THE 7 BRIDGES
• John Ross (Market Street)
• Veterans Memorial
• Wilkes T. Thrasher
• C.B. Robinson
• Mike Howard Memorial
• Walnut Street
The eastern horizon barely glowed orange shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday as more than 1,000 runners hit Market Street to cross the John Ross Bridge -- the first of six Tennessee River crossings on the inaugural 7 Bridges Marathon.
"We're just a bridge-happy city," Race President Denny Marshall joked Friday. "The running community wanted it, so we're doing it."
The sold-out race, the first of its kind in downtown Chattanooga, drew runners from at least 34 states and as far away as Canada and Europe. Some ran to tour the city, some wanted to prove to themselves they could finish, and others ran to win.
Marshall, who's been working for more than a year on plans for the event, said a downtown marathon complements what the city offers adventure enthusiasts. Chattanooga, which was voted by Outdoor Magazine as the 2011 "Best Town Ever," needed a big race to showcase its features, Marshall said.
Race officials capped the field at 300 for the marathon, which stretches 26.2 miles; and 800 for the half marathon, or 13.1 miles. Both races were full by race day.
In addition, more than 420 runners entered the 5k, said Jay Nevans of EdgeReg, which specializes in event registration.
About 30 percent of Sunday's registered runners were from out of town, Marshall said.
Anthony Forster drove down from Rogersville, Tenn., with his wife, who also runs.
"We wanted to get started with this race," he said.
The couple plans to come down and run the race every year, he added.
Todd Hartung, a runner from Davidson, N.C., wants to run marathons in all 50 states. He added Tennessee as his 29th on Sunday. He hoped to finish in 3 hours, 20 minutes, he said as he readied his watch for the 7 a.m. start.
Another competitor, Matt Burnstein, of Nashville, added the half marathon to his family's weekend in Chattanooga. Burnstein's also gunning for races in all 50 states and said he has already completed events in 22 states.
A recent transplant to Signal Mountain, Debbie Rich signed up for the half marathon after being recruited by a friend.
"I've really, really enjoyed the training," Rich said as she approached the Olgiati Bridge.
She and her husband recently moved to Chattanooga with their two teenage children. They've settled here after decades of living in places such as Belgium, South Africa and Nigeria. And they love the numerous outdoor activity choices, she said.
Her 15-year-old daughter came out Sunday morning to watch the race and cheer on her mom. As Rich crossed the Walnut Street Bridge on her approach to the Coolidge Park finish line, her daughter ran out to meet her, joining her for the final leg.
Local favorite Alan Outlaw, who's 33, was the first male marathoner to finish at 2 hours, 45 minutes. Outlaw, who runs on the Fast Break Athletics team, marked the race as his first marathon win.
Leslie Becht finished first in the women's marathon but her exact time was not available.
The toughest parts were the uphill entrances to the bridges, Outlaw said.
"I think this has the possibility to be a great destination marathon," he said.
After his finish, his young son sprinted across Coolidge Park to congratulate him. He gave his race medal to the boy.