The Popcorn Panic has been bringing together runners, walkers, and a cheering audience of family and friends for over three decades. This year, the Popcorn Panic will utilize a new route in order to bring better comfort to those participating. Dan Lukes sports recreation director for the Valparaiso Parks Department says, “We have changed our course this year. One thing we heard in the past two to three years is that there is not enough water at the end of the course, so we changed our course to end at Central Park Plaza. Now, our runners will go directly into the park after the race and they won’t be fighting the crowd to get to the post-race beverages. The course is the same distance, but instead of turning on Appletree, runners will now turn on Fisher. We will have all new records this year because we are considering it a brand new course.”
Another change will be in the way registrations are taken, although it may not be a change for many. “We have been working with Extra Mile Fitness Company who assists with registration and they have been fantastic. We have done away with our mail-in registration because about 85 percent of our registration is done online and then the rest is done by phone, so this year there is no mail-in registration at all. Extra Mile Fitness Company also has been helping us to do the timing for the race and they are doing a training program for the race as well,” says Lukes.
He says that there have already been a number of groups who have signed up for the race and they are encouraging more. “We have a lot of team involvement and have had a number of inquiries as well, and we encourage these healthy rivalries between Chesterton and Valpo and each of the middle schools, so we’re hoping to reinvigorate that a bit. And for this year if you register by August 14th we are guaranteeing shirt sizes. That is something that we haven’t done in years and we are hearing our racers and want to do what we can to make them happy,” Lukes says.
But the real essence of the Popcorn Panic comes from the supporters. Lukes says, “Without the financial support of sponsors, such as Aldi’s, Urschel, Porter Regional Hospital, Van Gogh, Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers, and our donors like Nutrishop, Budget Rentals, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Frito Lay, or the hard work of our park staff and all of our volunteers, none of this would be possible. So a huge debt of gratitude is always due to all involved out front and behind the scenes. If anyone wishes to volunteer, please contact me at email@example.com.
The Top Men’s Walk finisher in 2012 who is also a five-time champ, Martin Moeller, says that he and his daughter, Melissa Moeller who has won eight of the 12 women’s walk competitions, enjoy the Popcorn Panic each year. “My daughter is really the class act here, I’m just an old man trying to think I can still compete at something!” Moeller jokes. “I don’t participate in many other races and I like it because it is Valpo and there are so many people I know along the course. We have a Wiggly Waddlers team and there are about seven or eight of us on that team. It’s our hometown thing, it’s very well organized, and it is a great course. I love the scenery, the people in the race, and it’s just something to look forward to and strive for. Changing the course may make the race walk slower because we have to climb hills twice instead of once but it is so scenic for the walkers, so we have scouted it out and we will just try a little harder to be ready.”
Heather Henderlong, manager/owner of the Extra Mile Fitness Company says getting involved in the Popcorn Panic is a labor of love. “The Extra Mile is very excited to work closely with the Valparaiso Parks Department, and in particular, with Dan Lukes. The Popcorn Panic has been a premier event for the region for many years. Runners from the area make this a ‘can't miss’ race and some who have left the area make sure to travel back to run. The course offers great uphills as well as a scenic route. New for 2013, the route will start and end in front of Central Park to help deal with the congested finish areas from years past. This will allow runners and walkers access to the Orville Redenbacher tent to refuel and meet family and friends. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to view results instantly through their smartphones due to the advancement in timing technologies provide by T&H Timing. Lastly, the Extra Mile is proud to support the Popcorn Panic through our first annual training program which is geared towards beginner runners who need some help getting their mileage up to a five mile race. The program is led by Jen Villerreal and Becky Krieger who are both Road Runners Club of America certified coaches. The program offers two workouts per week, Sunday at 7 a.m. and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. As a past participant, I feel the Popcorn Panic is true reflection of a hometown race that brings family and friends together to celebrate the community in which we live. Think about it, the streets are closed to celebrate our community!”