Sue Barlow has endured more catastrophic events in her life than
any three people should ever have to face, but she’s tougher than a pine knot
and keeps moving forward with love in her heart and a smile on her face.
Sue and Larry – her husband of 10 years – moved to
Chattanooga in June 2005, right after they had lost literally everything in an
“I hated my job and was looking for something
different. We lost everything in the
fire, including my wedding dress and two cats, and that’s when we decided to
move to Chattanooga. It’s really hard
when you have to replace everything, but the two cats were the hardest part,”
Barlow said early Thursday afternoon while relaxing in the lobby of the
She immediately enrolled in physical therapy school and
later graduated in 2009. She now teaches
at UTC and works part-time at Siskin.
Barlow grew up in New Jersey, just outside
Philadelphia. She earned her
undergraduate degree in Biology from Villanova, where she had gone on a full
athletic scholarship to play field hockey and softball. She earned All-America honors in 1986 as a
field hockey goalie.
Since that time, she went to graduate school at the
University of Kentucky, where she earned her PHD in Bio-Chemistry. It might be appropriate to refer to her as "Dr.
She had started playing soccer, but around the turn of the
century, she decided to try running.
She began by reading a Hal Higdon book, which suggested
going for a one-mile run as fast as possible.
“I got tired of getting hurt playing soccer and that’s when
I started running,” the 49-year-old bundle of energy explained.
“A friend that I worked with at Vanderbilt had just run a
marathon, so that got me interested.
That first mile took right at 10 minutes and I thought I would die. I later got involved in a running group at
Vandy and we’d do speed work every day at noon.
I can’t run fast, but I can hold a pretty good pace for a long time,”
Sue got involved in the Chattanooga Track Club shortly after
she and Larry moved to Chattanooga. She
runs at 5 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and she joins the group run from the Y
on Saturday mornings. And she takes great pride in her trail running, which she
does every Sunday at Chickamauga Park.
She says that she doesn’t run fast, but just try to stay
with her on a training run. Her pace in
training isn’t much different from her pace on race day.
Not too many months ago, there was a question posed on the
CTC’s e-news about Have you ever done speedwork? Someone posted a very appropriate answer,
saying “Have you ever run with Sue Barlow?”
She’s not very big physically, but there’s a tiger in her
tank and she shifts into another mode when a run begins.
While teaching and working occupy quite a bit of her time,
she and Larry just adopted Gia, her six-year-old niece whose parents died in a
double suicide. That in itself has been
quite an undertaking.
“It’s a hard job and very challenging, but we do the best
that we can,” Sue explained.
“I run about 25 miles a week and that’s about all I have
time for. I like to do speedwork when it’s
warm, but my longer runs are slow and easy,” she said.
Sue has run nine marathons with a personal best of 3:42 at
Nashville in 2003. Her first one netted
a time of 3:46 at Memphis in 2000.
“There were five of us at Vanderbilt who trained together
for that race. I couldn’t have asked for
a better first marathon as it was a great experience. We really didn’t know what we were doing and
we created our own training plan with only one 20-mile run,” she nodded.
And as you might imagine, she was the first one in that
group to finish.
She also had the opportunity to run Boston in 2013 and had
just finished in 3:49 when the bombs exploded near the finish line. What a chaotic experience that turned out to
“I was about two blocks away and it sounded like a cannon
going off. I turned around and saw this
huge cloud of smoke, but we had no idea what was going on. Everyone started running to escape the area
as it turned into a panic situation, but that pretty much shut down the
town. Luckily, we were able to take a
cab to where our car was parked,” she remembered.
“I’d love to go back and probably will when Gia is a little
older, but that was my favorite marathon of all time,” she added with pride.
Sue has never been one to back off from a tough challenge
and that’s what she got when she went with several others from Chattanooga to
the Savage Gulf Marathon, which took place near Alcoa on St. Patrick’s Day
“My time of 8:05 was my slowest marathon, but it was mostly
non-runnable on an incredibly tough trail.
It was awful. I ran it with Bill
Brock and he must of picked me up at least a dozen times, but I’ve never in my
life been so happy to see a finish line,” she explained.
Sue runs quite a few of the track club races and she’s also
gotten involved in CTC activities.
“I joined the club in 2005 and I was volunteering at races
when I wasn’t running them. I made a new
year’s resolution to get more involved and someone told me to attend a board
meeting. That was all it took as I was
appointed to the board and was VP of Communications.
“My time has been limited, so I’ve given some of the
responsibility to Sujeel Taj, but I still do the E-News each week. Chattanooga has an incredible group of
runners and the track club does some amazing things.
“Running has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself
other than marry Larry, but I’m miserable when I can’t run. It’s a nice social activity and it keeps me
healthy,” she added.
Sue will turn 50 on March 22, so one of her urgent goals
involves the Tennessee State Parks Running Tour.
“I’m hoping that I can win the Female Masters title in that
tour, but that means I’d have to do at least 10 races. It’s just a matter of being able to travel to
each event, but there are some really neat races in that group. I’ve been running them since 2000,” she
Life is really busy for Sue and Larry these days, but she’s
not complaining. It’s just that running
has to take a back seat from time to time.
But she doesn’t have any plans to slow down any time soon as
she vows to someday break 3:30 for the marathon.
Running has been a lifesaver for her in more ways than
one. She just hopes that she can
continue for a long time to come.
(This is the 27th in a series of running features
in Chattanooga. If you know of someone
who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at