Competitive Fire Still Burns Hot For Jeff Stracener

TVA Retiree Enjoying Life & Running More Than Ever

Thursday, April 17, 2014 - by John Hunt

How many runners can you name that were really competitive back in the early 1980s when the first running boom came along and literally swept Americans off their feet?

On a more serious note, how many of those runners you just brought to memory are still competing?

In case you're having a hard time coming up with a name, add Jeff Stracener to those two lists.

The 56-year-old TVA retiree was an intense competitor back in those days and those competitive fires are still burning today, at least as hot as they were 34 years ago and possibly hotter.

Just consider what he's done lately.

He posted a time of 1:31:09 on Feb. 22 as he finished 34th overall and first in his age group in the Scenic City Half Marathon.  In case you're wondering, that's a 6:58 pace for 13.1 miles. 

He finished eighth overall at the First Volunteer 5K on March 15 with a time of 19:58, averaging 6:26 per mile.  And then just a couple of weeks ago on April 5, he finished as the overall runner-up in the challenging Run For Education 8K on Signal Mountain with a time of 34:11, which computes to a 6:53 pace.

And last June at the Market Street Miracle Mile, Jeff had a time of 6:09.  "I think I beat John Crawley by a second.  That was absolutely exhausting, but what fun we had," he nodded.

Don't let anyone tell you that you have to slow down as you get older because this fellow is the exception to the rule.

He graduated from Harding Academy in 1974 before enrolling at the University of North Alabama in Florence.  He graduated from there a few years later with a degree in Business Management, but that's also a time of one of his most proud accomplishments and that's when he met his wife Vicki.

They moved to Chattanooga in early 1980 when he started working at TVA where he worked for 32 years and two weeks.  He started in construction, but ended his career as a Fossil Supply Team Purchasing Agent.

About the same time, the thought of running first crossed his mind.

"I just felt like I needed to be active and to do something physical, so I decided to start running," Stracener said earlier this week in the lobby of the downtown YMCA.

"I figured it would be a great way to meet new friends and that's when I found the Red Bank track.  That's where I got started," he continued.

His first Chattanooga race was the Choo Choo Classic, a short-lived five-mile race run in downtown Chattanooga.  It was so hot that day that race officials were forced to make it a non-competitive fun run.

His next race came in Huntsville on Memorial Day when he entered the popular Cotton Row 10K.

"It was hot and I just wanted to get through it.  It was a big race at the time and it seems like I ran just under 53 minutes that day.  Bill Bowman, Tony Arnold, David Smith and I all raced as a team for TVA after that and we finished either second or third out of a bunch of teams," he nodded.

That's also about the same time that he became interested in shorter distances.  They have a competitive two-mile event at Cotton Row and Stracener won it one year with a time of 10:14.

But as the years have passed and he and Vicki have raised two outstanding children -- 26-year-old Jenny and 23-year-old Joey -- Jeff has stayed injury free and he's still motivated to get out there on Saturday mornings, putting one foot in front of the other with hopes of beating those around him who are less than half his age.

He's also a long-distance veteran with some 20 marathons to his credit.  The old Chickamauga Battlefield race that used to finish at Gordon Lee High School is high on his list while the Rocket City marathon in Huntsville is a close second. 

His personal best of 3:03:31 came at Chickamauga some 30 years ago while a recent fine time came in 2003 when he posted a 3:24:45 at Huntsville to qualify for Boston.

"I think I had to have a 3:30 in those days, but Boston 2004 was one of the hottest days in its history as it was 85 degrees at 4 that afternoon as I was finishing.  I remember that I walked a lot that day.  My wife and kids were there that day and I had trouble finding them after it ended.  It's been my only Boston so far," he added with a smile.

One funny note about that race in Boston was that Jenny was working for the Times-Free Press as a cub reporter or something along those lines at the time.  She wrote about her daddy's struggle at Boston that day and how his time was four hours and something.  He really took a lot of ribbing from his local running buddies after the truth came out in print.

So what is Jeff's favorite race?

"The next one," he answered quickly.

"I'm looking forward to the Chickamauga Chase this weekend.  I've probably done that race at least 20 times and my personal best was 54 something," he added.

He's also entertaining thoughts of running another marathon as he really wants to run Boston at least one more time.

"I'm not sure if this is the year or not as it's hard to put time restrictions on a retired guy.  I've been blessed with good health and the ability to run.  I still do between 25 and 30 miles a week and I try to do as many track club races as I can.

"I just want to keep getting better, but I also want to run healthy and smart.  Maybe get a little faster as we go along, but I have to be careful as I don't want to get hurt.  I guess I ran 35-40 races last year, so I want to keep doing that," he said quietly.

One of Jeff's favorite running experiences has been his years doing the Tennessee State Parks Running Tour.  Just last year alone, he completed 19 of the 20 races across the state and has been a regular on this routine 10 or 12 times.

And what does he do in his spare time now that he's retired.

"I really enjoy spending time with Vicki and our two children.  I also value my time with my church family as I try to help out there as much as possible.  We get to do quite a bit of traveling and we love going to the Tennessee State Parks.  And of course if it really gets slow, I go out for a run," he smiled.

Jeff and Vicki celebrated their 28th anniversary on December 28.  He's quick to say that meeting her was a true blessing and that their life together has been nothing short of wonderful.

"We dated for six years before we got married, but she's one of the best things that ever happened to me.  She was a school teacher for 30 years, but she's retired too.  She goes to races with me now and we love to kayak, especially when all of the boats are gone for the day.

"Vicki is not a competitive person as she wants everyone to be healthy and happy.  She mostly walks, but she'll jog  little bit every now and then," he concluded.

As you can tell, life has been good to Jeff Stracener.

He has his priorities in the right order and he still enjoys the benefits of a good run.  But don't think that because his hair and his beard are full of gray hair that he's slowed down because he hasn't.

He has the times from recent races to prove it.

(This is the ninth in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga Track Club.  If you have someone you think is deserving of such a story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)


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