Greg Armstrong need not worry about high gas prices.
The longtime Friendship Christian teacher/coach doesn’t need a car to get where he’s going.
Armstrong just completed a 314-mile journey from southeast Missouri to the northwest tip of Georgia – by foot – in three days, 17 hours, 50 minutes and 52 seconds to win the Last Annual Vol State 500K which ended in the wee hours Monday in Castle Rock, Ga.
His run, which began in Dorena Landing, Mo., along the Mississippi River across from Kentucky, was the third fastest in the history of the event. In fact, he is only the third runner to finish in less than four days, which he said was his goal.
Contrary to the name, this was not the final running of the event, nor does it have anything to do with Vol State Community College, but rather the Volunteer State, through which most of the course winds.
“They always call it the Last Annual, I don’t know why,” the 40-year-old Armstrong said Wednesday.
Armstrong, the longtime cross country coach at Friendship, has run for years. He’s been known to commute the 10 miles from his Trousdale County home to FCS on foot - and usually not in running shoes. He ran the 500K in sandals.
But this race was different.
“This is my first multi-day event,” said Armstrong, who took off from Dorena Landing, Mo., at 7 a.m. Thursday and arrived at The Rock atop Sand Mountain in Georgia at around 1:30 a.m. Monday.
Included in the 89 hours and 50 minutes he was on the road was about 6 ½ hours of sleep taken in small increments.
“Sleeping is the biggest challenge,” he said. “Running 24 hours, I didn’t sleep.
“I was just going until I felt completely exhausted and I would stop and sleep for 30 minutes to an hour. I had my crew [students Amelia Smith, Ryan Woodall, Caleb Heronimus and Rachel Heronimus; wife Shelley and/or other friends who would drive ahead] wake me up. I found if I slept more than 30-40 minutes, my muscles got really sluggish.”
Another issue was the weather. He didn’t get to run in the low-80s, low-humidity weather the region has enjoyed the last couple of days. He said it was 89 degrees the first day, followed by days of 92 and 95 degrees before overcast skies and rain cooled the course Sunday.
“I didn’t hit the weather just right,” said Armstrong, whose first 100-mile race was in 2008. “The first three days were pretty brutal.”
Armstrong’s crew was ready to attend to his needs, including water. Ironically, it’s those who don’t have constant access to H2O who were on his mind when he was pounding the pavement. When Armstrong isn’t running, teaching or even preaching, he works on his non-profit Run 4 Water which raises money and awareness to help solve water crises in third-world countries. He returned from a trip to Nicaragua early last week [presumably he flew].
“That’s what I wanted to get across, not to take any kind of accolades, but to run for something bigger than yourself,” said Armstrong, who does own a car. “That was my motivation running in the early hours of the morning. [The trip to Nicaragua] was kind of fresh on my mind.”
He said this type of race is more mentally challenging than physical.
“This is something self-revealing about taxing the mind and body to such a weakened state,” Armstrong said. “Much of my time is spent in prayer and spiritual reflection.
“My cause is running for those without access to water.”