In North Park, runners turn chance to stay fit into chance to do good
Lisa Chilcote, of Oakmont, made a frosty finish Sunday in the Frigid 5-Miler run in North Park. The temperature was 11 degrees when the runners pushed off. She said her eyelashes began to freeze one mile into the race. Proceeds benefited the Light of Life Ministries on the North Side.
Runners start the Frigid 5-Miler at North Park. Temperatures were at 17 degrees.
Jacob Morrida, of Clinton, wins the Frigid 5-Miler at North Park.
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It was 11 degrees and Dexter Smart was wearing Spandex shorts as he warmed up Sunday morning for the Frigid 5-Miler in North Park.
North Park Lodge was surrounded by snow and by runners stretching and jogging to prepare for a race to benefit Light of Life Ministries on the North Side.
Even the most experienced runners seemed surprised at the sight of Mr. Smart, of Uniontown, in shorts. "I do this all the time," he said with a broad smile. "Most people in my hometown think I'm crazy. I'm from the Caribbean. ... You live in Western Pennsylvania, you learn to adapt."
As snowflakes drifted down, veteran runners like Mr. Smart weren't too worried about the cold, but others wondered aloud if being outside for the run was such a good idea.
Adam and Jen Puhak, of Lawrenceville, are new to running, and this was their first race.
"We had no idea it was going to be this cold" Mr. Puhak said with a laugh. Their goal? "Just to finish," he said, "hopefully not be last." Then he added, "... as long as we don't die today."
The Frigid 5-Miler is the third of five races this season organized by race director Kevin Smith, each one to benefit a different charity. What the runners get out of it, besides searing lungs and a sense of accomplishment, is company and competition in a sport they pursue year- round.
These are serious runners. But in near-zero temperatures?
"Why not?" Mr. Smith asked. "If you're a runner, you're going to be running anyhow. If you're going to run in the cold, you might as well run with a bunch of crazies," he said, laughing.
Mr. Smith, of North Fayette, owns Elite Runners and Walkers in Robinson. He has put on this race for five years, the last two in North Park. Despite the cold, snow and wind chill, the race attracted about 100 more runners this year than last, bringing the total to nearly 350.
"I'm training for the marathon so I thought this would be a good way to get my miles in," said Beth Winhold, of Gibsonia. When her husband, Paul, was asked whether his wife was crazy to run in the cold, he laughed. "Yes, definitely."
But Ms. Winhold said she wasn't worried. She's been training in the cold. "I actually think the anticipation is worse than the actual running," she said.
Warren Smith, of McDonald, has run for 20 years. He wasn't concerned about the cold, either. "I'm addicted," he said with a grin. "... After the first mile or so, you're fine."
Kelly Merritts, of Plum, put the icy temperatures in perspective while walking out of the lodge with teammates.
"We run to raise money for local patients with leukemia and lymphoma, so no matter what we are doing, they are going through a lot worse," she said. She's part of a program called Team In Training and the group is preparing for the Pittsburgh Marathon.
The roads were dry after Allegheny County crews plowed and salted them the day before, and the temperature was actually 24 degrees higher than it was for the same race two years ago, a heat wave by comparison.
"I hope they experience the thrill of running in the cold," Mr. Smith said of the race participants. "So many people give up on running outside during the winter; they miss the camaraderie of the running."
He said his goal is to help different causes and spend time with the runners. "I have such a great feeling when I'm out here. Being able to give something back to the community should be part of who you are as a runner."
As the runners crossed the finish line, many of their faces were covered in snow.
"My eyelashes are frozen," said Lisa Chilcote, of Oakmont, the second woman to finish. Her eyebrows also were snow-encrusted, and ice was forming on the tip of her nose. "It happened about a mile into the run," she said.
The first to finish from the Team In Training group was Audrey Burgoon, of Mt. Lebanon. But she wasn't done yet. She went back to support some of the first-time runners.
"I'm going back and pulling them up this hill," she said, referring to the brutal, one-mile incline at the end of the race.
After finishing the run, Jennifer Parco, of Penn Hills, and Vicki Dolan, of Elizabeth, said the only part of them affected by the cold were their lips, which made it difficult to express themselves.
"It's very inspirational," Ms. Parco said of the run. "We're true Christian sisters and we just keep up with each other. We have warm hands, warm toes, all the important parts are warm."
Ms. Merritts was in good spirits when she finished. In fact, her entire team headed out to run one more mile.
"It was awesome, a good run with great friends," she said. "I do this because I fell in love with the cause about a year and a half ago."
Last year, she raised enough money to run in the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. "I met patients' heroes along the way and knew that I was touching lives and met some of the best friends that I could ask for."
The Frigid 5-Miler raised $1,900 for the Light of Life Mission, and the winner was Jacob Morrida, of Clinton.
Two upcoming races will help other charities.
On Feb. 27, The Spring Thaw will begin at 10 a.m. at the North Park Boathouse and Rose Barn. Runners can sign up for 10, 15 and 20 miles, all followed by a soup buffet and pizza. Youth groups that provide volunteers for the event will benefit.
On March 27, the 10th annual Just a Short Run will be held. A half marathon, 30K run, 5K run and walk, and a half-marathon, three-person relay begin at 8:30 a.m. at the North Park Boathouse. Proceeds benefit the Lukemia and Lymphoma Society.
While the Frigid 5-Miler was the first of the series in North Park, it was the third that Elite Runner held this season for charity. The first was the Harvest Moon 10M and 5K in October in Moon to benefit Good Shepherd Leadership Training Program to help rebuild the Sudan.
In December, runners brought toys for needy children to a race on the Montour trail.
Some runners sign up for all five races at once; others sign up for individual races. Prices vary from $15 to $35, depending on the event.
For information, visit www.eliterunners.com or call 412-490-0881.
First Published January 14, 2010 12:00 am