The humidity was high but the temperature abnormally low as the oldest race in Chattanooga took place in Riverview Saturday morning.
A super-fast group of UTC cross country and track runners dominated the men’s race while a former UTC standout in both sports did the same among the females.
Paul Stuart, John Gilpin and Lucas Cotter are all UTC runners who live in North Chattanooga and who train on this very course more than anywhere else. Their goal was to run together with the idea of getting a good workout and they did just that with Stuart finishing in first place for the up-and-down five-mile course in 25 minutes, 45 seconds.
Gilpin, who won the Chickamauga Chase 15K title a month ago, finished with the same time as Stuart, although he was a step behind his teammate and was second. Cotter was another step back in 25:47.
Madison Yates was 10 seconds back for forth place while Geno Phillips had his best 8K time ever by more than a minute, but finished fifth overall in 26:07 as the male masters champion.
Lanni Marchant, a former standout for the Lady Mocs who celebrated her 29th birthday on April 11, was the women’s winner in 27:16, which was 11th in the field that totaled 253 runners in the longer race.
Jessica Marlier was the second female as she finished 26th overall in 30:56 while Dianna Leun was third in 33:57. Kiersten Vrandenburgh beat her younger sister Karla for fourth place with a time of 34:03 while Karla was fifth in 37:56.
Patrick Hall was the winner of the one-mile run with a time of 4:53 after finishing sixth in the longer race. He beat runner-up Ross Tilghman by 10 seconds while Josh Garrett was third in 5:04.
Marchant was fourth overall as she topped all the women with a 5:13.
Saturday’s race was the 47th running of the Chattanooga Chase. The route has been modified on several occasions in recent years, but everyone knows about the infamous Minnekahda hill, which is the final half-mile climb right before runners reach the apex of the Riverview hills just before the three-mile mark.
Minnekahda gets the most publicity, but most folks don’t realize that the hills leading to it are significantly longer and more difficult, including Woodhill Circle, which is the steepest uphill and downhill segment of the entire race.
This event is one of the most challenging on the Chattanooga Track Club schedule, but it’s also the most scenic as most flowers are in full bloom, all of those huge hardwood trees are full of leaves and the view of the Tennessee River from the top is almost worth stopping to enjoy.
Some folks may have stopped or at least slowed down when they reached the top, but those up front did not. If anything, they shift into another gear as they raced back to the finish at Riverview Park.
Stuart is a 19-year-old rising sophomore from Brentwood who is an accounting major at UTC. He was the best of the best on Saturday.
“It’s a tough course as there are a lot of ups and downs. Lucas and I took the lead just past the two mile mark, but I was glad when it finally ended,” he said shortly after his winning performance ended.
Gilpin is a 21-year-old UTC runner who’s major is Exercise Science. He all but got left behind midway through the race, but he came on strong at the end to record a personal best by some five seconds.
“We were planning to run together this morning, but they took off and flew up Minnekahda,” Gilpin said with a smile.
“They kept looking back, motioning for me to catch up and I finally caught them with about a mile to go. It was a bear,” Gilpin added.
Cotter is from Memphis, also 21 and a May accounting graduate who is now working toward his MBA. He’s done a lot of quality running in Chattanoga, but Saturday was his first experience in a road race.
“It was tough as I underestimated the hills. We all had a great run as we tried to help each other, but I guess you could call this a home course advantage as we all run here at least five days a week,” he said.
Marchant is currently training diligently for the World Marathon Championships in August when she’ll represent Canada and she has an important 10K race in Ontario next weekend, so she wasn’t quite as fast as she might have been under other conditions.
“I just used it as a workout as I’m trying to build for the world championships in August. These next few weeks will be some pretty heavy mileage and I have a big race next weekend,” the petite attorney who works with Bill Speek and Gerald Webb explained.
“I’ve never raced on this course before and it was challenging. I would have loved to mix it up more with those guys up front, but I had to leave my ego at the starting line, knowing what’s just around the corner,” Marchant continued.
Marlier is a 2010 graduate of Southern College of Seventh-Day Adventists who is now a physical education teacher at Loftis Middle School. She does some training with Marchant and recently posted a 3:03:23 at the Boston Marathon. She too had a personal best on a very difficult course.
“It was okay,” she answered when asked about the race.
“I have trained on this course in the past and I was prepared for the hills. I got a course PR, so I’m happy,” she said, noting that her previous best was somewhere in the 32-minute range.
Leun is a 41-year-old registered nurse who finished in 35:08 last year in her first Chattanooga Chase. She beat that time by some 71 seconds as she finished third. She had three goals for the day and she easily accomplished all three.
“I wanted to be in the top five, win the masters division and finish without hurting myself. I’m sure I’ll be hurting tomorrow, but this is back-to-back tough races,” she said, referring to last Saturday’s King of the Mountain four-miler atop Lookout Mountain.
“I ran this race last year, so I knew what to expect. I kept thinking about how bad I was hurting, but then I realized we were all in the same boat. I just try to get a little bit faster every time I run,” she concluded.
Hall somewhat redeemed himself in the one-mile after finishing sixth in the 8K.
“That made up for my getting crushed in the 8K,” he said with sweat dripping off his brow.
“It seems like I ran the same time today as I did three years ago when I won the longer race. I’ve never raced a road mile, but today I just chased the guy on the bike and hoped nobody would catch me,” Hall explained.
Phillips is probably in the best shape of his life. He finished second to Gilpin at Chickamauga and he was fifth on Saturday, but he wasn’t the least bit disappointed in his place.
“I got a PR by more than a minute, but that’s what happens when you try to chase those young guys. This was one of the strongest fields for this race in a long time,” the 41-year-old Brown Middle School geography teacher revealed.
Defending champion Andy Highlander finished 16th on Saturday with a time of 28:42 after winning with a 26:50 a year ago. His work schedule has changed and so has his running, but he vowed to have a better showing next time.
“I’ve got to start running more as it was a terrible race for me today. I think my time at the first mile was about 5:30 and I tried to keep that pace, but I got slower and slower as we climbed the hills.
“I’ve got a real job as a civil engineer working for MAP Engineering, but I never know when I’m going to get off. I was doing about 70 miles a week this time last year, but now I’m getting about 30 now. Training matters,” he said.
While there were a lot of newcomers who experienced this race for the first time, there were also several veterans who had the courage to toe the starting line.
Two of those were Janet Felton and Dan Bowles and both won their age groups with times of 46:18 and 44:27, respectively. Felton was the overall women’s winner in this race some 30 years ago with a time in the mid-32 minute range.
“I did what I wanted to do and that was to break 50 minutes today. I’m 55 now, so I’m in a new age group,” she laughed.
Bowles is now 67 and still an active runner, even though it’s been a few years since his last Chase.
“It’s been 33 years since I last ran this race. I’ve been running the whole time, but this is the first time in a long time. I don’t know if I’m happy with my time or not,” he joked.
Aaron Mercer probably did something nobody else in the field had the courage – or insanity – to do on this particular day.
Mercer will celebrate his 45th birthday on Monday, so he had the bright idea that he wanted to run 45 miles in celebration. He was well on his way after posting a time of 43:43, which was 98th overall.
“I left home at midnight and started running. I got rained on a couple of times, but I got 30 miles in before now. I don’t feel so great, but I think I can make it,” the veteran long-distance man said about an hour before the race began, knowing that he had time to get more miles in before the race began.
Mercer is no stranger to ultradistances as he zipped through his first 100-miler in less than 20 hours just over a year ago.
Jennie Gentry was another first-timer who thoroughly enjoyed herself.
“I was planning to run this race last year, but got sick the day before. I loved my experience today. I like running on hills as I train on Stringer’s Ridge and Forrest Avenue on a regular basis.
“Everything was green and beautiful today. Janet (Felton) is my inspiration,” the 44-year-old spa director for Center Medspa smiled.
The proceeds from Saturday’s race will benefit the Boston Marathon relief effort for all of the runners and spectators who were injured in the bombing at this year.s race.
(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose)