Spirit Run sets itself apart: from youngsters to elite runners

The 34th Annual Spirit Run is coming to Fashion Island on Sunday, March 12. Many Newport Beach residents who and/or whose children grew up with Spirit Run, think of it as simply a fundraiser for local schools. But, to many dedicated runners, young and old, elite and casual, Spirit Run is so much more.

Spirit Run is the longest running youth road race event in Orange County with undoubtedly the broadest and most competitive range of youth races. Further, unlike other running events, children compete only against their own age group, not adults.

Most road race events host a single kids’ “fun run” or “dash” that is not timed. Spirit Run, however, has six separate one-quarter to 1-mile races broken down by age group (4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-19). These races are chip timed with awards to the top three boys and girls in each.

Kids running with Steve Scott

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Olympian Steve Scott leads youngsters on the Spirit Run course

Also, at most 5K events children must compete against adults and are often knocked down at the start-line by them. Spirit Run’s unique Youth 5K allows children to compete without adult interference and for a child to break the finish line tape. Awards are given to the top three boys and girls in five age divisions and the top 10 in the high school division.

Spirit Run’s exceptional youth racing schedule attracts youth competitors from beyond Newport-Mesa. Equalizers Track Club, the team in green, brings more than 100 youth competitors to Spirit Run every year. Founded in 1986, Equalizers is committed to helping runners age 19 and under achieve high ideals. 

“The Newport-Mesa Spirit Run is the premier youth road-racing event in Southern California, being the only one I know of that treats youth distance runners as competitors in the sport, rather than simply adding ‘kid’ races as a sideshow to an adult-oriented event,” said Coach Jerry Palazzo, Equalizers Track Club. “The energy in the Youth Only 5K delivers race times not seen in typical ‘all-ages’ events, and the unique Elite 1-Mile road race is a barnburner that leaves spectators staring at the clock with disbelief.”

Steve Scott

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Three-time Olympian and World Record Holder Steve Scott

The race’s dedication to youth fitness has also inspired Steve Scott, three-time Olympian and World Record Holder for the most sub-four minute miles, to attend every year since 1983. Scott warms up the kids before each youth race and leads them on the course. Scott appreciates the passionate crowd support stating, “I have never been in a race with such great enthusiasm and support from the participants. They cheer for everyone from start to finish.” This year, Scott is also excited to start Spirit Run’s adult mile races. Rumor has it that he may race the Sub Elite Mile.

Spirit Run is also enthusiastic about giving adults a great racing experience. The adult races include the 5K, 10K, 15K (5K plus 10K, times combined and ranked), and four mile races (the Elite, Sub Elite, Dog and Open Mile). Its race courses are fast, particularly in the Elite Mile where someone is expected to break four minutes this year. Competitors are encouraged to run multiple races. Several will run two or three races; some, four!

Celebrating its competitors, Spirit Run has the most exceptional array of prizes around, including a $2,000 cash purse in the Elite and Sub Elite Mile. The more than 250 prizes include a year’s worth of Blaze Pizza, gift cards for a Yard House “Burger & Brew,” Baking Betty’s cookies and Spa Gregorie’s massage certificates. Those who compete in multiple races are eligible to win in each one. For example, some will race the Elite or Sub Elite Mile, 5K and Open Mile and will take home cash along with certificates for massage, pizza, and a burger and brew.

Southern California USA Track & Field (So Cal USATF) recognizes Spirit Run’s commitment to, and distinction in, youth and adult road racing. For the fifth consecutive year, it has selected Spirit Run for its Grand Prix Road Championship Series featuring what it considers “the best road races and fastest courses in the region.” In 2017, So Cal USATF has also selected Spirit Run to host its 5K Championships.

The So Cal USATF distinction, fast courses, and exceptional array of prizes entice elite and highly competitive runners from Southern California and beyond to compete at Spirit Run.

Jorge Jabaz

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Two-time All American Jorge Jabaz

Jorge Jabaz, elite runner and coach works multiple part-time jobs to maintain his athletic career and to be able to coach youth, collegiate and post collegiate athletes. In 2016, Jabaz helped Spirit Run recruit a competitive field for its inaugural Elite Mile. He advised Spirit Run on expanding its adult mile races in 2017 and inspired the inaugural Dog Mile. He promises to bring an even larger field of elite runners in 2017. Hopefully he will race the Elite Mile and win in less than four minutes.

Julie Swail Ertel

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Olympic Silver Medalist Julie Swail Ertel with her family

Olympic Silver Medalist Julie Swail Ertel has been competing at Spirit Run for more than 10 years. As a three-time Olympian in Water Polo and the Triathlon, one event is not enough for Ertel. Accordingly, she will race the 5K, 10K, and the Sub Elite or Open Mile. Of course, Ertel always wins or is a top finisher in all of her races. She loves and is motivated by the prizes. In the past, she has enjoyed spa days with friends and Blaze Pizza once a month with her family, courtesy of Spirit Run.

Annie Beck

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Newport Beach local Annie (Beck) St. Geme is returning to her running roots

Newport Beach’s own Annie Beck, née St. Geme is returning to her running roots for this year’s Spirit Run. A two-time California State Champion and six-time CIF Champion while at Corona del Mar High School, Beck took her running talents to Stanford University. After struggling with injuries throughout the better part of her collegiate career, she took a four-year hiatus from the sport to focus on her career as a healthcare consultant and then marketing manager. In 2014, she joined Strava Track Club under the tutelage of Coach Dena Evans, and has since run personal bests in the 1500, 3000 and 5000 meters.

For complete bios of each of these Elite Athletes and for all of the Elite Athletes competing in Spirit Run this year, visit the Elite Athletes page at www.nmspiritrun.org.