When he joined the Evanston Running Club in 1992, says Greg Seeger, 65, he was not able to do all the workouts. The first time he came to Wednesday evening interval training, he says he was “so intimidated I watched from the car.”
In the ensuing years he has become not only a strong runner but also one of the club’s biggest cheerleaders. As four- or five-time club president, he convinced more and more members to enter races and promoted the social as well as the health benefits of distance running.
Asked why he runs, Mr. Seeger answers, “It’s heart-healthy. If your body can stand the pounding, it’s good.” Present at the track training even though a painful heel has relegated him to the bleachers, he adds, “It’s my way of socializing.”
About a dozen runners – far fewer than the usual 20-25 – are on hand for this last indoor track practice of the 2008-09 season. Most show up 15 minutes early for the workout, held from 11 a.m. till noon each Sunday from January till late March in the Evanston Township High School field house.
Blythe Bauer, 55, joined the club in January to “make my legs stronger and my endurance better.” While she laces her shoes, Ms. Bauer talks about entering the Senior Olympics as a sprinter last September – and winning her age group. The victory qualified her for the national Senior Olympic Games in San Francisco in August. She will not be alone there: Both of her parents and a sister will be competing.
As 11 a.m. approaches, assorted runners take to the track. They run in small groups, four and five across, talking while they keep an easy pace.
Keith Wiley, coaching the winter practices known as “Wintervals” for the first time this year, approves of the runners’ speed. “They will run for 30 minutes today. I tell them to be cautious: Listen to your body; don’t go too fast; be careful of the inside lanes,” he says.
Mr. Wiley is a 1996 ETHS graduate and current Evanston resident who last year finished first in the Men’s 30-34 division of the Chicago Area Runner’s Association (CARA) circuit. As a coach he says he worries about the “tight turns” that are especially treacherous on the inside lanes of this indoor track. This is not the place to race, he tells the runners.
The March 29 “Shamrock Shuffle,” which marks the beginning of the Chicago racing season, will be the place for speed. Many club members, says current ERC president Al White, are also training for the 5k Ravenswood Race on April 26.
The Evanston club, with some 125 members, offers multiple opportunities for group runs. Sue Petersen, who joined the club in 2004, says she has run three or four times a week this year, even in frigid weather. “It gets me outside, especially in winter,” she says. “I enjoy being part of the running community.”
Her winter schedule included at least 20 miles of running with the club most weeks – five miles on Monday and six on Wednesday evenings, six or more miles on the Saturday Morning Long Run (SMLR) affectionately called “the Smeller” and three or four miles at Sunday track practices.
Running all winter means Ms. Petersen is starting the race season in better shape than before, she says – an incentive for her to enter more competitions for the team this year. Goals among club members differ,
she says – some runners just aim to finish the race.
Beth O’Connell, a longtime runner who has run only one race to date, says
she joined the club “to make running social instead of solitary.” But running with the group, she says, “pushes me to keep running when I would have quit. …
I have done things I didn’t think I could do” – including yesterday’s 9-mile SMLR.
On a run like the SMLR, says Ms. Petersen, “We chat the whole way,” so it is a good way to get to know people. Club members are supportive of each other, she says, and though “we run at different paces, there is always someone at yours.”
This year there are 19 races in the CARA Runner’s Choice series, including 5k and 10k races and half-marathons as well as the Chicago marathon. Winners earn points for their clubs.
Running for the ERC will be 62-year-old Evanstonian Nancy Rollins, who was named “Top 2007 U.S. Female, 60-64 Age Group” by Masters Athlete magazine. Ms. Rollins won her age group in the Boston Marathon the last two years and will be trying to beat her time of 3:30 there on April 20. Beginning tonight, she will be coaching “Summervals,” the club’s Wednesday outdoor track interval training.
Mr. Seeger remembers when the Evanston club had a hard time gathering five runners to compete. Now they carpool to races and hold a post-race party each season.
As for the club score, he grins, “The Evanston Running Club is always at the bottom.” It is, he says, “a camaraderie thing.”
See www.evanstonrunningclub.org for more information.