Two University of Tennessee at Chattanooga runners taking off this season took off from everybody else Tuesday night in the 35th annual Karen Lawrence Run for St. Jude.
Making his debut in the New Year's Eve event, UTC sophomore Paul Stuart ultimately shook off senior teammate John Gilpin and won the double-loop 4.2.-mile race from the downtown Sports Barn in 23 minutes, 51.031 seconds. Gilpin's time was 23:54.042, and Lee University coach Caleb Morgan was two seconds behind in third with former Red Bank and Tennessee Wesleyan runner Thomas Barker fourth and teenager Seth Ruhling, the 2012 race winner, fifth.
Local lawyer and former UTC star Lanni Marchant was the women's winner for the second year in a row and eighth overall in 24:08.183. Jessica Marlier completed a very successful 2013 as the female runner-up in 24:38.805, 12th overall.
Ryan Shrum and Jan Gautier were the masters winners.
Stuart and Gilpin are both from the Nashville area, Gilpin from Martin Luther King Jr. High School and Stuart from Brentwood High, and train together not only while in Chattanoga but often while visiting home. They are redshirting during indoor track this winter but will be active again for the Mocs in the outdoor track season. Both won local races against each other during 2013, and both indicated Tuesday that each race is a matter of who's more on for that given day or course.
"Because we run together so much, we kind of know when the surges are going to come," Stuart said.
"He started to work me our second time to go out over the walking bridge, and he pulled away our second time coming back over it," Gilpin said. "Our first time coming back over the bridge was when we started to get away from the others. The bridge seemed to be at the center of it tonight."
Marchant, who set the Canadian women's marathon record in late October, was the overall runner-up in the 2012 Karen Lawrence race but agreed that the current Mocs set too strong a pace this time. She felt good about her time, though.
"I was sick through Christmas with a bit of a chest bug. This was my first hard effort since then," the 29-year-old Speek, Webb & Turner attorney said.
She's looking forward to her third consecutive year to train for a significant block of time in Kenya, this time for six weeks beginning Jan. 8. Her life has been hectic with visits to Canada, races in various places and living until recently in Cartersville, Ga., while working in Chattanooga and dating a Nashville resident. Both the altitude and the attitude of her Kenya stays have helped her greatly, she said.
"It greatly simplifies my life. The last time I slept in the same place for a month was when I was there last year," Marchant said, noting also that she eats healthful food and "runs with the best of the best" while there. "That's where I have felt most at home lately."
She almost got hit by a car in last year's Lawrence race. There was no such danger this time -- just dodging slower runners, walkers and even participants pushing strollers the second time through the loop. But that's all part of the fun of the event, along with the live music, the costumes some runners wear and the overall good will of helping the Lawrence family remember Karen and her tremendous treatment at the children's research hospital in Memphis.
"There was a lot of foot traffic, but we just came out to have fun," said Stuart, who said he's been averaging about 75 miles of training per week. "It's always fun to run with Gilpin."
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.