Running wonderland

"There's lots of crazies out here," Brian Pomerantz said during his run Monday through Coeur d'Alene. He is a four-time marathon runner and plans to compete in the Spokane River Run in April. (Kathy Plonka)

Hardy group prefers winter conditions to training inside

A day without a run is a lost day for Garth Merrill.

In 2010, the owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Coeur d’Alene missed fewer than 30 days of running. He runs in the heat, the cold and the frigid cold, when sidewalks sparkle with ice and the wind chill dips into double-digit negatives.

“We don’t like to run inside,” Merrill says of himself and his wife, Nancy, the store’s co-owner. “We’re not treadmill types. The effort isn’t as demanding as running outside … and you miss the scenery and spiritual part of the experience.”

The couple are part of a hardy tribe of Inland Northwest runners who don’t stop their workouts for inclement weather. They strap traction devices onto their Nikes, Brooks and Sauconys and keep pounding the pavement, albeit with more care.

“I would imagine that most of them are like me, where running is in their blood,” said Brian Pomerantz, who finished a brisk, 10-mile run along Lake Coeur d’Alene Monday morning.

Pomerantz started running six years ago to shed pounds. He got hooked, and started signing up for marathons and trail runs. Winter training is critical because many of the events take place in spring or early summer.

Like the Merrills, Pomerantz doesn’t like treadmills. They’re hard on his knees, and “I prefer to have a destination,” he said. An outdoor run is the meditative part of his day, said Pomerantz, a computer programmer with three young, active boys.

To introduce more runners to the joys of winter training, Merrill started holding “Winter Warriors” group runs three years ago. Up to 30 runners gather three times a week at Fleet Feet Sports for the runs.

“We realized that a lot of people had lost fitness by the time spring rolled around,” Merrill said. “They weren’t motivated to get out and run. … They need to know it’s not as bad as they think.”

Tracie Ferris is one of his converts. A runner of nearly 20 years, with six marathons under her belt, Ferris had relied on indoor workouts during the winter. But Merrill introduced her to traction devices called Yaktrax, a headlamp, a reflective vest and a flashing light that she attaches to her clothing.

She feels safer running after dark. “I’m not worried about getting hit by a car,” she said.

Winter workouts strengthen different muscles, Ferris said. Running in snow is like running in sand. Icy conditions help improve balance.

Merrill also recommends a good hat, gloves and wool socks, along with fast-drying, synthetic fabrics.

“I’ll put on lots of layers – tights, pants, wool socks, mittens over gloves, two to three layers underneath my jacket, a face mask and a good hat,” said Merrill, who sheds layers as the exercise warms him up.

Merrill has taken a few tumbles on icy sidewalks and roadways, but never broken any bones. Falling is a calculated risk, but one he’s willing to take for the serenity of a winter run.

Earlier this week, he ran through Nettleton Gulch to Canfield Butte.

“It was snowy and quiet. I saw a big elk and two snowmobilers who looked at me like I was crazy,” he said.

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