40 down, 10 to go

Melinda Gruber, 49, is shown with the T-shirts and racing bibs she has collected this past year at 5K races. Gruber plans to complete 50 races by the time she turns 50, on Feb. 16, 2020. So far she has finished 40 races.

SOUTH HAVEN — Running 50 5K races in 52 weeks sounds like a tall order to fill, but not for 49-year-old Melinda Gruber of South Haven.

For the past year, the CEO of Caring Circle and vice president of Continued Care Services at Spectrum Lakeland Health, has spent weekends competing in as many 5Ks as she can with the goal of finishing 50 by the time she turns 50.

And it looks like she’s going to cross the finish line by her birthday in February.

“I’ve got 10 more to go,” she said.

Gruber came up with the novel idea of taking part in 5K races a couple of years ago when she started to ponder life after 50.

“Last year as I was approaching my 49th birthday, one of the things I thought about was staying in shape,” she said.

Gruber had heard about other people setting a goal of performing 50 tasks by the time the big 5-0 came around, and thought she’d give it a try, too.

“I heard about someone attending 50 music concerts, and then I heard of somebody going to 50 festivals in a year, culminating with the Festival of Colors in India,” she said.

But Gruber decided to do something more athletic.

“Before I had breast cancer I had run in a couple of half marathons,” she said. “But I haven’t run races in a long time.”

She’s certainly making up for lost time.

After exercising on the treadmill for a couple of months, she embarked on her first 5K run on her birthday, Feb. 16, in Grandville, a suburb of Grand Rapids.

Since then her mission to complete 50 runs has taken her to 5Ks throughout Michigan. One of her most memorable ones occurred on Labor Day when she and her husband, Clark, took part in the Mackinac Bridge 5K. She even squeezed in two 5Ks when she and Clark traveled on vacation to Florida during spring break and more recently to Indianapolis to see their daughter Carly.

“That one (the Indy race) was called the Spooky Sprint,” Gruber said. “We ran in costumes. It was a lot of fun.”

Although many of the 5Ks Gruber has completed are located throughout Southwest Michigan, it has been a little tricky at times squeezing them all in.

“There aren’t as many races when it gets colder,” she said, “So I’ve been doubling up. There’s been times when there’s a race on Saturday and then one on Sunday.” She even ran two races in one day recently. “I went to Benton Harbor in the morning and South Haven in the evening for the Light up the Night 5K.”

Gruber said she isn’t really interested in winning the races, but rather enjoying them, even when the weather isn’t so nice.

“I’m interested in just doing it,” she said. “What I find is that when you finish, you look back and say that was fun. (She and her husband) been in ones where it’s been really cold and nasty but when you finish you feel good.”

She also enjoys the camaraderie she has developed with other runners.

“The race culture is very supportive,” she said. “You see the same people at these races and cheer them on.”

So, where will her 50th race take her to?

It just so happens a 5K run is scheduled in Monaco on her 50th birthday. She, Clark, and her parents plan to vacation there as part of her birthday celebration.

“We are hoping to do the last race there. We want it to be very special,” she said.