This year, he’s spending the better part of a full week, give or take a few days, running across Tennessee for the 2017 Last Annual Vol State Road Race, a 314-mile ultramarathon that tests participants’ endurance and will.
The Johnson City native, who was around the 243-mile mark Tuesday afternoon, is taking his second shot at the event, according to his wife, Tammy Gray. The first time around, Tammy served as her husband’s only crew member.
This time, he’s doing the race without a crew.
“As a crew person, I was the one taking care of all of his needs,” Gray said. “I got him his food, I got his water. He could sit down in a chair. I got the motel rooms.”
But Rick wanted to see how far he could push himself, so this year his wife stayed home.
But that doesn’t mean she isn’t doing her crew duties from there.
“He’s challenging himself more,” Tammy said about her husband. She was concerned about the decision, “because I traditionally crew him on any race that’s 50 miles or more. Now he’s carrying whatever he might need.”
Rick has a backpack that weighs about 11 pounds, containing some water, a change of clothing and some first aid supplies. Everything else — food and sometimes lodging — is found along the way as runners make their way across the state through small towns.
The trek started last Thursday at 7:30 a.m. in Hickman, Kentucky; the finish line is 314 miles away in Castle Rock, Georgia.
It’s uphill and downhill with motels far and few between.
Tammy Gray said her husband has been able to get motel rooms along the way each night so far, and averages four to five hours of sleep. Severe weather early in the race slowed his progress some, so he’s pushing now to catch back up on his time, she said.
She’s able to send him information about locations ahead where he can seek refuge from the heat, get a bite to eat or just rest for a bit.
In 2015, with Tammy as his crew person, Rick finished the race in 6 days 11 hours and 15 minutes. Without a crew, and with the storm delay, they expect his time will be longer this year.
“He doesn’t have any blisters, but he hurts all over,” Tammy said.
The pack is followed by a race van, which has a cut-off pace to meet the 31-mile per day requirement. If the van, nicknamed Oprah, overtakes a runner, the person is disqualified. As of mid-Tuesday, Oprah was at mile 126, so Gray was well ahead, in the 240-mile range.
To track Gray or other runners, visit the group’s Facebook page, Last Annual Vol State Road Race.
The winner this year was Francesca Muccini, who finished the race in four days, four hours, 18 minutes, five seconds. The first man to finish the race was Kevin Gerteisen, whose time was four days, 11 hours, 17 minutes, 56 seconds. A third person, Matt Collins, also finished the race in four days.