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Just call them the run bunch

Simple fact: People, on the average, hate running just to run.

But toss a ball into the fray and they'll do it. They'll wear heavy pads and stifling helmets and try to run through 280-pound monsters. They'll chase a ball up and down a long field. They'll dive in dirt, run through walls, swim through mud _ for the ball.

But running, just plain running, without all the glorious trappings of most sports, is a tough sell, although that hasn't stopped the Land O'Lakes Road Runners running club.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, about 6:15 p.m., they meet at Pineview Middle School's track, tucked neatly away from the bustle of U.S. 41. They come to run, together, from 7-year-old Chad Lansell to 43-year-old Dan Coy. They will follow Parkway Road through Lake Padgett East, sometimes through Collier Parkway, but always somewhere where you can still actually hear the birds instead of trucks, and the trees provide refuge from the sun. On Sundays, it's a brisk 6-mile run around the lakes.

"It's fun," said Lansell, a student at Pineview and the group's youngest member. "I'm working on trying to keep up."

Lansell will usually start out with the group, fall back, catch up at the water break, and finally finish minutes behind the older runners _ like Coy, who in the words of founder Kris Keppel "kept the group together" while he tended to the Land O'Lakes cross-country teams he coaches.

"Most of this is just for fun, and it's a great area to run in," said Coy, whose daughter Brandy and son Aaron (the group's best runner and a former Land O'Lakes High cross-country star) are two of the Road Runner regulars.

Keppel and his wife Darlene started the club in May 1993 for a very simple reason: "I wanted someone to run with."

Coy, 43, was one of the first to join him. He started running three years ago, and has worked his way up to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. He ran the Disney Marathon last year, and Aaron will join him this year.

For the Coys, it is truly a family affair. He is trying get his wife Debra to run more, but she says "I'm a walker," and instead chooses to bring their dogs W.W. and BooBoo along for some slower exercise. W.W. certainly fits in _ the greyhound once raced at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane.

Lou and Donna Menendez are another couple who try to make running a family affair. Both work at the University of South Florida, Lou in the computer lab and Donna in the library. So the nights spent with their fellow Land O'Lakers, none of whom they knew beforehand, is a welcome reprieve from couped-up surroundings.

"We read about it in the paper, and now it's like we're all family," said Lou. Last week, fellow club members threw him a birthday party.

"It's relaxing," said Donna. "For me, it helps me forget about work."

Bree Kunkel, whose brother Lane is on the boys' cross-country team at Land O'Lakes High and sometimes runs, is another who likes to bring her dog, Bristol, along for the trot. She is trying to keep in shape for the middle school track season, and has learned a lot about running.

"You find out about a lot of types of problems and the remedies, and some ways of running better," she said. "You can learn a lot."

There are about eight regulars, and that number balloons occasionally to a dozen. For the most part, the club remains small.

"That's one thing I wish _ that we could get more people out here," said Dan Coy. "But running requires self-motivation, and if people want to run, they'll show up."

Until then, the small group will continue to do the same thing that makes other sports more popular _ have a ball.

If you've got a story idea for Central Times sports columnist John Cotey, call (800)333-7505 (ext. 6237 or 6297).