lynnor and Erika Matheney Complete 500 km Vol State Race – Interview Part 1

At 7:30 am on July 14th, Lynnor Matheney and her college-aged daughter Erika took their first steps in Dorena Landing, Missouri of what would be a 314 mile epic adventure leading to the finish line in Castle Rock, Georgia. This low-key, intimate ultra running event has over 30 years of history guiding a unique group of runners across the state of Tennessee and is called the Vol-State Road Race.

How intimate of an event? 2011 had 19 starters with 13 making it to the finish.

The only words besides the event name on the minimalistic website:

This is an informational site for the Vol-State Road Race 500k.
For information contact Laz.
If you don’t know how you probably don’t want to!

Runners have 10 days to get it done.

Texans, Lynnor and Erika finished in an inspiring 8 days 18:58:42 and 8 days 18:57:45 respectively! Why the time difference? Be sure to read both interviews to learn why. 🙂

Erika and Lynnor at the finish!

This was Lynnor’s second attempt (first in 2010) at the event and first finish! Erika hadn’t ran longer than a 25 km trail run prior to this adventure. Yep, this is going to be interesting!

Lynnor and Erika had so many great insightful, entertaining, and inspiring things to share I decided to place each of their Q&A interviews in a separate article. It will be worth it!

Let’s first hear from Lynnor, the ultra running veteran of the family, as she shares this unique experience through her eyes.


Race/Course Background

[EB – This adventure seems very low-key and old-school. How did you become aware of it and what made you want to first attempt this journey back in 2010?]

I learned about the Vol State race via the Ultra list: ULTRA@LISTSERV.DARTMOUTH.EDU I don’t really remember what the initial attraction was but my friend Juli Aistars was planning to go and she may have influenced me. I don’t remember what made me do this but I wasn’t confident about it.

[EB – Could you explain the general terrain and landscape of the course? (flat, rolling, pavement, woods, country, urban, etc)]

It’s all the above until the last half mile or so. The roads are all paved, either two or four lane highway, some have a wide shoulder, some have no shoulder, some are under construction.

There are  long stretches of country where we saw farms, ranches, places for sale, places abandoned, and woods. We passed through many towns, some unincorporated, with no services, and cities that had everything: gas, food, hotels, and lots of traffic.

West Tennessee is more gently rolling, it’s not flat exactly but not severe. The low mountain terrain becomes more significant after about the halfway point. There are a couple of significant “climbs,” (I didn’t think they were that bad but in our case both occurred near the end of our daily grind). The first is a steady three mile or so incline into Monteagle Tennessee. The second is Sand Mountain (which is probably a steeper grade but not as long) which occurs near the finish.

[EB – The race information I looked at contained very little insight with respect to aid-stations, checkpoints, drop bags/personal belongings, etc? Do these aspects exist for this event? Could you shed some light on how the race is managed?]

There are no aid stations, no drop bags, no caching supplies. My daughter and I elected to run solo, uncrewed, which meant we received no assistance from anybody we knew, but we could ask strangers for help.

Several people we knew did drive by and offer assistance. (some were sincere, others were just being ornery) We didn’t accept anything from them, but we did ask a few people we saw along the way for water. Some brought ice water from their house, others let us fill our packs from the spigot at the side of their house.

Several people in cars (including the police) asked who we were, what we were doing and two reporters stopped to interview us for the McKenzie, Tennessee Banner. One man slowed to ask us questions as we were approaching Sand mountain and ended up giving us the leftover contents of his lunch box after we asked him for water. The poor guy had an apple, unopened fruit cup, juice and we descended on him like vultures.

Another run category is solo, crewed (they have one or more people in a vehicle with supplies, helping them). One advantage to having a crew is being able to run through the night without running out of water.

There is a relay category too, but nobody did that this year.

A few months before the race, Laz’ll start talking about the race. People will express intent. Generally, most of that list will meet at the finish and caravan in 2-3 vehicles to the start. There are some logistics to work out but the majority of contestants get to the start this way.

A few others will meet at the start and connect with those in the caravan. Runners, crew, family all meet for dinner the night before the race at Ryan’s in Union City. We caravan to the ferry at Hickman, Kentucky; where we ride to Dorena Landing, Missouri and back. (so we can say we ran through five states: MO: KY, TN, AL, and GA)

Runners on the ferry ride to the start.

Erika and I flew to Chattanooga this year, and stayed with Abi Meadows. She was in the race (uncrewed) too.


[EB – You have ran a variety of ultra race distances. What did your training look like to prepare yourself for the challenge of maintaining at least 50 km of movement across 10 straight days? Was it similar to how you would train for a 100 miler (or another familiar distance) or was it a unique approach?]

I took almost a year off from running so I wasn’t focused on doing this until about mid April. Erika kept bringing it up and I realized she wasn’t going to forget about it so I started running again. I ran on pavement in Vibrams, and mixed up my training. Short sprints, longer tempo, speed walking, longer walk/runs on weekends. I also did some weight training and have a stair-climber. The area where we live is flat, but there’s a couple of places with hills I go for hill work.

In June I ran a 15 km road race with my son. I clocked my slowest time ever but I felt good, like I was “back”.

There were three weekends after that when I ran 15-18 miles back to back and then tapered for Vol State. I think my longest week was 51 miles. I really cut this close but it turned out to be enough.

Our goal was approximately 8 days so hoped to average about 40 miles a day. The way the hotels are situated ultimately determined how far we’d go each day.

[EB – Did you do any of your training with Erika?]

Not really. She’s in college most of the time so I didn’t really see her before May. I take my kids to a summer camp in Illinois in June where she and I are teaching assistants. We spent that week running in the woods together. (after spending the days playing lacrosse with a bunch of kids) That’s about it.

[EB – Were there any lessons learned from 2010 that you brought into this year’s adventure?]

Yes!!! I had a plan this time.  The way I took care of my feet changed. Last year I wasted a ton of time on tape and band-aids. This year I popped the blisters, applied 2nd skin, let dry, wore Dry Max socks and road shoes (not trail shoes!!!).

Last year was when I discovered how much nicer a hydration pack is than a waist pack. I also discovered how little I need to succeed. I used to carry way too much stuff.

The Vol-State Experience

[EB – Could you share a typical day (if there is such a thing) during the race?]

Ideally we were on the road before sun up but if we got in at 2 a.m. the night before, I let Erika sleep until she woke on her own. We would deal with our feet first, then find food and water, sometimes we talked about friends, school, gripes, food, bodily functions, aches and pains, food, Harry Potter, music, family, food, other people in the race, other races, food, what we thought about other people running Vol State, food, what we thought about Laz, – he’s the RD. Then it’d be time to find a tree or bush, again, maybe stop and check our feet, pop a few blisters.

People in cars would drive by slowly and ask what we were doing.  Erika did most of our PR. A couple of people stopped and gave her money even though we told them we weren’t running for a fundraiser.

I had a camera and took a few pictures. Some days were long stretches, others were shorter stretches between towns  (more opportunities to waste time). We stopped for short breaks under a shady tree in the afternoons. We ran into some of the other contestants but most of them moved ahead after a day or dropped.

Nap time!

At some point in the morning and early evening the RD and/or some of his family would drive by, stop, get out and talk to us. This was to see if we were suffering, ready to quit, how far we planned to get that day or had any good stories to share. Sometimes they videotaped so we could see everybody and how they fared later. Some of the videos are very funny. I don’t think they taped us, we weren’t suffering or bloody enough.

Usually about the last five miles of the day would be (the longest) filled with sarcastic comments, laughing, really tired feet, and some level of starvation. When we arrived wherever we had agreed we would stop, we’d get a hotel room, Erika showered first (b/c she smelled worse). If we had food, we’d eat.

We both had digestion issues at different times. After she barfed one day and nearly filled her pants another I said, “Now you are a real ultra runner.” Lucky for her, the moments occurred somewhat privately. (behind a big tree right off the road) Mine occurred while we were in the company of a couple of the guys in the race. They were comfortable flatulating in our presence but I wasn’t comfortable having diarrhea in theirs so we let them get away.

[EB – What was it like having your daughter Erika, participate in this adventure with you? Did you run it all together?]

She told everybody before the race she was going to leave me and see me at the finish. I suppose some people were objective enough to believe that. (those that weren’t really should’ve considered the source)  I always had her in my sights.

Actually, that’s not a question I can easily answer. I thought about a lot of things, including the relationship I’d had with my own mother. (she didn’t run and even if she did she never would’ve endorsed this)

Erika - step after step...mile after mile.

Erika’s resilient and has the stamina of a racehorse. I thought she faced inconvenience and sacrifice with a can-do attitude and great humor. I think my experience and her exuberance got us both (laughing our heads off)to the finish. She was refreshing, a great breath of fresh air.

[EB – What was your typical daily nutrition? Did your nutrition/food choices change as the days progressed? Any favorite foods? Least favorite?]

All food was favored. Whatever was on the course looked like the gate to eternal bliss.

We hit Sonics, Subway, McD’s, several cafes, diners, gas stations, grocery stores. Gleason Korner Cafe had great cheeseburgers, sweet potato fries, chocolate cake and ice cream. There was a cafe in Shelbyville where Erika spotted a horseshoe wall decoration for sale. She bought it and clipped it to her pack where it clicked and clanged for 50 miles before we spotted somebody associated with the race that would take it to the finish where she could pick it up.

Another big deal was at mile 179 – hand scooped ice cream! This is where the infamous “Bench of Despair” is located. The bench had a sign welcoming Vol State runners. Our esteemed RD said nobody dropped after that point. (I found that hard to believe.)

Ice cream!..and the Bench of Despair

We were disappointed that the Farmer’s Market we saw last year in Union City was not there this year. They had fresh peaches, peach ice cream, peach everything.

We saw one Starbucks on the whole course, (possibly Manchester) and practically stopped traffic, galloping over there for frappaccinos.

At about mile 300 we ate at a Mexican restaurant. We ate so much there, I thought I could roll up Sand Mountain.

In Pelham, we ate and drank exactly nothing because the one cafe closed before we got there.

We started with exactly three espresso chocolate chip Bonk Breaker brownies from Zombie Runner. They were heavenly.

[EB – Did you have any specific recovery plan for the end of each day?]

Actually I went for ice every night except the last and threw it in the bathtub for Erika to sit in. Then I made her put her feet up on a pile of pillows. We walked more than we ever ran so I don’t know how much it helped but she was surprised that nothing hurt when we woke every morning.

[EB – How did the mind and body feel after reaching the finish in Castle Rock, Georgia? Were there any unique thoughts that went through your mind?]

I doubt if anything I thought was unique. I was being chewed up by mosquitoes.

The best part about the end was going up Sand Mountain and all the finishers who were still in the area, the RD, his family, Don Winkley’s crew, all drove by us on the way to see us come in. There’s a place about halfway up where you can look across the tree line and see The Rock, although there’s still a ways to go. Some of the guys were yelling, cheering and blinking their lights at us.

[EB – What are some of your most memorable experiences across the 8+ days?]

So many things had me laughing more than I’d ever laughed in my life. Erika cut the armpits out of her shirt to stop the chafing. That’s when people started giving her money..(about the time we hit the halfway point we passed a Walmart so bought her another shirt)

One night in a remote stretch of country road I kept hearing awful noises in the woods, like a mastodon killing a hyena. I kept asking Erika if she was hearing that and finally realized she had her iPod on.

Lynnor with special friend Angela. "I was so disappointed I missed Ang last year, so when she came by this year, it absolutely made my day!"

We ran into Don Winkley’s crew person, also named Don, at about mile 300. He stopped his car along the roadside so he could talk to us, and that attracted a cop. (there goes another 20 minutes!) Among other things, Don was telling us there was a Sonic but it’s off course a ways…(a piece of cake to get to by car, but not on foot as we discovered) We gave up on that and headed back to the course. Erika thought it’d be faster to go through tall weeds on a steep hill, I figured it’d be full of snakes. At one point she screamed, I screamed and peed my pants. I’m sure she’ll tell the rest of that story.

We were at the finish for Diane Taylor’s arrival. She said she took cover in a construction zone porta-potty during “the storm.”

One other thing. Tennessee is full of American history. I stopped a lot to read the Civil war memorials, and take pictures. I thought about the soldiers who marched a lot further than we ran, many of them at gunpoint and barefoot. There were many reminders so hard not to think about all the conveniences we have now and how easy life is compared to then. That made the race seem like a pleasure cruise.

[EB – Were there any moments during the event where you felt like you might not be able to continue? If so, how did you get through this and continue moving forward?]

No. I was pretty sure I’d finish this time.

There were a few dicey moments with Erika but she always rallied. Even the foot pain and intestinal issues that came and went, she kept moving.

We were in Pelham and there was no place to get water or food.That was probably our lowest moment. I wasn’t sure whether I should crack a joke or be serious, besides I still had enough water to get us to the next stop which is where we’d be by the time anybody came.  Looking back on it all, a lot of her reactions were mine too, it was just so entertaining to hear her voice them.

[EB – After another year’s experience, were there any new lessons learned you would bring with you for another attempt.]

We discussed bringing trash bags and picking up all the garbage and roadkill we saw. But that’s not unique to Tennessee.

[EB – Did this experience with your daughter have any affect on your relationship with each other?]

Well, I have more respect for her. After she found out I posted her name in response to Laz’s question,”Who will be the first to drop?” She had to show me I was wrong.

A special thanks to Lynnor for taking the time to share both her thoughts and photos about this adventurous 500 km journey with her daughter.

Erika shares this exerience through her eyes…next!

Part 2 with Erika is now available – check it out!

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Texans Lynnor and Erika Matheney Complete 500 km Vol State Race – Interview Part 1”

  1. on 14 Aug 2011 at 9:39 pm Chris R

    Really enjoyed the interview David. Thanks for posting!!

  2. on 15 Aug 2011 at 1:56 pm David Hanenburg

    Thanks Chris! Really appreciate the feedback. 🙂