COVER- Cool Running: The health and fitness issue

Love on the run: Francesca Conte and Russ Gill

If anyone has a love that can go the distance, it's Charlottesville Marathon organizers Francesca Conte and Russ Gill. And theirs might go, oh, an extra 50 miles or so just for fun.

The couple, owners of the Charlottesville Running Company, participate in a sport few can even fathom: ultramarathons, trail runs that range from 32 to 135 miles.

Why would anyone do such a thing? For 42-year-old Gill, inspiration to compete in extreme running came in an unlikely way.

Already a cross-country runner who'd participated in multiple marathons, Gill was watching the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on TV in 1995. The woman who'd won the race nine years in a row collapsed before the finish line, dehydrated and disoriented.

"She fell apart," he says. "She was literally crawling toward the finish."

Rather than the horror some viewers might have felt at her condition, Gill was flooded with a different feeling.

"It hit me that I'd never been in that position," he explains. "I wondered what I would do. Once I found out about these ultraraces, I wanted to know how I would react."

A few years later– in a race called the Highlands Ultramarathon in Great Britain– Gill had his answer.

"I got so dehydrated, out of it," he recalls, "that I don't remember the last 15 miles." Gill says he began hallucinating. "I was seeing a person in a white robe floating along behind me and a little girl picking daisies. She wasn't there."

He eventually fell to his hands and knees, and began crawling.

"I made it to the finish line," he says. "It was truly what I had wondered about. Good or bad, I found out."

Conte, an Italian who moved to Charlottesville eight years ago to begin her PhD in biology at UVA, had already competed in one ultramarathon when she met Gill in 2001.

"I almost died," she says of that first race. Though she finished, she says, "I didn't get anything to drink, and I barely ate anything."

She and Gill began training together, and soon Conte, now 33, was competing in the epic distances on a regular basis.

Her longest race: 135 miles, which she completed in 32 hours.

"You're running at the beginning," she says, "then it becomes waddling, then a lot of walking, then a death march."

The pair who are each sponsored by a national corporation, Conte by Vasque and Gill by Montrail Patagonia– begin training in the fall.

"Most of the work you do is a lot of endurance running," says Conte, who says the couple focuses on "speed work" in the late fall and early winter, never running more than 20 miles. As spring race season approaches, she says, they'll do "back-to-back long, hard runs.

"We'll go out on Thursday, run 20 miles, on Friday do 25, and Saturday 50 miles," says Conte. "It teaches your body to lock into a pace," which for Conte is approximately an eight-minute mile.

While runners do go without sleep during the races, Conte says it's crucial to eat and drink properly while on a long run. Conte and Russell each consume up to 5,000 calories a day during peak training season and aim to consume 300 calories an hour during a race. Runners are weighed periodically throughout a race, and officials disqualify anyone who loses more than 7 percent of their body weight, a sign of possibly deadly dehydration.

Conte recalls one race last July, the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, when the temperature rose to 135 degrees. "My shoes were melting," she says.

Central Virginians know too well the hazards of running alone after the death of cross-country runner Kelly Watt, who died after suffering heat stroke on a searing day in July 2005. But Conte says she's never heard of an ultramarathoner dying of heat stroke.

"These people know when to stop," she says. "They know when it's too much." In particularly hot weather, crews travel along with the runners between aid stations, carrying buckets of ice.

To prevent dehydration during races, Conte says she drinks water or Gatorade, and eats "gels," Jello-like energy snacks that contain sugar and electrolytes. For energy, she chooses whole wheat muffins with peanut butter and jelly.

And when nature calls?

"You find the nearest tree, hide in the back," says Conte, who carries biodegradable toilet paper with her. "There are no portapotties in the Sierra Nevadas."

It's that exposure to nature that both Conte and Gill say is the ultimate reason for ultramarathoning.

"I've run races in the mountains around Hong Kong. I've run them in the Highlands of Great Britain, all over the Rockies, the Smokies," says Gill. "It's only through running that kind of distance that you can get really remote in the wilderness."

He recalls standing on the top of a 14,000 foot mountain. "There was no one around me for 20 miles," he says. "I'm seeing views that only someone doing what I'm doing can see."

Conte agrees– and says their fellow ultramarathoners make it even sweeter.

"It's such a great community of people, all united by a simple love of the outdoors," says Conte. "It puts running in perspective. You're not out there to set records, you're out there because you love to be out there."

And though Gill and Conte don't usually compete in the same races, they say that common love for the outdoors helps keeps their relationship strong.

"We've done some training races together," says Gill. "That's a lot of fun at the end of the year. We'll go pick a 50-mile race and stay together and have fun. It's an opportunity to spend time together."

Their love goes the distance, indeed.

Francesca Conte and Russ Gill



SIDEBAR- Shoe-in: Picking the perfect pair

Some people swear by Saucony. Others adore Adidas. But if you're a running newby and looking for the perfect fit, facing a wall of shoes can be intimidating. Which to pick? At three area specialty running shoe stores, the experts make it easier.

Ragged Mountain Running Shop: For 24 years Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni have been helping local runners pick shoes the old fashioned way– with their own two eyes and ears.

"We keep a close eye on the fit," says Cynthia Lorenzoni. "Interestingly, more folks have problems with shoes being too wide (not too narrow, as one might think)! In addition to hot spots and blisters on their feet, folks can experience numbness and actually have knee pain when their shoes are too wide or long." Lorenzoni says her staff analyzes a customer's gait to determine what type of shoe, "support vs. cushioning vs. control" will work best. And they recommend runners replace their shoes after 400 "exercise miles," or 200 if they wear the shoes for everyday use as well.

Finally, says Lorenzoni, runners should find a shoe brand and style that works and stick with it.

"Oh," she says, "and try not to let looks (colors etc.) influence your decision."

Charlottesville Running Company: Using a camera and a treadmill, Charlottesville Running Company employees can analyze a runner's gait, looking for telltale problem signs such as supination (foot rolls out) and pronation (foot rolls in).

After videotaping the barefoot runner from the back and side, "We play it back in slow motion," says Running Company's Marty Roddy. "We look at the stride, and we look at the foot landing."

If the foot isn't landing evenly and pushing off the big toe, runners can purchase inserts to keep the foot stable. Certain shoes, Roddy explains, offer more stability than others and can help prevent knee and hip pain.

New Balance: Shoe size is more than just length and width, says Jim Norwood, owner of New Balance of Charlottesville on Seminole Trail.

"We measure everyone's feet with a Brannock device," says Norwood. That's a device that measures length, width, and "longitudinal arch," the distance from heel to ball.

Many people are surprised to learn they have mismatched feet, he says, something that causes people problems when they go to a "fit yourself" type of store.

"You have to fit the larger foot first," he says, "then accommodate the shorter foot." The New Balance brand is known for its extensive size options, and the local store carries shoes in widths from AA to EEEE.

Norwood says New Balance staffers are board-certified pedorthists, meaning they've been trained in the biomechanics of the foot and ankle in shoes.

Pedorthists can "evaluate any kind of stress, bunions, plantar fasciitis, and neuromas," he says, citing typical foot problems. Many of these issues can be resolved with an over-the-counter foot insert.

Norwood says in addition to runners, his store frequently serves diabetics, who– with a doctor's prescription– are entitled to federal reimbursement for one pair shoes and three inserts– up to $400.

"A lot of people don't know that," he says, adding that customers must pay for the shoes at the store and then can apply for reimbursement.

Ragged Mountain owner Mark Lorenzoni assists longtime customer Stacey Bruns with new running shoes.


On the run: Secrets of local marathon contenders

Name: Elizabeth Cottone

Age: 39

Best time for a mile: I think it was probably either the first mile of the Martha Jefferson 8K two years ago (something just under six minutes) or the first mile of the New Year's Day 5K this year (5:50).

Years running: I've been racing since 1995, but running non-competitively for much longer– probably about 25 years.

Marathons: 12

Best time/race: My fastest race was the New Year's Day 5K when I ran 19:10. I also consider one of my best races to be my second running of the Richmond Marathon, when I ran 3:13:00.

Goal for this race: I'd like to improve on my times from the last two Charlottesville Marathons. If I finish under 3:25 I'll be happy.

Type of shoe: Nike Stasis

Injuries: None right now!

Best about marathons: I love meeting new people at marathons, and bonding over the experience. There's an incredible amount of support that everyone gives one another, and an overwhelming feeling that we're all facing this great challenge together. I also really like the range of feelings (physical and mental) you experience as you tackle the distance. It's what makes a successful finish so satisfying.

Worst about marathons: I don't like running races that are too crowded– I don't like the feeling when lots of runners are boxing you in. I've come to enjoy the smaller races more (although I do love the NY marathon).

Fueling up: I always try to eat a few more bananas and drink a lot of water the week before a race. Other than that, I keep to my same eating schedule. During the race I drink lots of water and Gatorade, take a few power gels, and maybe a banana.

Tips: Run happy, rely more on how you feel than on your watch, and don't over-train.

Name: Dane E. Rauschenberg

Age: 29

Best time for a mile: 4:50

Number of years running: I really consider my marathoning career to have begun in 2004 when I set out a definitive training plan to run my third marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon.

Number of marathons: I'm running a marathon every weekend this year to raise money for a charity called L'Arche. Last weekend I ran my 25th marathon in Toledo, Ohio. April 8 I'll be running in Ocean City, Maryland.

Best time/which race: 3:07:25 in 2005 Marine Corps Marathon

Goal for this upcoming race: I'll be running a 3:25 in Ocean City. My reasons for doing so are multiple, but mainly I want to run a time for every minute between 3 hours and 3:30 and I have never run a 3:25. Sounds a little odd, but it's one of the many things that keep me interested week in and week out.

Type of shoe: I have no one brand. Just this year I've worn Sauconys, Nikes, Brooks, and Adidas.

Injuries: None

Best about marathons: All the people you meet.

Worst about marathons: The cost for traveling to a marathon is almost the same as a vacation's cost: then you have to go run 26.2 miles!

Fueling up: I eat plain Vanilla Gu during the race and drink the water given to me. Prior to the race I eat plenty of pasta, mainly from Joe's Place Pizza and Past in Arlington.

Tips for someone who wants to run a marathon: Read lots of information, test it out on your own body before believing any of it, don't get discouraged, and plan ahead. There's a wealth of information out there for anyone to read.

In addition, pick a cause or a reason to run. It will keep you motivated. I'm currently running for L'Arche (more specifically the chapter in Mobile, AL) which is an international organization that assists developmentally challenged individuals by providing a home for them to live and work with volunteers.

Name: John Cavan

Age: 70

Best time for a mile: 4:32 (a long time ago)

Number of years running: I've run all my life. I'm a former college basketball player, made the hall of fame in the state of Mississippi. I've been running long distances since 1975.

Number of marathons: 115. I thought that was pretty impressive until I went to Tanzania to run the Kilmanjaro marathon and ran across a guy who'd run 562– I think he has the world record for marathons. He's 66, from New Jersey.

Best time/race: 3:09:00 in the Jersey Shore Marathon in 1978

Goal for this race: I've given up on running goals, but I do hope to win something in my age group. Last year, I came in first in my age group– 65-69– this year I'm in a new age group.

Type of shoe: Asics Gel Nimbus

Injuries: I'll be running this marathon with 16 stitches in my arm. You don't run marathons and train for them without having injuries, but I have not missed a day of running in 19 years. I ran one day in upstate New York in wind chill 70 below.

Best about marathons: All marathoners will tell you, "When it's over." There's a feeling of satisfaction. Each one is an adventure, and every one I start getting nervous about three weeks before. I've never gotten used to it.

Worst about marathons: It's like when women have babies. If they remembered the pain, they'd probably never have children again. Good analogy for marathons. You just remember the joy. You forget the pain and a few days later, you start planning the next one. The endorphins get to your brain– it's a positive addiction.

Fueling up: All of us eat pasta– carb load. We use tomato sauce not cream sauce. I drink water and then later on take a couple shots of Gatorade to get the electrolytes back.

Tips: Anybody can run a marathon. It's more mental than physical. As you get older, you're going to get slower, so you're going to be out there a longer time.

Name: Wes Kessenich

Age: 43

Best time for a mile: 4:50

Number of years running: 26

Number of marathons: 85

Best time/which race: 2:29 (5:45 min/mi.) 1991 Boston Marathon– or 5:29 for 50 miles (6:35per/mi.) 50 mile Hawaii State Road Race, state record.

Goal for this upcoming race: Top 10

Longest run in one day: 100 miles (twice)

Type of shoe: Pearl Izumi from Charlottesville Running Company

Injuries: Torn stomach muscle-­ current

Best about marathons: Getting to about 24.5 mile mark, when you finally realize you will probably make it.

Worst about marathons: The 23-mile mark, because it's still not a guarantee.

Fueling up: Bagels

Tips for someone who wants to run a marathon: Schedule several progressively longer races leading up to the Marathon distance. Sometimes people think that just because you have run 26 miles many times it becomes easier each time. That may be true for a novice, but 26 miles is still 26 miles, and 26 miles takes a great deal of preparation. The Greek warrior Phidippedes, who had to run from Greece to Marathon, did so to deliver an important war message and did not have the benefit of "training." He died after delivering his message. For most of us who purposely run a marathon, we somewhat cheat by practicing.

Beth Cottone


John Cavan


Wes Kessenich


Marathon buzz: Please come to Boston

Fourth Annual Charlottesville Marathon, April 15, 2006

Number of runners:


Age range: 15-77

Best thing: The scenery. "It's just beautiful," says race organizer Francesca Conte.

Hardest thing: Three hills, including one that is .8-mile climb just after the turn from Old Garth Road to Garth Road.

Security: About 70 area police officers, hired by the race at overtime pay. Even with the $45-$60 entry fee, "We're just breaking even," says Conte, who hopes in future years the city may "see the value" of the race and offer some security for free.

Of note: The Charlottesville marathon is a "Boston qualifier," which means runners can qualify for the Boston Marathon based on their time in Charlottesville. "Someone who's certified comes out and measures the course to the millimeter," says Conte.

SIDEBAR- Need for speed: New clinic picks up the pace

For athletes, keeping body and muscles in tip-top shape is even more important than buying a high-tech pair of running shoes or new bicycle tires. Until recently, high-performance runners and cyclists had limited options for recuperating from injuries. Standard physical therapy is helpful, certainly, but there were no facilities dedicated solely to taking an athlete from the doctor's office back to the race course.

SPEED (Strength, Power, Endurance, Education, and Development) is a new physical training clinic under the aegis of UVA's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Endurance athletes can go to the clinic for a biomechanical analysis of their running or cycling performance. The three-person staff– one physical therapist and two engineers– also monitor athletes to troubleshoot performance flaws and develop unique training plans.

"It's a bridge from rehabilitation to performance," say Jay Dicharry, UVA physical therapist and director for SPEED. "Our goal is to help people move better and more efficiently."

According to Dicharry's estimates, the clinic will improve athletic performance by 5-10 percent a year for each athlete. Most competitors, he says, spend countless hours for even a two percent improvement. Because the program is tailored to individual needs, success depends on the dedication of the athlete and his/her visits to the clinic and the regimen created by Dicharry and his team.

Local cyclist Christof Herby is an enthusiastic convert. "As endurance athletes, we place tremendous stress on our joints through repetitive motions," he says. "Finding the ideal position on my bike has been a constant guessing game. The SPEED clinic's system gives me great confidence ...that I'm using my body as efficiently as possibly."

Ethan Saliba, a UVA athletic trainer, is eager to see what SPEED will accomplish.

"This whole total package idea is ideal to give you a one-stop shop," says Saliba. "If you're already top-notch and not wounded, you'll learn what to look out for– and if you aren't, you can fix it."

For athletes who will spend $100 on new shoes or up to $1000 on new racing wheels, SPEED's prices might be worth the extra bucks. Sessions, which start at $75, can simply assess a current injury or, for up to $400, athletes can spend several hours considering their personal goals and setbacks with a professional. These fees, says Dicharry, become payment of rental fees for the $1.5 million worth of high-tech equipment provided by UVA.

Current participants, including learned of the clinic through physicians and trainers.

"Dozens of cycling experts speculate about the best way to find the perfect position on the bike," Herby says, "but the SPEED clinic is the only one I'm aware of that uses computer modeling and quantifiable data to refine each athlete's position based on his/her unique body geometry."

Dicharry, however, hopes to expand the program in the future.

"Right now we rely on word of mouth," says Dicharry, "but I'd love to see the program grow and become a national resource for professional athletes." SPEED recently held an open-house for interested athletes.

If SPEED gives athletes an "edge" on their competitors, it was also created to provide an important role in the research world.

"The clinic is performing research on healthy athletes," says Dicharry. "Even the NIH isn't sponsoring similar programs. So in a few years we'll have research on new techniques like no other school."

Rugby fever: A scrum, some blood, a few beers

It's a cool, sunny day on a recent Saturday at Edge Hill Farm, the sprawling Keswick estate where the Virginia Rugby Football Club plays its home matches. On the field, known as the "pitch," 30 men– 15 to a side– are running, scrambling, and tackling each other, each team–Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina– trying to get the ball into their own team's end zone.

One man leaves the field, shaking his head, blood running from his nose. Soon after, another man is on the sidelines nursing a rapidly swelling purple thumb.

Ask most people about Rugby, and they might tell you it's a rough sport, kind of like football without the helmets. But though blood is a frequent sight during Rugby matches, those who play the game say the injuries are usually not serious.

"Nobody understands this game," says Lisa Green, watching from the sidelines. Green has played a match for the local Blue Ridge Women's Rugby– one of the four local Rugby teams– on the same field earlier on this day. "It's safer than American football," she says, citing the strategy and caution players bring to the game.

It's also a game with a culture– and a vocabulary– different from any other sport.

Like American football, there are two end-zones, but a score– called a "try"– is worth only five points.

When possession of the ball is in dispute, the two teams form a "scrum," with all players pressed together, shoulder to shoulder, pushing forward against the opposing team. The scrum is the reason some players wear soft helmets. Without these, players' ears can become irritated from the friction, eventually leading to "cauliflower ear"– a condition common among boxers. In rare cases, Rugby players' ears have been torn and even ripped off.

But despite these dangers, Green and her teammate Jessie Graflin both say they're hooked on the sport.

"Players have this camaraderie and heart you don't get in any other sport," Graflin says.

A referee and sometime player, Scotsman Ron Murray says that camaraderie crosses teams and nationalities. A recent match, he says, featured players from at least six countries– Wales, Scotland, England, South Africa, France, and the U.S. And it's not enough to simply smile at your opponent or shake hands following the match.

"Part of the deal is that you socialize with the opposition," says Murray. "You have a drink and usually a sing-song."

Sitting on the sideline after the men's match, Richmonder Chuck Dean is dealing with bloody knees– and what could have been a bruised ego. The Division II Raleigh team has trounced Division III Virginia, 88-0.

Dean, however, is philosophical about the loss.

"It beats playing softball," he says, "even when you lose."

For game information check

The Raleigh team hoists a player high to reach the ball.

Referee Ron Murray chases players down the field as Raleigh goes for a "try."


Virginia Rugby Club player Chuck Dean shows off a few scrapes after the match.