Little Plum Run participants line up at the starting line to race Saturday at the Blue Plum 5K event. (Jennifer Sprouse/Johnson City Press)
The area near the Lady of the Fountain in downtown Johnson City is usually not a busy place most Saturday mornings, but when the Blue Plum 5K is in town that’s a different story.
Around 8 a.m., runners, and even running families, headed downtown near the intersection of Buffalo and Main streets, picking up their race day packets, registering for the race, as well as taking a few minutes before the start of the race at 9 a.m. to stretch and warm up.
Jenny Lockmiller, race director of the 5K, part of the 14th Annual Blue Plum Festival, said before the start of the race that everything was running smoothly.
“We have so many people out here. It looks like we’ve got more than 700 people,” Lockmiller said. “It’s about average for us. This is a big one. People really enjoy it. It’s a pretty flat and fast course for East Tennessee. It’s a really fun run.”
Brandy Nothnagel, of Kingsport, was waiting in line near registration and said she was excited to run Saturday.
Running six days a week, as well as alternating yoga and strength training, Nothnagel said she likes running in the local road races.
“I just really enjoy 5Ks and I have a very personal goal, so the more I run the more I hope to get there,” she said. “My bucket list (race time) is 19:59.”
Ginni Blackhart, with her husband Chris Gillis and son, Jackson Gillis, said this was the family’s second year running the Blue Plum 5K and said the location of the race was convenient as well.
“It’s close to home,” Blackhart said. “We like to support downtown as much as we can, so that’s one of the other reasons we like to run Blue Plum. The course isn’t really hilly, so if you haven’t run a lot of 5Ks it’s not too challenging. You’re running with a great group of people and get to see more of downtown, so I like the race. It’s fun.”
As the Little Plum Run, a quick, short distance race for younger Plum runners, finished up, runners of the 5K got into position.
As the single gunshot sounded the start of the race around 9 a.m., runners were off, weaving in and out of the downtown course.
Around 15 minutes into the race, cheers and clapping indicated that a runner was making their way to the finish line.
Finishing with a time around 16 minutes, Tanner Cook of Abingdon, Va. was the first to cross finish line, and shortly after laid down on his back in the street, taking deep breaths.
Catching up with Cook a few minutes later, he said while he was excited to place first in the race, he didn’t perform to the level he had hoped.
“I was up until 1’o clock last night working. I barely had five hours of sleep,” he said. “It’s a great course. I like the course, (but I) just wish I could’ve gone a little bit faster. I just wasn’t fresh enough.”
Studying sport management and running for King College, Cook said this was his first time running the Blue Plum 5K.
“I’m definitely excited about winning. This is a huge race, one of the biggest races around here. I’m glad I won,” he said.
Local runner and recent Science Hill High School graduate Molly Foster was the first female runner to cross the finish line Saturday.