When Bekah Doreau got out of bed a little before 7 on Monday morning to read her Bible, she had no plans to run in the 51st annual Chattanooga Chase.
But by 7:10 she was rousting her husband Ed, daughters Sophia (4 1/2) and Abby (2) and 6-year-old Doberman Ella from their slumbers, determined to run in the 8 a.m. event for the first time ever.
"I had a couple of girlfriends who were already signed up," Bekah said after she and Ella completed the 8-kilometer course. "I just thought it would be fun."
Said Ed, a former standout in the 5K and 10K at Messiah College in Pennsylvania: "A last-minute, impulsive decision."
Whatever the rationale, a little more than an hour after registering, Bekah, her dog, her husband and their children — Sophia joined her mom and Ella for the last 100 yards or so — were gathering with her friends Gianna Rakes and Emily Elliott for postrace food and hydration.
And they all were smiling, despite the precipitation that stubbornly alternated between a mist and adrizzle before eventually becoming a steady rain a little after 10 a.m.
"We were talking the whole time," Bekah said of her and her friends' time on the course.
Added Rakes: "It's a challenge, but it was nice to have my friends to run with me."
Said Elliott: "We just wanted to stick together and have fun. But we did reach our goals."
The goal of race organizer Alan Outlaw when he took over the Chase three years ago was to return it to its former glory after years of participation slippage. Down to as few as 161 entrants a few years back, more than 800 descended on Riverview Park on Monday.
"And if it hadn't been for the weather we might have topped 1,000," said Outlaw, who runs the Fast Break running store on Cherokee Boulevard. "We had over 200 walk-ups last year, but only 60 this year, probably because of the weather."facebook
So how has Outlaw more than tripled participation in just three years?
"There are a lot of race perks you don't see very often," said 32-year-old runner Caleb Stambaugh, who works in promotions at WDEF, Channel 12. "You've got gelato from Milk and Honey. Good Dog hot dogs. The Chattanooga Brewing Co. is here. And Chattanooga Whiskey. These are local companies with quality products people enjoy. Alan's turned this event from nothing to something."
Noted Outlaw: "I just called all my friends who know how to throw a party."
Despite its ebbs and flows, it says a lot about the Chase and this community that it's been around since 1968, which makes it the oldest running event in the city.
"There's a great camaraderie in this running community," said John Crawley, a former president of the Chattanooga Track Club. "This race was huge, then it fell off; now it might be bigger than ever thanks to Alan and Fast Break. And with it being run on Monday morning, I think a lot of folks come to visit family from Nashville, Atlanta and Huntsville for the holiday weekend, then run the race."
The star of this race a year ago was Jane Ensign, then 89. Using a walker, she completed the one-mile fun run in less than 27 minutes.
Unfortunately, health issues forced Ensign into a wheelchair for this year's race, though her daughter-in-law Barbara Ensign and granddaughters Kelsey and Erin were determined to take turns pushing her through the fun run course.
But when the rain increased, all that changed.
"You know we cheated, don't you?" the nonagenarian said with a smile.
We certainly know she's cheated time, which is always a good thing.
But the best thing about the Chattanooga Chase as plans begin for its 52nd run in 2019 may be what was seen so often Monday at Riverview Park, whether it was Bekah Doreau pushing her family out of bed to become a part of the race or the Ensigns pushing their family's matriarch to the finish line of the race.
For as the longtime runner Crawley noted while enduring a raindrop or two, "It's just a great family event for Memorial Day."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.