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By the time Lillian Atchley crossed the 52nd Chattanooga Chase's one-mile-run finish line Monday morning, everyone else in the field had long since finished.

Then again, no one else among the close to 800 total participants in the Chase's 8-kilometer run and mile run recently had celebrated his or her 90th birthday, as Atchley did on May 9 just up the road in Cleveland, Tennessee.

"Well, I made it," she said as she sipped a cold bottle of water on what was already becoming a very hot day. "Didn't cause anybody any trouble."

For a sports writer, the trouble this day was attempting to select the four or five best stories from the hundreds of really, really good ones that began descending on Riverview Park before 7 a.m. to make the most of their Memorial Day.

Certainly, there were the usual running talents in the 8k race. There was Lee University All-American Christian Noble posting the top men's time with a rather effortless 25:32. He was followed by 2018 winner Brandon Hudgins at 26:00, with Hudgins later winning the mile run in 4:24.

On the women's side, Jennifer Huwe posted the top 8k time at 32:16, with Catie Campbell coming in a close second at 32:24. Kathryn Vradenburgh was the mile winner in 5:28.

But the most inspiring woman arguably was Atchley, who also completed a 5k event a few days after Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church threw her a surprise birthday party lunch 19 days ago "and gave me a bunch of presents."

Asked the secrets to her success, she said, "I walk. I just don't sit around all day. I do yard work. I walk to the mailbox. I feed the birds. And when I go shopping, I don't park close."

Richard Westbrook has been running at least one mile a day since Dec. 29, 1973. If your calculator or smart watch can't count that high, that's a span of 16,586 days as of Monday, when he participated in the Chase for the first time.

A former high school track coach who lives in Trion, Georgia, with his wife Janice, the 72-year-old Westbrook has, on at least two occasions, endured a great deal of pain to keep the streak alive, which according to Streak Runners International is the sixth longest such mark in the world. The all-time leader is Ron Hill, a three-time Olympian from Great Britain whose streak of 52 years and 39 days recently came to an end due to heart issues.

"In the mid-1970s, when the streak wasn't really all that old, I had to have a cyst removed from by back," Westbrook recalled. "I was in the hospital for a week and a half. I'd sneak out of my room and go down to the parking lot in my hospital gown and run around the parking lot about 15 times to get in a mile. A couple of times the wounds would open and the doctors wouldn't be able to explain it, and I'd just keep my mouth shut."

Then came last year's Vols State Run, which pretty much stretches the entire state of Tennessee, covers 314 miles, costs around $500 to enter and can take close to a week to complete, its participants often sleeping outside at night.

"I'm in Union City the night before the race, staying in a hotel, and I fall out of bed and break my toe," said Westbrook, who runs between 70 and 100 miles a week. "It happened about 4 in the morning, and by 7 (a.m.) half my foot was blue, red and purple. I thought I was done, but I loosened it up and wound up running the whole race that way. Kind of a validation of how stupid I am."

Here's stupid, or at least crazy: This all got started as a bet between Westbrook and a fellow high school track coach named Don Foy. Only Foy's attempt to run a mile every day lasted less than a year because he'd moved to Minnesota in the first months of the bet and the snow piled up so high one day that he decided to run a bunch of laps in his basement rather than venture outside.

"He was running around his furnace and badly hurt his hip," Westbrook explained. "His right hip got inflamed and his streak was over. So I won the bet. He had to buy me dinner."

Sixty-three-year-old David Latterman probably bought his wife Leslie a really big dinner after she set a state record Monday in the mile run for a 61-year-old woman. Her time of 7:43 bettered the previous record of Knoxville's Pat Denton, who posted a 7:47.95 in 2004.

Noted an understandably delighted Leslie Latterman after completing both the 8k and the mile run: "Not bad for 61. And a 15-year-old record at that. A lot of women my age are sitting around knitting. I hope when they see me do this they'll know they can do it, too."

For so many Chattanooga Chase participants, that's part of the beauty of the event — proving you can do something most people can't or won't.

It's the light-hearted Moises Ponce running near the lead while wearing a bacon costume. It's Tyler Johnson, who finished 51st overall while pushing a baby stroller containing his infant son Oscar. It's McCallie tennis coach Jeff Clark, who participated in his first Chattanooga Chase while still in kindergarten, completing Monday's 8k less than a week after directing the Blue Tornado to the TSSAA Division II tennis crown.

Asked which was tougher, Clark said, "They're both pretty hard to do."

For most of us, even thinking of walking a single mile in hot, humid weather at the age of 90 would be more than hard. It would be impossible.

But as Atchley was sipping her water, she asked if her time was a state record for her age, which it might be if only because there is no 90-year-old category listed on StateRunningRecords.com.

Told of Latterman's new state record in the mile, the nonagenarian smiled and said, "Yes, but she's kind of young."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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