Heat and humidity doesn't stop Sunday morning runners

Sure, it's one thing to slip on the running shoes and take to the streets on a cool, Florida winter morning. But then comes July.

Asked what the biggest difference was between winter and summer running, Jack Gallagher laughed.

"About 30 degrees," he said.

But with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and humidity topping 90 percent — all before 9 a.m. — Gallagher and several other mainstays of the Winter Park Sunday Running Group were out anyway on Park Avenue, getting in between three to 10 miles on a day when you didn't have to run to break a sweat.

"If you're in a fall or winter race, you've got to train now," said Ryan Yadav, of Winter Park. "And it's deadly days for people to run."

For Rachel Smith, of Oviedo, running with the group was a way to beat the heat the old-fashioned way — by kvetching about it.

"We complain together," Smith said jokingly. "'Oh, my god, it's 100 percent humidity!' Usually, whenever we kick off the run, somebody mentions what the temperature is, and a couple of us groan. But then we kick it out and run anyway."

The temperature and humidity ultimately has its benefits, Gallagher said.

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"Running in this heat has a training effect," said Gallagher. "When it gets cooler, you'll be a much better runner."

Gallagher should know. Though he only started running in middle age, the 80-year-old has been involved with the Sunday Running Group for almost 30 years, through thick and very, very thin.

"The group pretty much died about eight years ago," Gallagher said. "We thought, 'We can't settle for that. There's a lot of runners about town.' "

Now with more than 90 members, the Sunday run usually draws about two dozen people during peak winter months and about a dozen during the summer.

Smith made it a family affair, bringing along her niece and nephew, Austin Bennett, 13, and Trysta Bennett, 9, along with their father Robert Bennett.

"Like every first runner, she struggled a little but she pushed through," Smith said of Trysta. "We'll be doing a Zombie Run in Georgia – "

"We are?" asked a surprised Trysta.

"And by then she'll be a gazelle. And (Austin) will be a cheetah," Smith said.

The group also sees runners from everywhere, Yadav said.

"Not just Winter Park, but all over Central Florida," Yadav said. "I've met people from London. A lot of times, people Google 'Sunday running group' when they're on vacation, and they come on out."

Gallagher listed runners from England, Scotland, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Canada, and Puerto Rico, adding that he was recently invited to a wedding in Houston by a Lebanese-Colombian runner.

The Sunday group wasn't the only one out. An informal group of about a dozen runners usually goes about 10 to 12 miles every week, said Mark Freid. "Though people do a shorter route in the summer a little bit," he said.

Amy Ertel, of Orlando, said the biggest difference in the summer runs was the clock.

"We start at 6 (a.m.) in the summer, when there's less sun," Ertel said. "We usually start at 7. That hour actually helps a lot."

But Stanley Maina — a native Kenyan, where despite being in tropical Africa the altitude keeps temperatures in the 70s year-round for most of the country — said that it really doesn't get that much cooler.

"Is there a winter in Orlando?" asked Maina. "But now it's brutal."

After their run, many of the runners enjoyed a sweaty post-race meal at Panera Bread or other spots in town, mostly empty so early as they gear up for Sunday brunch later in the day. And then Gallagher can meet up with a certain non-runner.

"I'll have breakfast with my wife, Mary," Gallagher said. "She's not a runner — but she does eat breakfast."

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