Road Runners Club stepping into Columbia

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

August 29, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

AS COMMERCIAL real estate deals go, here's a local footnote, just a small victory for Howard County.

As of Wednesday, Howard County becomes home for one of the nation's best-known runners' groups.

The Road Runners Club of America has called Northern Virginia - Alexandria - home for 48 years, since it was founded there by volunteer runners. But the grass-roots organization, which claims 650 clubs and 130,000 members nationally, is moving this week into new headquarters - Suite 150 at 8965 Guilford Road in Columbia's Kings Contrivance village.

Even with all those members, this isn't a big deal to the local economy. The organization expects to have three full-time workers. But RRCA still is a nice sports name to have in your back yard, good for continuing exposure of Columbia and Howard County.

Why the move to Howard County, we inquired, and might it have anything to do with club Executive Director Becky Lambros' residence?

After all, Lambros, who lives in Eldersburg, is cutting her commute by more than 50 percent.

"Yes, you might say that's part of it," said a laughing Lambros, who does a lot of work out of her home and notes she'll still be coping with Route 32 commuter heck enough to get a headache or two.

"But we've been on a month-to-month lease in Alexandria, there isn't much parking and work on the [Wilson] bridge [carrying the Capital Beltway over the Potomac River] is such a hassle. It's just hard for people to get to us.

"We didn't really look anywhere else than Columbia. It's got parking, it's easy to find by car and when our directors come in from all over the country, it's about 20 minutes from the airport."

We're sold.

And, we might add, Columbia offers 90 miles of paved pathways, an invaluable asset for hundreds of local runners. That path system wasn't lost on Lambros, either; she's a runner, too.

What the Road Runners Club does, like so many Washington-area special-interest groups, is provide a national perspective and support for runners.

RRCA provides member clubs with training materials, sanctioning for state, regional and national championships, coach certification and training, insurance, help with nonprofit status, publications and encouragement for, especially, female runners.

Lambros proudly pointed out that Deena Drossin Kastor, the Californian who surprised many by taking the bronze medal in last week's women's marathon at the Olympics in Athens, was an early RRCA Roads Scholar.

In 1996, the national club began giving one-time grants of $4,000 to post-college runners intent on pursuing greater competitive things - such as national-level events - in running.

"It's not a lot of money," Lambros said, "but it's enough to help a runner with a job afford some extra training or take time for regular massages."

Footnote: Kastor, 31, finished one of the hottest, literally, marathons at that world-class level of competition, with temperatures topping 100 degrees and extreme humidity that sent several runners to hospitals and caused several others - among them the race favorite - to withdraw.

You'd think Olympic organizers would have tried for a cooler, early-morning start instead of 6 p.m., when Athens' heat can be overwhelming. Just ask any runner who competed in Howard County's earliest Metric Marathons, which were run in June. You really jeopardize your athletes, even those of world-class fitness, in that kind of heat.

Footnote, too: Kastor said after becoming the first U.S. woman medalist in the Olympic marathon since 1984:

"I did heat training in long- sleeved clothing in 75-80 degree Fahrenheit heat at altitude to prepare, but there was a sense of panic when I first got off the athlete bus and the temperature read 101 degrees. But I knew I had prepared the best I could."

Footnote, three: The Howard County Striders, whose past president, Mick Slonacker, was also a recent director of the Road Runners Club of America, has scheduled a visit at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 from a U.S. Olympian. Carrie Tollefson of Minnesota was a semifinalist and the only U.S. competitor in the women's 1,500 meters at the Athens Games. The Striders meet at Slayton House in Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Green.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.

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