Anyone traveling along Highway 22 in Carroll County on Friday may have noticed more than the average amount of foot traffic walking or running along the side of the highway.
That’s because dozens of competitors from all over the world were passing through as part of the 2017 Vol State Road Race.
Classified as a mega-marathon, the race extends 314 miles, beginning Thursday morning in southeastern Missouri. The course cuts down through western Kentucky into Tennessee, which hosts the largest chunk of the race. After slicing across the northeast corner of Alabama, the race finally concludes high atop Sand Mountain in Castle Rock, Ga.
Participants, who hail from all over the U.S. and beyond and come from every walk of life, have only 10 days to cover the distance in the Southern July heat, walking or running as they choose and sleeping and taking rest stops wherever they find opportunity.
Ages of this year’s participants range from 23 to 78.
According to 26-year- old Erich Hellstrom of Atlanta, Ga., he had been going 26 hours without sleep by the time he arrived at the Court Square in Huntingdon Friday morning.
Hellstrom, who manages a retail store in Atlanta, stopped briefly on the Court Square to rehydrate on some of the free bottled water provided for marathon participants by The Dixie.
As a first-time participant in the mega-marathon, Hellstrom said he hopes to finish the journey in six days or less — though at the moment he was thinking about grabbing a room in a local hotel for a little down time before getting back on the road.
Maryka Hladki, 43, came down all the way from her hometown near Toronto, Canada to take part in the race.
While this is Hladki’s first Vol State Road Race, she said she has competed in numerous marathons during her lifetime.
A medical writer, Hladki said she is hoping to put in a good time, but she wasn’t going to push herself too hard in the 90-plus temperatures.
“I’d like to do it in six days,” she said, “but if I do it in ten, that’s fine too.”
Rick Gray, 56, a banker from Johnson City, was one of many Tennesseans taking part in the megamarathon.
No stranger to the sport, Gray said he has completed over 170 marathons and “ultra-marathons” over the years.
This was Gray’s second time to make the Vol State trek.
“Last time I did it in a little under six-and- a-half days,” said Gray. “This time I am hoping for about five- and-a-half days.”
Gray complained, however, that the heat was already slowing him down.
“Yesterday the heat was horrible, and I ended up getting a hotel in Dresden,” he said. “Hopefully, today will be better.”