By Devin Golden
Isaac Pacheco stuck with Geno Phillips for around half the race.
Then the Chattanooga resident “broke” the North Murray High senior.
Phillips was the first person to cross the Dalton Red Carpet Half Marathon finish line in downtown Dalton on Saturday morning, running the 13.1-mile race in one hour, 12 minutes, 1 second.
The two were running companions through the beginning, Phillips said, and stayed ahead of the rest of the field.
“Me and Isaac ran together for six miles,” he said. “I felt him slowing a little bit. So I did a 5:20 mile and tried to see if I broke him.
“And I broke him.”
As Pacheco started to fall back, Phillips continued his usual pace and gained a sizeable lead through the 10th mile. With third-place finisher Dean Thompson, who won the race the first two years, well behind Pacheco, he found himself in no-man’s land.
“My strategy for today was to run behind first place and keep up,” he said. “And then I wanted to make a late push. ... I got caught in the worst place you can be, between first and third and by myself. So I had to push myself. (Phillips) had a cop car, but I was by myself.”
It was only Pacheco’s second half marathon, and he bested his first time by around six minutes. He finished in 1:14:04.
But Phillips, 41, was more than two minutes better than the 18 year old. With the final 5K runners still coming through, Phillips turned the corner from Pentz Street and onto King Street and received roars from the crowd as he picked up his pace. Phillips has more experience in this type of race, using it to train for a full marathon in December, and knew when to take the lead for good. Once he got it, he never looked back, both figuratively and literally.
“If you look back, then it gives the person behind you a bit of confidence,” Phillips said. “My strategy was to go out and run an even pace, and not to go out too steady.”
Thompson, 47, won the male master’s division, which is for runners over 40 years old. The Cohutta resident finished in 1:18:57, and he said his race also changed around the halfway point.
“I wanted to finish a couple minutes faster,” he said. “I was trying to run a 5:45-mile pace as much as I could. At around mile six, it got tough and I dropped to a six-minute average.”
He also was running on his own through much of the race, with Pacheco too far in front and fourth place well behind him.
“I wish I could have (caught Pacheco),” he said. “It wasn’t due to my lack of trying.”
The first woman to cross, Ingrid Louw, was eighth overall. The Alpharetta resident finished in 1:23:14 and said she led the female field from start to finish.
“I wasn’t sure of the course, but I loved it,” Louw, 39, said. “I train by myself a lot. I don’t think anyone passed me or remember passing them.”
This was her third half marathon, and she beat Chattanooga’s Stephanie Rynas by just more than 12 minutes. Rynas, 24, finished in 1:35:29 as the second female and 19th overall.
This also was her second half marathon, and was comparable to the second-place male finisher’s experience.
“I took off 10 minutes off my time,” she said. “I was pacing off of one other guy who I know from Chattanooga. I saw (Louw) when she was looking back toward the end. She was a bit in front of me.”
Wendy Houston, 47, of Rocky Face, won the female master’s division with a time of 1:42:53. Mayes Starke, 56, of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., won the mane grandmaster’s division in 1:32:46. Rhonda Gage, 54, of Chattanooga, finished first in the female grandmaster’s division with a time of 1:47:34.
Race director David Sanders did not know the exact number of racers in this year’s event, but said the overall number was down. One reason is because the upcoming week is Fall Break for some local schools, and the teacher demographic wasn’t as strong because of vacations.
“If you look at our statistics, our out-of-town runners are up, and in-town runners are down,” he said.
Usually the race avoids the seasonal holiday for schools and families. However, with the Georgia Special Olympics taking place next weekend, when the half marathon took place the first two years, it was unavoidable.
“We’re down this year because the Georgia Special Olympics needed our weekend next week,” he said. “This really isn’t the best week.”
The race is a non-profit event with proceeds going to the City of Refuge, which offers services for homeless or financially troubled residents, and Family Promise, which works with area churches to provide transitional housing for families.
In the 5K race, 17-year-old Chatsworth resident Gerardo Martinez Jr. won in 18:13. Carina Nieto, 19, was the fastest female, finishing in 19:48.
Canton’s John Turner, 55, won the male master’s division in 21:36, and Dalton’s Janis Campanella, 53, won the female master’s in 25:06.
Ray Beem, 50, won the male grandmaster’s division in 23:29, and Dalton’s Carolyn Roan, 55, won the female grandmaster’s division in 29:04.