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January still the month of the road runner

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.Given today's advanced technology that old adage might not always apply.But for close to 40 years, January in Bermuda has been road running month.Entry numbers have fluctuated from lows to highs in both the Princess to Princess race, now in its 36th year, and the Bermuda Marathon Weekend, best known as International Race Weekend as it was called for many years (why it was changed is anybody's guess; the Marathon is just one of four events which vary considerably in distance).But they continue to take a prominent place on the sporting calendar.This Sunday's 7.2 mile Princess (Fairmont) race has always served as the perfect warm-up to the events that begin 12 days later.However, it's more than that. It has an identity of its own; a scenic route with the toughest finish of any race.Runners begin thinking about the excruciating climb up the Southampton hotel hill long before they complete the trek along Harbour Road.Conserving energy doesn't seem to make a difference. The torturous climb up 'Everest' stretches every sinew, relief arriving just some 400-500 yards later when the descent to the Whaler Inn finish comes into sight.No matter what a runner's level of fitness, it hurts. It's as simple as that.At the end of the following weekend's 10K, the much shorter hike up from North Shore to Palmetto Road and the less severe incline along Frog Lane to the National Sports Centre finish line, present their own challenges.But the hundreds who will compete in one or the other or both probably wouldn't have it any other way.Road running is as much about speed as it is endurance. Those at the top of the pile have both, those further down the pack rely more on the latter.As anyone who has competed in these type of races, not only in January and in the May 24 Derby, will attest to the satisfaction enjoyed when it's all over; commonly known as the 'runner's high'.At last count some 700 overseas runners had registered for the weekend festival, many from the American Leukaemia Society, and with the local entries still flowing in, the 1,000 barrier will almost certainly be broken again.In terms of sports-related tourism, this one still leads the way.Road running seems to have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.It is, after all, the cheapest form of activity to get fit. Slip on a pair of sneakers and you're ready to go. And they don't have to be expensive.Research has shown the more costly the shoe, the more likely a runner will suffer an injury. The fancy ones with springs under the sole . . . well, they're just fancy and nothing more.In the best selling 'Born to Run', the author advocates running barefoot as the best way to run injury free. Although that might not be recommended on Bermuda's roads, many of which aren't fit for tyres let alone feet.* * * *APART from shoes, these days it seems another piece of equipment has become de rigueur: the ubiquitous iPod.The under-30 brigade, and probably quite a few more over that age, apparently can't run without earphones plugged in and an iPod strapped around the waist, arm or stuffed down the shorts.In this plodder's opinion, they're fine in training but not in racing . . . simply because they take away from what should be a sporting specactle, regardless of the competitor's ability.Put the iPod gang at the back of the field and let them run their own race half an hour later . . . along with the pram pushers.It's become something of a trend in recent years to drive 'junior' around the course. It may draw applause from those on the roadside but unlikely to get approval from the strugglers who find themselves overtaken or blocked by a trundling chariot.Not at all sporting.* * * *SADLY, one road running supporter won't be here to cheer on the runners this month.Charlie Spanswick died suddenly last weekend and he'll be sorely missed.Something of an eccentric with an opinion on just about every issue that affected life in Bermuda, sport or otherwise, Charlie could often be heard shouting encouragement from the roadside.He'd served as a volunteer at road races and the veteran runners will recall he provided prizes when the Mid Atlantic Athletic Club launched their Botanical Gardens fun run series over 30 years ago.He was as enthusiastic then as he was the day he died.ADRIAN ROBSON