Tim Ensign's running has come a long way since that hot, summer day almost 40 years ago when his neighbor Dick Dillard convinced him to run around the block in their neighborhood for the first time.
Tim was a spirited 12-year-old at the time who had just finished the sixth grade and was getting ready to enter North Chattanooga Junior High, better known as Northside.
Dillard's influence must have been impressive as Ensign came back the next day and did that one-mile circle six more times trying to get faster. He's been running strong ever since.
Many days has passed since that afternoon in 1965. Ensign is now a 51-year-old father of five daughters and he's a proud employee of IBM where he works in corporate communications. He also continues to run between 35 and 40 miles a week as he logs about 2,000 miles each year.
And he's still one of the best masters runners in the southeast as he won the 50-54 age group at the Peachtree Road Race last July in Atlanta with a time of 35:58.
He's been a lifetime member of the Chattanooga Track Club and still does many races on the CTC schedule, including the Wauhatchie Trail Run on the side of Lookout Mountan that he has won for the last nine years.
"I run out at the nature center every Friday by myself, but I love the Wauhatchie race as the age handicap is a real motivator for me," Ensign said earlier this week while taking a short break from work.
"I've won that race the last nine years, but several have been too close for comfort. And I got beat the year I had my best time there," he added.
Ensign was never state champion, but he was outstanding in track and cross country at City High where he was a Region cross country champ as a senior and the Region winner in the mile run. His toughest competition at the time came from Red Bank's Leslie Wells and Tyner's Tom O'Bryant, who both went on to have outstanding running careers.
After graduating from City in 1981, Tim chose to run for UTC where he was the first Moc to ever earn All-Conference honors in the Southern Conference before graduating with a degree in English in 1985.
His running reached epic levels before graduation from UTC as he won the third and fourth runnings of the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon with times of 2:34 and 2:31 in 1982 and 1983, the last being the course record for all of one year.
"Tom O'Bryant smashed my record with his 2:27 in 1984. I was beside him on the bike the whole way and was hoping that he'd slow down, but he never did," Tim continued.
He hasn't run that many marathons, although he did New York City twice and Chickamauga one more time in 1999, which turned out to be his final 26.2-mile race.
"I had a 2:41 that day and was hurting so bad that I told myself if I could just finish, I'd never run another marathon. I've stuck to that promise as my body just can't hold up to that distance these days.
Tim prefers 10K races these days and his personal best of 30:45 came at Peachtree in 1984. He was shooting for the top 50 and finished 51st. The popular Independence Day race is still one of the his favorites where he beat more than 3,000 men last year to win the 50-54 age group.
"I don't have the stamina I used to have, but I still go to the track at GPS every Wednesday where I do a workout with Joseph Goetz and Joe Johnson," Tim added.
While Peachtree has been one of his favorites, the Joe Johnson 10K at Moccasin Bend has been another one he's done numerous times.
"I've won the Joe Johnson race five times in three different decades. Chad Varga and I had a great race there in 1994 and I beat him by two seconds. You can get a good time on that course if you're in shape," he said, admitting that his best time on that course was 31:05 in 1984, right after he graduated from UTC.
Two other races he thoroughly enjoys include Missionary Ridge and the Market Street Miracle Mile.
"Missionary Ridge is my favorite. I don't like the heat, but I love the course. I like the history of the area and the odd distance and I won it one time. I had a 23:32 there in 1984 and finished second to John Young," he recalled.
In recent years, Tim has been a part of a masters team from the Chattanooga Track Club who compete at the USA Track & Field masters championship. In addition to Ensign, other regulars on the team include Johnson, John Sillery, Dean Thompson, Hugh Enicks, Ryan Shrum, Troy Maddux and Varga.
"It's incredible competition and I started when I was 41, so I've done it these last 11 years. If I can get in the top 75, I've had a great day, but the best we've done as a team is fifth. It's a whole lot of fun and we have some great masters runners from this area," he said, referring to the list above.
While Tim has been a standout for a long, long time, perhaps the most proud experience he's had in recent years has been watching his 86-year-old mother Jane, who is now the proud state record holder at the one-mile after posting a time of 21:15 last Sunday at the Chattanooga Chase.
"My mom has always been my inspiration. She's never had an athletic bone in her body until she did her first mile at age 84. She's caught the fever. My father died last fall. He and mom had been married almost 60 years, so walking has been a form of therapy for her," Tim explained.
While running has been a big part of Tim's life, he's also the proud father of five daughters.
The oldest three are from a previous marriage, including Karalee, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Southern Cal who is living in Los Angeles. 21-year-old Kelsey will be a junior at the University of Richmond while 19-year-old Kaycee will be a junior at Virginia.
Tim and Barbara, his wife of 15 years in September, are also the proud parents of Ella, an 11-year-old cutie who'll be in the seventh grade at GPS this fall, and Erin, a spirited nine-year-old who will be in the fourth grade at Normal Park when school starts back.
"Running has been a huge part of my life. The longer I run, the more I appreciate the wonderful friendships I've made along the way. My first date with Barbara was a nice four-mile run," Tim said with a smile.
"I don't run nearly as fast or as far as I used to, but it's still really important to me. I try to set goals every year that are achievable and challenging. Just something to keep me motivated. I like the lifestyle of being active. Running is one of the best parts of my day.
"I've played a little tennis along the way and I started swimming a couple of years ago. I'll admit that I'm not very good at it, but it's nice to get in the pool after a hard workout. I'm really lucky that I've never had a running-related injury, but I spread out my hard workouts," the slender fellow concluded.
Tim Ensign has been running consistently for the past 39 years. He's enjoying it today as much as ever and he continues to make friends every time he goes to a race.
And that alone is reason enough to keep going.
(This is the 15th in a series of runners in the Chattanooga area, including many members of the Chattanooga Track Club. If you have someone in mind who would be deserving of such a story, please email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)