Jake Gillette had never run a race at Chickamauga Park, but he’s on a mission to run a marathon in all 50 states, so he entered the 38th annual Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon knowing very little about the course and the history behind the race.
It didn’t seem to bother the 31-year-old elementary school physical education teacher from Goshen, Indiana as he bolted from the start on Barnhardt Circle and never slowed down as he prevailed in this challenging 26-mile, 385-yard race with a time of two hours, 43 minutes and 38 seconds.
Chattanooga’s Ken Curran was the only person to challenge Gillette and the two of them ran together for most of the first 21 miles, but the 26-year-old financial analyst at Volkswagen couldn’t hang in the final 5K and had to settle for the runner-up award with a time of 2:44:39.
Clint Hawkins finished a distant third in 2:58:28 as they were the only three to break the magical three-hour barrier.
Kaye Starosciak, a pretty 44-year-old dietician and wellness coach from Canton, Ga., came with a group of friends from the Atlanta-Marietta area and made her trip worthwhile as she captured her second Chickamauga title with a time of three hours, six minutes and 17 seconds to finish ninth overall.
Starosciak had won this race in 2011 when she broke three hours for the first time in 2:58:15. She didn’t come close to that on Saturday, but she had a great run, enjoyed the experience and headed back home later in the day with a smile on her face.
Sarah Getty, a doctor of physical therapy from Minnesota who will be 35 on Nov. 29, was the women’s runner-up as she cruised to a time of 3:09:45 as she finished right behind Starosciak. Tara Harris was 16th overall and the third female in 3:12:16.
John Gilpin and Sara Gibson, a couple of talented Chattanooga runners, were the overall winners in the Half-Marathon with times of 1:13:26 and 1:27:57, respectively.
Salvador Castillo was the overall winner in the Fort Oglethorpe 5K with a time of 17:45 while Paige Thompson was the women’s winner in 19:26 after finishing fourth overall.
There were 1,421 runners in all three races combined with 817 in the half-marathon, 334 in the marathon and 270 in the Fort Oglethorpe 5K.
Gillette has a personal record of 2:37 and was hoping to be around 2:40 on Saturday, but he was just happy to get another state checked off the list and to do so in winning fashion was just icing on the cake.
“Even though I’ve never run here, I read the reviews and had a basic idea of what the course was like, but I wanted to be cautious on the first loop,” he said, knowing that the second nine-mile loop around the park’s perimeter can be deadly if you don’t run smart for the first half.
“We knew we had to stick together, but it was hard to get any momentum will all the rolling hills. We ran together for about the first 23 miles, but that last mile and a half was tough,” he added.
His wife Laura and their two young children were all waiting for him at the finish line. Laura is also a marathoner and is entered in the Louisville Marathon on Sunday.
Curran would have liked to win on a day when he posted his personal best by almost three minutes, but he was simply thrilled to get what he got time wise.
“This is my 10th marathon today and everything went according to plan. I did my first marathon here eight years ago and my time today was about 48 minutes faster,” Curran said while wiping his brow and sipping a bottle of water.
“It seemed like he was right behind me the entire way as I could hear him breathing, but he caught me with about a 5K to go and was gone after that. I knew when I didn’t see him on the curves that there was no way I would catch him. I guess I was his pacer today since I was familiar with the course and he wasn’t, but I’m really happy with my results,” he nodded.
Saturday’s race was the 24th marathon for Starosciak. She was hoping to break 3:05, but she was still happy with the results.
“This race always has great weather and I love this course. This is my fourth time to run here and the second time to win. The course is so motivating and I did a lot of thinking about all the veterans who fought in this battlefield. We had a good group come up for this race and I’m planning to come back,” she said.
Starosciak’s PR is a 2:51 and was set at Boston two years ago as she finished just ahead of the bombing at the finish line.
Getty had run the Chicago Marathon about a month ago and has basically been taking it easy recovering since, but she flew down with her friend Heather Grazzini to run this race for the first time. She too is on the 50-state program.
“I ran Chicago four weeks ago and haven’t done much since, so this was a last-minute decision. This is my 17th state and 37th marathon overall. This is my eighth marathon this year and I was hoping to be near 3:10, so I’m really pleased with my time.
“I experienced a lot of goose bumps on the course today. What a great way to honor our veterans,” she said, noting that they were planning to fly home later Saturday afternoon.
Gilpin has done a lot of training at Chickamauga Park, but Saturday was his first race there. He had posted his PR of 1:11:30 back in 2016 and was hoping to be close to 70 minutes, but it just didn’t materialize the way he had hoped.
“I never really got warm today and the wheels came off about the 10-mile mark. It was alright, but I didn’t do as many long runs as I should have. I had no pop in my calves for the last few miles,” the 25-year-old Nashvillian and former UTC standout expressed.
Gilpin will graduate from Physical Therapy school in May, so he has something in common with Gibson, a 33-year-old physical therapist from Chattanooga.
“The temperature was about perfect as we had great weather, but this was a lot faster than my time here eight or nine years ago. I always like to go under 1:30, so I’m happy with that as well,” she nodded.
Mason Chilmonczyk was the half-marathon runner-up in 1:14:20 while Adan Rodriguez was third in 1:14:36 after winning the half last year in 1:15:26.
While Gibson was the women’s half-marathon winner, Jodi Blackwell and Leah Rodenback were next as they finished 30th and 36th overall with times of 1:33:44 and 1:36:18, respectively.
Jason Altman and Dianna Leun were not present to defend their marathon titles. Altman became the first four-time winner with a 2:42:20 last year, but suffered an injury in another marathon earlier in the fall and promised to be back in 2018.
His previous four wins came in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Saturday’s races served as the Georgia state championship for the Road Runners Club of America.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)