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Run For your Life: No sweat. No traffic. No excuses!

COVID-19 brings many changes including this rare winter edition of my running epistles, normally only issued before the June Shelter Island 10K. 

It’s hard enough to persuade you to run in April, how am going to succeed in November?

First, if you want to run in April, it’s a good idea to be active all winter. Second, with schedule limitations at the FIT Center, doing your own thing may be the only option.

Oh, did I mention, winter exercise is a license to eat more and avoid those extra 5 pounds? You’ll also be surprised to find that cold weather energizes more and exhausts less.  

The first step out the door is the most difficult. Here’s a practical strategy: Start with a few basic stretches before you leave the house. When you do face that winter blast, adjust to it by starting to walk at a good pace.

After five minutes (quarter mile), you can begin with a slow jog, or if the weather is truly ghastly, sprint back to the house. Either way, exercise is guaranteed. Once in a routine of two to three weekday runs, plus weekends, you’ll finish your runs with extra energy for the rest of your day.

Trust me, the recovery time required in November is much less than running in June’s 85-degree temperatures and high humidity.

Dealing with the cold is more a barrier of perception than reality. When you run, your body generates an ample amount of heat. You just have to manage its distribution. For example, if you want to keep your hands warm, wear a hat. The blood flow required to warm your head is then diverted. Your hands become the beneficiary. 

You can decide that you won’t go out if the temperature is under 25 degrees. No problem, you will still have plenty of days to exercise. And, besides, it’s the wind more than the temperature that makes you feel cold. (Ice and the associated risk of injuries are condtions to obviously avoid.) Because you will be sweating much less, that blood is making your running muscles more effective. And running builds capacity for fun sports such as skiing.

Dress in layers to beat the cold. Three layers would be a good start and add as needed: T-shirt, light sweatshirt and heavy sweatshirt and perhaps a shell. Your legs are rarely cold.  Hats and gloves are fundamental.

We have an amazing variety of quality running/walking venues everywhere on Shelter Island. I like our traditional 5K course (starting just near the left turn onto Stearns Point Road and making a long loop that finishes at Crescent Beach.

If you get into winter running, there are two amazing races for you. The Shelter Island 5K in mid-October and now past, and the Montauk 3 miles on Thanksgiving Morning. While both opted this year for virtual operation, they will be back.

Here’s a preview. I’ve run both races 15 or 20 times. I strongly recommend you run both and commit them now to your 2021 calendar.

In a sentence, the Shelter Island race is all about execution and Montauk is about experience.  Our race draws the entire community from casual walkers to serious runners.

The focus on funding Women’s Cancer Research and reliably gorgeous fall weather adds to that appeal. Registration for Shelter Island is a breeze whether you do it online or register the morning of the race. The race volunteers are amazing in competence and number. You will feel like a veteran on your first run/walk.

For Montauk, registration is chaotic even if you have already registered, Why?  Because you still never get your number. The race is administered by the Town of Montauk. Participation fluctuates with the weather, but the number of the town staffers is fixed. Given the possibility of a really nice day, the turnout can grow by 40%, overwhelming registration and potentially delaying the start.  

The Island race start is an organized affair. Care is used to position the classes of participants. Montauk’s start is chaos. 

The Shelter Island 5K course is tough, 10 distinct hills, and the great views along Stearns Point and Brander Parkway benefit the walkers, not the runners. For Montauk, the drive out is always spectacular. Be prepared that the weather you left on Shelter Island will not represent Montauk. Honestly, the weather out there can be like nothing you have probably seen in your life.

Testimony: Three years ago, when I arrived I just stayed in my car for awhile. I didn’t depart until I saw the runners lining up with a 30-mph wind in their faces. I ran in all the clothes I had (and they were not enough). At the 1-mile point, I decided that continuing the race would be less painful than the slow walk back. (I don’t understand, given the circular course, how the wind can be always in your face.) 

The biggest difference between these two races is what happens when you finish. For Shelter Island, you’re greeted with the best array of food of any race I have ever experienced.

For examples, your choice of chili (turkey or beef) and you can specify your hamburger medium rare.  It’s a runner’s delight from that Finish Line forward. Of course, there are medals, awards for age- and gender-based performance. None of that happens at Montauk.

No medals, no T-shirts and you must search for your finish time. Sill Montauk provides an amazing opportunity for a wonderful guilt-free Thanksgiving.

For all its flaws, once you experience Montauk, you will be back.