Last February, this space was devoted to runners who were enjoying the fruits of a mild winter. Snow had turned into memory, they said. The footing was sure, and the temperatures were tolerable. For those training for a spring marathon, conditions were relatively superb.
This is not that column.
You may have noticed that we’re in the midst of one of the coldest winters in the past few decades. It’s made sightings of people running outside almost a curiosity, as in “Why isn’t that guy inside where it is warm?!”
Most runners haven’t flown south for the winter. About 400 of them came out of the equivalent of hibernation last weekend for the Penguin Run, which staged its 20th annual race in Amherst. The Penguin Run lived up to its name, as the temperature was in the high single digits. That’s one of the lowest such numbers for a race in memory, although the wind didn’t add much to the discomfort level.
Who better to talk about the joys of winter running, then, than the winners of a Penguin Run? David Rappleyea and Erica Smith obviously know something about putting up with cold temperatures. For starters, both run outside — a lot.
“I don’t mind the cold. I’ve been running outside all winter,” Rappleyea said. “I’ve been running 70-plus miles a week. I just ran a 15:37 for 5-kilometersindoors.”
“Pretty much I run six, seven days a week,” Smith said. “You cover up and you’re good to go.”
Rappleyea is from Henrietta, outside of Rochester, and he serves as a coach at Fairport High School. He looks forward to coming back for the Penguin Run, because it’s his old neighborhood.
“I went to Sweet Home High School,” he said.. “I’ve done this a few times, won it a couple of times. Sometimes my high school teammates come out and do it, so it’s cool to get together with them.”
When Allegany’s Smith was asked why she came out on a cold day, she replied, “For the hell of it. Why not? It’s Buffalo.”
Both of the race’s champions like to run the longer distances, and they don’t want to take long breaks because of winter. So they merely adapt — unless something beside the cold drives them indoors.
“It’s more road conditions that get me inside,” Rappleyea said. “I’ll do 10 miles on a treadmill if I have to. … Where I live, all the streets are busy and the side streets are bad. That’s probably why I’ll never do a Boston Marathon and be competitive. It’s so bad to train out here.”
Smith usually stays inside when the temperature is below zero, although she’s bent that rule this winter. She has run some marathons, but that’s not her usual competitive distance.
“I’ll do some long distance road, some long distance trail. 5Ks are just for the fun of it,” she said. “I’ll do the half in Buffalo in May and just go from there.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between January and July racing might be the lack of a competitive edge by the best runners at this time of the year. Training opportunities can be curtailed by weather, and no one wants to take that slip on an icy spot that could lead to a sprained ankle or worse.
“I just go out. If I push it, I push it. If I don’t, I don’t,” Smith said. “It’s not so much about the winning now. Winning is an extra bonus, but a lot of it is just finishing the run.”
Both winners had times that would be admirable under any conditions for most. Rappleyea finished the 5-kilometers in 16 minutes, 15 seconds, while Smith won in 20:19.
If they have a tip for successful winter running besides just getting out the door, both winners say the proper apparel is important. On most days, gear for an Arctic expedition is not required.
“I’ve been doing it long enough. I know what’s warm,” Rappleyea said. “You want to dress as if it’s 15 degrees warmer than it is. You don’t want to wear too much.”
“There’s a bag of clothes in the car,” Smith said. “I come out, do the warm-up, see how the footing is, and see how I feel. Then I pare down from what I thought I’d wear.”
• Mr. Ed’s Super Bowl Warm-Up, 5K, Middleport Fire Hall in Middleport, 11:30 a.m. today, (585) 798-3283.
• Lockport Y-10, 10 & 5 miles, 19 East Ave. in Lockport, 10 a.m.. Saturday, 434-8887.
• Olean YMCA Polar Bear Series, 5K, Wellsville YMCA, 1 p.m. on Feb. 9, 373-2400.
• Snowball Run, 5K, 701 Seneca St. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. on Feb. 15, 440-7507.