Shelter Island Running Club sprints into the clear

BEVERLEA WALZ | PHOTO Runners looking for a competitive edge, working out with the Shelter Island Running Club Saturday at Fiske Field.

Runners looking for a competitive edge, working out with the Shelter Island Running Club Saturday at Fiske Field.

It was as if the firecrackers exploding Friday night banished the stormy weather, bringing Islanders a Saturday of sun and glimmering blue skies. It was a morning middle-school student Liam Adipietro described as “perfect running weather.”

Led by coaches Cliff Clark, Bryan Gallagher and Toby Green, the Shelter Island Running Club was at Fiske Field on Saturday at 8 a.m., just as they are every Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

The runners, ranging in ages from 13 to 18, have varying goals, with some training for varsity cross-country seasons and others looking to stay in shape for different sports. But all share one ambition, according to Coach Clark: “They wake up this early because they know they have to work harder than someone else to win.”

After a 10-year hiatus, Shelter Island will field a cross-country team this fall. Coached by Toby Green, a legendary Island runner, the team will be young, largely comprised of middle-school students and underclassmen in the high school. The Running Club serves as preseason training for the fledgling Shelter Island program, while also benefiting athletes who summer on the Island, many of whom compete on varsity squads at their own respective schools.

Running has a long and storied relationship with Shelter Island. Last month marked the 35th installment of the Shelter Island 10K, a race that attracted Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi and Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelsen. The Island has produced many world class competitive runners of its own, including Coach Clark, who competed in the 1972 Olympic Trials, as well as Janelle Kraus-Nadeau, a four-time All-American, 11-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) selection and nine-time ACC champion for Wake Forest.

The summer Running Club is entering its third official season, but Coach Clark’s work with local athletes dates back to 1976, when he began his first of 18 seasons as coach of Shelter Island’s cross country team. A recent beneficiary of the coach’s knowledge is Tyler Cardillo of Punta Gorda, Florida, who summers on the Island. After four years of mentoring from Coach Clark, Cardillo graduated as a state champion miler and the anchor of a 4 by 800 meter relay team that ran 7:30.31, the second-fastest time in high school history.

In praise of his former coach, Cardillo said, “He gave us principles and instilled a belief in ourselves to trust our training and know that we had the mental tools to excel in the sport.”

Delia Hayes, a rising senior athlete at Bronxville High School, is the most decorated runner currently in the program. In the spring she earned All-American status with her 4 by 800 relay team. They captured fourth place at the New Balance Outdoor National Meet with a time of 8:58; Delia ran her half-mile in 2:16. She also led Bronxville to a New York Class C-D Cross Country championship last fall, the same division in which Shelter Island will compete next year.

Saturday the coaches stressed the singular importance of motivating each runner to compete at his or her best. As Coach Gallagher said, “We want them to fixate on a goal that is achievable.”

The middle-school runners are intentionally kept on a low-mileage program, to avoid both injury and burn out. Games such as capture the flag and basketball, along with swimming and beach running, are used as alternative means of enhancing stamina.

“We spend Saturday working on cardio,” Coach Clark said. “As the summer progresses, we’ll move into tempo and hill workouts — to increase their speed — but for now the kids need to get their endurance back.”

For the older runners, training for varsity cross-country seasons, this meant 4.5 miles; the younger participants ran for a third of that distance.

The Saturday morning session began with a warm-up lap around Fiske Field. Coach Green called out to a future member of his team, “Joshua, shorten your stride.”

The 15 athletes slowly receded towards the trees, running side-by-side, the All-American adjacent to her future competitors, all beneath a clear, beautiful sky.

The Running Club meets every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 a.m. at Fiske Field, for competitive runners from junior high school and up. There is no cost for the sessions. For more information, contact Cliff Clark at 516-807-2723.