Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Tim Ensign isn’t a competitive person.
Last year the veteran runner got beat at the Wauhatchie Trail Run in the final stretch by Rodney Stoker and Ensign has never forgotten it.
The former UTC standout got his revenge on Saturday as he became an 11-time winner after covering the hilly and challenging 6.7-mile trail run on the side of Lookout Mountain in 37 minutes, 17 seconds.
Stoker was second as he was 30 seconds back.
John Arrowsmith was third in 39:11 while Micaiah Allison and Kevin Huwe completed the top five with times of 40:58 and 41:02, respectively.
Jennifer Huwe, Kevin’s wife, was the first female as she finished seventh overall with a time of 41:59. Helen Webb was the second female and ninth overall in 42:25 while defending women’s winner Lisa Logan was the third female and 15th overall in 44:23.
This is one of the most unique races around and the final race of the year for the Chattanooga Track Club. It’s handicapped by age and gender, which means that older runners get a head start and the younger and faster individuals get very little or no advantage at all.
Ensign is a 56-year-old male, so his age group had a 7:30 jump while Stoker at 42 was only allowed a 2:45 advantage. Stoker had the fastest scratch time of 40:32 to Ensign’s 44:47, but the speech writer for IBM had not forgotten last year’s heartbreaking experience and had trained with that memory in mind for the past 365 days.
You could hear Ensign whooping and hollering before he got in sight of the finish line at the Chattanooga Nature Center as he knew he had regained the top spot. He was punching the air in celebration as he reached the end and may have been the happiest participant on what turned out to be a near-perfect day for running in the woods.
“Just like the 80s,” he blurted when asked about his run to the front.
“I thought about last year a lot and I even bought some trail shoes this year. I think I ran pretty good for an old guy, but beating Rodney Stoker is always a good experience, even if I did get a head start. After last year’s demoralizing defeat, I wanted to run well and to not fall,” he added.
Stoker too is a former standout runner at UTC who now works in admissions at McCallie where he also works with their summer camp program. The 42-year-old Ridgeland graduate also runs with guys on the McCallie cross country and track teams, so he gets more than his share of fast running.
He had won the Sports Barn Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day for the second straight year, but for some reason he just didn’t have the same spring in his step on the side of Lookout on Saturday. He still ran pretty darned well, despite not being the overall winner.
“I never saw Tim after I got started. I don’t think I can do speedwork on the track with those younger guys at my age as I was struggling on the hills today,” Stoker expressed after catching his breath.
“I felt more fatigued today than normal, but it was still a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure I’m more fit now than I was last year. Maybe I just didn’t train hard enough, but I’m happy for Tim. I could hear him whooping and hollering as he got near the end and that just made me smile,” he nodded.
Jennifer Huwe was the women’s winner at the Turkey Trot too. She’s a 29-year-old quality control person for McKee who basically “eats Little Debbies for a living,” but she was just happy to stay on her feet the whole way.
“It was nice that it wasn’t so cold as it was last year and this is the first time I’ve run this race when I didn’t fall. It was a good day for me as I love this race. It feels more like a family atmosphere with all the fun, food and fellowship.
“I had my eyes on the Golden Antlers, but this is a fun race no matter what. And it’s a great way to end the year,” she said, knowing that her focus now will be on the Houston Half-Marathon in January with husband Kevin.
Webb is a spunky, 14-year-old eighth grader who was the number one runner for the Baylor girls cross country team. She earned All-State honors by finishing third at the state meet in Nashville and she had her first experience with this race on Saturday.
She’s a soft-spoken young lady who doesn’t say a whole lot, but you could tell by the smile on her face that she enjoyed the experience.
“It was pretty hard, but I just tried to give it all I had at the very end,” she expressed her first impression of this race.
The infamous Golden Antlers are the trophies awarded the overall individual winners and the family winner that includes the combined times of two family members, whether it be husband-wife, brother-sister, mother-daughter or whatever.
The Ensigns – Tim and Barbara – captured that award too. Barbara was 19th overall in 45:39, so her time combined with Tim’s 37:17 totaled 82 minutes, 56 seconds to beat the Huwes’ time of 83:01.
Sue Anne Brown ran this race for the 29th straight year and won the Jean Horgan Award for the second straight year.
The award is given to the first runner to reach the one-mile mark as Horgan did that five straight years before passing away back in 2017. She ran this race five straight years before her death.
The 72-year-old Brown had a headstart of 30:45 and finished 48th overall in 54:56 despite taking a tumble about midway through the run.
“I was feeling so good as I had come so close to falling right before that, but all of a sudden, I went down. I landed on my hip and knee and my face hit the ground. Women pay a lot of money for mud patches, but I got mine for free. I felt really good the whole way and I guess I’m lucky I didn’t get hurt,” she expressed.
Brown had a similar experience back in the late 80s when she fell at almost the same spot as on Saturday, only to suffer a broken arm.
While Brown has done this race 29 years in a row, 45-year-old Shannon Wood has done it 28 straight times.
“My father saw this race advertised in a running magazine way back when I was in high school as there aren’t a whole lot of December races in those days. We plug it into our calendar every year and plan our schedules around it, but I haven’t done as much training as in years past,” the accounting department employee for Douglas Autotech in Hopkinsville, Kentucky said.
“This is one of those races where if you can make it to the top of the hill at about two and a half miles, it’s basically downhill and flat the rest of the way. It was more muddy today, but the warmer temperature made it more comfortable,” he nodded.
Allison, Shannon’s 15-year-old daughter, ran it for the second year in a row and finished 34th in 49:53.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)