---- — It’s time to clear up a misconception once and for all.
The road racing season does not close down shop in the winter, hibernating like a pair of black bears in unpleasant surroundings.
Sure, there are not the plethora of races you’ll see in the spring and fall, but there’s a steady diet of attractive races.
It begins in late January with the challenging Boston Prep 16-Miler in Derry, a race that is not for those not in at least decent shape. From then, there are shorter speed races on virtually every weekend right up until the Boston Marathon in April.
The highlight of the winter racing season, as it has been for several years, is the Wild Rover Racing Series, a combination of three races on three straight weekends in the Merrimack Valley, with increasing mileage (3-4-5) each week.
It’s a perfect lead-in to the better days of spring racing.
The series begins Feb. 24 with the sixth annual Frozen Shamrock 3-Mile run in Haverhill, starting at Lafayette Square, heads to the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence March 3 for its 20th annual 4-Mile Classic and finishes March 10 with the Hynes Tavern 5-Miler in Lowell.
Last year, all three races attracted more than 900 runners which, for Haverhill, is the highest total of any race during the year. And the numbers are expected to rise this winter.
Part of the attraction, of course, is because there aren’t nearly as many races to choose from in the winter, but the high numbers go beyond that. Race directors for each race make an effort to make the entire running experience, and the celebration and party-like atmosphere afterward, a lot of fun.
For the Shamrock race, for example, race director Dave Camire gives a traditional Irish blessing at the starting line, beginning with “May the road rise up to meet you.” The hilly race ends downhill so that runners can gather momentum for post-race food, drink, live music and spontaneous entertainment.
But the entire series is packed with pleasantries for runners. In the past, each runner has received a personalized bib, creative Irish-themed race shirts, heat sheets at the finish and medals to all finishers. And all three races boast Irish-themed parties after the runs.
The series — perhaps to help battle the winter blues — tries to make each race an “event” for runners and as much a social event as a competition, which is something most runners appreciate. Moreover, since many of the same runners compete in each race, new running friends are almost always made.
Most hard-core runners, which is a category I no longer belong to, would probably agree that winter running and racing is vastly underrated. Once your body warms up, which really doesn’t take long, it can be exhilarating, and somehow seems more rewarding than a run in good weather.
But there are plenty of runners new to the sport or more recreational runners who need a little more incentive to just go out and “do it” in the winter.
For them, and others, The Wild Rover Racing Series is the way to go.
Strout keeps going
Former Haverhill High cross country runner Bob Strout of Salisbury continued his drive toward 3,000 races in his career in 2012. He competed in 107 races, winning his age division 66 times, giving him 2,476 races overall.
Showing that he can still turn in good times, Strout had best times of 18:51 for 5K and 31:36 for 5 miles.
The 57-year-old has also become quite the avid bicyclist and has reached 12,000 miles on his bike.