Joseph Sitienei and Jan Gautier were among the runners who didn't sign up for the 43rd annual Chickamauga Chase until Saturday at the race site, yet both turned those late decisions into first finishes.
Both have won their share of area races, including past runnings of the 15-kilometer event in the Chickamauga Battlefield, and both won handily Saturday despite physical discomfort that kept them well above their best times.
Sitienei was the overall winner in 52 minutes, 29 seconds. In his only previous Chickamauga Chase, he won in 47:09 in 2008, but he said he has been bothered by a strain in his left calf for about three weeks and it tightened about eight miles into Saturday's race.
Dean Thompson of Cohutta was second and the masters winner in 53:15, and 16-year-old Isaac Pacheco of Crandall, Ga., was third at 53:52.
Gautier, like Thompson now 45, was the women's winner in 1:07:44, exactly one minute ahead of 25-year-old runner-up Renee Jackson of Athens, Ga. Doris Windsand-Dausman, 54, was the female masters winner in 1:10:42.
Gautier won the 2001 Chase in 58:39 and ran a 1:01:52 the last time she won it in 2007. Kimberly Humphries had won two of the last three Chases in the 1:05:30 range but was absent Saturday.
"My best time here was 54 [minutes], but that was years ago," Gautier said. "I'm 45 and I'm happy."
Saturday's race started at 9:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 as part of the "contingency plan" put in place because of the heavy rains Friday and through the night. The usual nearby parking field was too wet to use, so runners were directed elsewhere and shuttled to the race site.
"I came out undecided," said Gautier, who's on the Rock/Creek competition team and will be running the trail half marathon at Raccoon Mountain at the end of this month. "I got here at 7 and the race started an hour late, so I just relaxed and chilled.
"I was doing this as a training run. It's not an easy course, and I thought the hills would be good for me. My time wasn't great, but I'm happy. I stayed ahead of second place."
Gautier works with Baylor's middle school and high school track teams, so coaching and helping run two meets a week limit her own training.
"I've got to get my speed up," she said. "That's what this was for. If you can't run fast on roads, you can't run fast on trails."
Sitienei, as usual, was running as a proud representative of Capital Motors, his employer. He's been doing a lot of training on the hills near where he lives at Eagle Bluff Golf Course.
Ooltewah resident Zach Orrison, 19, won the accompanying 5k in 18:02, with 49-year-old Mark Lorello of Cleveland second and the masters winner in 18:12. Shannon Dawkins of Chickamauga was the women's 5k winner and 15th overall in 20:41.
There were 991 finishers in the two races.