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Why You Are Aching To Run

By Christopher Hunt - THE JOURNAL NEWS

Everyone's been there. You wake up, brave the cold, and head to work when the sun is only starting to show its intention to rise. You start your car, and while you're driving and still thinking about the warmth of your bed, you see one.

A jogger along the side of the road, pushing through a morning run. The question automatically pops into your head: Why?

"It's weird," said Lynne Layne, a New Rochelle junior and the top sprinter in the state. "But I guess those people are really dedicated."

John Samsel is one of them. Samsel runs through Mamaroneck every morning before work. He has raced in half-marathons, marathons and track races. He even won his age group at the New York Road Runners 10-miler in Central Park and the NYC2012 5K Run for an Olympic Bid in Central Park.

But Samsel, 61, who runs his own telecommunications company in Mamaroneck and started running competitively only eight years ago, is just one man in the worldwide fraternity of people addicted to one of the most painful activities in sports — running.

"Runners do become addicted to running," said Samsel, who runs about 50 miles a week in the soothing sun or unforgiving snow. "It's not that we enjoy running. Running is really not fun. It hurts. But once it's done, you enjoy having run."

Pain is part of the deal. True runners are full of gruesome tales of losing their breakfast after a tough race or training session. They talk about the dizziness and the pounding headaches that result from oxygen debt. They'll tell you about shaky legs, sudden cramps, endless drinks of water, ice baths, ice packs, heat packs and trips to the chiropractor — and then they'll lace up and run some more.

It all sounds so masochistic.

But there's a personal gratification inherent in a hard run or strong race that has nothing to do with winning and losing.

"Each person who participates can be a winner," said Craig Masback, the CEO of USA Track and Field and a track legend at White Plains High School. "You can put eight people on the line, and when it's finished, they can all be happy, whether it's an Olympic medal or just a personal best. There's still a value in trying."

At the same time, most admit to how "not fun" the activity truly is.

In fact, it's often used as a form of punishment. At a football practice, someone misses a pass, he runs. Miss a free throw at basketball practice, you run. When players sprint from line to line on the basketball court, they're called "suicides" for a reason.

Mount Vernon football coach Ric Wright doesn't make his team run as a penalty, but there's a reason that activity is the biggest deterrent to the athletes who dread it.

"It's very simple," he said. "It hurts."

When Somers senior Niko Viglione started training as a sophomore, he was injured more often than not. Road runs and hard training sent pain through almost every part of his lower body.

Today the senior cross country and track star is officially a running junkie, with 30 books about the sport and a dedicated wall covered with photos of everyone from Alan Webb and Bob Kennedy to Emil Zatopek winning the marathon in the 1952 Olympics.

"I'm really not sure," was Viglione's answer when asked why he puts himself through the torture of track training. "I think it has something to do with the way you feel afterwards. It's a good feeling to know that you pushed yourself to your limits or even passed them."

So that's the intrigue — discovering limits or lack thereof.

Samsel recalled a time, four years ago, when he raced a 10-miler in extremely hot conditions. He collapsed at the finish. The same thing happened a year later at a race in Central Park. He spent the rest of that day in Lenox Hill Hospital.

He ran the next day.

"I was humiliated," he said. "I wanted to not feel that way."

Pete Modaferri discovered running was his way out. As a teen-ager, he found the track team at Clarkstown South as a way to keep himself out of trouble. Now as an assistant coach at his alma mater, he uses it to torture his athletes.

But Modaferri, 29, is torturing himself right along with his charges.

"When I do workouts with these guys, it hurts so much more," said Modaferri, who received a full scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson and now runs for the Westchester Track Club. "I'm getting a little older. You go out and do a workout, you're hurting for two or three days. The workouts are a lot harder.

"They hurt. They hurt a lot."

But it's the success that eluded Modaferri when he left the team at FDU that made him start competing again. No matter what the weather, snow or rain, he is running, he said. When asked where runners get this cult-like addiction, he paused.

"That's a good question," he said.

For Layne, the addiction is about a feeling she can't get anywhere else. Distance runs, or just about anything that lasts too long, are not for her. She wants to get things over with fast. Just how fast is what makes her deal with the post-race effects.

"You kind of get a little light-headed," she said. "Your legs feel like they're going to collapse underneath you, and your throat burns."

Layne, who's been running since she was 7 years old, holds the nation's second-fastest high school time in the 55 meters this season, at 6.94 seconds. Moving that fast is more like flying.

"It's really like you're not touching the ground," Layne said. "You're not even running, you're just going."

So never mind the aching, burning muscles or the light-headedness and the sick stomach. The attraction to running might be traced to just one simple desire.

"I just want to see how fast I can go," Viglione said.

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