The college coach just couldn’t quite catch his best runner on Thursday morning at the Sports Barn East for the 22nd running of the Turkey Trot 8K.
Mike Walker, a 23-year-old psychology major at Lee University who graduated from Red Bank in 2008, outkicked his coach Caleb Morgan to win the largest race in the Chattanooga area this year on one of its coldest mornings.
Walker and Morgan were joined by Paul Patterson and Patrick Schultz in the early miles, but when the going got tough and the situation got serious, those first four broke apart as they each tried their best to win a race that attracted some 1,022 finishers in an event that benefits the Chattanooga Kidney Foundation.
Walker crossed the finish line on the street next to the Sports Barn in 26 minutes flat for an average of 5:14 per mile on a course that was flat at times, but deceptively hilly at others.
Morgan was the runner-up in 26:23 to beat Patterson by a second and Schultz by five. Joseph Goetz was the fifth finisher in 26:43.
Jessica Marlier, that 28-year-old speedster who’s been setting the bar mighty high for women in this area, was again the female overall winner as she finished 23rd in 29 minutes, 14 seconds.
Keeley Stewart was the second lady as she finished 25th overall in 29:46 while Sarah Woerner was 27th in 30:39 to take third.
Rachel Mason and Caya Bryan were fourth and fifth among the women with times of 33:15 and 33:30, respectively.
Walker had a big smile on his face as he crossed the finish line with nobody in sight. He felt like he might have a chance to win, but nobody knows how a race will unfold until the starting horn is fired.
“It was really cold out there and nobody wanted to take the lead. We ran a really slow first mile (5:15) as everybody was sitting back waiting on somebody to make a move.
“I’m glad I won as I came here this morning thinking I might have a chance. I knew it was a possibility, but I just wanted to run fast and see what happened,” Walker said as the other runners crossed the finish line.
Morgan is a 26-year-old Lee coach who ran at Walker Valley High School. This was his first race since he graduated from Lee, but he proved that he still has what it takes to run fast and compete with the best.
“I’m planning to run a series of races in the coming months, but this is my first race since I was in college. This was a start and it went pretty well. We tried to work together for the first few miles, but we were all slow through the first mile as we tried to warm up a bit. But I don’t like getting beat by one of my runners,” Morgan concluded with a smile.
Patterson has had great success in races past, but he may have made his move a little too early on Thursday.
“It was me and the lead guys for a while, but things started getting serious about the fourth mile. We were talking the whole way, but Mike took off in the third mile. I was in second until we got to that sharp turn off of Lee Highway, but Caleb beat me at the end,” Patterson admitted.
Schultz was another runner from the Cleveland area who attended Polk County High School for three years before transferring to Walker Valley. He too is a freshman at Lee majoring in biology. He rolled the dice and lost on Thursday’s race.
“I just wanted to see if I could beat my coach. I tried to put a gap on him early, but he caught me in the final quarter mile. I guess I started my kick too soon, but he’s just a little bit faster at the shorter distances,” Schultz joked.
Marlier hasn’t had a hard run since she posted a 2:52:59 in winning the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon back on Nov. 9, but she’s a speedster as she set another personal record for this distance.
“I got another PR today, but I really didn’t have any expectations. I haven’t run hard since the marathon, but I just came out here to have some fun with no pressure on myself. I’m really happy that I won, but I think I may eat and sleep the rest of the day and I may take my dog for a walk,” she smiled.
This race began back in 1991 when the course went the opposite way on Lee Highway toward Shallowford Road and I-75. It’s grown a whole bunch since that first year as it’s become an annual affair for many runners as they choose to get a good workout before eating too much later in the day.
Such is the case with Steve Garland, a 43-year-old fellow who’s the head baseball coach at East Hamilton High School and the defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes, who got eliminated by Cleveland last weekend. Garland says that he wants to run a marathon one day, but for right now, he’s content with doing this race every year in late November.
“I run this race every year with my buddy Joe Wingate. I haven’t been doing too much running, so I was just glad to finish. Running really isn’t my sport, but I just wish we were having football practice today,” he said.
Chuck Allen is a 67-year-old fellow who coached cross country and track for many years in Whitfield County. Allen has been a great runner in the past and he’s also an accomplished race walker. Now if you think that running fast is tough, race walking is even tougher.
Allen was the winner of the 5K walk in 35:51, which calculates to about an 11:33 pace for 3.1 miles.
“That was a long three-miles today as it felt like 10. I thought that I was properly warmed up, but I wasn’t,” he added.
Sam Dech of Oklahoma City and Chattanooga’s Anneli Morrison were the defending champions . Morrison was present, but did not race.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)