The history of the Chattanooga Chase, the region’s oldest active road race

Staff file photo / Runners of all ages compete in the 2016 Chattanooga Chase, its 49th year.

Sweat beads drip from smiling faces on a sunny Memorial Day. After a steep 8k, racers cross the finish line to be greeted by food, drink and friends. The celebration is well-earned and underlined by what Alan Outlaw describes as "positive suffering."

The Chattanooga Chase is the region's oldest active road race. This year's race will mark the 56th anniversary, though it may be far older than that.

The event has a relatively low barrier to entry featuring both the classic 8k and a more forgiving one-mile run. While 4.9 miles may not be all that long for some, the winding and hilly course through the scenic Riverview neighborhood makes for a challenging run.

Although the Chattanooga Chase was officially established in 1968, there is evidence suggesting the race is much older. A binder full of coffee-colored newspaper clippings lies tucked under the register at Fast Break Athletics, an athletic specialty shop and longtime sponsor of the race. A rich history of running and community is told through snippets of black and white.

The oldest article in the binder dates to 1944 and features a race that may be the predecessor to the Chattanooga Chase. The article states the race will have its 29th running that year, meaning the inaugural race was in 1915. The roots run deep.

In more recent history, the race has exploded in popularity and become a staple in the Chattanooga running community, though there was a time when its future was uncertain.

In 2015, the Chattanooga Track Club, which had been organizing the race, considered killing it after its director stepped down at the last minute, resulting in poor participation with only 160 runners and a disorganized awards ceremony -- the "trophies" were presented as paper plates. The race was not making money, so it wasn't viable.

In a last-ditch effort, the club approached Fast Break owner Alan Outlaw with a proposition: to direct the 2016 race.

  photo  Staff file photo / Fast Break Athletics owner Alan Outlaw became Chattanooga Chase race director in 2016.

Outlaw was apprehensive at first. After some convincing, he agreed to help on the condition that Fast Break would do it "our way." At the time, he wasn't exactly sure what "our way" looked like. Outlaw didn't want to see the Chattanooga Chase go by the wayside, especially with his connection to the race.

"Personally, when I got back into running about 15 years ago, it was one of the first races I did. And it was hard... But I got bit by the bug, and the next year I took third place. Then, I won the race, and the next year I placed second. So, I got this personal love for the race. Plus, at the time, it happened to be in my backyard. A real hometown race," he said.

Outlaw set out to make this race the best it could be. First, he straightened out what he described as the core principles of a race.

"You have to have a runnable and well-marked course, keep people safe, start on time and have accurate timely results," he explained.

After that, it is all about community.

He contacted some small businesses and entrepreneurs which were already well-established names in the city: Chattanooga Brewing; Chattanooga Whiskey; the Daily Ration; the Monen Family.

"I just want you to come out and show the best of your business on race day," he told them.

With all those names behind the race and some clever marketing, 550 people registered in 2016, and it kept growing. Almost a thousand people ran in 2022.

Outlaw attributes the success of the race to collective suffering, which is quickly alleviated by community.

"There's meaning in suffering, and the best way to recover from something strenuous is spending time with friends," he said.

Chattanooga Chase 2023

When: Memorial Day, Monday, May 29

Where: 1000 Barton Ave.

What: The 8k begins at 8 a.m., and the 1-mile run begins at 10 a.m.