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Marathoners appreciate winter runs on mild side

Want to talk to a happy person? Ask a runner -- particularly one who is training for a spring marathon -- about the winter's weather.

"It's the best!" Belinda Stoll said. "I've trained for a spring marathon every year since 2007. This is hands down ideal."

"I'm lovin' it," added Linda Haas.

The mild winter so far has drawn rave reviews from almost everyone in Western New York whose livelihood doesn't depend on skiing or snow removal. Runners feel like it's Christmas when there's no snow to greet them on their runs.

Lockport's Stoll and Clarence's Haas both have April dates for a 26.2-mile run. Stoll is headed to Boston while Haas will race in Toledo. The usual problem, at least in most years, is that they have to start training for those races before the first of the year, so they normally would catch most of the winter weather.

Mother Nature can make it difficult to run here then. Put a layer of snow and ice on the ground, and each step becomes filled with the possibility of a fall and a broken something. This season, though, it's often been clean and green.

"I run in Delaware Park on Tuesdays, and I think we've had two bad nights," Haas said. "The park is clear, you're not fighting the footing, the temperature is fine, you can put enough clothes on, you're not fighting the icy conditions."

Even better, they aren't on a treadmill, where the conditions may be ideal but the view never changes.

"I hate the treadmill," Stoll said. "Even last year I only ran on the treadmill three times. I'm out there no matter what. This is awesome."

Haas added, "I can't describe the mental torture of doing it on the treadmill."

Stoll and Haas are good friends, and they both follow a training program designed by University at Buffalo coach Vicki Mitchell. That approach doesn't change with the conditions.

"I'm not going longer. She [Mitchell] sends it and bases it on our abilities," Haas said. "The weather hasn't changed the plan, but made the plan a lot easier to manage."

Both women pointed out one of the additional benefits of the mild conditions. The sidewalks have been clear more often, so they can stay on them as opposed to running in the road where cars are a threat.

"I've been hit before, and cracked my skull," Stoll said. "I don't want to put a driver in position to worry about hitting me. When you can run on the sidewalks, you get more of a quality workout."

Clarence doesn't have that many streets with sidewalks, and running on the road -- particularly in winter -- can present problems.

"I almost got run over twice. They don't give you an inch," Haas said. "You're on the shoulder, and they just won't move over. There was a school bus the other day, and I almost could have touched it.

"That's another blessing about the weather; it can help us avoid the slush on the shoulder."

The good conditions, then, represent an opportunity for Western New York marathoners. Now they have to capitalize on it on race day.

"Absolutely," Stoll said. "Last year it was hard to do the speedwork, and my back really hadn't healed after a fall by the time the race came. I'm really excited about getting a better time."

If a personal best does take place in April, Haas knows who to thank.

"I'm going to have to throw a couple of extra bucks in the collection plate," she said.


Race calendar

*Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road, Olcott, 10 a.m. Feb. 26, 434-8887.

*Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, 1180

*Delaware Ave., noon Feb. 26, 882-0466, ext. 262.

*Shamrock Run, 8K, 62 Republic St., noon March 3, 847-8613.

*Slush Rush 5K, Dods Hall at SUNY Fredonia, 9 a.m. March 4, 673-3451.