Despite sub-freezing temperatures and blustery winds, nearly 2,000 runners crowded the starting line at the annual Valparaiso YMCA’s Ringing in Spring race on Saturday morning to kick off the spring running season.
“It’s just a great place to be on a Saturday morning, no matter the weather,” said Ruth Cavanaugh, Supervisor Coordinator for the Valparaiso YMCA and one of the two co-creators of the race when it was first introduced to the area in 1994.
“I’ve watched it grow throughout the years, and it really has changed quite a bit,” said Cavanaugh. “We’ve moved it from downtown to here just outside the YMCA, we’ve added a 10k course alongside the 5k course, we’ve included a prediction walk, and we’ve really just expanded the whole event to make sure that everyone in the family can come out and participate.”
One of the first runners to cross the finish line this year was Natalie Krause, who ended up taking home some impressive hardware after placing first among all female 10k runners with a time of 42 minutes and 28 seconds.
A high school Spanish teacher who has been intensively training for the Boston Marathon, Krause almost didn’t come out to the race on Saturday, and originally had plans to instead watch her three children while her husband ran the race solo.
“While I was deciding whether to do it or not, I found out that my old high school coach’s wife was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” said Krause. “So after that, I realized I just never know when my last race is going to be, so I decided to come out and I’m really happy I did.”
Following the Valparaiso YMCA’s 10k, Krause plans to taper her running routine down before heading to Boston in a week. Several local friends will be heading to the East coast alongside Krause to run together in the famous Patriots’ Day race.
“I just really appreciate the running community here in Valparaiso. It’s amazing, you can go out any day of the week and find someone to run with,” said Krause.
With her training for the Boston Marathon and her impressive time this morning, Kraus showed everyone in attendance what hard work and determination can do. But behind the scenes, there has been someone who has been working hard on this race for the past 24 years: the YMCA’s race director, Mike Jones.
Jones, who started the event over two decades ago alongside Cavanaugh, is retiring this year, and was honored before the race with a presentation of same bell-plaque that the first-place runners receive. However, instead of “first” or “second place,” the plaque read: “Thank you for your tireless efforts and years of service as the Ringing in Spring Race Director.”
The moment was touching for Jones, and it brought back all of the memories and progress made from races of years’ passed.
“I can remember when we first started, we didn’t have the chips in the bibs like we do now to keep track of time,” said Jones. “We had a system where the finishing racers would get popsicle sticks, and each different popsicle stick correlated to what time you finished with.”
Though he doesn’t run anymore, Jones admittedly has an old love for the sport, and ran fifty-five marathons before starting the Ringing in Spring race here at the YMCA.
“Now, it’s just really nice to see all these people that I’ve known for years come out and run this event, and it’s fantastic to see them having such a great time together,” said Jones. “That’s what makes all the hard work worth it, and I’m going to miss it.”
As for future Ringing in Spring races, Jones is handing off the torch - and heavy responsibility - to Nate Nunnelly, who himself used to run the race with Jone’s son, both in high school and college at Valparaiso University.
“It’s a big event, and there’s just so many little things that Mike has done throughout the years to make such a large-scale operation seem easy,” said Nunnelly. “Though it’s a little intimidating to now be filling Mike’s shoes, I’m really looking forward to keeping the event prospering for another 24 years.“
“I’ve alway felt that the Valparaiso community is a special place,” Nunnelly continued, “and the support we get for events like this just really is a testament to how much of a family this community really is.”
For more information about the Valparaiso YMCA, please visit https://www.valpoymca.org/.
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