Snow no obstacle to Columbia runner

Strider: Cleared pathways are route to six-day-a-week workout regime.

March 07, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In recent days as the Columbia area struggled to recover from being blanketed with 2 feet of snow, distance runner Mick Slonaker faced his own challenge -- finding a way to keep up his average 45 to 50 miles-a-week workout without a lot of options besides the dreaded, boring treadmill runs.

His salvation became the nearly 90 miles of Columbia Association pathways that were mostly plowed.

"One thing I've found is commercial and residential sidewalks are not cleared consistently -- you'll be running down a sidewalk and run into a bank of snow," said Slonaker, of Columbia, who was out on the paths a few days after last month's record snowstorm. "The paths are definitely a great opportunity for runners to get out there."

While snow still covers sidewalks in parts of the county -- three weeks after the area's largest snowfall in 132 years -- almost all of the Columbia Association's pathways have been cleared.

The homeowners association -- which usually budgets for about four snowfalls a winter -- has spent more than double its allotted $72,600 for its fiscal 2003 budget, said Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's vice president for open space management.

The open-space department will make some changes in its operating budget to cover the costs, said Keisha Reynolds, the association's manager of community relations and communications.

About 95 percent of the association's pathways have been cleared of snow. The first priority was to plow the pathways that students use to get to school, Rhodehamel said.

"I think our team did a magnificent job on handling this storm," Rhodehamel said. "We've never dealt with one quite this size."

Armed not with truck snowplows or front loaders, about 65 association employees -- the association also hired outside contractors -- used smaller equipment, such as skid loaders and V-plows to clear the pathways and 26 miles of sidewalks that abut the association's open space.

"What we have is the type of equipment that we would use for sidewalks and parking lots in 8-to-10-inch snows -- we're able to handle that," Rhodehamel said. "You get so much snow in front of you, when you're trying to push, it taxes the equipment."

The snow-covered pathways are in hard-to-reach locations, where the snow is too high for the equipment to reach without possibly damaging part of the wooded areas, Reynolds said. When more snow has melted, association workers will clear those areas, she said.

"As you go through the wooded areas, there's a lot of trees on both sides," Rhodehamel said. "So there's not a lot of room to maneuver for a machine like a skid loader."

Without Columbia's cleared pathways, which are part of Slonaker's regular workouts, the runner said he would have a much harder time getting in his six runs a week.

In this unusually snowy winter, Slonaker said, he and fellow runners have also had to be creative in their workouts -- running around the outside perimeter of The Mall in Columbia in the early mornings or running in one of the mall's parking garages for hill training.

Slonaker is president of the Howard County Striders, a group of about 1,000 Columbia runners.

The group is known for its weekly 7- to 20-mile "bagel runs," which start at 7 a.m. every Saturday at the Swim Center in Wilde Lake Village Center. (The event gets its name because the athletes meet at the Bagel Bin, in the village center, after their runs).

As Slonaker was ending last week's bagel run, he ran into an 8-foot mound of snow blocking a sidewalk "with no exit point" and had to climb over it.

"You just smile and go with it because you want to get your running in," he said. "A lot of us say, `This is what nature has given us.'"

The runners have also been disappointed with canceled races this winter, including the 10-mile race at Howard Community College and the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail marathon and half-marathon.

"Everybody is wondering when spring is going to come," Slonaker said.

The snow has also delayed a handful of the Columbia Association's open-space projects, including annual mulching and planting flower beds to prepare for spring, Reynolds said.

A turf renovation at Symphony Woods has been delayed, she said. The snow has also delayed completion of a gazebo being built at Lake Elkhorn, Reynolds said. The work is expected to be completed in the beginning of spring.

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