Hardy souls say winter running is a breath of fresh air

Invigorating, refreshing, challenging, they insist

Outside: sports, activities, events

January 22, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

It's cold. It's windy. It's gray.

It's the perfect time to get outside and run.

The idea may seem crazy to those who huddle indoors and under blankets during winter months, but for some local athletes, including Federal Hill resident Susan Sperry, a stride around town in below-freezing temperatures is actually rewarding.

The 34-year-old Pennsylvania native, who moved to Baltimore from New Zealand 18 months ago, said that biting gusts and frigid temperatures can turn outdoor jogs into invigorating - albeit demanding - workouts.

"It can be incredibly refreshing ... to go out in the cold air," said Sperry, who said she's been running for about 15 years.

"For many runners I talk to, it's a challenge and a very positive invigoration," she added.

And Josh Levinson, owner of the Charm City Run store in Timonium, said winter running sessions like the ones organized and based from his retail operation can be good preparation for the spring, when racing season picks up steam.

"The reason why runners like to run in the winter ... is that you don't get heat exhaustion, you don't get tired too quick ... and you just feel like you can go forever," he said.

"It's definitely good for training. No extremes are good; but obviously, with the extra effort to get the cardiovascular going ... [many runners feel that] when spring hits, it's a piece of cake."

Though the thrill of the chill is very real for many cold-season runners, some local medical professionals don't think there is any science to back up claims that wintertime jaunts are best.

"I don't believe that there's any substantial evidence ... that says that cold air will improve performance," said Dr. Michael A. Yorio, a physician with University of Maryland Sports Medicine in Timonium.

That said, Yorio noted that it's important for people to maintain cardiovascular fitness during the winter season - and running, he said, is a great way to do it.

"Not taking months off is important. You can lose [stamina] pretty quickly," Yorio said. "It wouldn't be as bad as, say, someone who has never run before, but ... it would take them time to get back to where they were."

Time away from a fitness regimen can also lead to pain once a person eventually restarts a workout program.

"That's when people start injuring themselves. They start to push themselves to try to get back to what they were doing when they were at their peak fitness," Yorio said.

If you need more than medical advice to get you moving, then perhaps a little face-to-face training and motivation would help.

Many of the region's runners, athletes of all ages and abilities, have for years been meeting up for group runs.

Recently, Sperry joined in and organized her own neighborhood running group, the Federal Hill Runners.

She and Levinson agreed that the supportive environment of a club keeps many hesitant winter runners from feeling slowed by muscle cramps and frozen lungs.

"It's all about creating a sense of community and looking out for one another," Sperry said.

And other more competitive folks, Levinson said, rely on the groups to push them toward the finish of each and every chilly course.

"Group running works well in the winter because there are plenty of deterrents such as temperature and darkness. And when you have someone to meet ... your friends and running partners ... that's what pushes you out the door," he said.

On your mark

Federal Hill Runners: Club founder Susan Sperry says the newly formed group has about 50 active members, ranging in age from 22 to 65. Scheduled runs take place mornings and evenings. For more information on run times, visit www.federalhillsouth.org/_committees/run ners.html.

Baltimore Road Runners Club: This nonprofit club, which was founded more than 30 years ago, holds weekly runs both inside and outside the city. Membership, $15 per adult, is open to runners of all ages and abilities. Call 410-377-7327 or visit www.brrc.com.

Annapolis Striders: This group, founded in 1978, is open to people of all ages and abilities. Weekly training runs are offered mornings and evenings. For more information on membership, call 410-268-1165 or visit www .annapolisstriders.org.

Howard County Striders: This group of about 1,000 runners holds a number of club runs each week, including "Bagel Runs" at 7 a.m. every Saturday. Activities are open to both novice and experienced runners. The group also sponsors some of the region's 5K and 10K races. Call 410-964-1998 or visit www.striders.net.

NCR Trail Snails: The NCR Trail Snails running club is comprised of about 100 locals who run, of course, on the NCR Trail near Cockeysville. The group centers its activities on Saturday group runs, which can range in distance from four to 20 miles. Club president Jordan Feldman said the pace of these jaunts usually ranges between 9- and 13-minute miles. Membership is free. Call 410-526-0286 or visit www.ncrtrailsnails.com.

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