Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Marathoners, other runners tell of run-ins with bad drivers


STUFF LIKE this item, which began with a question from a Columbia runner seeking advice for a badly sprained ankle, can make an aging body (and probably some not so old) wonder what the heck this country is coming to.

The runner was graphic artist Erin Phelps, 31, who has been training for her first marathon - the Marine Corps event Oct. 26 in Washington. The Hammond High alumna had built up to 16 miles, she said, and was following a regimen that would have had her ready physically for the full 26-plus miles just in time.

But while positioning herself to face traffic during a run about 10 days ago, she said, she heard squealing tires so close that she leapt off the side of Shaker Drive near U.S. 29, twisting the ankle as the driver sped off. The injury not only kept her from running for more than a week but made walking difficult and may have delayed her first marathon for a while.

Phelps said the vehicle was a green Ford Mustang. The idiot driver was young, probably in the mood to just frighten her.

Ah, surely one idiot doesn't a story make, you might be thinking. But what he did is downright dangerous, if nothing else.

And Phelps and several veteran runners who offered advice and consolation to her via the Howard County Striders say it's not unusual.

"I've had people who actually veer toward me," said Phelps.

"It happens all the time," added Francesco (Smitty) Smith, 48, a Scaggsville stock trader training for his eighth marathon. "It's not just kids who do it. They come in all ages and sizes. People just aren't paying enough attention. It's gotten so that runners just can't be as trustworthy as we once could be."

That's particularly true for the hundreds of county runners who work out on public roads rather than those in Columbia who are blessed with 80 miles of traffic-free pathways.

Apparently, nothing more serious than sprains, frayed nerves and maybe some bruises have happened so far.

But many runners here relate to Judy Flannery, a four-time world triathlon champion, eight-time Columbia Triathlon winner, and mother of five who was killed at age 57 in 1997 by a speeding motorist while training in Montgomery County for the famed Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.

Other cyclists have been taunted by motorists and injured, as well - and some, as The Sun reported this year - have taken to relaying license plate numbers to police via cell phones.

Smith thanked Phelps for "reminding everyone that it doesn't take a whole lot of gray matter to acquire a driver's license [but], that being said, in this day of distractions - cell phones, compact disc players, etc. - and lack of common courtesy, it is extremely important to be proactive when we go out for our little running adventures."

One piece of advice Smith believes essential is this: "When we find ourselves running on the roads, always run toward traffic when possible." The reason, he continued, is that "this will not only enable you to see what's going on, it will also allow for more time should the unexpected happen."

Speaking up on silence

The sound of sideline silence on Columbia-area soccer fields is over, with parents, coaches, players and others permitted to be verbal again this weekend at Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County recreation-level games.

But how did the "silent weekend" imposed last Saturday and Sunday on everyone on the sidelines go?

Pretty nicely will probably be the answer when the surveys being solicited via SAC/HC's Web site are tallied. (Although, note, one piece of "buzz" from longtime soccer parents is that the club's requiring rec teams for the first time this fall to take one sideline with all fans on the opposite one - as has been done in travel ball for years - will have a more lasting impact on order.)

Interestingly, a sampling of girls on the under-12 Maroon Shooters practicing at Columbia's Phelps Luck Elementary School last week indicated that not everyone intended to benefit most thought silent sidelines were a swell idea.

"I didn't like it because, for some reason, we got into a really bad attitude," said Christina Kern, whose team lost its silent-Saturday game, 4-2.

"In the second half, we made some mistakes, and everybody had different ideas about what to do, but we couldn't agree on what to do," she said.

"The coaches couldn't give us advice, so we kind of got to fighting," explained Aylin Aybar.

"It was too quiet. You could hear the crickets," said Corinne Jackson. "And with our parents not being able to cheer, we didn't have as much self-confidence."

Co-coach Howard Redmond observed that the Shooters "did a good job in the first half of communicating on the field, and we had worked a lot on that. But in the second half, when everyone was getting tired, that's when we had the problems. I think that with players at this stage it's still important for coaches to be able to give some direction."

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