Runners Share What Racing Locally Means To Them

Running isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but for some, it’s a thirst-quenching adventure, a hobby, an act of self-care, and a ritual they can’t quit. In Wabash County, many paved paths and rural river trails provide the landscape for leisurely walkers, marathon runners, and triathlon athletes alike. 

Stephanie Rogers, Visitor Experiences Manager at Visit Wabash County, works in the greeting center, welcoming out-of-town visitors. She helps connect them to local stores, and restaurants, shares unique local features, and recommends outdoor recreation spots. 

As part of Visit Wabash County’s Outdoor Adventure Series, they hosted the first-ever Run the River last year. This year, the event returns on Saturday, June 10 in Downtown Wabash. The race takes place alongside the scenic Wabash River Trail and gives participants the option to run a 5K, 10K, or 13.1M half marathon.

Runners near the finish line at the 2022 Run the River.

“It’s been a really great way to connect with the outdoor community,” says Rogers. “Wabash has so many wonderful features that we want to highlight. We thought this was a natural addition to our series. We have a bike club, an annual bike ride, Dam To Dam, and a run club.” 

She says 316 runners participated last year, and she anticipates even more local residents and out-of-state runners to sign up to compete for cash prizes this year. 

“We want people to explore our county while they’re here,” she says. “We hope they stay and play, encouraging them to come in early and stay the entire weekend while they’re here. Not only do we have the half marathon, but we’ve created this block party experience so that families and friends can enjoy it too.” 

The Block Party, a public event from 4:30 – 9:30 PM, is located near the start/finish line, offering free family games, music, local restaurant specials and extended hours, food trucks, and more. 

Runners at the 2022 Run the River event.

This year’s race also features something new, increasing accessibility to include more participants in the 5K and 10K portions. 

“We’ll have myTEAM TRIUMPH, which is a local group that runs with people with special needs. They’ll be participating in the 5K and 10K, and have their own booth. That’s a neat addition to this year.” 

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When Adam Stakeman moved to Wabash County in 2005 to open a pizzeria, he didn’t know many cyclists or runners in the area. Over the past decade, however, that has drastically changed.

Stakeman ran his first half marathon in Indianapolis and completed the Terre Haute Triathlon in 2004. After being challenged by a friend to complete an Ironman, he pushed his limits when it came to endurance. Today, he races all over the United States, Canada and Nicaragua. 

Adam Stakeman at the finish line of Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2021 with his sons.

“Racing has helped me prioritize my life and has been a great example for my sons,” he says. 

Stakeman is part of the driving force behind the local Wabash River Run Club, something that started organically, he says. Each weekend, a core group of friends would gather together to run. Word-of-mouth spread, and more friends were invited. After the Run the River event started last year, the club opened up to the entire community. 

“The goal is to get people active and help them achieve things they didn’t realize were possible,” Stakeman says. “The hardest part of running is getting started.  But knowing you have a group waiting for you each Saturday can be the motivation you need to get out of bed and get those running shoes laced up.”

The club meets every Saturday morning at Alley Cat Outfitters around 7:30 AM and starts running at 8 AM Runners and walkers of all ages and abilities are welcome, including four-legged friends. Stakeman says he is happy to see the running community grow, putting this small town on the map as a bigger running destination.

“To know what Wabash is now on the radar of both seasoned competitive runners and beginners alike, from all over the Midwest, is quite exciting,” he says. 

Richard Church, an executive at Parkview Health, considers himself a lifelong runner. As a Wabash native, left the area for North Carolina for nearly 20 years, but returned about 10 years ago.

Members of the Wabash River Run Club prepare for a run.

“Wabash is a quintessential small town, when you go to dinner, you see friends, and when you go to the grocery store, you see friends,” he says. “That makes it a great place as a community, but also for raising kids in particular.” 

Many of Church’s friendships and close relationships, including his friendship with Stakeman, are a result of the running community. A community where he has found common ground with folks who enjoy the same type of athletic activities. 

Typically, marathon runners and ultra athletes (those who run more than 50K or 31 miles) travel to participate in races and activities. Church, who completes in the Ironman triathlons, is accustomed to taking trips around the world to run 26.2 miles, swim 2.4 miles, and then bike 112 miles in different locations. He says the Run the River event offers a sense of comfortability, given its close proximity. 

“I think starting in a local race is really good for people who are new to running,” he says. “It’s one thing to take on a 5K, 10K, or half marathon, but there’s a lot of comfort in doing that locally where you know the route.”

Church says he enjoys the social aspect of training for the Ironman triathlons as part of the Run Club, and the sense of camaraderie that brings.

“I don’t think any of us would have ever done one if we just individually decided to do an Ironman, but because people in the group were wanting to do one, we all agreed to train together,” he says. “That’s very much the driver. Typically, we travel together with our families, and stay at the places where the race is occurring, too.”

Popular trails for runners in Wabash include the 13-mile Bloodroot Trail at Salamonie Forest, the 4.6-mile Acres Land Trust Kokiwanee Trail, and the paved Wabash River Trail that connects Wabash and Lagro. Rural, off-the-beaten-path routes through the quaint historic town of Roann and Laketon also provide runners with scenic views, gardens, greenhouses, and diners for a relaxing pitstop. 

Members of the Wabash River Run Club.

Church advises anyone who’s interested in getting back into running or starting the sport for the first time to be realistic. 

“People tend to try to run a mile or two miles right away, but you have to build up to it,” he says. “It’s super discouraging if you try to run the whole way right away, you’ll get really winded and it feels really bad. But if you let yourself build up to it by starting walking more than you run, you’ll find in two or three weeks, you’re running two miles and walking one mile. By the end of it, you’re able to run a 5K, 10K, or half marathon. It’s all about having community, and going slow.”

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For Hidi Shoemaker, a mother of five, running is crucial for her mental and physical health. After starting track and cross country in elementary school and high school, she took a hiatus during college. Then, during grad school, she picked running back up and ended up winning her first 5K.

“I forgot how much I loved running,” she says. “After that, it was obsessive. Every time I could find a 5K, I did it. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll do a 10K,’ then it became a half marathon and a marathon, and a group of friends and I started doing ultramarathons. We did a 50K, a 50M, and a 100M race in Indiana. I actually just won a 100M race in Utah.”

Members of the Wabash River Run Club.

Shoemaker says it isn’t always easy to make time to run, given her family obligations and her kids’ activities. Often she’ll lose sleep to schedule more training time because it’s important to her. Sometimes she meets up with the Wabash River Run Club at the Alleycat Outfitters.

“I can usually find someone from that group that will go with me at 5 AM for a couple of hours,” she says. “It’s easy to find friends to run with around here. I love Wabash, it’s a great community. There are so many active and supportive people.”

Pre-dawn, she says she enjoys running through the downtown streets and appreciates the challenging hills. Once it’s daylight, she enjoys running at Paradise Spring Riverwalk Trail.

“It’s a really pretty route, it’s paved, and there’s usually cyclists, runners, and people walking their dogs,” says Shoemaker. “I love how running makes me feel during, and I like pushing myself. It also clears my thoughts. It helps me deal with stress and when I’m done, I love the euphoria I get when I finish a good run or race.”

Shoemaker says she is particularly excited for the second annual Run the River, which traverses through a scenic route. 

“I was so excited to have a local race because we travel a lot to run,” she says. “It’s wonderful to not have to travel, feel fatigued and try to find someplace to stay and eat. You get to see more familiar faces here.”

She’s also excited for other visitors to experience the small town’s unique charms. 

Members of the Wabash River Run Club.

“I think it’s great to bring business into town,” she says. “The start and finish line is in a really cool area of downtown. There are a lot of shops, boutiques, and restaurants. It’s a really cute little area, and I think it’s great to expose people to that too.”

Shoemaker says she would encourage anyone to join the Wabash River Run Club, with participants training from 5 miles all the way up to 100 miles. They use the Band app to keep people informed on meetup times and locations. 

“There’s really a speed and a pace for everyone. It sounds intimidating, but our Run Club is extremely welcoming,” she says.

Wabash is the focus of our Partner City series underwritten by Visit Wabash County. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.