Time: 6:09 a.m.
Temperature: 32 degrees. Sky: Black. Body: Shivering, but not for long.
While Americans in general are overweight and out of shape - according to a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2000 study, 73.8 percent of the U.S. population was inactive or took part in insufficient activity - this group is about to embark on a six-week fitness Boot Camp to get in better physical condition.
Led by Tina McNulty, owner/president of Total Fitness Specialists, the group meets at 6 a.m. three days a week to fortify stamina and strength while reducing body fat. Using briskly-paced running, sprints, calisthenics and weight training, McNulty runs her charges through the paces.
She's no drill sergeant. Still, the routine is not for the faint of heart.
"I don't like anybody standing around too long," she says. "I always tell them 'You can rest when you get home.'"
Under the pale glow of a streetlamp the group spills out onto North Pointe Drive for the start of a two-mile timed trial, which will take them into a small housing development for four laps around Arbor and Dover drives. The group fans out and settles into their individual grooves, shoes strike pavement with a rhythmic slap-slap-slap.
On and off for two years, Korby Sanders, 41, has emerged from her Williamsport home to work out at the crack of dawn. A veteran of triathlons, biathlons and two JFK 50-mile ultramarathons, she enjoys the camaraderie fostered by gathering at what is, arguably, an obscene hour.
She says the early start is the toughest thing about the class. Although when weeknight classes start in the spring, she's unlikely to switch because it can be easy to make excuses as the day progresses; at 6 a.m., it's unlikely she has a better place to be.
Lap one, lap two, lap three.
Breathing becomes labored - lungs burn - and even slight inclines approach Everest-like proportions. McNulty shouts encouragement with each lap completed. Crossing the finish, runners grab their sides, walk off exhaustion and return to cheer on other runners as they make their final, punishing sprint.
Xanthy Munson-Hoover, McNulty's co-instructor, is used to the early hour now, though that wasn't the case three years ago when she first joined the group with her husband.
Steve House, 45, is new to Boot Camp, having joined this session in part because exercising on his own wasn't working too well.
"I'd started to run on a treadmill for two, three days then stop for a week and a half," he says. "I just decided I needed to try to get this belly off."
With several classes in the books, Munson-Hoover trumpets the program's ability to foster group unity, remembering this nugget from a recent class:
A newer member, in the final stages of a three-mile run, was joined by other runners as they returned from a four-mile trek. Instead of passing her by they kept pace, urging her on to the finish.
"When you have your peers in your class doing that," she says, "you know everyone wants to see you succeed; there's no one holding you back."
You think you're done, but this is only the beginning. A slow jog back to the gym makes way for a series of strength exercises using giant elastic bands for resistance. Triceps muscles used to a free ride tremble after 10 repetitions of the same motion of reaching the arm to the sky.
Among the hallmarks of the 3 1/2-year-old class is its unpredictability. Each morning promises a different workout to catch muscles by surprise.
Monday morning, the group may jog/sprint the mile to Fountaindale Elementary School, complete a series of pushups, chin-ups and pull-ups, then run/sprint back to the gym where abdominal work concludes class. Wednesday, a long, swiftly-paced run will be followed by sit-ups and abdominal crunches. Friday yields yet another workout.
There are huffs. There are puffs. There are angry screams from muscles wondering what they did to deserve this treatment.
And there is the satisfaction that comes with a task completed, with an energy boost to boot.
"When I go to work, I feel better and the whole day seems to go better," House says. "You feel more alive."
Even seemingly static portions of the routine have endless variations. Wednesday often includes a long run, but routes will alternate in distance and direction.