Piqua native Ryan King completes 327-mile Last Annual Heart of the South race.

PIQUA — There are challenges and then there are challenges.

And if you take on the challenge of a Gary Cantrell — AKA Lazarus Lake — race, you know you are in for the challenge of a lifetime.

Which is exactly what Piqua cross country coach and owner of Can’t Stop Running Ryan King was looking for — and got.

King recently took on the challenge of the Last Annual Heart of the South Road Race.

“I know whenever he (Lazarus Lake) is the race manager, it is going to be a unique race,” King said. “He always puts on a great race. I knew there were going to be some great views of the South as went on the race and there was. There were a lot of beautiful sites along the race.”

Eighty-two competitors arrived at the finish line the day before the race.

Then, they were bussed down Sand Mountain (on the Georgia State line) and back to the starting line in Frankfurt, Ky. to spend the night in a hotel before starting the race.

“We don’t know where we are starting at before the race,” King said. “The night before we are given maps.”

That was the beginning of an eight-day plus journey for King, who had to carry all his supplies on his back pack.

King rarely stopped more than four or five hours at any point during the journey — and rarely did he find a stopping point at a motel.

“That is what you try to do,” King said. “But, sometimes that is hard to do when you are following the course. When I did stop at motel, I might be there from maybe midnight to 5 a.m.. You got some food there, if you could find any place open and took a short nap. I liked to get back going for a couple hours before sunlight.”

Understandable when the temperatures soared over 100 degrees during the day and in the mountain where they finished, temperatures would drop as low as 40 degrees.

While King went down as an individual, he ended up bonding with several other competitors.

“I didn’t plan it that way,” he said. “There was a woman from Michigan and then we met a guy from Texas and his friend from Missouri. We pretty much worked together after that.”

King hit his low point on the fourth day.

“To be honest, it was so bad I contemplated not going on,” he said. “But, I decided I would wait for another high to come. That was on the fifth day. That was the best day for me.”

Along the way, King had several interesting experiences while sleeping near the road.

“One person called the Sheriffs department about a person laying along the road,” King said. “And they came out to check it out. There was a couple who stopped to see if I needed anything. There were definitely a few adventures like that.”

But, King found an inner strength after getting through Day 4.

“I knew by the sixth day, maybe even the fifth day that I was going to finish the race,” he said. “That short of a major injury, I would be able to finish. I knew I had 10 days to do it.”

He crossed the finish line in eight days, 10 hours, 40 minutes and seven seconds.

“The last day or two we were climbing up the mountain,” King said. “So, it took more time. The roads were narrow going up the mountain and we had to avoid the cars driving on the road. I was spent when I crossed the finish line.”

But, he had a surprise waiting for him.

“My wife and youngest daughter had driven up to meet me there,” King said. “That was a nice surprise and it was emotional. You are so tired, you don’t want to do a whole lot once you have finished the race. My feet were really sore. They are still a little swollen.”

But, that won’t keep King down for long.

“I started running again on Tuesday,” King said. “That was the first time I had run since I finished the race. It will probably be two weeks before I am 100 percent.”

And exactly what drove him to do it?

“I would have to say I like the challenge of it,” King said.

Which you will get anytime you take on a Lazarus Lake course.