It has been about 15 years since Rodney Stoker captured first place overall in the annual Sports Barn Turkey Trot, but he’s been doing some serious training in recent weeks and it paid off Thursday morning as the 41-year-old former UTC standout was victorious with a time of 27 minutes, 18 seconds.
Dylan Hassett, a promising 24-year-old from Atlanta who is making her way as a professional runner, broke from the starting line in the lead pack and proved it was no fluke as she finished as the race runner-up and overall female winner with a time of 27:47.
Nashville’s Seth Carley was the second male in 27:57 while Peter Dalton of Martin, Tenn. Was third in 28:08. Jack McGinness and John Sillery followed with times of 28:09 and 28:16, respectively.
While Hassett ran away from all the females, two-time defending champ Jessica Marlier was the second woman as she crossed the line in 30 minutes, five seconds to claim 19th overall in the field that included 691 finishers.
Rachel Mason finished five spots back in 30:51 for third while Chelsea Hassett and Emily Cooper were fourth and fifth with times of 32:58 and 33:57, respectively.
Thursday was the 25th annual running of a Chattanooga race on Thanksgiving morning that has become the most popular race on the Chattanooga Track Club schedule. Lots of families gather for the festive occasion and quite a few folks take part in a 5K walk, but most just want to get in a good workout before chowing down and taking it easy for the rest of the day.
Stoker is a 1994 graduate of Ridgeland High School who went to Georgia Southern before finishing his college eligibility at UTC. He spent four years coaching track and cross country at UT-Knoxville, but has been back in the Chattanooga for the past 18 months at McCallie working on the Sports Camp staff and serving as a coach.
He’s currently getting ready for the Masters Club Nationals cross country championships in a couple of weeks, so he just came out on Thursday to measure where his fitness level is.
He didn’t expect to be challenged by a pretty young lady as the race wound through the neighborhood off East Brainerd Road by the Brown Acres golf course.
“I just wanted to test myself today as I have the club nationals in two weeks,” the 41-year-old speedster said after a post-race warm down run.
“I felt comfortable most of the way as I was hoping to be under 5:30 pace per mile. I was just barely, but I knew that girl was good and she wasn’t that far behind me. We ran together for the first two miles, but we went up a hill at that point and that’s where I gapped her a little bit.
“But I’m just thankful to still be healthy and running,” he said, noting that his 8K PR is a blistering 23:40.
Hassett is originally from Atlanta, but is currently training and racing for a team in Providence, R.I. She was home for the holiday and looking for an 8K race and that’s how she ended up in Chattanooga.
“I was looking for an 8K race and this one was the closest I could find,” she said shortly after finishing on a brisk morning.
“It was a little hillier than I was expecting, but I had my eye on him (Stoker) the whole time. Really I was just looking for a strong effort and that’s what I got, but I was all alone after the first mile and it was a good practice in mental discipline.
“I have only run one marathon and want to eventually get back to that distance, but today was my first 8K and really had a nice time,” she concluded, noting that her only marathon was a 2:57 at the Olympic Trials at Los Angeles in 2016.
Marlier finished 22nd overall in winning last year with a time of 31:55. She vowed to be in better shape this time around.
“The good news is that I was faster than last year, but the bad news is that old habits die hard and I started out too quick as usual,” the 32-year-old Fleet Feet associate expressed afterward.
“This race always draws good competition and I knew I was in trouble when I saw her up on the front row. She was in the lead pack of guys from the start, but I’m happy with my time,” she nodded.
Seth Ruhling was last year’s winner in 26:54, but was not present on Thursday to defend his title.
The proceeds from the race benefit the Kidney Foundation of Chattanooga.
The next and last race on the CTC schedule for 2017 will take place on Dec. 16 with the Wauhatchie Trail Run, one of the most challenging and scenic 6.7-mile runs on the side of Lookout Mountain. It’s age and gender handicapped, so everyone has a shot to win.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)