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AMID WINTER'S CHILL LET US SING THE BODY ELECTRIC

Remember how nasty it seemed last week when the cold weather first hit? If you were out for a run early in the week, you probably came up with new descriptions of our deep freeze.

How cold was it? Colder than a Dear John letter to a soldier looking forward to mail call.

But by week's end, even though it didn't warm up much, a run seemed warmer.

Why is that? Acclimation, the same phenomenon at work in the summer, holds true in the winter.

"Your body acclimatizes to the cold by producing more heat," writes Dr. Gabe Mirkin in The Sports Medicine Book. "One must exercise in the cold to become accustomed to the cold.

"Scientists can measure this. On exposure to cold, the fingers of a person who has adjusted to cold have a greater blood supply and warmer temperature than those of one who has not adjusted."

When you run in the cold, your body quickly turns into a furnace. So much so that Canada's Research Council -- who better to know cold? -- has found that the amount of clothing needed to keep a resting person comfortably warm at 70 degrees will keep a runner warm at minus-5 degrees.

I'm not going to test that theory. I responded to the bitter wind chills last week by adding another polypropylene long-sleeved shirt under a Gore-Tex jacket. I also wore heavier gloves than usual, and gave up my ski band for a full woolen hat. With Vaseline smeared on what exposed skin was left, I was ready for the elements.

Actually, I wasn't. When the sun was out, I was fine. When it went behind the clouds and the wind picked up, I was not so fine. It cut like a long-time friend forgetting your name.

It's not just psychological with the wind and sun. It doesn't just feel colder when the sun disappears, you really are colder.

As the authors of Sports Fitness and Training point out, "keep in mind that wind greatly facilitates heat loss, while solar radiation helps prevent it.

"The worst weather conditions," they point out, "occur on wet, windy, sunless days or nights."

Also remember that winter weather is not the time to push too hard when you're outdoors. You don't need a degree in exercise physiology to recognize the following:

"Cold reduces exercise efficiency," Sports Fitness reports. "Peak muscle function occurs at a muscle temperature of about 104 degrees. This is the reason athletes warm up before competing. As heat is lost in cold weather, muscles cannot be warmed up and maximum muscle contractle strength diminishes. In addition, nerve conduction is slowed.

"A cold athlete therefore has slow, clumsy reactions."

And one other thing about exercising in cold weather. More than 60 percent of the calories you burn heat your body, the other 40 percent fuel your muscles. Carbohydrates and fat are the best cold-weather fuel.

Warmer climes

Bridget Niland-Gwitt and Jerry McGoffin escaped the cold, but ran into the opposite problem: hot weather at Disney World.

Niland-Gwitt, the Buffalo News Runner of the Year, ran the Disney Marathon and until the 20-mile mark looked like she was going to finally reach her goal of breaking three hours. She hit 1:25:25 for the first half, but then ran into trouble with six miles to go.

She slowed to a 3:08:05, but was still the first female finisher among the hundreds of Leukemia Society's Team In Training runners.

She may have just run out of steam. Besides training hard for The News series and running cross country races for Checkers A.C., she is also a full-time attorney, serving as a law clerk for fellow runner and U.S. district judge John T. Curtin.

Jerry McGoffin, who spends winters in Florida, took first place in his age group, men 70 to 74, in the Disney half-marathon by running 1:48:31.

Good medicine

The Buffalo Philharmonic Athletic Club will put on its annual medical forum just prior to the Shamrock Run and the official start of the racing season. Club members again have been kind enough to include the Buffalo News Runner of the Year awards presentation as part of the evening. Besides the staff at the University at Buffalo's sports medicine clinic, the evening will include Vicki Mitchell, who is now on the UB coaching staff, and Tim Forrester of Hamilton, Ont., who recruits and manages the All Kenyan US Air Express Racing Team. The cost is $4 U.S. and $5 Canadian, and the evening will start at 6:30 p.m. March 2 at D'Youville College.

Upcoming races

Cradle Beach Penguin Run 5K, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd. Amherst,, 11 a.m., today, 691-6000; Mr. Ed's Super Bowl Warm-up, 5K, Middleport, 11:30 a.m., Jan. 30, 433-7152; Lockport YMCA Y-10, 10 miles, 11 a.m., Feb. 12, 434-8887, Wegman's and Shuttle America Winterfest, two- or three-mile race, in and around Delaware Park, noon, Feb. 19, 851-5806; Canisius High School Crusader Chilly Challenge, 5K, Delaware Avenue, noon, Feb. 27, 882-0466.

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