WNBA

Dream's Harding focuses on running in offseason

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)By VIN A. CHERWOOAP Sports Writer

While most WNBA players head overseas to play in winter leagues, Lindsey Harding took a break from basketball and spent the offseason doing some running.

A lot of running, actually.

The Atlanta Dream guard did distance training and competed in three half-marathons in the last two months.

''It's a different kind of training, and training that will keep you in incredible shape,'' Harding said. ''It's a mental challenge more than physical. In basketball you learn to push through a lot of things ... (in running) when you're having to push through a long amount of time, it's mental. I think I've done better at that.''

Harding, entering her sixth WNBA season, went overseas in previous years to play for teams in Russia, Lithuania and Turkey, but wanted to get away from the grind of playing year round.

''You get tired sometimes of playing basketball,'' she said. ''It doesn't mean you don't love it, it doesn't mean you're not excited to play it, but it's just like over and over and over. When the season ended in the WNBA, I was like `Ah! I get a break.'

''I couldn't imagine like having to take two weeks off, if that, and then going overseas to play, and then coming back right into training camp and playing at an even higher level. ... People don't understand how hard it is for us to do that.''

Having run track growing up and through high school, turning to running as an alternative was natural for Harding. A sprinter who competed in the 400 meters in her younger days, she did, however, have to get used to running longer distances.

''This is new to me,'' she said. ''The farthest I'd ever run before was like three miles.''

Harding, who has also been making appearances for the Dream and attending marketing meetings, trained with an Atlanta-based ''Pretty Girls Run.'' The group, which recently marked its one-year anniversary, is made up of women who set and achieve fitness goals.

Harding was given a training schedule that consisted of individual runs during the week of about three miles on Monday, four on Tuesday and about five on Wednesday before going back down to four and three. Then on one of the weekend days, the group runs a longer distance together as a team, either six, eight or 12 miles.

In her first half-marathon, Jan. 29 in Miami, she covered the 13.1 miles in 1 hour, 53 minutes, 6 seconds. Her next was on Feb. 26 in Orlando and she clocked a 2:16:58. And she timed in 1:59:22 at the Publix Georgia in Atlanta on March 18.

''I don't think I've ever really ran for time,'' she said. ''My first one was just to kind of finish it. The second was in Disney World and I stopped at every stop - they have a cartoon character type where you could take pictures, and I kind of waited in line and took pictures in that one because that's a fun one.''

The Atlanta course had a lot of hills, according to Harding, and she said she slowed her pace about halfway through to ease the stress on her knees. She won't participate in any more races until after the WNBA season, when she plans on training to run a full marathon next year in Miami.

This was the second straight offseason Harding remained in the U.S. Last year, she took acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles.

''That was fun,'' said Harding, who had a minor in theater studies at Duke. ''That was always something I've been interested in. . I haven't really done any auditions or anything of that nature. That hasn't been my main focus this offseason, but it's definitely an interest.''

However, she wanted to make it clear that although she has been branching out and looking to do different things, it didn't mean she is turning her back on basketball.

''I do want to play professional basketball,'' Harding said. ''With me not playing overseas and the season coming up, I'm super excited and kind of like energized and ready to go.''

Harding, who came to the Dream last offseason in a trade from Washington, helped Atlanta return to the WNBA finals for the second straight year. The Dream, however, were swept in the championship round once again, but Harding is looking forward to the new season.

''We're definitely excited,'' she said. ''By the time people get back, it's that whole chemistry thing that always happens. ... It's usually the teams that get back together the quickest that do better early, so hoping that we can do that quickly.''

The Dream open training camp on April 20, and begin the regular season at Indiana on May 19.

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Online:

http://prettygirlsrun.wordpress.com

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Follow Vin A. Cherwoo on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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