The race calendar around Buffalo has been empty for the past few weeks, so Heather Burger – fresh from a 2012 in which she ran 115 races — has had to go searching for events.
Impressively, she found two on New Year’s Day — one in Erie, one in Olean.
“I ran a 5-miler in Erie,” Burger said. “It was an hour and half to St. Bonaventure. When I got there, they had closed registration. They were going to start the race in five minutes. I said, ‘I drove from Erie. Will you let me run?’ Someone said, ‘Absolutely — we’ll take care of you at the end. That first mile is your warm-up, and then you speed up.’ ”
It was another day in the running life of the woman who was Western New York’s busiest racer last year. Burger, 33, was one of five people to complete 100 races, according to statistics compiled at buffalorunners.com.
“Sometimes I’ll ask her if she’s going to do a race that’s coming up, and she’ll say, ‘What do you think?’ She is really a joy, a special person,” said Ed Russell, who himself ran 108 races in 2012.
By the way, Burger’s total was down from the 127 races she completed in 2011. The participation figures are updated faithfully on the website, and have become a topic of conversation among the busiest of racers.
“People said, ‘Were you injured this year? You only ran 115.’ It’s a comical following of it all,” said Burger, who works as a history teacher in Depew. “I just show up to run. I tell people, I don’t have a life. I show up at these races instead.”
Burger is the first to admit that she was an unlikely candidate to crack the century mark for races in a year. She says she used to complain about having to run two laps around a track when she was younger. But about three years ago, she thought she needed an outlet for her excess energy, and running qualified.
“It’s a cheap sport,” said Burger. “You just get a pair of sneakers and go. You can run in rain, snow, hot days — you just have to lace it up.”
The phrase “running community” gets tossed around a lot, but Burger has seen exactly what that means in the course in the past few years.
“Every time I show up at a race, it’s my family that’s there,” she said. “It’s very supportive. Sometimes you don’t even have to speak, your feelings show up in the running. If it’s a great race for me, I’m ahead of some friends. If it’s not, I’m behind them. It’s really cool. You know where you fit.
“They look out for you, pick on you, inspire you. Ed Russell has become one of my best friends. I’ll tell him my knees hurt. He’ll say, ‘Heather, I run as many races as you do, and I’m twice your age.’ ”
What’s more, Burger has increased the number of her friends by tackling different distances. Her list of races for 2012 includes six half-marathons, two marathons, and a six-hour race in which she covered more than 31 miles.
“I got into ultrarunning. I’ve done a 50-miler; I was seeking more distance,” she said. “But I still want to do 5-kilometer races too. I want to do all of the spectrum.”
There are two obvious potential costs to running more than 100 races in a year: entry fees and injuries. The fees are the easy part for Burger. She works part-time at Runner’s Roost in Orchard Park, which has helped pay for her hobby. As for injuries, Burger says they haven’t stopped her.
“You learn how to cope with them and manage them, and maintain your miles,” she said.
Some might think that turning races into a social lifestyle can cause other problems, but Burger doesn’t see it that way.
“The running joke when friends say that this is why I don’t have a boyfriend, I say he would have to catch me first, ha, ha,” she said. “It is my life. I get poked about it. But once you meet people who race, you understand why you are there. And when I tell people about it, it gets them to want to try it. One person told me, ‘You have inspired me to start running again.’ ”
Races aren’t the only part of Burger’s running schedule, although at certain times of the year it might feel that way. She often gets together with a group on Sundays at Delaware Park, or on Tuesdays at the University at Buffalo.
Still, Burger loves the adrenaline rush that comes with the start of the race.
“One time I did four 5Ks in a day,” Burger said. “I was coming from Batavia to Mississippi Mudd’s in Tonawanda. When I got there, I saw everybody running already. I saw a police officer and told him I was supposed to be in the race. He grabbed my keys, told me to go and run and that he’d take care of the car. ... It’s amazing how many people will support you. It’s a fun hobby.”
• Beast of Burden 100 Miler & 24-Hour Ultra, 718 Market St. in Lockport, 10 a.m. Saturday, 609-9000.
• Ice Man 2-Miler, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday.
• Penguin Run, 5K, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Amherst, 11 a.m. Jan. 27, 549-6307 x201.
• Mr. Ed’s Superbowl Warm-Up 5K, Middleport Fire Hall in Middleport, 11 a.m. Feb. 3, (585) 798-3283.