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Penny wins inaugural running of Mentoring Marathon

Trey Williams • May 10, 2014 at 11:08 PM

Marathon man J Penny was dominant Saturday. He even beat the bicycle that was initially helping secure his route along Highway 11-E.

Penny won the inaugural Mentoring Marathon by more than a half-hour. He ran from Winged Deer Park to Bristol Motor Speedway and back in 2:42:04.

Penny ran through two heavy rain showers while covering a route that included the famous half-mile lap around BMS and a mile stretch down Bristol Dragway. Approximately two-thirds of the way through the race there was word that Penny might have collapsed. As it turned out, the bicycle of safety cyclist Glenn Hudson had just blown a tire.

It seemed fitting, and not just because it came during a marathon with NASCAR and NHRA flavor. Penny had already assumed a commanding lead some four miles out, and while leading him through the first Piney Flats intersection Hudson said, “That dude right there’s trucking.” Some 50 minutes later, Penny didn’t seem to be laboring any more than the pedaling Hudson as they completed the mile-long stretch down Bristol Dragway.

Had he been pushed, there was more fuel in Penny’s tank. Perhaps lonely, he scooped up his 2-year-old daughter Emerson and carried her perhaps 10-15 yards to the finish line.

“It makes it a lot more difficult when you’re not racing somebody and you’re just racing the clock and racing your watch,” said the 27-year-old Penny, a former East Tennessee State and David Crockett runner. “I like a dogfight. I want to win; don’t get me wrong. But I like to work for it.”

Penny, who won the Atlanta Marathon last fall, ran 54 seconds faster Saturday than his Knoxville Marathon time on March 30.

“It was nice and cool out,” Penny said. “It wasn’t too bad; it wasn’t too muggy. It rained for about two miles — it poured — right in the middle of it. That’s a hassle. ... But the weather was good for the first weekend of May.”

The May marathon could blossom into an annual tradition. And though some runners would prefer a more populated route than the southbound shoulder of 11-E — or at least significantly more spectators — the speedway and dragway will be a hard draw to discard.

“I think it (Mentoring Marathon) definitely has potential,” Penny said. “I mean, you’ve got a good setup spot here at the park, and everybody likes running through the speedway, I’m sure. That’s kind of a destination thing.

“All marathons kind of have some sort of special aspect. So you’ve got the speedway here. Knoxville’s got running down the 50-yard line at Neyland. Every marathon tries to do something to try to bring out-of-towners in.”

James Barnard, a 27-year-old from Clinton, finished second (3:12:53). Barnard didn’t begun running until he was in college at Tennessee Tech, and he did it primarily to lose weight.

Running’s long since become heavy duty for Barnard, who said he ran a 41-mile race last weekend. And he still had the energy to set a personal record Saturday at Winged Deer.

“This was a PR by a few seconds for me and I had a 41-miler last weekend,” Barnard said. “I liked the rolling hills. ... It was a little lonely out there, but the Bristol Motor Speedway was really nice. It’s something I’ll never forget.

“I’ll be back, especially if they keep the speedway in it. ... It made up for the highway.”

The Marathon included 51 runners. Johnson City’s Robert Nielsen, 46, finished third among men (3:23:07).

Marsha Morton, a 48-year-old from Lafollette, won the women’s race (3:39:53). Kate White (Bristol) and Ann Gilbert (Asheville) finished second and third, respectively.

Marathon proceeds will benefit Rise Up!, a non-profit organization mentoring children to seek education beyond high school.

Future Mentoring Marathons will almost certainly include cash prizes for runners.

“We thought it went well for the first year and the first time on this course,” marathon organizer Karen Hubbs said. “We found out what we need to change next year, and it’ll be changed. ... My goal is to make this the premier event for all of Northeast Tennessee.”

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