When Denise Weaver of Pleasant Gap started running more than a decade ago, she did it to lose weight and get in shape. A co-worker who is an avid runner had suggested she give running a try herself. She hated it.
“I ran a short distance around my development and I thought I was dying, I couldn’t breathe,” Weaver says. “I couldn’t understand how people do it and enjoy it.”
But she was determined to keep trying. Getting past the feeling of her lungs falling out, she built up her endurance and, in March 2007, she joined a group called the Bellefonte Road Raiders.
“To me, it was a lot more fun to run or train with other runners,” Weaver says. “Running groups and running buddies are very helpful when it comes to staying motivated and training to achieve certain running goals. Sometimes it takes others who run at a faster pace than you to help push you out of your comfort zone.”
Weaver found the Road Raiders, which was founded by Christine Rice of Bellefonte, on the Nittany Valley Running Club (NVRC) website. Running groups were becoming very popular in State College, so Rice started a group for all running abilities in Bellefonte.
“We would do weekly runs and workouts that consisted of hill repeats, speed workouts, and gradually increasing mileage each week,” Weaver says.
When other commitments forced Rice to step down as the group leader, Weaver took over. The group trained for races together and since 2007, Weaver has run 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons, and a particularly grueling race called the 25K Hyner Trail Challenge, which includes a 4-mile climb up a mountain.
“I love running long distances because I go out and just forget about everything for a little while and take in my surroundings wherever I am,” says Weaver, who tends to run on a variety of trails. “I always feel at peace after my runs.”
Matt Swayne of State College enjoys running for a similar reason.
“Running lets me be alone with my thoughts for an hour or so; it’s more of a meditation for me,” he says. “A very slow, sweaty, and out-of-breath meditation.”
Swayne, who began running in the fifth grade when his dad introduced him to it, says that even though he tends to be pretty miserable during his runs, the runner’s high he feels for quite some time afterward is worth the arduous exercise. Science agrees.
According to research published by the National Health Institute, running can have a positive effect on the brain. When you exercise intensely, your body produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Researchers have found that low amounts of BDNF can be linked to Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, and accelerated aging.
While Swayne and Weaver acknowledge they’ve suffered some injuries from running (knee and hip issues for each), they still think the benefits of running outweigh the occasional injuries.
Marty Mazur, a long-time member of the NVRC, agrees. The State College native runs three to four times a week and says it’s rejuvenating. He often runs over his lunch and says it’s a nice break from the monotony of each day.
“If I’m alone, I can think about a problem I’ve been mulling over at work and sometimes, find a solution,” he says. “But I also enjoy running with other people – it’s motivation to make sure I get out and get a run in, if someone’s expecting my company.”
Mazur, who is now 61, started running in high school. He ran in college and when he lived in California, but when he moved to State College 30 years ago, he decided to check out the Nittany Valley Track Club (now the NVRC). He was hooked; he’s been an officer in the club for the last 20 years and has seen it evolve and grow.
“This group is probably one of the nicest local running groups I’ve ever met,” Mazur says. “It’s only $15 a year, the club is very welcoming, and people of all abilities are welcome to join us.”
In fact, Mazur says the club started two different running groups for kids to foster a positive, fun, and supportive atmosphere for training and athletic growth.
The club also puts on six to eight races a year and volunteers at many other area races. While racing isn’t for everyone, Mazur says he started doing it when he was younger because he liked to challenge himself and improve his time with each race.
“As I got older it became less about breaking records and more about being with other people and supporting the charitable causes that the race benefits,” Mazur says. “Over the course of the last 15 years, we have raised more than half a million dollars for the Centre Volunteers in Medicine.”
The NVRC has 300 members, but Mazur says there’s nowhere near that many people on any of the group runs; they tend to range from two people to 25. The group runs year-round regardless of weather, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Runners who visit nvrun.com can find different running groups and their running schedules. Weaver says the Bellefonte Road Raiders are on hiatus while she’s dealing with a knee injury, but she hopes to get the group back up and running by summer. For a list of local races, check out the calendar at nvrun.com/index.php/racing.