COLUMBIA — Their run completed, Dan Sitar and Darrin Young walked gingerly toward their cars with faces flushed. They opened their cars and grabbed sports drinks. Sitar, whose hands were red and tingling from the cold, winter air, could not open his red Powerade. After a couple of failed attempts, Young was there to swiftly open the bottle.
Although the gesture is simple, it epitomizes their friendship. Sitar and Young are running buddies and they had just completed an 18-mile run at a 7-minute and 50-second pace.
Running, by its nature, is a sport focused on the fastest individual times. But for Sitar and Young, the 18-mile run was about teamwork, not about speed.
Sitar and Young were the first to finish in their group, the Long Run Lunatics. The group’s name is an acknowledgment of its early scheduled runs. The group starts its runs at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays when the sky is still dark and most people are asleep. Brett Barton, creator of the group, said the early start time prevents interruptions in members’ daily lives.
“If I am going to get my run in, I have to start it early enough in the morning, so when I get done with my run, the rest of my family is just waking up,” Barton said. “That’s really the only time I can run where it’s not detracting from my other responsibilities.”
Barton, an attorney and father of three, created the group because running with other people is more fun than running alone. On Saturdays, the group has as many as 15 members running up to 20 miles.
Running such daunting distances can be accomplished alone, but Barton says group running is more enjoyable.
“On our runs, we will talk about anything and everything,” he said. “From food to work to family, we talk about it all.”
On 20-mile runs, you can talk to yourself only so much before your own voice becomes nauseating. However, running in groups can make the time go by much quicker, which is why the Lunatics run together, even in the most extreme weather conditions. Its weather policy, listed on the group’s Web site, is simple: “There is no such thing as bad weather.”
“It’s (the weather) not compelling enough to keep us from running,” Barton said. “We ran this past Saturday (Jan. 19) and it was 10 below zero with wind chills.”
Even in torrential downpours, the Lunatics will run. Barton says different weather can break up the monotony of running and add to the group’s experience.
“Running in the rain can be a very fun experience,” he said. “It can almost be a religious experience.”
Young, 41, is training for April’s Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon, and hopes to finish under three hours this year. His key to running success is simple.
“If I stay healthy and run consistently, I can achieve all of my goals,” Young said. “The key is just to be consistent and not to let anything affect the consistency.”
Consistency for Young means showing up weekly for the Lunatics’ runs because, as a pharmaceutical representative, finding time during the week to run heavy mileage is impossible, he says. But on Saturday mornings, the rigors of work disappear for up to three hours and he is no longer a pharmaceutical representative, but a Long Run Lunatic.
Young and Barton have also experienced races together, which has made their friendship stronger.
“Darrin and I ran the St. Louis Marathon together this past year and we both qualified for the Boston Marathon in that race,” Barton said. “So Darrin and I had a bonding experience in that race.”
The Lunatics have an all-inclusive culture, which is why the group became so popular. After Barton started the group with a couple of friends, more people started to hear about the group and joined the Saturday runs. The more runners the better is the group’s motto, because it adds to the experience.
The Lunatics say their group is great because its members vary in so many ways, including different fitness levels, gender and ages.
“You don’t see 54-year-olds on the football field,” Young said. “But, you do see them out on the roads or trails running.”