Patrick Hall had only run the Missionary Ridge Road Race one time in the past and it was a bittersweet experience despite him being the overall winner.
Hall became the 14th two-time winner of this challenging out-and-back 4.7-mile race on Saturday, taking advantage of an unusually cool morning to take first place with a time of 25 minutes and 36 seconds.
Alan Outlaw was a distant runner-up in 26:16 while Dean Thompson outlasted his buddy Tim Ensign for third place overall and first place among the male masters with a time of 26:49.
Ensign, who won this race in 1999, was fourth in 27:04. Cullom Boyd finished six seconds later to round out the top five.
Kiersten Vradenburgh, a blonde-headed 21-year-old speedster, was the female winner as she finished 25th overall in 32 minutes, 34 seconds.
Dianna Leun made her first attempt on the ridge a successful one as she was the female runner-up, taking 27th overall in 32:51 as she earned the female masters award.
Cleveland’s Mark Lorello and Chattanooga’s Rhonda Gage earned overall awards for grand masters with times of 28:53 and 38:46, respectively.
Hall posted a time of 25:16 in 2007 when he ran it the first time, but he had an unforgettable experience that day as he was waiting for his sister to finish when he saw 19-year-old John Bruner collapse within a quarter-mile of the finish line.
It was a heartbreaking experience for everyone as Bruner never regained consciousness and died later that morning from an unusual heart defect. Since that time, part of the race proceeds have been given to Team Bruner, which awards a scholarship each year in his memory.
John’s father Greg was present on Saturday and had a pre-race prayer before covering the course in 36:40, which was 64th in the field that numbered just over 200 runners.
“It’s always bittersweet to run up here after that experience,” Hall said while cooling off after his winning performance ended.
“I wanted to go under 25, but I also wanted to run steady, win the race and not blow up on the way back. Despite a cool day, it’s still August and a hilly course.
“I got under 26, so that’s not too bad. Andy (Highlander) went with me for the first mile while Alan started off conservative. I like this race as there are a lot of wonderful people cheering along the way, but it’s hard to run solo,” he added, noting that he’s currently working for TVA and will finish his MBA at UTC in December.
Outlaw won the initial 7 Bridges Marathon last fall in downtown Chattanooga and he’s currently training for Chicago in October. He was quick to admit that he ran one of the smartest races he’s run in several years.
“I planned to go out relaxed and not worry about those guys around me. I just wanted to get in a good solid run and that’s what I did. It would have been nice to stay with Patrick, but he was off by himself from the start.
“The weather was great and I had a fun time out here. I’ve been doing a lot of marathon training with no speed work, but I’m really pleased to finish second. Not bad for a wannabe,” he said with a laugh.
Vradenburgh had a time of 34:37 a year ago, so she had specific goals in mind when she went to the starting line on Saturday.
“My intent was to beat last year’s time, which I did by more than two minutes,” the sales associate at Fast Break said with a smile shortly after finishing the unique distance.
“I’m so happy. Dianna and I were together almost the entire way and I tried to pull away a few times, but she went with me every time. I surged again on one of the hills on the way back and got a lead, but she pushed me the whole way.
“I turned back to look a couple of times, but my father was running with me and I had him looking for me. This is one of my favorite races as the hills aren’t too steep,” she said, admitting that she’s training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in November while competing for Runner of the Year honors in the Chattanooga Track Club.
Leun is a 40-year-old registered nurse at Erlanger who keeps getting faster and faster.
“It wasn’t what I wanted as I was hoping to win,” the mother of four explained.
“This was my first time to run this race, but I had been warned that it was a tough course. I guess I need to start doing some speedwork, but heck, I’m almost twice her age and I have four kids. Maybe that’s why I’m slower than Kiersten,” Leun joked.
“I’m going to keep trying,” she concluded.
Thompson and Ensign are good friends and competitive runners as well. Ensign prevailed by four seconds at the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta on Independence Day, so Thompson evened the score a few weeks later.
“I tried to hang onto Alan while hoping that Tim didn’t catch me,” the 46-year-old Shaw Industry manager said of this third-place finish.
“Tim beat me at Peachtree, so it was to get him back. I’m getting stronger and I think I’m headed in the right direction, but I just couldn’t keep up on those last few hills,” Thompson said.
Ensign ran this race for the first time way back in 1977 and has run it countless times since, so he appeared to be happy with his time on Saturday.
“We just take turns deflating each other’s egos,” he suggested.
Barbara Ensign, Tim’s wife who will celebrate her 44th birthday on Aug. 16th, had her personal best time of 37:42 and was smiling from ear to ear afterward.
“I used to train up here with Pat Hagan and I’m training for another marathon. I’m closing the gap and I’ll catch him one day,” she laughed as she pointed toward her husband.
Jeff Parker was another first-timer on this course. He does a lot of his training on Signal Mountain, so he wasn’t as overwhelmed by this course as some of the others who were doing it for the first time.
“I broke 40 minutes and that was my main goal,” the 48-year-old Minister of Music at First Baptist said with a smile on his face.
“I even had a little kick left at the end. I ran up here a few times when my family first moved to Chattanooga five years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the terrain. I thought it would be hillier, but it was really nice and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he nodded.
Ryan Shrum finished eighth overall in 28:46, which was good enough for first place in his age group.
“That was a course record for me by four seconds. To be getting older and to still be able to run a little faster makes me happy,” he said later.
Chris Berry and Lanni Marchant had both won this race the past two years, but neither were present for an attempted three-peat.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)