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The kickoff of the Bedford Christmas season was, once again, given an able assist in the form of the YMCA's Christmas Classic 5K race.
As usual, the race drew a large throng, featured fun and festivities and had a special guest. This time, however, the welcomed visitor wasn't the jolly guy in the red suit .
The 34th Annual Classic, also known as the Jingle Bell Run, took place last Saturday morning. A record number or runners, 434, signed up, although rain the night before likely suppressed that number: 399 ran the five kilometer trek around Bedford's famous Loop.
Additionally, 28 aspiring runners competed in the Peaks Junior Mile and another 20, or so, ran in the wee ones' quarter mile.
"I think the race has gotten smoother," said Race Director Josh Ranes, of the Bedford Y on why the race's popularity continues to grow. "If you put on a good event, people will come out for it."
Top prize in the big race was taken by Lawrence Minor, who blazed up hill and over dale in an astounding time of 15:55. Minor ran at a clip of just over five minutes per mile in putting a full 40 seconds between himself and the rest of the field.
Put another way: Minor's time was half as long as more than half of the rest of the field.
But don't read too much into those statistics. The Jingle Bell Run has always been about fun, camaraderie and ringing in the Christmas season with good cheer.
"This is a good race to support Bedford," said Katie Wood, a graduate of Liberty High and JMU, currently working on her master's degree at Liberty U. "It's a very friendly atmosphere. Everyone is out for fun."
One of those out for fun was her mother, Sherri, who has taken up running in earnest lately. "I like the community atmosphere," she said. "But my daughter has been my motivator (to run this race)."
Erik Oleson ran while proudly displaying his University of Minnesota garb. "This is a show of solidarity," he said of running with his fellow Liberty faculty members. "There's nothing like sucking wind to inspire others...Normally, I only run when being chased."
Heath Farren, a junior soccer player at Staunton River and a member of the National Honor Society, participated as part of a service project. "This was a good experience," he said after the race. "It was challenging but laid back enough to be fun."
Holy Name's contingent
Bedford's Holy Name of Mary Roman Catholic Church brought a bunch, once again. This year, the church had 71 of its congregants complete the race.
There were so many Catholics at the race that it resembled a Red Lobster on Ash Wednesday. Or a Notre Dame tailgate party. Or the House o' Corned Beef on St. Patty's Day.
You get the idea.
"I was shocked at how many we had sign up," said Jeanne Craig, who helped organize the effort.
The church fielded seven teams, with names such as Cherubim, Seraphim, Angels, Archangels and Saints.
"We started to run out of names for teams," said Father Salvador Añonuevo, the pastor at Holy Name.
Beth Laughlin, who was there to cheer on her husband, Tim, and son, Zane, said, "We support the church and the community. It's a fun post-cross country run and kicks off the Christmas season."
While there were no women's finishers in either the 70-74 or the 75-79 year old categories, there was a pair of hardy souls in the 80+ grouping.
Laura Ayers, an 85-year old from Bedford, navigated the course with a time of 48:43. She had to turn on the jets at the end to ward off a challenge by Bedford's Edley Updike. At 89 years of age, she turned in a time of 48:55.
Not bad, ladies. Not bad at all.
The true spirit of the season was on display late in the event.
After the races were over, Ranes led the effort to hand out awards. That took place in the gymnasium at the Bedford Middle School.
After he'd handed out medals to the young competitors, Mary Jo Boone, head of the Bedford Y, announced a special presentation.
Boone revealed to Ranes that someone who had always wanted to see him manage the race was in attendance.
Indeed, his mom, Cheryl Ranes came forward.
Mrs. Ranes, who lives in Ohio and is wheelchair-bound, approached her son who, after getting over the initial shock, hugged her as though he didn't want to let go.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened at a race in the last 11 years," said Josh Ranes, who has run the event for that period of time.
Many elves conspired to pull off this trickery. Chief among them was Lori, Josh's wife since last October.
Lori had Cheryl flown in the day before. YMCA personnel helped keep the lid on things, including the fact that Cheryl was hiding in one of their vans watching her son throughout the entire race.
"This was a big deal because Josh is an important part of our lives," said Boone. "And she is so important in his life. It's so important to love your family and to give to your family."
"There's my Christmas gift," said Josh, of what Lori had done for him and his mom. "I'll take it.
The complete results can be found at: http://www.riversiderunners.com/Results/2013Results/2013_BedfordChristmas5k.txt