When the UTC trio of Lucas Cotter, Paul Stuart and John Gilpin enter a road race, the rest of the field can start their battle for the runner-up spot. Or in the case of the 40th Annual Missionary Ridge on Saturday morning, the contest to see who would finish fourth.
These three totally dominated the Chattanooga Chase back in May as they basically ran together with Stuart getting win, followed by Gilpin and Cotter.
These same three ran together for the first half again on Saturday, but once they circled the loop around East Crest, Cotter took charge and the other two had to fight for second place.
Cotter covered the scenic yet challenging 4.7-mile course in 24 minutes, 43 seconds as he averaged 5:16 per mile in winning for the first time in this race.
Stuart was the runner-up in 25:40 while Gilpin outdueled defending overall winner Patrick Hall for third with a time of 25:58 while Hall was fourth nine seconds later. Caleb Morgan completed the first five with a time of 26:48.
Sarah Woerner was the class of the women’s field as she averaged 6:22 in posting a time of 29:52, which was 13th in the field that numbered 246 finishers.
Dianna Leun was the female runner-up and masters winner in 32:09 while Danielle Alfano was third in 32:50.
Twelve-year-old Kathryn Vradenburgh was fourth overall in 33:26 while her older sister Kiersten -- the defending women's winner -- finished 36th overall to claim fifth among the ladies with a time of 34:01.
The temperature was somewhat mild for the 8 a.m. start, but the humidity level was at 96 percent, making the day less than desirable for a competitive race.
It didn’t seem to bother the front runners.
“I’ve never run this course before, but it was tough and really humid,” said Cotter, a 22-year-old fifth-year senior at UTC from Memphis who is majoring in accounting.
“I felt pretty good for the most part, but I was just concerned with making it to the finish line. My goal was to win, but it was more hilly than I expected. We ran together for the first half, but I was pretty much on my own after the three-mile mark,” he added.
The 19-year-old Stuart is from Brentwood and also an accounting major. He just moved back to Chattanooga on Friday and didn’t get to sleep until after 2 a.m., but that didn’t seem to slow him too much.
“It was pretty tough out there today. Lucas pretty much dropped the hammer as he lost me going up a hill near the two-mile mark. He lengthened the gap on the way back,” Stuart nodded.
Gilpin is a 21-year-old from Nashville who had his own race with Hall in the final quarter mile.
“We all went out pretty hard, but the heat and humidity caught up with me about the second mile. We sort of spread out after that as Lucas just ran away from us. I just tried to hold a steady pace from that point on, but I had to run a little harder at the end to stay ahead of Patrick,” he recalled.
Hall was the defending champion in this race, but he had no answer for the younger and faster UTC fellows.
“This was a tough day to run as it wasn’t a day to run fast. Of course, all of those fast guys from UTC showed up, but I ran about 30 seconds slower than last year. My goal was to just try to stay with those guys up front, but Lucas just took off and left us,” Hall explained, saying that he’s currently training for the Berlin Marathon at the end of September.
Woerner is a 23-year-old physical education teacher at Hardy Elementary who just graduated from UTC in May. She ran this race two years ago and couldn’t remember her time, but she ran faster on Saturday.
“I barely broke 30, but I was feeling the heat from the start. I didn’t go out as hard, but I tried to work the uphills. I was trying to keep those guys in front in sight, but I just tried to stay consistent. I’ve been working on my speed and I’m sure that today’s time was a personal best,” she said, admitting that she’s pointing toward the Chicago Marathon in October.
Proceeds from Saturday’s race are split between the Chattanooga chapter of the American Red Cross and Team Bruner, a scholarship program created in memory of John Bruner, who collapsed and died in this race six years ago.
Greg Bruner is John’s father and he was present to compete in Saturday’s race, which is always a bittersweet experience for the Dalton resident.
“I did alright, but it’s about getting out here with friends and getting a good run, surrounded by love. I always feel John’s presence when I’m out there, but it’s about being here and not about time,” he said after finishing 82nd with a time of 37:47.
Carter Lynch is another who enjoys the experience and one who ran the race for at least the 10th straight year on Saturday.
“My goal is to always be finished before midnight and I succeeded again,” the jovial Lynch said after posting a time of 42:23, which was 133rd overall.
There were also a host of runners running this race for the first time, but none were any happier than Sally Crabtree, who has been running for several years now, but who let Saturday’s race be her first race ever.
She finished in 58:51 with a smile on her face and she wasn’t last.
“It was fun for the most part and I’m proud of myself for accomplishing a worthwhile goal. I was thinking how crazy I was to enter this race, but I’m not sure I’ve ever run this far before. I do my running in Murray Hills, so the hills today weren’t any worse than where I train, but this was a tough run,” she said as she wiped her brow before heading to the shuttle bus with her husband Rice.
Gene Gilreath was honored as the oldest runner in the race. He’s 75 and he finished in 1:04:11.
The next road race in Chattanooga will be the FCA 5K at Chattanooga State on Labor Day, which is Monday, September 2. This year’s race will also feature a 10K race.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)