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The following article appeared in the Centre Daily Times on Thursday, February 21, 2002
Thursday Track Club Is Fun And Beneficial For All
by Morgan Wasikonis

You might try to equate them with a group of retired folks who get together Wednesdays for breakfast, or some moms who bring their kids to play group every Tuesday, but there is really no comparison suitable for the Thursday Track Crew. This is not your average friendly group of people who meet for a fun, relaxing, moment together.

Instead, it is a motley pack of runners, from an age group spanning 40 years and from all walks of life, who converge on the indoor or outdoor track at Penn State every Thursday like a flock of multicolored, multi-specie birds. There they do speed workouts with titles like the Terrible Threes, the Front Loader, the Whitman Sampler, and the Mad Minutes. Few members enjoy the actual workout part, but all seem to enjoy being part of the group.

"There is an aspect of friendly competition that makes this work," said Ken Davis, a Penn State meteorology professor. "I think this characterizes sports and many other human endeavors at their best."

The weekly ritual starts each Thursday, rain or shine, sleet or snow, at Rec Hall where many regular running groups often meet. Near 12:10 p.m., the group takes off. The workout starts with the one and one-half mile warmup jog to the track. On the way, the usual chit chat among runners includes a discussion about what speed session to do. Typically Marty Mazur, a middle-aged, middle-of-the-packer, research engineer at Penn State's Applied Research Lab makes the final decision.

"I don't have any more knowledge of track than other members of the group, certainly not as much as Greg Fredericks," Mazur conceded. "But we could never make up our minds about what workout to do, so I'd usually step in and for some reason the group would go along. I also try to encourage people to keep coming. I think it's welcoming to newcomers when the group leader is not one of the better runners. It makes them feel like anyone can fit in."

While some of the regulars are, or have been, world class runners like Fredericks and the late Herm Goffberg (who sometimes came to watch), both of whom are former Olympians, most of the group are middle-of-the pack runners.

Many members, however, attribute their success as age group winners in road races, and improvement in times, to the track workouts.

"I am doing the workouts to hopefully get a little faster in my road races and I have done much better this past year," said Julie Christie who won the Knights of Columbus 5K in October and placed second in her age group in December's Nittany Valley Half Marathon with an eight-minute improvement over her time from the year before.

It is common for runners to devote one day a week to a speed workout of some sort, usually on a track. Three founders of this particular group -- Mazur, Mike Dooris and Jim Myers -- started to take weekly treks to the track about 10 years ago and continue to do so.

"As time went on, we decided that if we ever wanted to expand our group we needed to pick a regular day," Mazur explained. "Thursday was chosen and it's been the Thursday Track Crew ever since. We eventually started trying to go all year, no matter what the weather. Most weeks, we get between 15 and 30 runners. Even on horrible days, I can count on about a dozen."

There are as many different stories about how people got involved with the group as there are members.

"For a couple of years I had been going to the track for solo workouts, on whatever day of the week the spirit moved me," said Ken Forstmeier. "Every so often, I'd encounter a group participating in what, to an outsider, appeared to be a structured workout. I tried to keep my distance, but eventually I succumbed to the promise of large cash pay outs, junkets and unlimited lunchtime buffets. Now, five years later I'm still waiting for the payoff."

The payoff for pushing yourself in a speed workout is becoming a faster runner.

Different workouts are designed to help people with different goals. For instance, someone who wants to increase leg speed might do 10 repetitions of 200 meters each, while someone trying to increase their speed for a half-marathon or higher would do mile repeats. Some runners develop their favorites, while others don't care for any of them.

"I don't have a favorite workout. In fact I think every workout is simply dreadful," said Nick Downs, a fairly new runner who joined the Thursday Track Crew about nine months ago. "But it did help me tremendously during the Half (Marathon) in December. Ask Marty. He saw me zip by him on the hills near Houserville Road."

A favorite for Penn State fans came after Joe Paterno's record win this past fall. Mazur came up with a workout to commemorate win number 324. The group went directly to Paterno's statue at Beaver Stadium, then proceeded to the track where they did a 3x300-, 2x200- and 4x400-meter workout.

It is worth rearranging your schedule to try a workout with this group.

Newcomers are always welcome, but beware, it is tough to stop once you get started.

"My evening running friends tricked me into going once," admitted graduate student Brandon Dugan. "Once you are on the mailing list, it is less painful to participate than to not show up."

Dugan is referring to the weekly e-mail that Mazur sends out to all members of the crew. They are complete with a listing who was there, the weather conditions, the workout du jour and only a little fabrication and exaggeration. Typically there is a humorous theme to each e-mail and there is always a list of those who didn't show up, with some good natured ribbing about why.

Morgan Wasikonis writes a monthly running column for the Centre Daily Times.

© 2002 The Centre Daily Times