Frigid 5k competitors fight through tough conditions

Published 8:46 am Tuesday, January 21, 2020

NILES — More than 360 runners and walkers braved cold temperatures, rain, slush and the occasional ice patch to compete in the 11th annual Niles Frigid 5K hosted on Saturday.

Due to safety conditions with the St. Joseph River, a course change added an additional unforeseen element to the race. As runners crossed the finish line, they were rewarded with chili made by Fairland Christian Church.

Paul Johnson, 35, of St. Joseph, was the first race finisher of the 5K with a time of 18:05.

“I’ve run this race a lot of times,” Johnson said near the finish line. “I know Chris and Keri who put on the race and a bunch of our friends run it.”

Chris Pawielski, the owner of Inertia Cycleworks, 211 E. Main St., Niles, has organized the race with his wife, Keri, for the past couple of years.

For the past six years, Johnson has gotten used to finishing in second or third, but this year, his biggest competition failed to show up.

Johnson, who participates in the Niles Frigid 5K annually, is an infrequent 5K runner.

“I do ultra-marathons, which really don’t exist around here,” he said. “This is my rare 5K.”

The standard definition of an ultramarathon is anything past a traditional marathon of 26.2 miles, Johnson said.

The St. Joe native has been a runner for many years and usually heads out west to compete in ultramarathons.

Despite his ultra-running routine, Johnson said 5K races are still difficult no matter where you are.

Overall, Johnson felt Saturday’s race conditions were better than expected.

“I thought it was fast for the conditions,” he said. “It really varies for this race. You could be running 17 minutes or 19:30 and both might feel good depending on the conditions.”

Kimberly Law, 31, of Niles, crossed the finish line first in the female division with a time of 20:16.