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Seven months ago, Jennifer Huwe gave birth to daughter Ellis, her and husband Kevin's first child.

Early Monday morning, the couple celebrated their first Memorial Day as parents by reaching Riverview Park shortly after dawn and running in the 54th annual Chattanooga Chase.

"It's not easy," Jennifer said of motherhood. "There's a lot less sleep. But we both love this race. There's the community aspect. The mingling. The food. It's just a great event."

The community aspect, the mingling, the food were all silenced a year ago by the coronavirus pandemic, along with pretty much everything else that required more than a single family to be present.

So the longest running running event in Scenic City history — the Chase — went somewhat dark, though a loyal, hardcore group of 50 to 60 people reportedly gathered last Memorial Day at the park — socially distancing, of course — and silently ran the 53rd Chattanooga Chase without fanfare.

But thanks to vaccines, masks, common sense and immunity, the Chase was back on the Chattanooga Track Club's calendar this time around, though slightly less crowded than in the past.

And even if Jennifer Huwe couldn't repeat her 2019 women's win in the 8K race, she did only have to settle for second behind winner Hannah Wilson. Kevin finished fifth overall on the men's side.

But as sweet and touching and emblematic as the Huwes are of the Chase's previous 53 editions, it was men's overall winner Brandon Hudgins — known to some as "Budge Nasty" — who stole the show.

Shattering a 38-year-old record, the 34-year-old Hudgins broke the old mark by more than 30 seconds, according to the Chattanooga Track Club. His time of 24:34 in the 8K race was more than two minutes in front of runner-up Matthew Marshall's 26:39.

Watching Hudgins cross the finish line was like watching the great horse Secretariat win the Belmont in 1973 by 31 lengths. View the photos of that finish and no other horse is in the pictures.

That's what watching Hudgins headed for the finish line was like. Nobody else was within shouting distance save the pace car driver.

"This means a lot," said Hudgins, who works at a running store in High Point, N.C. "It's been a rough couple of weeks for me emotionally. I've been trying to qualify for my second Olympic Trials. Running is all I've ever known. I missed qualifying for the Trials final by a second in 2016. But I've come to the realization the past week or so that I'm done. You need young, snappy, poppy legs to run at that level and I just don't have those anymore. Those dreams have come to an end."

Beyond that, Hudgins suffers from the rare disorder granulomatosis with polyangiitis, with causes inflammation of the blood vessels in your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys.

But that doesn't mean that Hudgins won't run the Chattanooga Chase again and again, if only to honor his late friend Cameron Bean, who was tragically killed in 2015 when hit by a car while running near Moccasin Bend.

The two knew of each other through Southern Conference ties, the Baylor School graduate Bean later running for Samford and Hudgins competing for Appalachian State. As they grew older they both worked in a Boone, N.C., restaurant, while chasing their running dreams.

"He was my partner in crime," said Hudgins, who stayed with Cameron's parents, Lisa and Steve, over the weekend. "Cameron was always there to talk to about anything and everything. I miss him every day."

But partly because of that, he has no intentions of missing the annual Cam Run this August that raises money for local high school and middle school track programs, as well as next year's Chattanooga Chase.

"This community has always embraced me," said Hudgins. "It's always embraced this run. I love this community so much."

As we often hear from others, the Scenic City embraces fitness and outdoors like few others. Newly elected mayor Tim Kelly found time to participate in the one-mile run on Monday, showing fine form throughout.

"This race is as old as I am," said the 54-year-old Kelly. "I'm a big fan of exercise as medicine. I want to put a lot of emphasis on parks and outdoors."

Asked what his first few weeks in office have been like after winning a runoff against Kim White, he said, "It's like being dropped in a blender. We had a four-day transition. But it's been five weeks now and we're settling in."

Sue Anne Brown, 75 years young, was supposed to settle into her 50th Chase on Saturday, but an arm injury forced her withdrawal, perhaps the event's one low moment.

But no one in the race may better represent exercise as medicine than Tivoli director Nick Wilkinson.

Wilkinson had no idea of what time he ran, only that training for it "dropped my waist size from a 42 to a 32. I weigh 191 after reaching 281."

Asked his secret, he replied, "I stopped drinking IPAs."

Of course, there are a lot of folks — including Nashville's Shelton Clark — who drank to celebrate finishing the 8K race.

"A beer and a shot (of Chattanooga Whiskey)," said the 59-year-old Clark, the former Chattanooga resident and a graduate of both McCallie School and Vanderbilt. "And, yes, I walked a couple of the hills."

Yet walk or run, as Fast Break Athletics' Alan Outlaw noted at the Chase's post-race awards ceremony, it was more than a little nice to drop by Riverview Park on Memorial Day to witness "the return of racing to Chattanooga."

If it signals the return of Sue Anne Brown to next year's Chase, all will truly be back to normal in the Scenic City track world.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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