Chad Varga has had a colorful and successful running career,
but it certainly didn’t start out that way.
Varga is that outgoing fellow who is the proud owner of Front
Runner Athletics. He’ll celebrate his 56th
birthday this fall and he’s not doing as much running as he once was because he’s
been having knee problems and is debating whether or not to have surgery to
correct the problem.
Chad grew up in South Bend, Indiana, but he earned his
degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University in 1982.
Indiana is a hotbed for basketball, but when the high school
coach noticed he wasn’t playing, he asked if he’d be interested in running
The slender Varga decided to try it, but 12-mile runs in the
morning and 600-meter repeats in the afternoon were more than he bargained for
and he quit after the third day.
He didn’t run another step until he started working for
Texas Instruments in Johnson City.
“The coach asked me to run cross country and I had never
given it a second thought. He had no
idea what he was doing and I quit. I
never ran another step in high school or college,” Varga said earlier this week
shortly after his store opened for business.
“I was 25 years old.
I was getting fat and out of shape and that’s when I started doing a
little jogging before work. I got to
where I could run three or four miles comfortably and that’s when I started
running with my boss at Texas Instruments.
“They had a corporate running team for 5K and 10K races and
that’s how I got started. Tim Black
became my first running buddy. He pushed
me when he saw that I had a little talent and he basically took me under his
wing. He was also a pretty good
matchmaker as he introduced me to my wife Denise,” he added with a laugh.
“We did strictly 5K and 10K races. I did a bunch of them between 1989-92. We’d do the 5K on Saturday and the 10K on
Sunday. The best we ever did was third
place while my best results came in 1991 when I ran a 15:25 for 5K on Saturday
and a 31:53 for 10K on Sunday. That was
a great weekend for me,” he recalled.
Varga’s job at Texas Instruments ended when the plant
closed, but he went to work for a company in Soddy Daisy named Mold-Tech Electronics
in April ’93 and he was there for eight years before purchasing the Front
Runner from Louis Priddy in 2001.
“Louis sold me the store the week after 9-11 and I was
blessed to be able to get it. I have
always had problem feet as they’re very narrow, but my mother used to take me
to a specialty shoe store. That planted
the seed for me as I always wanted to own a running shoe store.
"Louis has made a big impact on running in Chattanooga and always did a great job directing the FCA 5K and the Big Oak Ranch 5K. He's given more back to the running community than most people realize and I'm thankful that we've been able to keep the FCA race going.
"I was so happy when Louis and his entire family were present at Chattanooga State last Labor day for the 25th anniversary of the FCA race," Chad smiled.
“We love it here in Chattanooga and I like the people part
of the business. I always enjoyed
running distance. I ran for my health
and never for trophies. I’m in pretty
good shape today and my health is good.
I’ve been able to make a profession out of it, but I’ve thoroughly
enjoyed the fellowship and it’s changed my life,” he said in a serious tone.
“I had some great races with Kent Bradbury as he was such a
great guy and a very good runner. When
Kent left, Tim Ensign came back on the scene.
He beat me by a second at the Joe Johnson 10K one year when I ran a
31:43 and we’ve been great friends ever since.
“Dr. Eric Clarke was another running connection for me here and
Van Townsend was a good running partner over the years. We have had some great races as well, but my
focus has changed.
“Denise and I have a young family. Natalie is 13 and Zach is 10. I love watching Natalie play tennis and Zach
play soccer. When the kids get a little
older, I’d like to run another marathon as New York and Marine Corp are two I’d
like to do,” he thought ahead.
He has run five marathons, including two in Boston, two in
Chicago and one in Huntsville. His
personal best is 2:45, which came in Huntsville in 1995.
“I was in great shape that year and was hoping to break
2:40, but the wind chill was below zero and I almost froze to death. Somehow I managed a 2:45 that day,” he
Varga lists the Chattanooga Chase and the Chickamauga Chase
as two of his favorite races in Chattanooga.
He always wanted to break 50 minutes for the 15K at Chickamauga and came
“My biggest disappointment was never breaking 50 at
Chickamauga. You just have to run three
16:40s in a row and I was on pace to do it one year, but I ended up with
50:01. We’d be dead tired at the end of
that race because we had run so hard the entire way,” he nodded.
Another favorite event he mentioned is the Sports Barn
Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving.
“It’s a pretty flat course and you can eat a lot afterwards,”
These days, Chad doesn’t log as many miles as he once did,
but if you’ve ever seen him on a training run, you know that he puts the hammer
His usual route goes from his store on Hixson Pike over the
C.B. Robinson Bridge to Chickamauga Dam and back, which is a nice eight-mile
loop. Whether he’s by himself or with a
running buddy, his pace is always fast.
“I don’t have a lot of running goals now, but I intend to stay
fit. I want to be more active in the
track club and I just want to do more recreational running. I still enjoy doing races, but I’ve got to
get my knee fixed.
“Denise and I will
celebrate our 20th anniversary in November and we absolutely love
Chattanooga. We wouldn’t think of living
anywhere else,” he concluded.
Chad Varga is making a name for himself in Chattanooga’s
running community, first as a runner and now as a running store owner. He thoroughly enjoys what he’s doing and he’s
really good at it, but it didn’t start out that way.
(This is the 20th in a series of features on
runners in the Chattanooga area. If you
know of someone who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at