Geno Phillips Still Competing At Highest Level

Masters Runner Still An Intense Competitor In Local Races

Thursday, May 15, 2014 - by John Hunt

Geno Phillips isn't a very big guy physically, but when he approaches the starting line at a road race, folks up front pay extra attention, including younger runners who think they have a shot at winning.

Phillips is a 42-year-old runner from Leland, Mississippi who has been in Chattanooga for the past 12 years.  He's a middle school social studies teacher who started at Franklin Middle for two years before moving to Brown for the next nine.  And now he's in his first year at the brand new Red Bank Middle.

The former Delta State graduate didn't start running in high school as he spent most of his time concentrating on football and tennis.  But after his first year at Delta State, he had gained some weight and made the decision to let running be his way back into shape.

It all began in the spring of 1990.

"I had gained the freshman 40 and decided to start running to lose weight," Phillips said earlier this week during a break from teaching.

"I made it around the block the first time.  I didn't feel good, but I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.  Running a race hadn't crossed my mind at that point, but my college roommate's mother put on a 10K race in Natchez and I entered.  That was February 1991.

"My time was 37 something as I finished ninth overall,  but that got the juices flowing and I was hooked.  Ever since that time, I've always wanted to see just how much faster I could get," he added.

His times have certainly gotten faster and he's won more races than he can remember.  Even now some 24 years later as a masters runner, Phillips is still a force to be reckoned with when the horn sounds to start a race.

He's completed 13 marathons with a personal best of 2:34 in 1999.  To show how strong he's running these days, he posted a 2:36 at Huntsville in 2012.

He's been to Boston five times with a PR on that course of 2:37 in 2002.  He also had his slowest time of 2:56 at Boston.

His first marathon experience came in 1996 when he won the Mississippi Marathon in Jackson with a 2:50.

"I just wanted to finish that day as it wasn't very big race, but I won.  It seems like I ran by myself the whole way," Phillips recalled.

He's on the comeback trail after suffering a stress fracture in his hip following the Scenic City Half-Marathon in February.  Despite some incredible pain for the last four or five miles, he still managed to finish third with a 1:15.

"I had a sharp pain in my hip during that race and those last few miles really hurt.  I couldn't walk the next day and that's when I found out that I had a stress fracture.  I took eight weeks off to heal and I just started back at the end of April.  I'm hoping to do some races in August, maybe Missionary Ridge.  And I'm looking at maybe going back to Huntsville in December," he nodded, noting that he was the masters champion there in 2012,

"I'm trying to get 60-65 miles a week and that's about my range as I start breaking down if I do much more than that.  I do most of my runs in the downtown area and I'm hoping to get back on the track soon to resume my speed work.

"Most of my running is done alone as I guess 95 percent is done by myself.  I like to keep a 6:30 pace on training runs and most folks don't want to run that far that fast," he added.

Phillips has run and won a lot of races in Chattanooga, but the Chickamauga Chase 15K gets the nod as his favorite.

"I think I've run that race five times and won it in 2009 and 2012.  My PR of 50:01 was on that course, but I didn't win that year.  I was second last year with a 51:17.  Being a history teacher, I love running in the battlefield.  And nobody does a better job of directing a race than George Skonberg.  His race is first-class in every respect and they also give some of the most cherished awards," Geno said.

Another of his favorites is the Joe Johnson 10K, which is one of the flattest races on the Chattanooga Track Club schedule.

"I've won that one twice with a PR or 32:50 in 2005.  If you're in shape, you can fly on that course because it's so flat," he reasoned.

Phillips and Paige, his wife of 19 years, live in the downtown area so that's why he does most of his training there.

"There's nothing better than running in downtown Chattanooga in the early morning when the sun is about to come up.  I need to renew my track club membership, but right now, I just want to get healthy again.

"I still want to win and I still enjoy winning.  Even though I've gotten older, my times haven't dropped off yet.  I know it's coming, but you appreciate your ability to run even more when you're hurt and can't run.

"I don't think anyone works as hard as I do.  I've done something right along the way and I take a lot of pride in it," he concluded.

Geno Phillips is an articulate young man who loves what he does.  He enjoys landscaping and he also likes spending time with his three labs, Beulah, Delta and Pope.

But running is what he does best.  And those young guys at the starting line take notice when he lines up for a race because they know he's a serious competitor.

And he wants it to stay that way.

(This is the 13th in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga area, including members of the Chattanooga Track Club.  If you know of someone deserving of a story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)


UTC is No.13 in This Week's Football Poll

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team moved up a spot in the national polls, despite dropping a tough 20-16 battle at Central Michigan last week.  The Mocs are No. 13 in the Sports Network Top-25 and No. 15 in the FCS Coaches Poll this week.  The No. 13 national mark ties the highest ranking for UTC in the Russ Huesman era (since ... (click for more)

PHOTOS: Lookouts Celebrate Winning Second-Half Title

Four weeks ago, no one would have expected the Lookouts would be even close to winning the second-half title. An 11-game winning streak put them into the race and when they swept the Tennessee Smokies Sunday they had concluded an incredible comeback. The Smokies were still in a position to win before Chris O'Brien's pinch-hit triple plated Corey Seager and O'Koyea Dickson with ... (click for more)

Bradley, 24, Charged In Death Of Boy, 3; Child Had Numerous Injuries After Left With Boyfriend; Mother Was In Workhouse

Justin Dale Bradley has been charged with criminal homicide in the death of a three-year-old child, who was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday and later died. Police said Dakota James Arndt had numerous injuries over his body. Authorities said Bradley, 24, is the boyfriend of the child's mother, Brianna Kwekel, who was in the Workhouse at the time. Ms. Kwekel was serving 48 ... (click for more)

Helen Burns Sharp Asks Recovery Of Legal Fees In Successful Black Creek TIF Lawsuit

Helen Burns Sharp, citizen activist who sued to try to stop a $9 million Black Creek Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and won, is seeking to have her legal expenses paid by the city and the developers. Ms. Sharp said in a court filing that her legal bills to attorney John Konvalinka are $74,427 thus far. Chancellor Frank Brown ruled in favor of Ms. Sharp, saying the Sunshine ... (click for more)

Decimating The Chattanooga Public Library

Corinne Hill claims that the library is just undergoing a normal weeding process for eliminating books.  She has bragged that she's responsible for the elimination of over 100,000 books - with more to go. "Normal" weeding is not rampant throwing away.  Yes, books go to the Friends for their sale - where they get $2 for a $75 book and thousands wind up being recycled ... (click for more)

The Many Lessons I Learned From Helen McDonald Exum

Helen McDonald Exum was my friend and mentor. As I think of her passing I can only imagine the celebration that is happening in heaven as the news of her arrival is being told. I am sure that there is a party that not only has she organized but that there is not a detail that has been left to chance. I am sure that it is the grandest of events, for you see, she has been planing ... (click for more)