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Staff file photo / Paul Stuart wins the Chickamauga Chase 15k race in 2016.

This year was supposed to be one for the books for the Chattanooga Track Club. In honor of the group's 50th anniversary, a whole calendar of events were planned. New races were plotted out, special giveaways and celebratory promotions were designed for each event, a yearlong challenge was birthed to mark the momentous occasion.

"We started the year with a 50-minute race. That was pretty much all we got to do," says Track Club President Jason Liggins. "That was in January."

With the calendar year mostly on the books and the coronavirus now a more known challenger, the group is hoping to salvage some of its planned activities. Club leaders spent the downtime developing new protocols, and tested the waters with a few events this summer.

"We fully realize racing — like everything — is going to look different for quite some time," Liggins says.

The group first experimented with virtual-only events. "We were able to keep our members active that way and keep them engaged," he says.

But the cancellation of in-person races meant the club did not see the typical spike in membership this summer. And that meant less money for other health-focused initiatives in the community, like the Red Cross, which the club helps support through donations each year.

"We are a nonprofit, so once we cover costs, all the money goes back into the community," Liggins says, noting that each race typically benefits a designated cause.

Following input from members and the relative success of a small in-person race this summer, the brand-new Camp Jordan 5k, the club is planning two hybrid events this month. In keeping with the club's new safety practices, the number of in-person runners will be severely scaled back, staggered start times will be implemented, and sanitizer stations will be placed along each route.

"Most of our members have been understanding but they've been dying to get outside into something running," says Liggins. Still, he was surprised by the number of people who participated in the club's completely virtual Chickamauga Chase in April, though he says that's a far cry from typical numbers. And when it comes to measuring success this year, there's another contender. "We threw out to members, 'What are some precautions, some things you're comfortable with?' That's how we built our precautions for moving forward."

The Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon, Half Marathon and Junior Marathon have been canceled, but the Fort Oglethorpe 5k survives. On Nov. 14, the timed event will take racers over city streets in the small North Georgia community.

Held on Thanksgiving morning, the Turkey Trot is billed as "Chattanooga's longest-standing Thanksgiving road race." The timed 8k and family fun walk is also typically the largest fundraiser of the year, both for the club and the event's beneficiary, the Kidney Foundation.

If all goes well, these could set the pace for next year and give the club a chance to regain its stride.

"Even if we're given the all-clear to go back to in-person races, certainly for the next year we feel there's going to be a level of caution needed," Liggins says. "But we do plan to have a 50-year redo."

For more details on either race or to register, visit chattanoogatrackclub.org.

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