By the Squannacook Runner

It has been a bitter cold winter. Mother Nature still has plenty of time to smother us with even more chill arctic air, but spring looms ever nearer. And spring means one thing to the recreational runner -- the Groton Road Race on April 27!

Yes, my friends, the Groton Road Race is once again on the radar. Our training series will prepare you for the Groton Road Race 5K (that's 3.1 miles for you nonmetric types). Although the program is intended for the novice who has never run a road race, I understand that a few of you Groton Road Race 5K veterans return to this program each year. If you're one of them -- welcome back! If you're a running newbie, I won't badger you with reasons why you should take up a recreational running program, Instead, try giving me reasons why you shouldn't run the Groton Road Race 5K. Go ahead; hit me with your best shot!

1. I can't run!

If you can walk, you can run. Think of running as walking a bit faster than usual. OK, maybe running isn't that basic, but we'll begin the 5K training program with a mix of running and walking that will gradually condition you to running long distances.

2. I don't have time to run.

Not one session of our training program should take more than an hour. As you get into shape, you'll find that you have the increased energy and stamina to handle quickly and efficiently those day-to-day tasks that once took up much of your time. That, in turn, will give you more time for exercise. It's a win-win situation!

3. I'm too tired to run.

As I just noted, a running program will leave you feeling more energetic. Just slug it out those first few weeks (we'll start out slow and easy), and Old Man Fatigue won't be your constant companion.

4. It's too cold outside to run.

Bundle up! We'll discuss proper dress for winter running in an upcoming article.

5. I'm too old to run a 5K.

I'll be 67 on Race Day, and there will be more than a few seniors in the 5K field. They're the ones who shout, "Move over, Sonny!" as they sprint past me on the race course.

6. I'm too young to run a 5K.

More than a few 9- and 10-year-old youngsters run the 5K. If you're age 6 to 10, or just young at heart, try the 2K Fun Run. If you're 6 or younger (I'm impressed that you're reading this article!), there's the ever popular Tots' Trot.

7. I'm a girl, and girls can't run long distances.

Hello, June Cleaver, it's the 21st century! I don't have the stats, but I'll bet that one-third of all Groton Road Race entrants are female. So throw away the mop and apron and trade in those high heels (didn't 1950's moms always wear high heels around the house?) for a pair of running shoes. And try not to finish too far ahead of me on Race Day.

8. What if I finish last? I don't want to be embarrassed.

The last place finisher of the 5K gets a police escort and the heartfelt cheers of an appreciative crowd. He or she still beat the legions of couch potatoes who stayed home and didn't run.

Don't let the word "race" scare you away. While some very elite runners will be toeing the starting line, they'll be far outnumbered by recreational joggers (yours truly included) who enter the Groton Road Race 5K for the pure exhilaration of running.

How about it? You can be part of what has become a major Groton event, or you can continue to strain the couch springs. To get in shape for Race Day and for spring and summer activities to follow, just follow the weekly program outlined and in subsequent issues of the Groton Landmark. Before you fish those sweats out of the closet and hit the roads, do the following:

1. COMMIT TO THE GOAL OF RUNNING A 5K. Entry is by age group, regardless of what race you plan to enter. For youngsters age six and under, the cost is $8; ages 7-17 pay $16; the age 18-64 fee is $23, and if you're 65 or older, you run for FREE!

Last-minute entrants can register in person at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School track (bad weather local Florence Roche Cafeteria) between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at an increased rate: $10 for youngsters age 6 and under, $18 for ages 7-17, and $25 for ages 18-64. 

You can register online at www.grotonroadrace.com (online registration deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, April 25). Proceeds from entry fees go to various local causes. If you preregister by April 12, you'll get a Groton Road Race T-shirt to proudly wear as a badge of success on and after Race Day.

2. MAKE SURE ALL SYSTEMS ARE "GO." If you're over 40, under 40 with a family history of heart disease, or simply want to be safe, make an appointment with your family physician for a complete physical. NEVER engage in any rigorous exercise program until certain you're physically sound.

3. PURCHASE RUNNING GEAR. You won't need one of those $250 Gore-Tex jogging suits your Yuppie neighbor wears while mowing the lawn -- ordinary sweats worn over a long-sleeve T-shirt and shorts will do fine. Add a light jacket, wool cap and gloves or mittens for cold weather comfort. Your major expense will be running shoes -- don't skimp on these! Expect to spend anywhere between $50 and $125, or more, for a brand like Nike, Adidas or New Balance. Good quality running shoes are extremely lightweight and comfortable and offer much-needed support for feet that will be subjected to a lot of pavement-pounding in the weeks to come. Invest also in a runner's watch (some models retail for less than $25). The goal of this program is to train you to go the distance on Race Day, with your finishing time being of secondary consideration. However, a watch allows you to better monitor your progress as you train.

4. SET UP RUNNING COURSES NEAR YOUR HOME. Map out courses of varying distances around your home, either by using a road map with distance scale or by driving over potential courses and measuring them with your car's odometer. Plot courses of one or two miles, up to five miles. For your safety, void areas that receive heavy automobile traffic.

Once you begin running, go easy! The first three weeks are critical for a beginner trying to launch a running program. You'll feel soreness and fatigue. Until you're able to attain that so-called "runner's high" that veterans talk about (which you should start to experience a few weeks into the program), your legs will feel like lead, your lungs will burn as you gasp for air, and you'll be fighting the urge to give it all up. DON'T! Take it slow and easy for the first few weeks and you'll minimize -- even avoid -- that discomfort that causes many would-be joggers to give up. Good running!

Week 1 training

GOAL FOR THE WEEK: To be able to jog one mile without stopping.

Warm up adequately before each run. Five or ten minutes of gentle stretches should get you loose and ready. Jog at a pace that would allow you to converse comfortably with a running partner. When you begin to feel excessive fatigue or strain, break into a brisk walk. Continue walking until you're ready to resume jogging. After each run, do five to ten minutes of "warm down" stretches. Your body will recover more quickly if you do. With each subsequent outing, try to run nonstop a little farther than you did the previous time. Don't panic if you miss a workout because of weather or an honest lack of time. Do your best to follow each week's training schedule using the built-in rest days to squeeze in a regularly - scheduled run you may have missed. Remember, your goal for the week - a one-mile nonstop run. Go the distance!

Sunday: One-mile jog and/or walk.

Monday: One mile jog and/or walk. You may feel some soreness from yesterday's effort, but don't let that discourage you. Take your time, and enjoy a warm shower afterward.

Tuesday: One-mile jog and/or walk.

Wednesday: Rest Day. After three straight days, you've earned a break.

Thursday: One-mile jog. Can you "go the distance" today without having to stop and walk?

Friday: One-mile jog. By now, a one-mile jog should be getting pretty routine. If so, great! It's time to move on to bigger and better things.

Saturday: Rest Day. Your first week of training is over, and you've logged a total of five miles on the road. Congratulations! You've earned a break. Watch TV today without feeling guilty.

NEXT WEEK: We pick up the pace for the one-mile run and complete our first two-miler.