Hugh Enicks isn’t your typical middle-aged runner.
If you go to a local road race and observe those who line up in front, Enicks is normally right in the middle. And more often than not, he’s competing for the overall victory when the race is over.
The retired lieutenant colonel from the Army, who is now in his 13th year as the senior instructor for Junior ROTC at Red Bank, has that military mindset as he goes full speed into everything he does with full expectation of winning.
Most of the time, he’s successful.
Enicks just celebrated his 55th birthday in August, but he doesn’t act like it and he certainly doesn’t run like it.
Just two weeks ago on Oct.
5, he won his age group at the U.S. Masters National Marathon Championship, with a time of 2:52:20 at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis.
He had been on a 2:44 pace for the first 20 miles, but he’s planning to run Chickamauga in three weeks and wanted to save his legs if possible since he had a comfortable lead at that point.
He finished 135th overall that day out of more than 11,000 runners and 22nd out of all the masters competitiors. He won his age group at this race two years ago with a 2:44:57.
But for a guy who has been married to a wonderful lady named Francesca for 27 years, running has been a way of life as long as he can remember.
Growing up in Indiana as the son of a successful high school coach, Enicks “played” a lot on high school tracks.
“I did 10-mile runs as a third grader because I was too stupid to know any better,” he said while taking a break following Red Bank’s cross country practice Wednesday afternoon.
“And I ran the freshman cross country race as a fourth grader and finished in the middle of the pack. I was close to a six-minute mile,” he remembered.
Hugh and Francesca are the proud parents of three sons, William, Andrew and David. When William was an eighth grader, Hugh realized that he had been a student in eight different schools. That’s when he made the decision to relocate in Chattanooga.
“I’ll never forget how impressed I was with this area when we flew into town that first time. There is so much promise here. I love Red Bank High School as there’s a great tradition here and we have some wonderful folks in administration. Moving here and taking this job was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said in a serious tone.
Hugh has really gotten into masters competition in recent years and always goes with a pretty good group of guys from Chattanooga to compete in the USATF Cross Country Club Nationals, which will be held in Pennsylvania at Lehigh University on Dec. 13.
And while he’s done extremely well on a national level, he’s had more than his share of success in Chattanooga Track Club events. He’s raced in a bunch of them, but he’s had the most success at Chickamauga where he’s won the marathon three times and he’s also won the Half-marathon three times.
“I was fourth at Chickamauga last year, but I was just coming off the US Masters 15K Championship where I finished second in my age group with a 54:17. I’d love to run a 2:40 this year. I may never get there, but it’s nice to have a goal. It just has to be the right day and the right time,” he said, knowing that all the pieces of the puzzle must fit exactly right on that day.
While most local runners spend the night in their own bed the night before a big race, Enicks camps out in the big field next to the start/finish line.
“I’ve always camped out the night before as you don’t have to wait in line at the bathroom the next morning and it’s nice to get that extra sleep. And besides, I just enjoy camping, but if it rains, I won’t camp,” he said with a smile.
“I didn’t run marathons until I retired from the Army. I was in good Army shape, but not good race shape. Personally, I like the marathon distance because I can just grind it out. And I’ve always enjoyed Chickamauga because it’s normally on Veterans Day. That’s a special day for me
“I’m after the young guys. I’m sure they know that I’m not going to give up and I’m not afraid to race. All of that training can only make me better,” he rationalized.
Enicks was a miler in high school where he could normally run around 4:30. There were no classifications in Indiana back in those days and only the top eight qualified for the state meet.
“The top eight could normally run under 4:20, so I felt like I was getting whiplashed when I was in a race trying to stay with them. I was a decent high school runner and still hold the record at my school of 12:25 for two and a half miles. I had a lot of success in those days.
“Running is my number one hobby these days. The races at Chickamauga are among my favorite as I really enjoy running at the park. It’s always nice at the Chickamauga Chase knowing you only have to run that loop one time, but I’ve also enjoyed the Joe Johnson Pumpkin Run at Moccasin Bend. I have broken two state records there,” he added, noting that his PR of 34:54 was recorded on that flat course.
“I don’t show up at a race unless I’m planning to win. I come prepared to take it as I don’t just run a race. I have to compete. These days I do quite a bit of training with my team and I do a lot of marathon pace mile repeats on the track.
“I run by myself quite a bit, but I’ve enjoyed running with a group on Signal Mountain that always runs on Sunday morning. We normally go seven or eight miles and then I double it when we’re finished.
“I also love those USATA national races as I’ve done a bunch of them since I turned 50. You compete with a bunch of guys who can really get after it, but they’re a lot of fun. I’ve done mostly longer stuff as the 5K and 10K races don’t fit into my schedule, but I’m leaning toward an 8K in January or February.
“I have the passion and genetics for running. I do my best to stay healthy, but it’s hard at times when you’re around kids all day. I work hard and there are times when I train too hard, but I’ve learned that you have to have those long slow distance runs as well,” he stated.
So what does this guy enjoy doing when he’s not running or coaching or teaching?
“I love working crossword puzzles and we love to travel. I’ll go just about anywhere at the drop of a dime, but we always go to Italy every summer to see my in-laws. But I’m always wanting to see something new,” he said.
That competitive fire still burns deep in Hugh’s belly. He still trains hard and he enjoys the results he gets on race day.
“But for someone who learned how to compete at an early age, it’s something he still really likes. And he really likes to win the sprint to the finish line, especially when he’s beating someone half his age.
(This is the 34th in a series of features on runners in Chattanooga. If you know someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at email@example.com)