Strength in Numbers
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Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

by Don Norcross

When a friend challenged Danny Hernandez to join her for the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, Hernandez nonchalantly agreed. So what if Hernandez had never raced and never run farther than six miles? The friend, you must understand, had commitment issues. "She never finished what she started," recalls Hernandez, who lives in San Jose, California. "I figured I'd go through the training program, she'd drop out, then I'd be able to drop out."

Only this time, the friend learned the meaning of stick-to-itiveness, and Hernandez found himself enjoying the challenge. "Having that commitment to get out and run, I started to feel good about myself," he says.

Six years later, Hernandez is a running junkie and a member of the Run America Club since 2000. He has finished seven marathons, lowering his PR from 4:21 to 3:04. The bulk of his friends are runners. He schedules vacations around races. "It's a big part of who I am," says Hernandez. "I wake up and the first thing I think about is my run."

All because he committed to a race.

Top 5 Benefits of Event Participation
Those who have been running for years say the benefits to racing are like a marathon, long and winding. But they can be summed up into a top five list:
  1. Personal Challenge
  2. Develop Goal-setting Skills
  3. Social Interaction
  4. Better Health
  5. Fundraising for Charities
Benefit # 1: Personal Challenge
Everyone has run at one time or another, be it warm-up laps in P.E., a casual jog on a trail or chasing a bus to the bus stop. If you're a recreational jogger, in the back of your mind you've wondered, "How fast could I run a mile? How about a 5K or 10K?" There's only one way to find out. "Running is something tangible," says Paul Greer, coach of the 900-member San Diego Track Club and a former sub-four-minute miler. "You can see a time, or you can reach a distance. The clock doesn't lie. The course won't lie."

After debuting with his 4:21 marathon in Alaska, Hernandez sampled 5Ks and 10Ks. He has lowered his PRs at the distances from 49 minutes to 38 minutes in the 10K and from 25 minutes to 18:30 in the 5K. Twice he has qualified for the Boston Marathon. He has his sights on lowering those PRs even more and running a sub-three-hour marathon. "I just like challenging myself," says Hernandez.

VIP RAC member Marcella Teran has been racing for 13 years. She's one of San Diego's best masters runners, clocking a 2:57 Boston Marathon at 45. Explaining how racing has impacted her life, Teran says, "I look at it as digging deep, digging deep in my life. It makes me feel full of life when I'm racing."

Benefit #2: Develop Goal Setting Skills
Tamara Lave started running when she was 2. Lave, who was raised in Pittsburgh, and her twin brother would go outside with their father, an avid jogger. The twins would run with him to the end of the block. "They'd be there when I got back," recalls Lester Lave.

Tamara ran at Division III Haverford College. Now in her thirties, a public defender for San Diego County and a Run America Club member since 2001, Lave has gradually improved over the years. In December 2002, she lowered her PR in the marathon by more than six minutes to 2:37:32, the 11th fastest time by an American that year. Pushing herself in races, says Lave, has helped define who she is. "Honestly, the best thing about running in road races is it not only gives you a goal, it gives you an accomplishment," she says. "It can change the way you see yourself and the decisions you make in life. All of a sudden you have something that makes you different. It makes you special. It improves your self-esteem."

If you're a recreational jogger and the weather turns cold, it's tempting to press the snooze alarm button and skip the day's workout. But when there's a race on your calendar you're more likely to toss the comforter aside and exit the front door. "Races become that carrot dangling in front of you," says Arturo Barrios, the former world record holder in the 10K and now a coach in Boulder, Colorado. "It's motivating."

Benefit #3: Social Interaction
Runners tend to hang with runners. They spend so much time at track workouts and long runs that they start socializing away from training. "It's a great alternative to the bar scene," says Kevin McCarey, a former 2:13 marathoner. McCarey is one of the sport's most respected coaches. Six of his female athletes qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. "Running's a great place to get a date," he adds. "They are the kind of people you want to meet in life. Usually, it means they've taken care of their body and mind. People who come to races are high-quality people."

Gordon Bakoulis didn't run in high school or college. She started competing at 24 when she ran the New York Mini, a 10K. She did well and was invited to run for a New York women's team. Now in her forties and the editorial director for the New York Road Runners, Bakoulis has run in the past four U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and qualified for the 2004 Trials. "Racing's a great social outlet. That's always been a real motivator for me," Bakoulis says. "And it's a great way to find out how you're doing in a way that's clearly defined. It can be a route to bigger and better things. I never dreamed I would get to a world-class level when I first started. But even if you don't aspire to that, it's just great camaraderie."

Benefit #4: Better Health
Susie Kluttz waited until she was 48 to start pounding the pavement. To Kluttz, running was a way to spend more time with her husband, an avid runner. "My kids outgrew me and left, so I tried to do what he did," says sixty-something Kluttz who joined Run America Club in 1998. She lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. and is one of the top runners nationally in her age group. "The physical benefits are great. My resting heart rate before I started running was 80. Now it's in the upper 40s. And it really does keep you healthy mentally. I can feel my mind clearing up as I run. It's great for tension, too. Much better than tranquilizers!"

Benefit #5: Fundraising for Charities
With help from the Team in Training group, the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon has, in its history, raised more than $75 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In 2002, nearly 1.5 million runners participated in 113 Race for the Cure events nationally. At an average registration fee of $25, that's more than $37 million earmarked to eradicate breast cancer. There are a number of other worthy causes which also marry the concepts of training and fundraising, such as Joints in Motion (Arthritis Foundation) and others.

Fun Events
Whatever your distance, if you're considering a race to enter, here are some you won't want to miss.

Carlsbad 5000
Organizers call the popular & scenic race "The World's Fastest 5K" with good reason. Twelve world records have been set on the course which hugs the Pacific Ocean. Organizers bring in world-class athletes and the runners push each other to records. Visit Elite Racing for information.

Bay to Breakers
Sassy, flashy and irreverent, the Bay to Breakers 12K is a San Francisco landmark. Started in 1912, the race features runners in various stages of dress and undress. Participants in the costume contest spend weeks and hundreds of dollars on their elaborate get-ups and have lots of fun. The race attracts big numbers. Visit Bay to Breakers.

Bolder Boulder 10K
The popular Colorado race attracts runners from near, far and all points in between. Held on Memorial Day, the race features a patriotic theme with a military flyover and parachuters carrying an American flag. Visit Bolder Boulder.

Peoples Beach to Beacons 10K
Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first women's Olympic marathon champion, is founder of the race in her Cape Elizabeth, Maine, backyard. "I've wanted to create a race that brings runners to some of my favorite training grounds, so they can enjoy the same beautiful environment, sense of community and rich history that has played such an important role in my life," says Samuelson. Visit Beach to Beacon

Race for the Cure
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure 5K series has developed into a stunning success. All survivors dress in pink T-shirts and hats. Visit Race for the Cure.

5 Tips to Get You to the Starting Line
You've made the commitment and entered a road race. Like any other time you've ventured into the great unknown, you need to do your homework. Paul Greer, who coaches the Rockin 'n' Runnin Marathon Training Program that prepares runners for the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, outlines strategy to get you to the starting line and across the finish line in tip-top shape.
  1. Pick the right shoes. The most common complaint Greer hears from runners about shoes is that they're too tight. As a rule runners should buy them half a size larger than their day-to-day shoes. Also, it's obvious, but never break in a new pair of shoes on race day. Shoes should have 50-70 miles on them before a race.

  2. Log the miles. If you don't put in the necessary training for your first road race, it just might be your last. If you're debuting at either the 5K or 10K, Greer suggests having run the distance in workouts. For a 5K, he recommends a 15-mile per week base; 25 miles for the 10K.

  3. Have a pre-race routine. The night before your maiden race, set aside all your clothes. If the weather's cool, include sweats. Eat a light breakfast. Greer suggests a bagel or a bowl of cereal. Plan to get to the race site at least an hour before the start. "You'll have enough anxiety as there is," Greer says. "Don't make it worse by having to rush." As a warmup, jog at an easy pace for seven to 10 minutes, then stretch, making sure to focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. To conclude your warmup, run three to five strides at race pace. "The strides are very important," says Greer. "They help you settle into your pace." Practice your entire game-day routine a week before the race.

  4. Start slowly. The temptation is to get caught up in the excitement and go out fast. That's also the best way to guarantee dragging yourself to the finish line. "Be conservative and stay within yourself," says Greer. Having run the 5K or 10K distance in workouts, Greer suggests going out at that same pace. "Go out at a pace you know you can finish," he says. Ideally, you want to run the second half of the race faster than the first, which runners call a negative split. "If you can pick up the pace the last quarter mile or 200 meters," says Greer, "that's great."

  5. Celebrate at the finish!

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