Organizers of the 10K Chasing Snakes race estimated approximately 500 people participated this year. (Photos by Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
Distance running is about repetition and controlling the controllables, but sometimes you have to roll with the punches.
Johnson City’s J Penny was put in one of those situations where he needed to roll with the punches just before the start of Saturday’s Chasing Snakes 10K road race, hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church.
After he returned from his warm-up about 10 minutes before the gun was slated to go off to start the race, he was switching from his training shoes into his racing flats when he noticed the laces of his racing shoes were wet and there was a puddle next to where he had put them when he set out for his warm-up.
• Scroll down to see Tony Casey's personal point of view GoPro video from the race.
Giving a quick sniff of his shoes, it was clear what had happened. A dog had thought Penny’s shoes were a good place to conduct its morning business.
As any true competitor would have, Penny laced up and went on to win the race in an unofficial preliminary time of 34 minutes, 49 seconds. Official times were not available at the race site Saturday afternoon.
Running next to Penny for the first few miles of the race, it was clear he was able to shake off the kink in his racing plans enough to focus on the race. Full disclosure, Penny and I train and frequently race together, and this race went nearly identically to how others have gone — Penny the bride, Casey the bridesmaid.
We went through the first mile, which is marked just outside the front entrance of the Johnson City Press, in 5:24 before hitting the downtown Johnson City portion of the race, where you experience that old-timey feel between the tight streets and brick buildings that contain several mainstay small businesses.
Through every portion of the race, it was clear that the race’s organizers, the parishioners at St. John’s, were extremely careful in making sure everyone had a Irish-themed good and safe time for their St. Patrick’s Day holiday race. Volunteers at every intersection were frequently wearing green and being as festive and helpful as possible.
Heading into the midpoint of the race, as usual, Penny took off to leave me wondering what had happened, not coincidentally just at the beginning of the course’s uphill section.
I’m an upstate New Yorker, and though I came from hills, I never seem to be as prepared for the hills as Penny, who was a standout runner at David Crockett High School before running for Dave Walker’s legendary East Tennessee State University’s distance running program. I hit the 5K mark in just more than 17 minutes flat, with Penny in sight but certainly out of range.
After we found ourselves winding through the Gump Addition neighborhood hills and heading back toward the church, and thankfully, the finish line, we had one more brutal hill at just past the 5.5-mile mark.
Call it the Nightmare of Elm Street, but it’s nearly impossible not to chop your stride in half and add a minute per mile to your pace just to get up the 150-meter hill.
While it’s truly all downhill for the last half-mile of the race, it’s hard not to have blown your energy making it up that last hill to set down a ferocious kick and finish. A lopsided attempt at a strong finish and I came through the line well beaten by Penny as the clock read an unofficial time of 35:31, almost 80 seconds slower than my first dance with Penny on the course two years before that ended with the same placing. Saturday’s time was fine by me, since I had a GoPro camera strapped to my head for the first time.
Not long after, Roan Mountain’s Tyrell Hughes, a strong up-and-coming local road racer, crossed the line for third, with Johnson City Police Department officer and Ironman Jason Lewis just behind, cracking the 38-minute barrier for his best time on the course in several attempts.
Lewis, who patrols Johnson City streets, said the race is a great way to tour different parts of the city.
“It’s a great way to see the different types of neighborhoods,” Lewis said. “This time of year is the perfect time to race.”
The women’s winner, Meg Lederer, a fiend for the longer trail races, has converted to road running out of convenience recently after having had a baby just five months ago. As strong as her victory and race was, she wasn’t doing it for herself. She’s organized a group of local runners who want to tackle area races and cherish the support and companionship of having each other.
“We all hold each other accountable,” Lederer said about her seven training partners.
Lederer said the group came together through social media before meeting at Foot Rx, a Johnson City running store, before branching off into a smaller training group that has weekly track workouts and other runs.
She captured the women’s victory in an unofficial time of 44:51, with her husband, Eric, finishing a bit ahead of her.
Meg Lederer said it’s been a pleasure being able to train with her daughter, sharing the experience by pushing her in a stroller. This must be a secret, because Penny said he does the same. He lives on the course, just after the four-mile mark, and calls it home field advantage that he gets to push his daughter through the Gump portion of the course in a stroller several times a week.
McKenna Cox, spokeswoman for the race, was announcing runners’ names as they crossed the line in a respectable Irish-sounding accent. She was happy with how the event had gone.
“It’s going really well,” Cox said. “There’s good weather and we had a great turnout.”
The event’s proceeds go to Family Promise of Greater Johnson City, an organization that helps support homeless families and transition them into getting their own living quarters and jobs.
Race organizer Lucas Gregory said they were poised to crest the $50,000 mark for the charity, with donations up from the previous year. With the help of the 500-plus participants this year and runners from the previous five years of the race, donations have helped Family Promise aid 500 families since 2000.
Gregory called it a very successful year and couldn’t thank the volunteers and the parishioner committee enough for all the hard work they’ve put in to make Chasing Snakes the race it is. He said the age range of participants, including the 4K walk, was from six months to 84 years old, with nine states represented.
Elizabeth Guillimette of Johnson City used the 10K as her first time running six miles and was extremely satisfied to have finished the race strong, especially since she went hiking with her family the day before.
She said her kids are on their spring break and she just couldn’t say no, so, knowing it could affect her race the following day, went for it and climbed Buffalo Mountain.
For more information about Chasing Snakes, go to www.chasingsnakes10k.com, where you can find links to Family Promise.
Full results, when posted, can be found at www.runtricities.org.