Therapy on the run

The Land O'Lakes Road Runners Club members enjoy running together. It's like free therapy three times a week.

By Mike Camunas, Times Staff Writer
Published February 19, 2008

LAND O'LAKES -- It's like running with a shrink.

Members of the Land O'Lakes Road Runners Club chat, they socialize, they meet up a couple of times a week, and it doesn't cost them by the hour.

In fact, it's absolutely free for local residents to meet up Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings to run through nearby neighborhoods such as Plantation Palms.

"We do our therapy sessions while running," six-year member Rhonda Del Campo said. "It's basically free therapy. We never really compete against each other, but you do have motivation just because you're in a group. It's just very social with us and a nice downtime for us to get away from other obligations such as work or kids or anything else."

The Road Runners consist of about 20-30 members, and it all started back in 1990 when two friends, well, just started running.

"We started at my house and just got to running," said Kris Keppel, one of the original founders and longtime Land O'Lakes High cross country coach. "Then it got a little bigger, so we started doing road races together, and then we came up with the Land O'Lakes Road Runners - it kind of just stuck."

Keppel, along with friend Dan Coy, who has now moved to Hawaii, helped the club grow by word of mouth. Soon, they had T-shirts featuring a picture of an actual road runner and multiplying members.

"This club developed through friendships," Keppel said. "Dan started inviting people, I started inviting people. I got cross country runners to come out with us. We were never very organized, except once Dan advertised us in the newspaper, but really people saw our shirts and asked us where we were running."

Even 18 years later, local runners are still finding the Road Runners and spontaneously showing up. Many members of the group are still running into no pun intended people at local marathons and extending invitations.

"I did some research on local running clubs and found this one," said Darlene Maloney, who moved from Pennsylvania 14 months ago. "This one was close by and I checked it out, and so far I've had a great time. It's definitely been a good way for me to meet new people in the area I just moved to."

As for Carlos Valle, an 11-year club veteran, he knows you have to have passion for running to consistently meet with the group, especially on a Sunday morning.

"You have to love this sport. You really have to love it, the challenge of it," Valle said. "To come out here this early, you have to, especially when the weather is not right. This is what I like to do, but it takes a certain person to do it.

"I like this group. It's a good group, and they like to socialize - apart from running."

It certainly has become a tight-knit group over the years, and it's easy to see that new members are so gregariously welcomed. These are local people just doing something they love, whether it's making new friends or getting exercise.

As Keppel sees it, these people enjoy one another and could probably use a little "real" therapy.

"We're all little bit nuts," Keppel said. "Getting up this early, I mean. There are some days that the weather chases us away, but we're pretty steady. Informally, for about 15 years we've been the Road Runners. We've gone with it and enjoyed it. Everyone here enjoys running together."

Know of recreation, sport or person worth putting in the paper? Then contact Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas at mcamunas@sptimes.com or call (352) 544-9480.


Land O'Lakes Road Runners Club

When: Meets every Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6:30; Sundays at 7:30 a.m.

Where: Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex at 3202 Collier Parkway

History: Started in 1990 by Kris Keppel, the longtime Land O'Lakes High cross country coach, and Dan Coy, now a resident of Hawaii, the Road Runners participate in many marathons in the area, including the Gasparilla half Marathon on Feb. 8.

Requirements: There are no dues for this very informal group.

For information, contact Mike Kneapler at (813) 996-6987.