By Sarah Gooding
Photos by Savanah Mandeville
Runners throughout the Four-State Area know Russ and Kathy Ritchhart, who can be spotted at runs around the region almost every weekend.
Kathy, 60, and Russ, 70 in April, have been running together for 10 years and credit the time spent training with drawing them closer in their marriage and providing them a fantastic opportunity for health, friendships and enjoyment.
While Russ was a runner in his younger years, he took 19 years away from the activity, returning to running to join Kathy in her pursuit of health.
“I started going out and walking first, and then I started walking/jogging, and then I started running,” Kathy said. “When he saw me running, he started again. We were just wanting exercise, so we would go for a jog.”
Eventually, the couple signed up for a couple of local 5k’s, including the Jasper Appreciation Days and the Carthage Maple Leaf run.
“We did that for a couple years, and then we started noticing other races, so now we do a 5k every weekend,” Russ said, adding it’s become like a weekly vacation.
They also enjoy four- and five-mile races, and some weekends, they will even work in two or three events, for a total of approximately 60 events each year. They also have competed in the Senior Olympics in Columbia, Missouri, the past few years.
“We got a kick out of that,” Russ said. “We ran the shorter distances, the mile, half mile, quarter mile and the 100-yard dash. We won some of them, and we usually placed if we didn’t win.”
However, 10 years of running comes with ups and downs, and some of the biggest challenges the Ritchharts have faced together have been injuries.
“Our first time we were going to do the Senior Olympics was in 2016,” Kathy said. “A couple weeks before we had planned on going, my husband had a cattle accident and broke his leg. It was devastating for both of us.”
Russ continued to support Kathy’s running from the sidelines the following three months, and they celebrated when he was able to rejoin her in the races three months later.
Similarly, Kathy had to take time off last year, and cheered Russ on, all while wishing she could join him on the course.
“We’ve been through so much that we both know we’re going to have days or weeks that we can’t compete,” Russ said.
“I think it’s helped us all the way around,” Kathy added. “Even when he had his injury, I think it brought us closer, and we worked even harder. I tried to help him as much as I could, too, because I knew he wanted to run. There were times he would get discouraged because he wasn’t bouncing back. Instead of running ahead, I’d stay there and encourage him. I was so glad when he healed up and was able to continue to run.”
They also keep setting goals, including a bucket list goal of a half-marathon, that give them plenty to look forward to.
“I think we have a perfect marriage in that we can both do something together that we like,” Russ said. “She’s not in the kitchen while I watch the football game. We’re out doing something together.”