Heat, sweat and dedication

HOMETOWNANNAPOLIS photo of runner 7.24.11
Paul Straudigel cools off from the 100-plus degree heat with a spray of water from a volunteer during the Endless Summer Six-Hour Run in Quiet Waters Park, which was held despite the intense heat and humidity. Courtesy photo by Wendy Marxen.

By Elisah Sauers | USMC | Marines.mil | April 11, 2011
Six-hour run raises money for troops, families.

While most of Annapolis was still asleep at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, basking in air-conditioned bedrooms, about 60 brave – or possibly depraved – people slipped on sneakers and doused themselves in insect repellent for a run.

Not a little sunriser. An intense six-hour run looping on a 4.2-mile course. The event was perhaps appropriately named when the organizers called it “The Endless Summer Six-Hour Run.”

And by the way, the extreme heat was pushing 100 degrees even early in the morning.

Crazy? They prefer the label “committed.”

They’re called the Annapolis Striders, and they turned out for the Quiet Waters Park race for a good cause. Participants were raising money for the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial support for injured members of the armed forces and their families.

Some came to train for ultra 50- and 100-mile marathons. Others just wanted to prove they could endure, even in the face of heat that could fry an egg and humidity that could probably poach it.

These people weren’t messing around. After all, the National Weather Service issued a “code red” air quality alert for Anne Arundel County yesterday.

“The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors,” the experts urged.

But Striders President Bob Cawood said he wasn’t surprised so many of the racers turned out, in spite of the county hitting a record-breaking temperature of 106 degrees just the day prior.

“Everybody out here is pretty experienced, and it’s a pretty hardcore group,” he said.

Cawood could count himself among the hardest of hardcore. He runs about 5,000 miles per year, and weather is hardly a deterrent for him. He expected that a couple of guys on the course would end up running 50 or more miles, even if that meant walking up the hills.

“For somebody just interested in trying to do a little local 5K, this is probably not a good idea. We’d give them their money back,” he said, wiping sweat off his face with the back of his hand.

On standby was a cadre of doctors and nurses.

Plenty of carbs and electrolyte boosters were also on deck. Athletes could graze on a buffet of pretzels, potato chips or sliced red potatoes, for the hardier eaters. Organizers brought ice chests and were prepared to give ice baths in an emergency situation.

Mosi Smith, the event coordinator, said each runner was required to weigh in every two hours to ensure no one had lost more than 7 percent of their body weight: That’s a telltale sign of dehydration. But with the right regimen of fluids, nutrition and self-pacing, the race would go on.

“Honestly, it would have to get up to Death Valley-like temperatures with this humidity for us to cancel,” Smith said smiling.

(Yesterday’s humidity was a steamy 65 percent.)

Winterson Hittle, who was part of a three-person relay team, sat out after completing his first loop.

“I cannot imagine doing this three more times,” he said, swatting at mosquitoes. “I need some sympathy now because the next one, I know I’m gonna be hurting.”

And Hittle is no amateur. He trains six days per week and is in top condition.

“I’ll keep going as long as my heart keeps pumping,” he smirked.

Not everyone gathered at the park was a pro, and some with less experience under their belts were wondering how much more they could stand. Before 8:30 a.m., most of the participants had already finished their first laps and were looking at the parting clouds and rising sun with a little worry.

It would only get hotter. Muggier. Grittier.

Maureen Wentworth, who considers herself more of a running “dabbler,” said she and the other women on her relay team may not have been the best prepared for the elements, but wouldn’t be caught complaining. They were running to raise money for brain cancer research for their friend Vicky, whose illness has progressed to a terminal condition.

“We play rugby in this kind of weather,” Wentworth said, “and whatever we face today, this is not really as hard as what she’s going through.”