Sports

Southenders learn how to shake a leg

Eric Barmon, right, heads up a running drill with Marti Reiss and Sharon Warwick during a running clinic last Saturday. Up to 15 new and veteran runners are meeting each week at South Whidbey Community Park to learn techniques to make them faster and keep them injury free. - Matt Johnson
Eric Barmon, right, heads up a running drill with Marti Reiss and Sharon Warwick during a running clinic last Saturday. Up to 15 new and veteran runners are meeting each week at South Whidbey Community Park to learn techniques to make them faster and keep them injury free.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

The sun is out (sometimes) and South Whidbey’s thoughts are turning to running.

Every Saturday since the middle of January, a couple dozen people — many of whom barely know the difference between Lycra and Polar Fleece or court shoes and road flats — are taking two hours of their mornings at the South Whidbey Community Park to learn how to be runners.

At first, the goal seems simple. Just put one foot in front at a pace that is somewhat faster and more uncomfortable than walking. Voila! Instant runner, right?

But after watching many aspiring runners quit the sport after they suffered their first blister or pulled a muscle they could neither pronounce nor find, two veteran trotters are trying to make their sport more fun and less painful for those who come to the park to learn. Curt Gordon and Brandon Henry, both Ironman Triathlon participants, want all their students to know the joy of a weekend run through the woods.

“You can learn to run,” Gordon said.

Putting aside the notion that many people just “aren’t built” for running, Gordon — who is teaching the weekly running clinics through the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District — said many people who start their running experience by one day striding out the door and down the block meet with failure. It’s not necessarily because they were never meant to be runners; it’s because they didn’t prepare properly.

Ed Kiichli, one of the clinic’s participants, is a classic example. Now in his 50s, Kiichli has been an on-and-off runner for much of his life. Though he has plugged away at the sport with some regularity over the years, he said he has never been able to run farther than five miles.

The reason, he said, is simple. He never learned how to warm up, stretch, and build his running muscles.

“I didn’t know there were techniques for track,” he said.

At the clinic, there are. Runners start with a half-mile warm up on the track at South Whidbey High School, then do a number of strength building exercises dubbed Romanians after the Eastern European country that developed them. Drills requiring runners to lift their knees and kick their buttocks at the same time or to walk on their heels for 50 yards are part of the Romanian workout. By exaggerating the movements used while running, clinic students learn how their legs, feet and arms should work when they head out for a real track trek.

Henry said the drills plus structured runs on the track give him a chance to catch potentially injurious running techniques before it becomes a problem.

While he and Gordon may not be able to make every runner in the clinic fast during the two months they meet, they can teach them how to stay healthy until they can build speed.

“We are good at helping people to run pain-free,” Henry said.

The lesson plan has drawn athletes from all quarters, including softball coach Joe Murphy, Langley grocer Gene Felton and high school runner Emily Felt. Sharon Warwick, a South Whidbey High School alum who ran cross country for former harrier coach Carl Westling, even brought her husband, Shawn, and 13-year-old son to the clinic. All three plan to do the Seattle-to-Portland bicycle tour this year, so were looking for a way to get in shape.

“This seemed like a challenge we can do together,” she said. “It’s a blast.”

This is the second year in a row the parks district has offered the clinic. Intended for runners of all ages and experience levels, it is both an introduction to running and an informational course for veteran runners. Of interest to some longtime runners is the clinic’s training work with heart rate monitors and stretches for hard-to-reach but easily-injured tendons and muscles.

More important, Henry said, is the motivation the group builds.

“This is fun,” he said.

The running clinic will continue to meet each Saturday through February.

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