(WBIR - KNOXVILLE) - Ally Gregory has a long road ahead.
Early Thursday, the Knoxville runner started with a ferry ride from southeast Missouri to West Tennessee for a 314-mile journey that will take her across Tennessee and down to a place in northwest Georgia called Sand Mountain.
She has no more than 10 days to do it. Everyone must be done by July 19.
The run is called the Last Vol State 500K, a grueling megamarathon in the middle of July in which there's no guarantee that everyone will finish. This year 100 runners registered for the trek and about 80 started it.
"It starts in West Tennessee and it's 314 miles. It's just you carrying your stuff, just trying to get to the end in Georgia. And it's hot," Gregory told 10News.
She's taking on the ordeal to help Serenity Shelter, a ministry of Knox Area Rescue Ministries. The residential program helps women seeking recovery from domestic violence, addiction, perhaps homelessness.
As of Thursday, Gregory had raised more than $3,500. Her goal is $5,000.
Contributions are still welcome. Here's where you can give.
"Serenity Ministry really stuck out as something I could support," Gregory said.
She has her admirers at the shelter.
"I commend her for such stamina and strength," said Melodie, who has benefited from the shelter.
For many women it's become a place of saving grace.
"It's a life-saving place and it's changed my life and many others' lives," said Melodie.
Helping Serenity Shelter struck a chord with Gregory.
It started out as a domestic abuse shelter, taking in women and children trapped in bad situations.
There's no cost for those who seek help. You can learn more about it here
Gregory's fundraising will help.
"I think more people die of addiction than of car accidents and natural illnesses. It's a real epidemic in this area. I love this area. And, I want to see it get better," she said.
For Melodie, Serenity Shelter was the start of turning around her life.
"I had been abused and I had to get away from that abuse. I spent about a week in ICU on a ventilator. That's when I knew I had to get out and start my life over," she said.
She's been sober 16 months now.
"I feel like it saved my life. I mean I know it saved my life."
'IT'S JUST YOU'
Imagine spending day after day concentrating on just staying in motion, putting one foot in front of the other, over and over, on hot, empty roadways, in humid mornings, on scorching afternoons, across the flat expanses of West Tennessee and the rolling hills of Middle and East Tennessee.
That's what the Last Vol State 500K will be like for Gregory and others. Towns along the route include Union City, Lexington, Columbia, Manchester and Monteagle.
You report in your own progress each day, according to Steve Durbin, who puts on the notorious Barkley Fall Classic 50K race at Frozen Head State Park with Vol State director Gary Cantrell, aka Lazarus Lake.
Durbin, who lives in Knoxville now and formerly lived in Paducah, Ky., ran it once and even had a 30-mile lead. But then his employer called him to work and he had to stop. He still fumes about that. He and his wife also have done the Vol State Relay.
The record finish for the Last Vol State 500K is three days and eight hours. Think about that: More than 100 miles a day.
The race started about 10 years ago with a handful of runners, Durbin said. Interest has grown. By last year participation had grown to 60-some people. Many people today are repeat participants.
"There's no aid stations. There's no support. It's just you," Gregory said. "It's just your physical ability and you have to get yourself there."
It's a lonely course. You're on your own. Locals have become accustomed to the race. Some now look out for runners, leaving encouraging roadside signs or water at spots where they know runners will pass, Durbin said.
Here's a link to follow Gregory's progress.
Runner updates will be filed every 12 hours or so.
Her goal is to finish in six to seven days. In order to finish in seven, she'll need to average 44 miles a day.
"We'll have to wait and see. I may need the full 10," she said.
"You just have to keep going. It's going to hurt. I accept that. I just have to keep going past that."