People across Alabama may have noticed something a bit out of the ordinary over the past week or so.

Runners and walkers passing through towns that don’t frequently see pedestrians, especially in the beginning of the summer heat.

The folks they’ve been seeing are participants in one of the more unique challenges in the sport of ultramarathon running.

This year’s 54 participants in The Last Annual Heart of the South Road Race prepared for months for a challenge that was kept mostly a secret until the day before the event.

They were only told they would be racing a distance of between 300-400 miles across the Southeastern United States, finishing their traverse at Castle Rock, Georgia.

It wasn’t until the bus dropped them off near Destin, Florida that they received the map of the route they were to follow 381 miles just short of the Tennessee line.

In the 5 years the event has been held it has started in West Memphis, AR, Gaffney, SC, Frankfort, KY, Fig, NC, and now Destin, FL.
The finish is always at Castle Rock, GA.

The race was created by Lazarus Lake, best known for devising the Barkley Marathons. The HOTS (Heart of the South) is modeled after his world renowned Last Annual Volunteer State Road Race, which has been held on various courses across Tennessee since 1981.

Participants are self sufficient, taking care of all their own needs and logistics, maintaining a continuous string of footprints along the route. They are not allowed to pre-arrange support…although people who live on the route frequently take it upon themselves to be Road Angels, setting out coolers with cold water or treats for the runners and walkers as they pass.

On the morning of Thursday, June 13 each runner filled a small vial with sea water from the Gulf of Mexico, and began their journey, crossing the Florida panhandle, and then 12 Alabama counties, followed by a mile in a Georgia bean field to a bluff above the Tennessee River. They had 10 and a half days to reach the Rock, and they had to maintain an average pace of 37 miles per day, or risk being pulled from the race.

Towns along this course have included Niceville, Florala, Kinston, Elba, Brantley, Luverne, Highland Home, Montgomery, Wetumpka, Rockford, Sylacauga, Talladega, Lincoln, Rainbow City, Gadsden, Collinsville, Fort Payne, Valley Head, Flat Rock, and Bryant.
Runners have been met by friendly Alabamians all along their arduous journey.

This year’s winner, Addison Hendricks, from Pensacola, Florida finished in 6 days, 6 hours, 25 minutes and 29 seconds.

The winner is crowned the Queen of the South after the inaugural winner in 2020, Beverly Anderson-Abbs chose that for the champion’s title.

It appears that this year’s finishing rate will only be 33%, as only 17 of the 54 remain on the road after Hendricks’ finish this afternoon.

Heat indexes in the 100’s, blisters, chafing, and large distances between resupply options have been the biggest challenges for this year’s competitors.
As of this report, they are still spread out back to Sylacauga, AL, with the back of the pack having about 150 miles to go. Spectators are discouraged from driving out to see the runners, as the additional traffic brings additional hazard to the runners and other motorists.

The race can be followed on Facebook in the Last Annual Heart of the South group.

Categories: HOTS 2024