Photo by Ricky Stilley

Some might think of running as a kind of deliberate torture; where the body is pushed to and beyond its physical limits, in an exhausting exercise that takes place in all weathers.

But for running enthusiasts, it’s just the opposite. Running clears the mind, keeps the body in shape and provides a kind of therapy that is nearly impossible to find through other means.

Just ask the members of the Douglas County Rogue Runners, a local running and jogging club founded back in 2003 for west Georgia distance enthusiasts. Participants in the club come in all shapes, sizes and experience levels, but all come for the same reasons.

Some are the two-mile-a-day types who run to stay in shape and to try the occasional 5k or 10k. Others are what you might call extreme. They run obscene distances of 30, 50 or even 100 miles at a stretch, pushing their bodies to the absolute limit.

Johnny Buice falls into the latter category. Buice, the founder and president of Rogue Runners, has a passion for ultra marathons, which by definition span at least 27 miles, but often go much farther.

“Ultramarathon runners are kind of a cult,” Buice said. “You have to train almost every day for something like that.”

Buice, a 62-year-old retired Douglas County firefighter, first got into running in 1983. He ran the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, aided in training by a friend, and later enlisted Scotty Pope, another friend and firefighter, to run with him.

The two began a bit of trash talking, as guys often do, with each challenging the other to longer and longer races. Before long, the two were talking about running a 26-mile marathon.

“We did the marathon thing and decided that was way too painful and we’d never do another one of those,” Buice said. “ A couple weeks later we signed up for another one.”

The rest, for the most part, is history.

The two have great stories to share. Perhaps the best involves the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on July 4, 2002, the year after the 9/11 tragedy. Buice and Pope ran the race in full firefighter turnout gear. The next day they woke to phone calls saying their image was splashed across the front page of the Atlanta newspaper.

Buice ran for 20 years before forming his own club with the help of Alexander High School track coach Brian Robinson, who brought with him a lot of local connections in the running world. Today, the club boasts 60 members, with about 30 regulars, who train each week at Hunter Park near downtown Douglasville. The most dedicated members run more than 1,000 miles per year, a feat that earns them a commemorative jacket.

The group is close-knit, which is great for friendship and connections, but also a great way to avoid slacking.

“If you’re running alone, it might be easy to find an excuse if you’ve had a hard day or the weather is bad,” Buice said. “Running with a group holds you accountable.”

The group is more than just a training club for runners. Rogue Runners organizes five races each year, including the Douglasville Moonlight Run, SweetH20 Sweetheart Half Marathon, SweetH20 50k, Blake Gammill 10.5k, 5k and 1-mile fun run, and the Hydrangea Festival 5k. All are held in Douglas County and all have been successful for a number of years.

Buice is happy to participate in the shorter 5k and 10k races, but his heart remains in the longer distances. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2012, and often pushes other club members to stretch out their distances and to move from 10ks to half-marathons, then to marathons and beyond.

“I always want people to bump up to the next distance,” Buice said. “If you’ve done a half marathon you can do any distance, it’s just a matter of convincing runners they can do it. If you run a marathon you’re close to an ultramarathon. We always want them to consider bumping it on out there.”

One adherent to the uber-long running discipline is Jennifer Sutton, a 15-year veteran of the Douglas County Fire Department who lives in Paulding County. She’s gearing up for the Lake Martin 100, which, as the name suggests, is a 100-mile race held March 18 and 19 near Lake Martin in Alabama.

Neither Buice nor Sutton ran on their high school track or cross-country teams, coming to the sport later in life. Once hooked, both followed a similar path to greater and greater distances, culminating in 100-mile trail runs.

“I’ve done several distances, including a marathon, 50k, 40-miler and 50-miler,” said Sutton, who began running in 1988. “I wanted to see if I had the physical and mental strength to try and attempt a 100-mile race, so now I’m training for it.”

Sutton describes herself as an outdoor person, and she will become very acquainted with the outdoors during the 100-mile race. The time limit is 32 hours, but she expects to finish somewhere between 25 and 26 hours. She won’t be taking any naps.

The training regimen for the race includes about 70 miles a week of running, some of that with the Rogue Runners. Sutton joined the club in 2009 for the camaraderie and is also a long-time friend of Buice.

“The club is just a great group of people,” she said. “We are very encouraging of each other. If you have a running issue, somebody has probably experienced it or knows somebody who has dealt with that issue.”

When running alone, Sutton loves the solitude, and of course the outdoors.

“It’s my time to unwind, get out there and be one with myself.”

Not everyone in the club runs to lose weight or even to stay in shape, but that was part of the motivation for Buice.

During his time as a firefighter, he discovered that the number one cause of death in his profession was not smoke inhalation or exposure to fire, but heart attacks. So there’s more to Buice’s love of running than simple exercise. He hopes to encourage fellow current and former firefighters to exercise regularly and keep their health in mind during their careers.

“We use it as a way to encourage firefighters to think about fitness in the fire service,” Buice said. “If you looked at a typical person who attends the local gym, they are only in marginally better shape than the general public. But the average runner is in much better shape than the general public. I think it’s one of the better ways to stay fit. It’s convenient and you don’t need any equipment but shoes.”

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