Nov 292011

Winter 2011 – 2012
Vermont Life Magazine
Feature: Outdoor Recreation


Melting Worries Away

Undaunted by winter, hardy runners say icy treks clear the mind


There is, perhaps, no more a peaceful time in Vermont than the predawn hours of a midwinter day. The air is light and clean. The sky clear.  And the density of a three-foot snowpack dampens back the noise.

It is 5:30 on just such a morning and Tim Noonan of Montpelier is up and out of the house, silently passing through the ice-slicked streets of Vermont’s small-town capital.  The occasional car eases past. The odd window light of an early riser stretches out across the snow. It is cold and dark, and echoing off the house fronts is the plodding thump of Noonan’s footfalls on the road — a rhythm he has set for more than 35 years.

Noonan, 55, is a long-distance runner and about as serious a runner as one might imagine. He took up the sport in college and has rarely since missed an opportunity to train. He has run 67 marathons, including 14 at Boston — the preeminent race for any runner — and, all told, has clocked an estimated 70,000 miles in his lifetime, the equivalent of nearly three times around the earth.

Bundled in multiple layers, ski gloves and often wearing a facemask, Noonan defies the worst of Vermont’s winter weather to keep up on the sport he loves. Boston looms in early spring, and through the winter, Noonan faces his most rigorous months of training, pushing out 35 to 40 miles a week, which means, for Noonan, early mornings, cold starts and a personal motivation that is as steely as the stiffest, northeast wind.

Sure, there are challenges — the dark mornings (and dark nights), the ice, the snow. But there is also something different, something special that draws runners, like Noonan, out day after day, even on the bitterest days of the year.

“The crisp air, a clear day without wind … it is invigorating to run in the winter,” Noonan says. “I love to run. I like to be out there. And if you dress for it, you can protect against anything.” As for Noonan’s limit? It is 20 degrees … below.

“Most people think you’re a little crazy,” Noonan admits, though he insists that, in actuality, the opposite is true: Running, especially in the winter, is one of the ways he maintains his sense of well-being. “I think it is crucial to be outside in the winter, in Vermont, for mental health issues,” Noonan says, echoing the sentiments of many winter sports enthusiasts.

A few miles away, in Barre, elementary school teacher Andrea McLaughlin is also up and out of the house and meeting with friends along a country road near her home. For McLaughlin, 48, the sport of running has offered a hearty list of benefits, the most important of which are the friendships she has developed and maintained through the sport.

It was 15 years ago that McLaughlin took up running, under the encouragement and guidance of then-acquaintance Lori LaCroix, who unrelentingly plied the younger McLaughlin with fliers for various running events. Later, McLaughlin held a two-year term as president of Central Vermont Runners — a group of about 150 runners who organize regional road races — and the two women, along with several additional friends, continue to run together every Tuesday and Thursday in nearly any weather.

“Running is a great stress releaser,” McLaughlin says. “It is a whole attitude adjustment for me. It is an adrenaline rush. And it is just about the only time I get to see my friends. And you know what? If I didn’t know somebody was out there waiting for me, I probably wouldn’t get up.”