Patrick Hall won the 39th Missionary Ridge Road Race on Saturday, just as he did the last time he ran it - five years ago.
That was the day that Georgia College and State University runner John Bruner from Dalton collapsed near the finish line and subsequently died. The race since has memorialized Bruner, and proceeds starting in 2008 have been split between the local chapter of the American Red Cross and the family-created Team Bruner scholarship fund.
Hall said Saturday that the memory of Bruner's struggle remained "really vivid, even five years later." Now 27, the former Chattanooga Christian and Covenant College standout has attended the Missionary Ridge race since his 2007 victory but didn't feel ready to enter again until this year.
He took the lead early and kept it, covering the 4.7 miles out and back along the crest of the ridge from the Bragg Reservation in 25 minutes, 36 seconds. Alan Outlaw was second in 26:16, and Dean Thompson shaded Tim Ensign for third place and the masters victory, 26:49 to 27:04, with Cullom Boyd fifth in 27:10 and Andy Highlander sixth in 27:30.
Kiersten Vradenburgh was the women's winner and 25th overall in 32:34, 17 seconds ahead of runner-up and masters winner Dianna Leun 17. Mark Lorello was the men's grand masters victor and ninth overall in 28:52, and Rhonda Gage earned the female grand masters win in 38:43.
Vradenburgh, 21, works at Fast Break Athletics and is an assistant coach for the Chattanooga Patriots home-school cross country teams. Without 11-time winner Jan Gautier or recent University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standouts such as Lanni Marchant, who won this race the last two years, Vradenburgh said she knew before the start that she "had a chance" to win.
Her first overall area victory was at the 10k Raccoon Mountain race in May.
"Usually I know what days I can win and what days I can't," she said. "But Dianna Leun really pushes me. I usually try to stay with her and then try to pull away at the end, and that's what I did. My biggest lead was at the end today. I don't think I could go as fast without her."
Vradenburgh ran the closing stretch side by side with her father, Barry, and edged him by a second.
"I think that's the first time I've finished ahead of him," she said.
Hall said he wanted to finish in under 25 minutes, "but the second mile I lost a lot of time. I told myself to take it easy and not push, to concentrate on winning the race. It was a nice, cooler day, but it's still August and a hilly course. It's going to hurt no matter what.
"It's always fun to race with Alan and Andy and those guys."
Thompson and Ensign, teammates on the Chattanooga Track Club's masters cross country team, have become "friendly rivals," as Ensign, 49, put it. He clipped the 46-year-old Shaw Industries manager by four seconds in their last matchup, the Peachtree 10k, and said they been "pretty even the last couple of years."
Thompson admitted he wasn't really trying to stay with Hall.
"My goal was to stay with Alan as long as I could, and I guess I hung pretty close for about three miles, and then he pulled away," he said. "Then I just tried to hang on and hope Tim wouldn't sneak up on me."
Bruner's father, Greg, was present again and gave the invocation before the race.
"It's always hard beforehand to give myself up and come up here," he said, "but after I get here I'm always uplifted by the outpouring of support and love."
Team Bruner scholarships go annually to runners at Dalton High School and Georgia College, and the last two years the foundation also has paid fees for Blue Ridge Elementary School entrants in the Run for John race held in late April in Dalton.