They couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day weather-wise for the oldest and longest running race on the Chattanooga Track Club’s schedule.
Temperatures were cool, but not cold, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Add to that the fact there was very little wind and you have perfect conditions for the 50th Annual Chickamauga Chase.
A lot has changed with this event since that spring morning back in 1969 when members of the Atlanta Track Club joined with local track club members for a friendly race through Chickamauga Park that was a 10-miler in those days.
It was later changed to a 15K and that’s been the case ever since, although a 5K and an eight-mile trail run have been added in recent years.
The younger generation had command of the trail run, but it was the older folks who dominated the longer run that goes a complete loop around a park that commemorates one of the most fierce battles in the Civil War.
The course is rolling with some long level stretches, but there are also a few challenging hills along the way. And toss in the fact that the dogwoods and red oaks are always in bloom this time of year and you have an ideal setting for a road race of any distance.
All three of Saturday’s races began at the same time, so it was 26-year-old Joshua Stanley who was the first to cross the finish line as the 5K overall winner in 17:24. Last year’s 5K winner Derek Gallardo was the runner-up in 17:52 while Jerryd Tennyson was third in 18:31.
Thirteen-year-old Helen Webb was the women’s 5K winner as she finished 10th overall in 20:56. Laura Wagner was next in 21:17 while Mindy Freeman was the third woman and 26th overall in 23:27.
Former Ridgeland and UTC standout Rodney Stoker was the winner in the 9.3-mile race as he crossed the line all alone in 51 minutes, 52 seconds.
Nick McCormick, a recent graduate of UT-Knoxville who earned All-State honors at East Hamilton, was the runner-up with a time of 53:59. Zack Jordan was third in 54:45.
Amanda Tate was the women’s winner as she averaged 6:26 per mile in posting a time of 59:50, which was 11th overall. Sara Gibson and defending 15K winner Rachel Mason were right behind with times of 59:56 and 60:15, respectively.
Jether English, a friendly 25-year-old farmer from Flintstone, was the winner of the trail run as he covered the distance in 47:22 to finish four second ahead of Bob Adams. Michael Conkel, the defending trail winner, was more than two minutes ahead of last year’s time, but had to settle for third place with a time of 51:14.
Kiersten Boyd had another good run to repeat as the women’s winner in the trail run as she was 13th overall in 1:03:15. Boyd has now won this race three of the last four years. Saturday’s time was substantially better than last year’s time of 1:06:45.
Stoker broke away from the pack as soon as the race began. He never slowed down as he cruised to a two-minute, seven-second win over McCormick.
“I felt good as trying to keep up with those McCallie boys keeps me in shape,” the 42-year-old Stoker said in reference to his job working with the McCallie summer camps.
“My Achilles tendon has been tender in recent weeks and I haven’t done as much running, but that may have been a blessing in disguise for me today. We had really good weather, but I’m much more fit than I was last year when I had a time of 54:50.
“Those hills on the back side still hurt, but it was just me and the two guys on the bike up front. I got a lot of sleep last night and felt pretty good when I woke up, but what a day I had. I use my running as a motivational tool for my McCallie guys as I tell them if an old guy like me can do it, so can they,” he added.
McCormick graduated from UT-Knoxville last spring with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He’s still debating whether or not to attend graduate school, but he had a really good time literally in his first 15K race ever.
“I did the 5K here when I was in high school, but this was my first 15K,” he explained after a cooldown run.
“I was hoping to break 54 minutes and I think I had perfect pacing as I knew I needed to do 18 minutes for every 5K. I do a lot of running at Enterprise South and there are some really good hills there, so today wasn’t too bad. Rodney was ahead the whole time, but I was running with another group and we separated ourselves with about three miles to go,” McCormick remembered.
Tate, like Stoker, was a standout for the Lady Mocs back in the day. Since that time, she’s gotten married, given birth to three sons and is now working as a physical therapist for Center for Sports Medicine. She went to the Cooper River Bridge run two weeks ago for a popular 10K race in Charleston, S.C.
“I ran Cooper River two weeks ago and died, but I haven’t done any speed work since December. I knew there were some fast women in the race today, but I just had to stay focused on running my race as I wanted to average 6:40 per mile,” she said after beating that by 14 seconds per mile.
“I think I won this race five years ago with a similar time, but I was a whole lot younger then. My shoe came untied during the race and I tried to not think about it as I was in a nice rhythm and didn’t want to break it. I just wanted to be sure it didn’t fall off.
“I’ve been busy keeping up with my son’s ball games this spring and didn’t register until last week, but I’m much happier today than I was two weeks ago,” Tate nodded.
English made his first trail run a good one to say the least.
“This is my first trail run on this course and I was just hoping to average six-minute miles. I was in second place for a long time, but I had my mind set to win and I was able to do that,” he explained afterward.
Boyd tries to run five-six days per week as she mixes that with her job at Fast Break and being a mom to a two-year-old. She had extra incentive to run a little faster on Saturday.
“It was beautiful out there, but I had to race this one girl for more than three miles. I was in the lead and all of a sudden she pulls up beside me and made me a little bit nervous. I won this race last year, but today was much faster and that girl gets the credit.
“I still enjoy running as much as I can, but most of the time it’s pushing a stroller. I still try to get on the trails at least once a week,” she smiled.
While there were runners and walkers going all paces on Saturday morning, nobody was any happier to cross the finish line than 83-year-old Jack McFarland, who still lives in Decatur, Ga.
McFarland was one of the original 110 runners to finish the first Peachtree 10K and he’s the only person who has been part of all 50 Chickamauga Chases.
McFarland had heart surgery a few years back. He mostly walks these days, but he was all smiles after crossing the line in one hour, eight minutes and 47 seconds.
“Maybe the best thing about today’s race was having my entire family here with me,” he said as he pointed to his wife and four children.
It was certainly a special occasion for his two sons and two daughters, who came from New Mexico, Florida, Murfreesboro and Atlanta to celebrate the event with big Jack.
“My time in 1971 was faster than what I did today and it was a 10-mile race back in those days. I’m not doing enough these days and I can tell it, but this is one of those events I always plan my schedule around,” he added.
There were 863 total finishers in Saturday's races, including 406 in the 5K, 308 in the 15K and another 149 in the trail run. There were 13 in the longest race who broke the magical one-hour time.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)