Ann Ringlein: Running for Her Life
The Lincoln Running Company manager of 36 years shares her love of the city of Lincoln, its running community, and lacing her shoes up every morning.
By Madeline Christensen
“Objects in motion stay in motion.”
This has become something like a mantra for running enthusiast Ann Ringlein.
Even as the store manager of Lincoln Running Company in downtown Lincoln, instructor of multiple running classes a week, a coach to many and a cheerleader for—let’s face it—everyone she meets, you’ll still find Ringlein lacing up her shoes and hitting the trails almost every morning (and usually a cycling or pilates class, too).
Sitting still is just not something she’s built for.
“My mom would say that I started running the minute I was born,” Ringlein said. “I’ve always been very active, I was always moving.”
In Red Cloud, Nebraska, she grew up running and riding her bike out in the country whenever there was nothing else to do. When she began working a part-time job at the Dairy Queen, she’d run laps around the track across the street after her shifts.
Her sophomore year in high school came the year Title IX was passed, and she protested with a group of girls to start a girls’ track team. A retired administrator agreed to coach them.
“He cared—I don't know if he knew much about track, but he cared about us, and that was all that mattered,” Ringlein said. “He saw that I could run a long way, so he'd have me run to the river bridge and back. He'd have me run a little bit farther. So he kind of got the love of running in me.”
She continued to run throughout college at Kearney State and later on when she moved to St. Paul, Nebraska.
“There was no health club, and no swimming pool in the winter,” she said. “So, I ran. And that's when I really started to run. I could go out in the country and get in tons of miles.”
She started to become a serious competitor—making a supplemental income winning regional races over the weekend—and became the manager of a small running store that opened in the Grand Island mall.
When she moved with her family to Lincoln in 1984, she instantly was embraced by the Lincoln running community. While getting her daughter a pair of shoes at The Athlete’s Foot at the mall, somebody from the Lincoln Track Club recognized her. She was introduced to owers Derald and Judy Rogers and their son, Dave, and was offered a job managing The Athlete’s Foot East Park location.
Years later the Rogers closed most of their Athlete’s Foot locations, opting to break away from the franchise to focus on their original location at 12th and Q, renaming it The Lincoln Running Company. The downtown fixture celebrates 44 years in 2020, and Ringlein will have been with the company 36 years.
“We have seen so much change at the store, it's crazy,” Ringlein said. “It used to be we'd come in, we'd open the doors, people bought shoes. And they’d train, show up at a race, eat a banana and head home. Now, we are always having social events for our customers. Today’s runner is more of a social one.”
A weekend in early February, Lincoln Running Co. hosted a short run in the morning at 7 a.m. to get people signed up for the Tabitha Miles for Meals Run in March. That evening, they had a movie watch party about trail running.
“We had 100 people here in the morning and 40 people here at night,” Ringlein said.
That’s typical for the store. Ringlein said she’s interested in anything that can get the Lincoln running community together, talking, and motivated.
“It's good that it can be such a social thing, and anybody can do it,” she said. “You don't have to have a certain look, you don't have to wear the shorty shorts. You don't have to be lean, you don't have to be sinewy. Everybody can run, or run/walk, or whatever it is. So it's become way more social, and we need to provide that to them. We need to be one of the organizations and groups that provide that to them.”
Besides hosting special events with the Lincoln Track Club, Ringlein and The Lincoln Running Co. work with the YMCA to put on an annual marathon training class that starts in January and runs until June. It meets twice a week for a group run and to listen to an informational speaker, and again on the weekends for a long run. When they get back, Ringlein treats them to coffee at MoJava.
“They sit around and talk for hours, they meet each other,” she said. “It's just that camaraderie and bonding afterwards that really solidifies, and hooks you in. The regulars are used to seeing it now, everybody coming in all happy. Healthy people are happy people, and it just makes for a better environment and city all the way around.”
After June, Ringlein coaches Beginner’s Luck, a class tailored for people wanting to get started or get back into running. In fall there’s a class to train for the Lincoln Halfsie, and every Wednesday a group meets at Lincoln Running Co. for a run and cookies from The Cookie Company.
Then there’s Ringlein’s morning run with the guys from The Bridge Behavioral Health.
Most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, she runs two miles in the morning with a group of men from the center, which specializes in treating behavioral addiction.
Lincoln Running Co. got involved by donating gently used running shoes to the group, and then one day Ringlein decided to join in on the run.
“I thought it was just so cool,” she said. “So I just started showing up.”
When the running group lost its funding to pay instructors, Ringlein didn’t think twice about volunteering.
“I was like, you know what?,” she said. “We can do this.”
Ringlein called up people she knew from running and many were happy to help out. Whenever she can’t make it, she said there’s always someone willing to step in.
“It's an amazing community, how much everyone comes together if you need anything,” she said.
Over the years, Ringlein’s thoughts and feelings toward running have shifted.
She’s gone from running for the thrill, to becoming a competitive runner and pushing to break personal records, to running for her health—both mentally and physically.
“There comes a point in your career where you're not going to PR anymore,” she said. “Maybe you're still running fast for your age, and that's okay, too. You kind of have to change the goals a little bit. And then you get to a point, like with me and my life now where I'm 62, I just want to keep running. I don't run nearly as many miles as I used to or do all the workouts I used to—but I get out and go everyday and I know that it's going to make me feel better, and I'm a better person for it.”
Her advice for people wanting to begin a running schedule is simply just to start.
“There’s a quote by Amelia Earhart that’s something like, ‘the hardest part is the decision to act, and after that it’s just tenacity,’” Ringlein said. “You just have to stick to it. Once you do, once you're into it and it's what you do, you kind of get hooked. It's what I do. I get up, and I run. Or I get up and walk. Or I get up and go to my class. Or I get up and move. You have to get it going before you get motivated.”
To keep herself accountable for 5 a.m. runs on the trails by her house, she texts her running buddies the night before to meet at her house. She decides where they’ll run and how long, and she gets her clothes laid out.
“I've just figured that out,” she said. “Everything has to be laid out. The hardest thing is getting my shoes on and out the door, then it's easy after that.”
Ringlein’s passion for running is obvious, but she admits that as she’s gotten older, she’s realized that just getting out and moving—in any way that works for you—is the most important thing.
“At first I thought I was going to get all of Lincoln running,” she said. “And now I'm like, I'm going to get all of Lincoln moving. That's a big thing. I don't care what it is you do. Just get moving and do something, just so we're a healthy, healthy city. Look at all the miles of trails there are. There are nearly 200 miles of trails in and around Lincoln. That's insane. I don't know that there is any other place—in the Midwest, for sure—that has that many trails. We are so, so lucky.”
Ringlein said her biggest source of inspiration are people she sees in her community working hard to stay healthy and accomplish their goals, no matter what age.
“We give kudos and high fives to the mall walker, or the person who walks a block and comes back a block,” she said. “You got to get started somehow. Little bits are just fine. It's simple, but it's not easy.”