The Chattanooga Track Club

Promoting Running and Fitness in Chattanooga

33rd Featured Runner in Hunt Series
By John Hunt
Posted: Thursday, October 09, 2014

Mary Preisel Still Enjoying Benefits Of Running

Signal Mountain Resident Has A Bunch Of State Records

Thursday, October 09, 2014 - by John Hunt

Mary Preisel has had more than her share of exciting running experiences in the past 50 years.

She’s also had a few that were not so positive and at times, even a bit scary.

But for a lovely woman who will celebrate her 68th birthday on Jan. 3, running has been and is one of the most important parts of her life.  She’s had quite a career for a sport that has spanned almost 50 years.

Mary was born in Southeast London and that’s where she lived the first 25 years of her life.  That was also where she got her first taste of a sport where she ultimately was one of the best in the field.

“Girls didn’t do sports when I was in school,” she said in her trademark English accent while taking a break in her quiet Signal Mountain home earlier this week.

“Basketball was about it and I hated sports involving balls.  I’ve always been so uncoordinated.  When it was time to go outside and play, I’d hide in the cloak room to keep from participating,” she laughed, recalling the memory of her childhood that caused great concern at the time.

“We had a field day once a year where we did field events and had races of different distances.  Running was a love affair for me from the beginning as I just liked the feeling it gave me.

“I came from a poor family and I had to walk just about everywhere I went, but I found out that I could get there a lot faster if I ran,” she nodded.

During that time in London, she met Butch, her husband of 43 years.  They eventually got married and moved to America where they started their first home in Oak Ridge.

“My boss in Oak Ridge was an avid runner, so I started running with him at lunch.  I had never raced and really didn’t know anything about it, but I ran the Expo 10K in Knoxville in 1980 for my first race.

“I won my age group that day and have no idea what my time was, but it seemed pretty easy.  I had been doing most of my training on the track, so being a part of that race was fun and winning my age group was really exciting,” she smiled.

Mary and Butch moved to Maryland where they lived for five years before moving back to Chattanooga.  December will mark the 26th anniversary of their move back to the Scenic City.

Her second race was also memorable for totally different reasons.

“I did the Run Fer Th’Hills 10K in Gatlinburg for my second race and they gave me a stick when I crossed the finish line.  I didn’t know any better, so I just threw it away,” she said, not knowing that it was a tongue depressor-type stick that was used to record overall places in races back in those days.

“I’m pretty sure I was second or third overall, but I didn’t receive even a mention during the awards as I had thrown that stick away,” she laughed at the memory.

Since moving to Chattanooga, Mary became one of the front runners among the women.  She was the overall winner many times and totally dominated her age group along the way.

And even now, she’s the proud owner of at least 23 state records, ranging in distance from one mile through the marathon and virtually everything in between.

Mary said that she’s run “about 15 marathons, but I’m not exactly sure how many,” including twice at Boston.

The first at Boston came in 1998 when she was 51.  She had a great race that day and finished with a personal-best time of 3:04:59.  She was the first-place female in the 50-59 age group and received a beautiful crystal bowl at the awards ceremony.

“I had a great day and could have just kept on running.  I had been told all kinds of stories about Heartbreak Hill and I was really worried , but it was nothing.  I run on hills like that every day, but it wasn’t bad at all.

“That was my first big race and I got a PR.  Butch was at home with the kids, but folks on the way back made a big deal out of what I’d done.  The whole day was special,” she nodded.

Her second trip to Boston had the opposite affect as it became the only race where she didn’t finish.

“I had fallen down some steps a couple of weeks before the race where I hurt my back.  I made it about half-way before dropping out, but we hitched a ride back to our motel.  My time at Boston went from one of my best running experiences to one of my worst, but I just try to forget about that one,” she continued.

“I used to win just about every race I entered in Chattanooga until Jan Gautier came along.  I still run about seven miles every day as I run by myself quite a bit.  I run along the brow as it’s really pretty.

“I’ve even thought about trying to go back to Boston when I’m 70, but it would be hard.  I’ve been there and done that, but placing at Boston was a big honor for me.  I’m just not sure I want to go back into that pain mode again,” she said, knowing the physical toll such a race takes on her body.

“I always wanted to run faster and I did some serious training, but these days it’s different.  It’s okay if I stop and talk to someone while I’m out running.  But it’s a health thing for me and I absolutely love it.  I can eat whatever I want and I don’t get fat, but I get really excited when I’m ready for a run,” she nodded.

Another experience about 15 years ago was quite unique.  She was running along the brow and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail.  At one point during the run, she felt a tug from behind and was almost fearful to look back.

“A great big hawk with a huge wingspan had swept down and grabbed my hair.  I was just lucky that it didn’t inflict any damage,” she recalled.

Mary and Butch are the proud parents of two adult children, a son named Jerry who is 33 and a 29-year-old daughter named Teresa.

These days Mary works as a nail technician where she does manicure and pedicures for folks on Signal Mountain.  She’s been doing this for more than 20 years and it allows her to work her own schedule at her own pace.

“I always wanted to be a hair dresser, but I went to school and learned how to do this.  I deal with older folks mostly, but I go to their homes and do their nails.  It’s been a great experience for me,” she concluded.

It’s real obvious that Mary Preisel loves what she does and she does it well.

Running certainly falls into that category.  Even after almost 50 years, she still logs almost that many miles each week.  Her perspective has changed, but she’s still reaping the benefits.

And she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

(This is the 33rd in a series of features on runners in Chattanooga.  If you know someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at


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