There were a lot of holiday celebrations in the Chattanooga area on Monday for Memorial Day, but none were any more festive or energetic than the one at Riverview Park.
The occasion was the 55th running of the Chattanooga Chase, a classic 8K road race that provides runners with some of the most scenic and challenging roads in Hamilton County.
They had another large turnout with almost a thousand participants in the 8K and the one-mile combined. They had 638 finishers in the longer race and another 303 in the one-mile.
Brandon Hudgins was the defending champion who set a new course record a year ago when he posted a winning time of 24:36. The 35-year-old stud, who calls High Point, N.C. home these days, wasn’t quite as fast as last year as he’s still recovering from a leg injury and he’s just a month out from testing positive for Covid.
He still averaged 5:16 per mile as he crossed the finish line with a time of 26 minutes, eight seconds, some five seconds ahead of runner-up Adan Rodriguez.
John Gilpin, who has won this race at least twice in recent years, was third in 26:44 while Gatlin Holland and Christian Thompson completed the top five with times of 26:57 and 27:07, respectively.
Lauren Mullins was the overall winner for the women and 48th overall as she posted a time of 32:53. Bekah Houston was second in 33:28 while Rachel Mason was third in 33:33. Haley Moody Gilpin and Leah Miller were fourth and fifth with times of 34:01 and 34:35, respectively.
This race has become famous throughout the Southeast for its hilly course and the climb up Minnekahda, which is the hill most folks talk about that comes right about the half-way point. It has also been known as a hot weather race with scorching temperatures in the past, but conditions were somewhat favorable for the 8 a.m. start.
There was a tight pack running together for the first couple of miles, but the field began to spread as they approached those hills in the middle. Rodriguez had the lead going up to the top, but Hudgins passed him on the way down. The lead switched back and forth again until Hudgins put the hammer down for the last time in the last mile to successfully defend his title.
“I’ve been hurt for the past three months and I had Covid a month ago, so I’ve been running again for about two weeks,” explained Hudgins, a 35-year-old running coach who represents the High Point Athletic Club.
“Today’s race was one of the hardest in my life, but it was worth it. It was much tougher than last year as this course just isn’t forgiving. He had me on the ropes on the way down, but I just put my head down and went as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t know until about right there that I was going to win today,” he said, pointing to a spot about 100 yards from the finish line.
Rodriguez is from Dalton and is a graduate student at Lee University where he posted a time of 30:42 for the 10K at the Gulf South Conference meet a few weeks ago. He’s taken a few weeks off after that, but was back to a real challenge on Memorial Day.
“That was a lot of fun. I’ve run this race before and knew what to expect, but I thought I’d have a shot of winning if I could get to the top of Minnekahda first. I was able to do that, but got passed on the way down,” he recalled shortly after his work was complete.
“I’m really happy with today’s race. Maybe I should have run harder in the first half, but that hill in the middle will make or break a man,” he added.
Gilpin and his wife Haley had a baby girl a little over four months ago. Monday was his first day racing since that time.
“It was okay,” the 30-year-old physical therapist said shortly after finishing.
“I was in fourth place for a while, but moved into third with just over a mile to go. It would have been good to be a little more fit today, but I still had a good time and was glad I came,” he said, noting that he’s running 40-50 miles per week these days.
Mullins had limited expectations for the race as she didn’t even register until Monday morning. She did some serious training with her sister and ran her first marathon in Nashville a few weeks back where she posted an impressive time of 3:15. That marathon training obviously offered some positive results on Monday.
She’s the sister-in-law of Thompson, so maybe that’s where she’s developed her speed.
“I’ve never run this race before, but I enjoy running hills and today was a good day,” the 28-year-old Providence graduate suggested.
“I loved the course and just tried to maintain my pace the whole way. I liked the way the course incorporated some really nice neighborhoods, but I really had a good time and hope to come back next year,” she concluded with a smile.
Houston is a 27-year-old nurse practitioner from Dalton who was running this race for the third time. She finished seventh overall in the women’s division a year ago.
“I had a faster time today, but ran a better race last year,” she explained.
“I knew that I needed to be somewhat conservative in the first half of the race, but I still went out too hard and paid for it later. I went out a lot faster than last year and really didn’t know what place I was in until the end. But I’m very pleased with second,” she said after admitting that she posted a personal record of 3:12 at Boston last month.
Xian Campbell, who finished seventh in the longer race with a time of 27:27, was the overall winner in the one-miler with a fine time of 4:44, outlasting a close pack at the end.
Adam Veron was second in 4:45 while Kaid Boehm was third in the same time. Josh Pote was fourth in 4:47 and Jack Gibby fifth in 4:48.
Nicole Buerhle was the overall winner for women and sixth overall with a time of 4:48. Kathryn Vradenburgh was second in 5:13 while Emma Russum was third in 5:25. Charis Lea and Addison Cotter completed the top five ladies with times of 6:04 and 6:09, respectively.
“I just wanted to finish strong and hope for the best,” said Campbell, an 18-year-old speedster who just graduated from Baylor on Saturday.
“I was able to take the lead in the final 100 meters, but I had enough training from track to outsprint them at the end,” he added, noting that he will be running track and cross country at East Tennessee State University in the fall where he’s planning to be a pre-med major.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)