By Jeff Nations
Spring has sprung -- finally -- but in some ways Brenda Schrank will miss the winter.
It's not the cold temperatures the Winchester resident will remember fondly as the weather warms up. Rather, Schrank and many of her fellow runners will miss the camaraderie -- not to mention, built-in motivation to train -- provided by the annual Shenandoah Valley Runners' Winter Series.
Schrank, who won the overall championship as the top female runner in the eight-race series, said she's noticed the series' popularity has steadily grown over the years.
"Part of it is just the friendly competition, said Schrank, who's lost count of how many Winter Series' titles she's won over the years. "But it's also the time of year where if you don't have something organized, you're not as likely to get out."
Winchester's Matthew Lofton can relate to that sentiment. Lofton, who won this year's overall male championship and is training for a return to run again in the Boston Marathon on April 21, also uses the Winter Series to keep fit.
"I personally like it because usually the winter months are more difficult for me," Lofton said. "No one likes to train in the ice and snow. Having winter racing is good motivation to train and perform well."
The Winter Series, scheduled to run every other Saturday from Dec. 7 through March 8, awards points for both performance and participation. That adds even a bit more motivation to get out and run throughout the winter months.
Most of the races are run at about a five-kilometer distance, with events held in Winchester, Boyce, Millwood, Front Royal, Strasburg, Middletown, and Stephens City. The popular Winter Series has been an annual event for SVR for more than 20 years, and is open to members and non-members alike. Only SVR members are eligible for the overall and age-group championships.
Schrank ran in seven of the eight events this year, and won all seven. Lofton also ran in seven of the eight races, winning three during the year.
A serious runner with sponsorship from Seattle-based Brooks Running, Lofton said his training routine varies depending on his other commitments. During the school year, he serves as an assistant cross country coach at Millbrook High School and focuses on the 5K as he trains with the team.
In the Winter Series, which generally attracts upwards of 200 runners per race, the competition can vary.
"I've seen both sides of it," Lofton said. "There's competition throughout the [age] groups. I race as hard as I can, and I know other people who are like that. Then there are other people who are out just to run and as part of the community."
Schrank, whose husband Ed has played a leading role in helping the Winter Series transition to electronic-timed events, said that new feature in this year's series has been a real hit with the runners. Ed Schrank, also a runner, has been the SVR's Volunteer of the Year the past two years for his work as a timer during races.
"We brought in the electronic timing system for the last two races, really due to the rapid growth of the Winter Series," Schrank said. "People like that. They like to have their results immediately."
Brenda Schrank and Lofton will receive their championship awards this weekend during an SVR banquet. Despite the severe winter, this year's series went smoothly for the most part.
"We lucked out, I have to tell you," Brenda Schrank said. "In other years, we've had more races cancelled because of inclement weather than this year. I guess it was just luck of the draw."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>