By Doug Hawley
When Fernando Morales finished the Run for God-Run at the Mill half marathon without any other runner on the horizon, there was reason to believe his pursuers might have gotten lost.
No, the 20-year-old Morales, a 2010 Dalton High graduate, simply was too fleet afoot Saturday morning while running the 13.1-mile route in one hour, 19 minutes and 44 seconds. He averaged a robust 6:05 per mile over the hilly course, which started and ended at Prater’s Mill in Varnell.
Ringgold resident Lance Steele, 41, who was more than a mile behind Morales, was the overall runnner-up in 1:28.27 — a 6:45 pace — and earned the Masters (40 and older) title.
“This is my first overall win in any road race,” Morales said. “I felt really good until mile 11, when I cramped up. It was really tough after that.”
Nevertheless, he was close to the record time established by Dalton’s Manuel Ferrer, who won last year’s inaugural event in 1:19.34.
A Dalton State sophomore who has been running about 60 miles a week this year, Morales led as he finished his first mile in 5:41. At the 10-mile mark, he was slightly under a 6-minute pace at 59:59.
“I did not start running until two weeks before my junior year of cross country at Dalton,” he said. “I ran two years of cross country and two years of track.”
Jessica Palmore, 31 and of Hendersonville, Tenn., paced the females in 1:44.32. Chattanooga’s Gretchen Smeltzer, 33, was second in 1:45.56.
“It took about three hours to get here from home, but it was worth it,” Palmore said. “This was my (personal record) for the distance by about five minutes.”
The petite Palermo, who is 5-foot-1, was a distance runner at Union College in Jackson, Tenn. She later became a high school math teacher and cross country coach in Nashville.
“Things have changed,” she said, laughing. “I’m now a stay-at-home mom with girls (who are) 2 and 4.”
There were some 200 finishers in the feature half marathon, which started promptly at 7 a.m., and 350 participants for the 5K that began two hours later on a day when the weather was magnificent, with temperatures in the mid-40s. About 50 more participants crossed the line than a year ago.
Cohutta’s Dee Goodwin, 44, took third place overall among the females while capturing the Masters title in 1:47.08.
A Northwest Whitfield High alum who is also a member of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Athletics Hall of Fame, Goodwin said she puts more training into the Dalton Red Carpet Half Marathon, which is held in October. But she has good reasons for doing this race as well.
“This is almost at my back door,” Goodwin said. “I also am a Run for God trainer.”
Run for God is a Christian-based program that combines distance running training with Bible study.
Started by Mitchell Hollis of Grove Level Baptist Church in Dalton two years ago, the program has spread across the nation.
Moments after Goodwin finished, she went back to the final turn and proceeded to direct and encourage runners for the final stretch.
“There was a pretty good headwind coming back,” Steele said. “Actually the headwind was tougher than the hills coming back. It was a good race.”
Rocky Face’s Michael Sweeney, 46, was third overall in 1:31.32.
“I was two minutes faster than last year,” Sweeney noted. “I like the fact that it’s challenging. It’s much tougher than the Dalton half.”
Dalton’s Rhonda Gage, 54, easily led all of the 50-and-older females in 1:53.
“It was perfect weather,” Gage said. “There were lots of smiling faces. It was good to have an out and back at Hopewell Road so that you could see where you were on the course.”
In the 5K race, 19-year-old Kevin Coffman of Ringgold paced the runners to the tape in 18:34. He was second a year ago.
Angela Martin, 28, sparked the females in 22:49. Runner-up Ashley Sweeney, 13 and of Rocky Face, was just 11 seconds behind her.
“I’m tickled pink with the way things turned out,” Hollis said. “I was particularly surprised with how many people travelled great distances. We had one group that even came from Michigan.”
Although he did not have a financial figure available, Hollis said 25 percent of the money raised goes to Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
For full results of both races, visit runforgod.com.