Races kind of run together when they've been held for four-plus decades, but the 45th annual Chickamauga Chase this Saturday will be special for several reasons.
It almost surely will be the biggest yet, with the National Park Service increasing the maximum participants allowed for the five events in the Chickamauga Battlefield to 2,000. The pre-registration was three-fourths there as of Wednesday night, longtime race director George Skonberg said Thursday evening, and with wonderful weather predicted for race day, he was expecting at least 1,800.
"With a little luck, we may get to 2,000," he said.
Last year's Chase set a participation record with 1,649, and a 7.5-mile trail run in the Rock/Creek series has been added this year. It had about 260 entrants as of late Wednesday.
"Overall, we were about 140 ahead of last year on the same day," Skonberg said.
Online registration has been cut off, but runners can sign up today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Outdoor Chattanooga in Coolidge Park -- where those already entered can pick up packets -- or beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday at the race site. The races start at 8:30.
Skonberg is directing the Chase for the 18th time in 20 years and said "absolutely" he never has been more excited going in.
"The numbers we are experiencing make our efforts that much more worthwhile," he said, "and the addition of the trail run is the capstone. We have a distance run (15 kilometers), a 5k, a beautiful walk -- this is where I wanted to get it for years."
History always hovers over the Chickamauga Chase, with so many Civil War monuments along the race routes in the nation's oldest military park, but this year that sense is magnified. The Chase is the kickoff event in the sesquicentennial celebration of the pivotal battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
"Sesquicentennial partners" can pay $150 that will go entirely to Friends of the Park -- "undiluted by race expenses," Skonberg stressed. That gets them race entries, a Chase ballcap, two T-shirts, a year's membership in Friends of the Park with special notification of all the celebration events, seating priority at some and a commemorative gift.
"We've had about 30 so far, and that's fantastic," Skonberg said. "That's pure gravy to our fundraising efforts. I'm ecstatic about that."
In another special aspect, anyone who was a participant at this year's Boston Marathon was invited to be a guest at the Chase, and Chattanooga native and Washington, D.C., resident David Park has said he'll take the offer. He was approaching the 26th mile when Monday's race was stopped.
Geno Phillips and Aimee Harvey were the 15k overall winners last year.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.