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Jog on the 'wild' side

Want to run like a rabbit and see one? A runners club whose members know where the wild things are varies distances and scenery in weekly group runs.

By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published February 20, 2004

Despite a reputation for traffic nightmares, mid and north Pinellas County is a peaceful place to go for a run, say local joggers.

If you pick the right place.

For those who prefer a long, flat surface, there is the Pinellas Trail. Runners who want a challenge can try the Dunedin Causeway. Those who want a real workout can run on the packed sand from Pier 60 north toward Caladesi Island.

And the beauty of Bayshore Boulevard in Safety Harbor, not to mention any of the county parks, is tough to beat.

The West Florida Y Runners Club offers three group runs at some of these places each week, and invites anyone who is interested to come along, at no charge.

The 25-year-old, 500-member organization promotes running, walking and overall fitness and sponsors the Times Turkey Trot, the Unicorn Classic, Sunsets at Pier 60 5K series, the Warhoop Sprint, the Croom Trail 50K, the Max Bayne Half Marathon and the Say No to Drugs race.

Club president Linda Schmacher leads a group that runs a 5-mile loop at John Chesnut Park in East Lake at 7 a.m. during the warmer months or 8 a.m. in the winter every Saturday.

"It's a great park," said Schmacher, 56, a legal administrator. "It's got drinking fountains and bathrooms. We have so much hot weather, it's important to keep hydrated."

Each week, about two dozen people meet at Shelter Two. They start out on the asphalt roads and head to the wooden boardwalks shaded by trees. Along the way, the group sees an abundant amount of wildlife, such as deer, alligators, rabbits and birds, a scene that "gives a little variety to your run," Schmacher said.

She said the benefit of running with someone rather than running alone "is you're running with someone at the same speed."

"We have people that do 7-minute miles, 12-minute miles, quite a variation of speeds," she said. "If someone were to come out who hadn't been in training, it wouldn't be a problem. Some people do power walking."

When they are finished, the runners often head to the Atlanta Bread Company for a bite.

Schmacher leads another run at 6 p.m. every Thursday at the Dunedin Causeway.

"It's very nice," Schmacher said. "It's pretty much all asphalt, which is (more forgiving on the body) than concrete. And it's popular because it has bridges, if you're trying to do hill training. The bridges are pretty much the only hills in Pinellas County."

The group meets behind the Walgreens drugstore on the southeast side of the causeway, and runs to the entrance of Honeymoon Island, completing a 5-mile loop.

The group also does practice sessions at Clearwater High School's track at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays.

Skip Rogers, race director of the Turkey Trot and past president of the West Florida Y Runners, leads a 13-mile run at 6 a.m. every Sunday for long-distance runners only.

They meet at 5:50 a.m. at the Harborview Center in downtown Clearwater, and run along Clearwater Beach, over the Sand Key Bridge, the Belleair Causeway, onto the Pinellas Trail and back to the Harborview.

"The fast ones make it back in an hour and 40 (minutes)," said Rogers. "The rest of the group gets back in two hours."

Rogers, 60, a retired GTE employee, started running to lose weight when he was in his 40s. He believes most runners who participate in the club do so for fitness reasons.

But then there's that other reason.

"You get that runner's high," he said.

- Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com

If you go

The West Florida Y Runners Club offers three group runs each week: at the Dunedin Causeway; Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., downtown Clearwater; and John Chesnut Sr. Park on East Lake Road in East Lake. Anyone is welcome to participate. For information, call 727 442-5838 or visit www.wfyrc.com

[Last modified February 20, 2004, 01:31:57]


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