published Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Saft, Woerner impress on trail

It’s easy to rearrange the letters of Aaron Saft’s last name and get “fast.”

Yeah, he’s heard that before. But the 33-year-old owner of a running shoe store in Asheville, N.C., lives up to the alternate spelling — at least in distance races.

After winning the 10.2-mile River Gorge race in the Rock/Creek Trail Series in late March, Saft blistered the revised Scenic City Trail Marathon course Saturday morning on Raccoon Mountain to win in 2 hours, 47 minutes, 42 seconds. Young local hero Josh Wheeler, son of the series sponsor’s co-owner, was second in 2:56:21 with Feb Boswell of Memphis third in 3:01:13.

The real star of the race, however, was 21-year-old Ooltewah resident Sarah Woerner, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She amazingly was fifth overall and the women’s winner in 3:13:27, a race record by more than 24 minutes.

“This was by far my fastest. I ran this race in like 4:28 last year,” Woerner said. “It’s just having more experience and training — training with friends, for sure. I feel very blessed.”

She was a runner in middle school but gave up the sport to concentrate on basketball in high school.

“I got back into it to stay in shape,” she said. “I’ve been doing the trail races for about three years.”

A first-year member of the Rock/Creek race team, Woerner was the women’s winner in the 6.5-mile option of the River Gorge event.

“She’s a machine, and she’s just getting better,” Rock/Creek’s Jeff Bartlett said.

Knoxville’s Malinda Honkus, 41, was the second female finisher Saturday, 41 minutes behind Woerner and 26 seconds ahead of Asheville’s Jennings Garry with Signal Mountain’s Natalie Sims a close fourth at 3:55:39.

Running Raccoon Mountain for the first time, Saft referred to the course as “nice rolling terrain.” It uses trails set up for mountain bikers.

He had won the 2007 national trail marathon championship in the DuPont National Forest near where he lives in 2:30 — that was mostly on fire service roads — and was third in 2:48 two years ago in Oregon’s Lithia Loop marathon with “a lot of ascents.”

“This one does not have as much elevation gain as Lithia, but it does have a little bit of technical aspects,” he said, referring to trail components not found in road races, which Saft also does.

Daniel Mueller, 24, won the half marathon Saturday in 1:16:47, with 39-year-old Theodore Towse second in 1:18:13 and Bryan College runner Jacob Bradley third in 1:21:12. Sue Kelly, 50, was the women’s winner in 1:38:02 with Theresa Saupe second in 1:43:02, 17 seconds ahead of Elizabeth Callaway.

There were 288 finishers in the half marathon, 175 in the marathon.

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