By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
The recent warm weather gave us a taste of days to come. The roads and parks crowded with joggers and runners of every ability. Liberated of extra layers of clothing, the year-round faithful ran farther and faster. Fair weather runners dusted their running shoes, and hit the roads for the first time in months. Procrastinators gave their New Year resolutions another try, and took their new sneakers for a test run. A sense of euphoria spread among runners, and many started planning their racing schedule. However, nature's tease was short-lived, and all returned to their winter routine.
Winter is arguably a runner's best friend. By forcing us to slow down, it allows the body to mend and recover. While southern runners can train hard every month of the year, northern runners are destined to follow nature's way. This seasonal slow-down may be the training secret that has allowed so many American runners from the North to excel. Joan Benoit Samuelson, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Lynn Jennings, Janis Klecker, Cathy O'Brien, Bob Kempainen, Bob Kennedy, Todd Williams, Jen Rhines, Kevin Collins, and Jonathan Riley, to name a few, live and run in northern states.
The seasonal slow-down that may be an elite runner's best friend, may also be a novice's worst enemy. This phenomenon is so painfully evident among high school runners. An alarming rate of running injuries, in particular among girls running cross-country, has given running a bad reputation. An obvious cause for many injuries is the sudden change from months of inactivity to high mileage running. While runners run to become better runners, many players of other sports run as a way to increase their endurance. A dedicated high school runner starts the school year with the fall cross-country season, followed by the winter indoor track season, and capped with the outdoor track season. The summer months become the slow season, allowing the body to mend and recover through easy running. In the meantime, a spring-sport player takes it easy during the summer and fall, then joins the indoor track season in winter to get ready for spring competition. Without an adequate base of training, the schedule of daily runs stresses the body to the point of breakdown. Many teen-agers end up with strains, sprains and stress fractures, not to mention the emotional toll and the missed opportunities.
Far from being just another sport, running is indeed a way of life. Whether a teen-age athlete runs track, or plays lacrosse or soccer, regular running must become an integral part of training. Experts tell us that it takes three weekly runs, of three miles each, to achieve and maintain a minimal level fitness. It is this minimal amount of running that high school athletes must maintain all year, regardless of their preferred sport activity. In addition to higher endurance through larger aerobic capacity, regular running strengthens the muscles and the bones, and increases the flexibility of the joints, thus protecting young athletes against many early-season injuries.
A timely discussion of winter running and high school athletics would be incomplete if it did not recognize the recent achievements of Jonathan Riley. A high school runner for Skaneateles until his family's recent move to Massachusetts, Jonathan has recently won the National Scholastic Championship in both the 1-mile and the 2-mile races, on the same day. This double feat has been achieved by very few other high school runners in history. I am sure Jonathan will follow in the footsteps of famous Central New York runners, the likes of Jen Rhines, Kevin Collins and Jerry Lawson, who have proven that Syracuse winters are indeed a blessing.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at email@example.com.