VALPARAISO | Former Lake Central and Valparaiso University runner Aaron Crague has won so many local road races, he's almost lost count.
Crague, 33, has been the boys cross country and track assistant coach at Valparaiso High School since 2003. One of his duties is to help organize the annual Valentine's 5K run, a fundraiser for the Vikings' cross country program.
It also seems he's in charge of winning. He captured Sunday's 3.1-mile race in 15 minutes, 58.6 seconds. it was his first title since 2010 and eighth overall.
Crague led a group of about 10 runners through the first mile in 5:15, and started breaking away from Valpo senior Peyton Reed and Chesterton senior Andrew Kearney after going through the two-mile mark in 10:15.
"We always stress with our guys during cross country and track that it's a lot easier running with teammates," Crague said. "So that was our game plan, to run together as long as we could. But at two miles, that's when the racing started."
Reed was able to hold off Kearney during the last half mile or so, finishing in 16:05.8 while Kearney was third in 16:10.9.
"I was just trying to make sure I beat Kearney so he wouldn't beat all of us (from Valpo)," Reed said. "I was just trying to stay with AC (Crague) for as long as I could. I knew I was basically shooting for second."
The women's overall winner was Valpo High sophomore Alison Mundell, 38th overall in 20:18.9. She and Reed, her boyfriend, were the overall winners in the couple's division, a unique feature of the event.
"I wasn't sure I was in the lead," said Mundell, who recently took a month off from training due to a hip injury. "I just passed all the women I could see in the first mile."
Last year's women's champion was Racheal Marchand, who didn't compete. Karen Nagel, another top women's competitor, also was not in the field which opened the door for Mundell to earn her second-ever title in a local road race.
"I didn't see them, but I wasn't sure if they were in front of me," Mundell said.
Crague was more pleased that about a half dozen of his runners set personal bests for the 5K distance, which is unusual this early in the year.
"We stress the importance of getting a good base in the winter, so it was nice for them to see the fruits of their labor," Crague said. "It was a good day for us."
There were a record 437 finishers. Last year's event had 366 finishers.