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Pumping Up for Spring

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Karen Topolski, of Westminster, heads out for a morning run that winds through the Carroll County Ag Center, out Main St. to McDaniel College and back home near Hook Rd. By spring she'll be running up to 26 miles in one stretch.

Ah, spring. The golf course calls, tennis courts await and the open road beckons runners. Time to grab your equipment and go.

Not so fast. If you have been hibernating during the cold months, experts say you need to tune up your body. Even if you have stayed in shape, you can benefit from some preliminary warm-up work. Many local golfers, for example, play year-round, shelving their clubs only when the course is snow-covered. But savvy players still start each round with stretches and practice swings to loosen their muscles.

“Get into some kind of regular exercise routine before you go out for spring sports,” said Dan Strayton, owner and general manager of Health Unlimited Family Fitness and Aquatic Center in Mount Airy. “Sports are aggressive. We sit at a desk all week long and then we expect our bodies to go out and run and jump and cut,” he said.

Whatever their game, Strayton encourages his clients to do strength training because strong muscles make other actions easier. For tennis players, he also recommended exercises to limber their joints, which will expand their range of motion.

For golfer John Magee, 61, of Reese, it is not so much a matter of getting fit as staying fit. He and other winter golfers brave such challenges as cold temperatures that thwart efforts to land a ball on the green and necessitate an auger to set tees in the frozen ground. “If there’s no snow on the ground, we try to play,” he said.

Magee, a retired physical education teacher, stays in shape by walking the hilly course at Westminster National Golf Course, where he and his friends play 18 holes twice a week.

Golfer Bruce Cowan, 61, of Westminster, retired athletic director at Liberty High School, walks the course, works out, runs and lifts weights. Bill Welch, 66, of Lutherville, retired golf and baseball coach at Francis Scott Key High School, works stretch bands at home to keep his arms and legs limber for the game.

The McDaniel College Golf Club in Westminster does not see a lot of play during the winter, said Scott Moyer, director of golf. But he has advice for students, faculty and the public to avoid a pulled muscle on the first nine holes of spring.

“The big thing is getting flexible. Just make some golf swings, with a real club or just in your house,” Moyer said.

Scott T. Magee, pro at Wakefield Valley Golf Club, Westminster, advised walking a treadmill or doing exercises that benefit the large muscles used in golf: primarily legs and back; swing a club even if you cannot hit balls, just to help the muscle memory.

“For any spring sport, the stronger your core, the better,” said Sarah Carias, trainer at the Westminster Family Wellness Center. Start a walking or walking or jogging program for cardio fitness, do some core training such as planks and don’t neglect basic pushups, squats or pull-ups, she said.

Westminster runner Karen Topolski motivates herself to keep running through the winter by signing up in the fall for a half or full marathon in the spring. The commitment helps the 46-year-old homemaker bundle up and go out for five- to six-mile runs in November and December, so she will be ready for 13 to 26 miles when spring arrives.

Topolski, who has been a serious runner for 12 years, also uses weights and abdominal exercises to retain her core strength during the winter. She stretches when she returns from a run.

Westminster runner Sharon Larrimore, 54, who runs at least five times a week through the year, starts her warm-up routine in the bathtub. “Because I’m older, I have to get a bath so I can move my muscles,” she said.

Larrimore, who runs three to five miles on each of her weekday runs, does eight- to 10-mile weekend runs several months before the annual half-marathon that she runs in May. She has 20-odd years of running and 13 marathons under her belt.

For runners who hang up their sneakers in the winter, “The big thing, I think, is always to remember not to start too fast, don’t do more than you’re used to too fast,” said Bobby Ward, head coach of the Liberty High School track and field team and president of the Westminster Road Runners Club. If you run too far too soon, you risk losing interest and suffering serious injury, he said.

Many tennis players put the racquets in the press during winter.

Christi Spencer is head tennis coach at Winters Mill High School, county Recreation and Parks instructor and Carroll County junior team coordinator for the U.S. Tennis Association. Her students’ fitness regimen includes sprints and running one mile.

Some students protest that they should not have to run because they are lifting weights, but the coach has an answer.

“I want them to get cardio fitness because when you get tired and run-down, that’s when you start to play sloppy and get injured,” Spencer said. She preaches good nutrition and staying hydrated with water and beverages that replace electrolytes lost to sweat.

Other tennis instructors, like Liberty High School coach David Abarbanel, also use a combination of one-mile runs and quick sprints for training. “You need a combination of endurance and quick sprints because tennis is a start-and-stop game,” he said.

In addition to sprints, Abarbanel uses footwork drills such as hopping back and forth across court lines to help players with the weight-shifting needed for tennis.

But not all the buff people are in it for fun and games. Marshall White, 81, of Westminster, does weight training to work all his muscles three times a week at the Westminster Family Wellness Center. What is his sport? “Yard work,” he said. “Working out really helps with the yard work.”


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