Commemoration, close competition and cool connections highlighted the runs in the park Saturday at the Chickamauga Battlefield.
As the 45th Chickamauga Chase kicked off the nation's oldest military park's 150th anniversary celebration of the Civil War battles it commemorates, the area's oldest continuous race added a literally splashy trail option of nearly eight miles to the trademark 15-kilometer road race and the 5k. The noncompetitive Kiddie K and Scenic Walk continued as well.
There were nearly 1,700 participants in all, according to race director George Skonberg.
The inaugural trail race winners turned out to be a boyfriend and girlfriend combination, Chattanoogans Cullom Boyd and Kiersten Vradenburgh. Each just barely finished first, Boyd at 56 minutes, 31 seconds by three seconds over Brian Costilow and Vradenburgh at 1:06:02 by 10 seconds over Sarah Mason.
The 15k main race was close as well, with redshirting University of Tennessee at Chattanooga runner John Gilpin from Nashville winning by 10 seconds, 50:57 to 51:07, over defending champion Geno Phillips, twice his age, and North Murray High School standout Isaac Pacheco-Pulido and Patrick Hall third and fourth at 51:17 and 51:36.
Former UTC standout Amanda Lynch Tate was the women's winner and ninth overall in 59:53. Now 35 and a year removed from giving birth for the third time, she was racing for the first time since November surgery on her left foot.
"I was in a boot for about six weeks. I'm good now, though," said Tate, a physical therapist for the Center for Sports Medicine who for a while owned the Southern Conference women's record for 3000 meters. "I felt really good today. I was consistent. I was kind of by myself for a large part of the race, and I never saw the girl who finished second."
Saturday was the first race longer than 10 kilometers for the 21-year-old Gilpin, and he was proud of his time and his accomplishment.
"I knew Geno was the horse for today. I was hoping just to be there and have the foot speed at the end," he said. "I figured he had me on strength. And he was coming hard at the end."
Before finishing third in the Chase for the third year in a row, Pacheco-Pulido forced the action at the end by pulling away from the lead group at the seventh mile. Gilpin went with him, while Phillips stayed patient.
"I knew we had one more hill, and I stayed steady. I probably got about 20 seconds back, and then I started closing in," said Phillips, 41, who said this one was more exciting than his 50-second win in 2012. "I'll take the masters title. I was only a few seconds off my time last year."
He passed Pacheco-Pulido in the final 800 meters. After Hall, 28, came a group of other older area regular contenders: Alan Outlaw, 35; Dean Thompson, 47; grand masters winner Hugh Enicks, 53; and Paul Archambault, 36. Then came Tate, 2:38 ahead of female runner-up Julie Simmons in 20th place overall. Dianna Leun was third and the female masters winner in 1:04:23.
Also added this year were awards for senior grand masters -- 60 and older -- and the first 5k senior grand masters winner was the winner of the first Chickamauga Chase, Steve Ferguson of Knoxville.
Jason McKinney of Rossville was the 5k winner in 18:09, nine seconds ahead of runner-up Nathan Helton of Chattanooga. Signal Mountain 15-year-old Becca Umbarger was the first female in 21:29.
In the trail race featuring multiple creek crossings and muddy patches from recent rains, Vradenburgh took advantage of female leader Jan Gautier's fall near the end to surge to victory. Gautier finished third.
Vradenburgh, a 22-year-old Fast Break store employee, ran the Chase 15k the last two years but "wanted to try it out" on the trail option specifically because of the water hazards as opposed to other courses in the Salomon Rock/Creek Trail Series.
Boyd, a 28-year-old real estate inspector, agreed that the extra water "made it interesting."
He didn't decide to join Vradenburgh in the trail option until Saturday morning, having brought both his road shoes for the 5k and his trail shoes.
"I'm excited. I couldn't be happier," he said about his decision.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.