Tim Ensign is beginning to think that the Wauhatchie Trail Run belongs to him.
The 51-year-old IBM communications executive may be right after winning this unique event for the ninth time Saturday morning.
Ensign was an outstanding runner at City High School and then UTC. Now more than 30 years later, he’s still running as strong as ever.
Saturday’s race is unique in that it’s handicapped by age and gender.
It's 6.7-miles of running in the woods on the side of Lookout Mountain and there are some segments that are tough uphills. It's not an event for the faint-hearted or the fair-weather runners who only like a flat 5K.
Ensign was given a headstart of five and a half minutes, which was more than enough to beat most of the 124 dedicated individuals who entered this 29th annual affair.
Ensign was the first to finish as he crossed the line in 36 minutes, 30 seconds to beat one of his best friends and toughest competitors – Dean Thompson – by 38 seconds. Thompson is only 48, so the Cohutta resident only had a four-minute advantage over the rest of the field.
Belinda Bernard, a registered nurse who works at Memorial North Park Hospital, will celebrate her 48th birthday on Christmas. She was third overall in 38:08 after getting a bonus of 11:45 at the start.
Jessica Marlier, who has won virtually every race she’s entered this fall with personal records in most, was the second female and fourth overall in 38:22, despite taking a hard fall midway into the race.
Thomas Barker was fifth overall in 38:40.
It was overcast and much warmer than normal for this race. While heavy rain was predicted, only a slight mist fell as runners approaced the finish line at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center.
Ensign and Thompson are part of the Front Runner team who competed in the Masters National Championship cross country race last weekend in Bend, Oregon. The local team finished 12th out of 23 teams with Ensign finishing a tough 10K in 39:01 and Thompson in 37:41.
“I was a little nervous as there were a lot of good runners here today, but I just wanted to catch Sergio and to hold Dean off,” Ensign said after the race ended.
Sergio Bianchini is the 72-year-old stud who finished second to Ensign here last year. He’s been sick in recent weeks, but still managed to finish eighth overall in 39:27 after getting a whopping 16 minutes at the start.
“I think I caught Sergio around the five-mile mark, but I ran pretty well for an old man. It was hot out there and I was hurting. I know you’re not supposed to look back, but I was looking back every chance I got. It was a fun race and I started celebrating when I came past the pond, but I just want everyone to know that I’m not dead yet,” he nodded.
Bernard used to run in a lot of road races, but she just runs for personal enjoyment and a great form of exercise these days. Her 17-year-old daughter Megan was the one who signed them up for this race.
“The weather was perfect and this is simply a beautiful place to run. I was hurting, but I was glad when I got that hill out of the way. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I just wanted to run hard and see what happened,” she nodded.
Bernard was one of several runners who suffered scrapes and scratches, but she didn’t fall.
“I think I got a little too close to the edge of the trail,” she explained the scratches on her legs she got from some obnoxious briars.
Marlier was running this race for the first time and she was one of those who fell right past the water stop about the middle of the course.
“I was in my own little world when a rock just jumped up and tripped me. I did a nice roll, but landed on my back and got the breath knocked out of me. I must have lost about 15 or 20 seconds when that happened,” she explained, pointing toward a skinned knee and scrapes on her arms and shoulder.
“I knew it would be hilly and challenging, so I tried to get a fast start. I tried to use the downhills to my advantage and I tried to catch her, but she had too much head start,” she referred to Bernard.
Ensign and Thompson take turns beating each other as both are outstanding runners. As Thompson always says, “I use Tim as my ego deflator,” but that 90-second advantge at the start was too much for Thompson to overcome.
“It hurt, but it sure was fun,” Thompson said after finishing this course for the first time.
“I never could get Tim in my sights, but that hill was tough. He had a head start, but I’m not sure I ever closed the gap. And I took a wrong turn along the way, which didn’t help, but my legs are still sore from last weekend. That may have been the toughest 10K I’ve ever run,” Thompson nodded.
While Ensign claimed the Golden Antler trophy as the overall winner, Joseph and Daniel Goetz won the family award for the seventh time as the two brothers had times of 40:33 and 41:14 to finish 11th and 13th, respectively.
Shannon Wood is a 40-year-old accountant from Hopkinsville, Ky. He was present for the 25th time and finished 19th overall in 42:45.
“I ran slower than normal today, but it was ideal weather for a race like this. This is such a great event with all the woods and wonderful scenery. It’s an event I try to run every year,” he nodded before heading off with his mother and two daughters to do some sight-seeing before making the three-hour trip back home.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)