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It's not so hard to fill their shoes, runners say

February 05, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Kay Harrison was never a track star.

She didn't compete in high school or college. In fact, she didn't start running until 1994, after she had her fourth child.

But at age 43, Harrison has completed roughly 20 road races - including several 10K races, two half-marathons and the Baltimore Marathon in 2004. She's considering entering the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.

"I like the feeling I get after I run," said Harrison, a registered nurse who lives with her husband in Hagerstown and is a mother of four children ages 13 to 23. "I guess that runner's high starts to kick in. To me, to run five to six miles is a good feeling."


Harrison is what you might call a "citizen runner."

"That's the typical runner of today, married with children, in the 40s," said Mike Spinnler, president of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club and organizer of the annual JFK ultramarathon. Spinnler uses the term "citizen runner" to describe adult runners who compete in road races though they might lack prior running experience.

You don't have to be a star athlete to compete in a distance race.

"Anyone can do it. You just have to stay disciplined," said Elton Horst, 61, of Hagerstown. Horst, an accomplished distance runner, was the 1971 winner of the JFK 50 Mile. Horst, who used to compete in roughly 10 races a year, now only competes in three or four.

Running experts and club coaches say it's the citizen runners such as Harrison - not the superstar athletes - who will comprise most of the road races once running season reaches full swing this spring.

"That's most definitely the case," said Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, a national association for running clubs and running events. "We have about 175,000 individual members. I would say the vast majority are recreational distance runners."

Author Jayne Williams, a 43-year-old, 5-foot-9, 247-pound triathlete from Mountain View, Calif., said she discovered the "citizen runner" niche after writing the book "Slow Fat Triathlete: Pursue Your Dreams in the Body You Have Now" (Marlowe & Company, 2004). She's working on her next book, "The Imperfect Athlete's Guide to Fitness," which she said will be released in the fall.

"It really doesn't matter worth a hoot what other people think of your performance or appearance," said Williams, during a phone interview.

Harrison said she picked up the habit of running as a way to stay in shape. Eventually, she became competitive and entered races.

In addition to her morning runs, Harrison meets with members of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club at Hagerstown Community College's indoor track on Wednesdays during the winter months. Spinnler sets the pace and the intensity of the workouts.

"Today we're going to do 1,200-meter repeats at 55 seconds per lap," Harrison said before a recent workout. In layman's terms: She had to run several sets of six laps around the track with a target pace of about 55 seconds per lap.

Her goal is to run a 5K - a race a little longer than three miles - in less than 23 minutes. Running those 1,200-meter repeats will put her closer to that goal, Spinnler said.

Julie Richards, 36, of Mercersburg, Pa., has been running with the club for the last three weeks. Richards, a personal trainer at Hagerstown YMCA, said even she could use a little work when it comes to endurance.

Running, she said, was the best way to go for her.

"I can't explain it, but there is a feeling of freedom to running," Richards said. "It's one of the most natural forms of exercise. And if you get into a good rhythm, it's also a form of meditation."

Resources for runners

· Cumberland Valley AthleticClub Web site at The site is good for past race results and information on area races.

· Chambersburg (Pa.) Road Runners Club Web site at There's a handy pace calculator, body fat calculator and calories calculator on the Web site under the "Fun Stuff" link.

· Road Runners Club of America Web site at The Web site has a club locator feature. Visitors also can search for races by state.

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