Most folks in Chattanooga or the Southeast who know anything about running are familiar with the late, great Joe McGinness and the fact that he once was a nationally-ranked marathoner in addition to being the original founder of the Chattanooga Track Club.
What people might not know is the fact that Joe and his wife Billie were the proud parents of five sons and a daughter, the youngest of which was Jimmy, who is a pretty good runner in his own right.
Jimmy is now a 57-year-old real estate property manager who will celebrate his 58th birthday on September 25. He and Farell, his wife of 27 years, live at Tucker’s Branch on Lookout Mountain.
Jimmy has had some memorable races in his life, many with his brothers and his father, but he’s still running strong and he’s currently preparing for another half-marathon in mid October.
Jimmy’s siblings include Joe Jr., Margaret, Toto, Sam and Bill, but Jimmy was probably the best runner in the group.
Like his brothers, Jimmy attended McCallie for six years before graduating in 1974. His sports of choice at the time were football and wrestling while being a runner never crossed his mind.
“Back in those days, everybody went out for football. I weighed about 75 pounds, so I was small and slow,” Jimmy recalled earlier this week while relaxing in the lobby of the downtown YMCA,
After leaving McCallie, Jimmy went to the University of Georgia where he earned his undergraduate degree in Real Estate and Business in four years. It was during this time that he started running.
“I started running when I was in college and the Chickamauga Chase when I was 19 was my very first race. I had always liked to stay active and I had just a little bit of influence from my Dad,” he said.
Joe was a regular at the Boston Marathon in those days and Jimmy went with him one year to watch his father run. That was all it took for the youngest McGinness to turn into a marathoner too.
“I remember going to Boston to watch him run and it may have been the year of the Rosie Ruiz incident, but I thought that running a marathon might be fun.
“My father was in business for himself and told my mother that they were going to Boston on business. He had been training for that race secretly, so it was a surprise to everyone when he ran it the first time,” Jimmy said.
“I ran my first one when I was 22 in New Orleans with Joe and my father. I don’t remember the name, but it was held on that bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain. All but one mile of that race was on the bridge and I remember how windy and rainy it was that day. I really enjoyed the end of it,” he said, recalling that he had a time in the 3:43 range.
Joe was a regular out at Chickamauga Park and Jimmy remembers vividly his first long run with his father.
“I used to run with him at the park and I’ll never forget the day I did the loop twice for the first time. My dad looked at me when we finished and said that I had never run that far before. That was a monumental experience for me.
Jimmy ran several more marathons, but he’s only done about a dozen in his life. His personal record of 2:58:52 came at Chickamauga in 1984 when he finished 16th overall.
“I went through a stretch before we had kids where I ran about a marathon a year. We were living in North Carolina at the time. I was in pretty good shape and just felt good that day. It seemed like I ran by myself most of the way,” he recalled.
While he finished Chickamauga three times, he also did Houston twice and Rocket City in Huntsville twice. He also ran Twin Cities in Minnesota and the famous Marine Corps race in Washington, D.C.
“I remember passing George Sheehan that day in Washington,” he said..
While the elder McGinness was a regular at Boston and ran it like 16 years in a row, Jimmy never qualified for the oldest marathon in America that’s held on the third Monday of April.
“The qualifying time at Boston when I was running my best was 2:50, so it was just out of my reach. I’d love to run a marathon with my oldest son Jack and maybe one day we can go to Boston together,” Jimmy suggested.
Jack is 22 and Quinn is 19. Both are students at Georgia and both ran cross country at McCallie.
“I watched my boys run when they were at McCallie and that’s how I stayed in touch with the running community. I always liked the Chickamauga Chase. The Wauhatchie Trail Run was another favorite as one of my sons would normally run it with me.
“I was on the board of the Chattanooga Track Club at one point, but I was a crummy member. I volunteer some, but not like I should. Right now, I’m running about 25-30 miles a week and have that half in Athens on Oct. 19. I finished third in my age group there last year and hope to do that again,” Jimmy nodded.
“I just want to stay healthy enough to remain active. Our family took a vacation to Colorado a few weeks ago where we did a lot of hiking and running. That’s what I enjoy doing. These days, I run mostly by myself. I’d describe myself as a non-athlete, but running helps me stay active.
“All you need is a pair of shoes and shorts and you’re good to go. Running doesn’t take a lot of gear like some sports,” he stated.
There’s quite a running history in the McGinness family and Jimmy is a big part of it. Marathoning was a big deal for his father and it’s part of Jimmy’s makeup as well.
“There’s just something about doing those long runs on Saturday morning. That’s a special fraternity,” said Jimmy.
It’s obvious that those fast days may be in the past for Jimmy McGinness, but he looks forward to doing more races with his sons as they get older.
Just like the time when his own father showed him the way with running, he has a chance to pass on his experiences to the next generation.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll make it to Boston before it’s over.
(This is the 28th in a series of running features in Chattanooga. If you know of someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at email@example.com)