Ruthie Townsend has been running in the shadows for a long, long time, but she finally decided to run in the spotlight Tuesday afternoon.
The Baylor senior, who has shown signs of brilliance her entire high school career but had never realized just how good she could be, put all of that stuff in the past behind her as she won her first cross country race ever in the Chattanooga Cross Country League's third meet of the year.
Townsend has run lots and lots of training miles on Baylor's course and she's raced on it a bunch of times, so she must have felt right at home as she covered the double-looped, 3.
1-mile race in 20 minutes, 14 seconds to defeat teammate Haley Chandler by two seconds.
Dalton's Bekah Houston, who was the leader for the first half of the race, finished third in 20:22 while Baylor's Grace Carlson and Home-School's Karla Vradenburgh completed the top five with times of 20:23 and 20:27, respectively.
With Baylor's Caitlin Duggan finishing ninth in 21:06 and teammate Sydney Gautier 11th in 21:20, the Lady Red Raiders easily won the team competition with 27 points.
Heritage was second with 58 points behind Sarah Buckler's eighth-place time of 20:57 while Madalyn Garland finished 10 seconds ahead in seventh as Rhea County claimed third with 116 points.
While Townsend was experiencing victory for the first time, her boyfriend Simon Holden of Baylor continued his dominance with a winning time of 16 minutes, 26 seconds in the second varsity race of the day.
East Hamilton's Nick McCormick, who finished second on Saturday at Chickamauga Dam in the Chattanooga Cross Country Festival, was second again on Tuesday as he crossed the line in 16:38.
Walker Valley's Patrick Shultz was third in 16:51 while Collegedale Academy's Seth Ruhling and Baylor's Alex Sumida were fourth and fifth with times of 16:59 and 17:17, respectively.
With Baylor's Dillon Clemmer finishing seventh, the Red Raiders captured first among the 29 boys teams with 44 points.
Francisco Perez was ninth to lead Dalton to the runner-up spot with 82 points while identical twins Parker Cook and Brody Cook finished in 10th and 11th -- a step apart and three-tenths of a second -- as Northwest Whitfield was third with 146.
Townsend ran in the shadows of her older brother Oliver for many years and also in the footsteps of her father Van, who was an outstanding runner in his own right several years back.
"I'm really pleased," Ruthie said after finally slowing down long enough to talk after her race had ended.
"After five years, I've finally learned how to race. I used to let negative thoughts dominate my thinking in a race, but I just stayed positive the whole way today. There's no way I could have done this without my teammates, but when we came out of the woods the last time, I knew I couldn't give up.
"It feels so good," she concluded with a smile before taking off to watch Holden run his race.
Chandler and Townsend followed coach Heather Ott's advice and ran a conservative first mile. Chandler wasn't sure how to react once the race started to unfold.
"It was kind of wierd to be behind so many people at the first mile, but we started picking up the pace in the second and third miles," Chandler explained.
"I never let her get too far away. I'm semi-pleased with my race today, although I think I ran faster at the jamboree. I was first for us last week at the Tennessee Classic, so I guess I'm motivated to work a little harder after finishing second today.
"We've had this rivalry for so long as we seem to bring out the best in each other," Chandler added.
Baylor's Ott was beaming from ear to ear when the girls' race had ended.
"How about those Baylor girls?" she said to anyone within earshot.
"All seven girls did a great job, but our spread for our top five was just 1:06. That's what cross country is all about. Each one of these girls wants to beat the other, but I heard Ruthie tell a teammate that she finally stopped giving up.
"Being a Townsend really bouyed her today as that took her to another level. I've been telling her for a long time that she has all the talent and potential to be an outstanding runner. All she needs to do is believe in herself and today, she finally started to," Ott added.
Holden admitted after his race that he and Townsend have been dating "for about nine months" and that they run together occasionally in the winter between seasons. He had nothing but a smile on his face when asked if he felt any extra pressure to win after Townsend had just prevailed.
"There may have been a little pressure. Ruthie told me that she wanted to see 'Townsend, Holden' together in the headlines tomorrow," he began.
"I always want to win. It was a hard race today, but the weather was perfect. I'm happy with the results. I was hoping to break 16 minutes as I tried to run 5:10 miles across the board, but I came up a little bit short.
"Nick is a really good runner and a very good competitor. I knew that he had a tough race on Saturday and I know how hard it is to do two races like this in four days," Holden nodded.
McCormick echoed almost the same thoughts that Holden had offered just minutes before.
"I could definitely feel it as my legs were heavy today," he said.
"I'm happy with my time. I was hoping to run an even pace and I pretty much did. I really didn't know what I'd be able to do. At this point, I'm not sure I would have done anything different if I had it to do over again. As always, it was some good competition," McCormick said in a soft tone.
THERE WERE 332 total runners in the two varsity races, including 201 boys and 131 girls. There were 29 teams scoring among the guys and 18 among the girls.
NEXT WEEK'S competition will be in Dayton at Fort Bluff Camp, which will be the site for the Region 3-AAA races in a month on Oct. 25.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)