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Lacing up for fitness

March 29, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Mike Spinnler won the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in 1982 and 1983.

Now 46, the Hagerstown resident directs the Washington County foot race, which drew nearly 1,000 entrants in its 41st annual running last November.

Spinnler started running when he was 12. He liked sports in which he could stand on his own merit. As a competitive athlete, he wanted to be as good as he could be, so he ran.

There may be negatives to running. Studies have shown that the impact on knees causes joint deterioration. But it may require the intense stress generated by an athlete to cause problems, according to another study. The benefits to running are more clear. They include reducing heart rate, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and reducing bone loss.

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And there are more.

Weight loss - weight management - is one of running's main benefits, Spinnler said.

Six-foot-1, he weighs 155 pounds - the same as he did in college.

Running helped Maryland Symphony Orchestra contrabasoonist Susan Wilson go from a size 10 to a size 4. Now in her 11th season with the orchestra, the Gaithersburg, Md., resident started running about nine years ago because she wanted to lose a few extra pounds she had gained.

After a few months, she was hooked. She's run five-kilometer races. She's run marathons. Running has improved her wind, her energy and stamina - something important to the player of an instrument that contains 20 feet of tubing.

"Playing contrabassoon is hard work," she said. "It takes a lot of air."

Stress relief is another byproduct of running. Spinnler said he never thought about the so-called "runner's high" when he was a competitive athlete, but he is well-aware of running's psychological benefits.

After a stressful day, a half-hour to 45-minute run helps him to see things in a different perspective.

"The stress is gone," Spinnler said.

Wilson would agree: Running relieves her "crippling" stage fright. She had tried many remedies, including biofeedback and beta blockers, but the problem remained.

In May 1998 she had a solo recital, but had enough time to run a race early in the day. She came home, ate her typical preconcert peanut butter and banana sandwich and she played.

For the first time in her life, Wilson was not nervous. She was relaxed.

She'd been playing professionally for 30 years and said that the post-race performance was her first good recital. Runs are now routine before concerts.

Running also improves Wilson's focus. It provides good planning time for her. Wilson has worked out ornamentation for Antonio Vivaldi concertos while running.

Early Olympic runners recited poetry to keep their pace and rhythm, said Mathew McIntosh, associate professor in Shepherd College's Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sports.

Exercise physiologist McIntosh cited another possible benefit of running. He mentioned author and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil's theory that running stimulates the cognitive process of memory.

Running makes you feel good. Endorphins, pain-relieving substances in the brain, are released after prolonged, vigorous exercise. McIntosh called them "happy hormones" and said they stick around for hours.

And how's this for a benefit: People who are active live longer, McIntosh said.

Spinnler does not compete the way he did 25 years ago. He hasn't stopped running, but running plays a different role in his life. His motivation has changed. He wants to make sure his sons - ages 5 and 7 - have a father as they grow up and need him.

"I feel bad for America," Spinnler said talking about reports that obesity is closing in on smoking as the country's leading cause of preventable death.

People say they don't have time to exercise, but they need to think creatively and make time, Spinnler said. Walk on your treadmill, ride an exercise bicycle - while you watch your favorite television show, he recommended.

It doesn't have to be running, Spinnler said.

At 46, with 46-year-old knees, Wilson cross trains: She alternately bicycles, swims and runs five to six days a week.

After 25 years of running, McIntosh has switched to cycling.

Good health is Spinnler's primary motivation for running - and he doesn't consider that selfish.

Self-confidence and a sense of well-being increase when you feel good - when you're healthy. If you feel good, everybody benefits, Spinnler said.

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