Barker Beats Phillips To Win Missionary Ridge Race

Jessica Marlier Cruises To Women's Title

Saturday, August 9, 2014 - by John Hunt

Nobody could catch Thomas Barker or Jessica Marlier Saturday morning on South Crest Road.

These two were the overall winners in the 41st running of the Missionary Ridge Road Race, a challenging 4.7-mile race out and back from Bragg Reservation.


Barker was the overall male winner in 25 minutes, 43 seconds as he averaged 5:29 per mile while Marlier wasn’t far behind, taking eighth overall in the field of 219 finishers with a time of 27:56, a pace of 5:57 per mile.

It was comfortably cool for the 8 a.m. start, but the humidity was still there.   It didn’t seem to bother the 25-year-old Barker, who beat runner-up Geno Phillips by 11 seconds.

Dean Thompson was third in 26:27 while Matt Jenkins and Andy Highlander were fourth and fifth with times of 27:25 and 27:29, respectively.

While Marlier was the class of the women’s field, runner-up Laura Gearheiser wasn’t close as she finished in 38th place with a time of 34:09.

Lisa Logan was third in 34:21 while Laura Wagner ran off and left her mother Kathi to finish fourth in 35:15.  Fourteen-year-old Alyson Butler was the fifth female in 36:57.

“I was really nervous before the race started as we just got back from camp and I was really worn out,” said Barker, the assistant cross country coach at Tennessee Wesleyan.

“I felt better after I got warmed up as I gained more confidence.  I was with Matt (Jenkins) for the first two miles and Geno caught up with me, but I broke away at the fourth mile.  I have zero leg speed, but I do have a lot of strength, so I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised at how I did,” the former Red Bank graduate nodded.

Phillips was the runner-up the last time he ran this race in 2006 after winning in 2005.  He’s still recovering from a stress fracture in his hip, so he wasn’t the least bit disappointed by Saturday’s results.

“I was hoping to break 26 minutes and I had a 25:54, so I’m happy with that,” the 43-year-old social studies teacher at Red Bank Middle expressed later.

“We finally got together about the two mile mark and picked it up from there.  He pulled away on the last hill as I had nothing left.  I still have some work to do, but I’m coming along.  It wasn’t hot today, but it was awfully muggy.  This is still a tough course,” he concluded.

Marlier seems to get faster every time she toes the starting line and Saturday was no exception.  She’s currently working at the downtown YMCA and she’s also serving as an assistant cross country coach to Jeff Gaither at GPS this fall, so she’s still extremely fit.

“I’ve done some training up here, but this is the first time I’ve ever run this race,” the petite 28-year old began shortly after finishing the race.

“It was about what I expected, hilly and tough.  This was my first race since Peachtree, so I wasn’t sure what I was capable of doing, but I was hoping to break 28 minutes and I did by four seconds.  It’s good to be back out here,” she added.

Gearhiser was also pleased with her time.  The 1981 GPS graduate, who now works as an accounts manager for Stylemark Apparel in Knoxville, was smiling from ear to ear when the race ended.

“It was great as I had my best time here ever,” she expressed while the door prizes were being presented.

“I try to race every weekend and I always want to go faster, but I’m pleased today,” Gearhiser, who competes on the Runner’s Market race team, added.

Thompson is that slender 48-year-old fellow from Cohutta who never seems to slow down.  His training has changed in recent months as he’s currently preparing for the Beach To Battleship Ironman at Wilmington, N.C. in October.

“It was a good day and I’m satisfied.  I haven’t lost much speed since I started all of that swimming and biking, but I still can’t catch Geno.  I was hoping to be near 26:30 and I had a 26:27, so I was right where I wanted to be.  That was 16 seconds off of my best time on this course,” he explained.

Highlander will turn 27 on August 16 and he too is training for a longer event, the Air Force Marathon at the end of September.

“My goal is to run a six-minute pace in the marathon and that’s what I did for the first three miles today.  I caught Tim Ensign and Hugh Enicks about the four-mile mark and Matt Jenkins was right in front of me, but I couldn’t catch him,” the civil engineer for Barge, Wagner, Sumner and Cannon nodded.

Duke Richey is the 46-year-old assistant cross country coach at McCallie who teaches AP U.S. History there.  He trains on this course from time to time with head coach Mike Wood, but Saturday was his first time in a while.

“This is my first Missionary Ridge race in 25 years.  I used to be able to run up front, but today I was just hoping to average seven-minute miles.  It’s still a tough race,” he said after averaging 7:05 with a 33:15, which was 31st overall.

Sue Barlow finished 73rd in 38:16, which is a lot slower than she normally runs, but she was running with a heavy heart as her mother died on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.  The 49-year-old physical therapist really didn’t want to come, but she felt better after taking first place in the women's 45-49 age group.

“I almost passed on this race, but I’m glad I didn’t.  I went out hard in the first mile and that made me feel better, but I got beat by Bill Brock and I’m not happy about that.  It won’t happen again,” she joked about the Chattanooga Track Club president who had a time of 37:47 after running to Bragg Reservation with the Saturday morning group from McCallie School.

Dalton’s Gene Gilreath was the winner of the Arnold Godwin Award, given to the oldest runner in memory of the long-time track club member who always loved this race.

Gilreath is 76 and still working part-time at a company he helped start some 31 years ago, but this race has become an annual event for him. Saturday marked the third straight year that he won the award.

“It was more of a walk than a run and I probably should be doing more 5Ks and not something like this, but God has given me good health and I’ve got to take advantage.  I also have a bunch of grandchildren to keep up with, so this helps,” he smiled.

Proceeds from Saturday’s race will be split between the local chapter of the American Red Cross and the John Bruner Foundation.  Bruner was that talented 19-year-old runner from Dalton who died near the end of this race in 2007 and the foundation started in his memory provides scholarships to deserving high school runners.

(Email John Hunt at


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