By D.E. Wheeler

Daily Journal

As the Gum Tree Run celebrated its 20th birthday Saturday, a runner who grew up near Tupelo celebrated part of a Gum Tree dream come true.

Former Mississippi State distance runner and Hamilton, Ala., native Steve Dudley grew up hearing about the Gum Tree and wanting to be one of the top finishers in the race. This year, Dudley accomplished that.

A personal record time helped Dudley achieve a dream of his to finish in the top 10 at the Gum Tree.

“It’s been my goal to be in the top 10 here,” said Dudley, who finished ninth Saturday. “So now I guess I can reset it and shoot for the top three.”

It is not like Dudley has been trying for several years in a row to achieve this top 10 finish. Like many young runners, he has had commitments to his high school or college track team on the same weekend as the Gum Tree.

This was Dudley’s first Gum Tree since 1989.

“After two knee surgeries and two wrist surgeries a year ago, I guess I’ve pretty much bounced back,” Dudley said of injuries which restricted his running during his last year of eligibility at MSU. “Maybe now if I get in a year of training, I can get in the top three.”

Three weeks ago, Dudley had no idea whether he would be running in the Gum Tree. For the last five months, Dudley has been working 50-60 hours a week at Bass Tracker Marine in West Point.

If not out of town on business, Dudley’s training schedule has been severely limited because of his work load. Just in the last three weeks did Dudley start putting in the type of mileage that he thought would make him competitive in a race like this.

“That’s a PR today on just three weeks training, ” said Dudley of his 31 minute, 55 second effort Saturday. “I’m happy.”

His time Saturday was also a full minute faster than he ran the Corinth Coca-Cola 10K last week.

“I knew I was going to run better than last weekend,” Dudley said.

Top area and Mississippi finishers

Dudley is not the only runner with Northeast Mississippi ties that could gradually give Mississippi a significant presence among the Gum Tree’s top finishers. An example of this is Amory native Kent Marett.

Marett is another former MSU runner, walking on in cross country straight out of high school and eventually earning a partial scholarship. At the Gum Tree Saturday, Marett ran a 34:08.

“I was just kind of stuck between packs today and wish I could have pushed just a little harder,” Marett said. “It would be like a dream to come in the top 10 like Steve did today.

“I would like to be factor one day in this race.”

Dudley and Stacey Mosley of Starkville were the top Mississippi finishers in this year’s Gum Tree. Mosley has run a 5K in Tupelo before.

Trent Sanderson of Saltillo and Rhonda Tucker of Tupelo were the top Lee County finishers. Sanderson is a former University of New Orleans runner.

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