Running in the cold for love of doing it

Devotees: In freezing weather, members of the Baltimore Road Runners Club welcome 2002 with the six-mile Father Time Frolic.

January 02, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

It was cold yesterday morning at Loch Raven Reservoir - about 12 degrees with the wind chill. It was early. And it was the morning after New Year's Eve.

Despite those disincentives, 52 men, 11 women and a bluetick hound dog named Blueberry showed up for a 9 o'clock race to welcome the new year with a six-mile run along the hilly, pine-lined roads that ring the reservoir.

"A lot of nonrunners don't quite understand it," said Rick Bingham, president of the Baltimore Road Runners Club and organizer of its annual Father Time Frolic on New Year's Day. "They say, `You're a mental case.' But then again, some people go out and sit in the cold for 3 1/2 hours at a football game. At least we're staying warm."

These were not your casual runners. No one in this group stumbled out of bed to make good on a New Year's resolution to start running or to get in shape.

No, these were running devotees such as Serge England Arbona, 36, who moved to the United States from France 13 years ago. He gave up his career as a chef to make more time for running and earns a living as a handyman and construction contractor. He won his first 100-mile event last year in 16 hours and 54 minutes.

O.J. Keller, 24, is a triathlete who runs in the off-season to stay in shape and works at MBNA. He stayed up too late and drank too much New Year's Eve, but he still hauled his haggard-looking self to the reservoir yesterday morning.

"I made a promise to myself that I'd get up and do this race if I could stand up straight without tipping over," he said. Moments after being the second to cross the finish line, with a time of slightly more than 33 minutes, Keller seemed to be having trouble doing just that.

Ellen Hoitsma, 46, is a morning person. A second-grade teacher at Park School with a warm smile and a bubbly disposition, she offered New Year's hugs and kisses to almost everyone at the registration table.

The race was her first since she broke a toe in October, two weeks before what would have been her first marathon. The injury worsened when Hoitsma refused to quit running. "I like this race being my first race back because I'm not in a hurry as long as I know they won't be waiting for me in the parking lot," she said. "There are people just as slow as me."

Still nursing her foot injury, Hoitsma was particularly comforted by a twist in the rules of the Father Time Frolic: You don't have to finish first to win the race.

The first-place prizes - a pair of watches - go to the male and female runners who most accurately predict their finishing times.

Watches were prohibited - competitors had to show their bare wrists at the starting line - and finishing times were barely mumbled by the official timekeeper to prevent approaching runners from slowing down or speeding up at the last minute to achieve their estimated times.

Proving that there's no science to predicting your finishing time, Pete Hens, 50, a cabinetmaker and longtime runner, offered his quirky approach from a few years ago, when he won the race.

"I started the race by going out in a full, dead sprint," he said. "I'm not a fast runner. I'm not a top 10 runner or a top 15 runner or even a top 50 runner, but I wanted to be in the lead for once in my stinking life. After about two-tenths of a mile, I had to slow down because, well, I needed oxygen."

He physically pushed a slower runner up a hill. He challenged a guy in a minivan at the halfway point of a race and ran as hard as he could to the designated finishing point. (The minivan won.) And as Hens neared the finish line, he slowed to a walk and strolled the last few paces to finish.

"I had no idea what the time was," he said, "but I was within one second of my time. It was amazing, because I had no clue."

For a while yesterday, race organizers thought the fastest runner and the race winner would be the same. Paul Hannsen, 28, steamed across the finish line in 33 minutes and 4.92 seconds. Counting on running a 5 1/2 -minute mile, the geometry and algebra teacher had predicted that he would finish the race in 33 minutes flat.

"That's by far way beyond the closest I've ever come," he said. "I can't believe it. That's ridiculous. But I don't know if I'm going to win or not. Some people are real, real close."

About seven minutes later, the crowd at the finish line was buzzing about Mike Martin.

"I've run this thing four times, and I've never come close to predicting my time," Martin, 42, a family doctor from Parkville, said before yesterday's race. "Usually I run faster. I expect to run slow because I've stayed up too late the night before, and then I get out there and get all psyched up and run with the fast guys."

This year proved similar. Martin ran faster than his predicted time of 40 minutes, but only 1.7 seconds faster, a small enough difference to gain the winner's watch.

In the end, Hannsen dropped to fourth place with his first-place finishing time.

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