The thrill of finding an open track

When I dropped Colleen off at her travel softball tournament Sunday morning, I was wearing flip-flops. Then I noticed the track next to the softball diamond was open. A couple of walkers were going round and round. A dad and daughter were doing a cool-down. A jogger was adding a set of bleachers to every lap.

I pulled my New Balance Fresh Foams from the trunk. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so I didn’t want to get drenched in sweat before settling in with the other parents at the ballpark. But I could at least get in a brisk walk before the game.

“Do they open this track to the public this time every week?” I asked a pair of older men who were finishing up their walk.

“I don’t know that they ever close it,” one of them told me. He said he uses the track two or three times a week, usually on weeknights or Sunday morning.

The track at our local high school stays padlocked unless a team is practicing, apparently due to vandalism concerns. But I didn’t see any signs of difficulty here.

A friend of ours who studies biostatistics at the University of Michigan says that communities that provide fitness trails have healthier populations. That seems like a no-brainer. Removing obstacles to exercise means it probably happens more often, right?

For a long time before I lost weight I kept thinking I would start jogging or biking or even walking “if only” we didn’t live on such a busy road, or if the abandoned railroad behind our house was a walkable path instead of a patchwork of often inaccessible private property.

All during my nine-month weight-loss campaign, I drove somewhere else to exercise. Now that I’ve built up some endurance, the highway no longer seems like such a daunting barrier because I know I can get off it onto quiet country roads fairly quickly.

Still, as I walked a few laps at the New Haven High School track Sunday morning, I kept imagining how cool it would be to have regular access to our local school’s track just a mile from our home. I could jog or bike there for speed workouts. Maybe a small community of runners would form around track time. Heck, maybe we could start a local running club.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning this to one of the other parents at the ballgame, whom I’d forgotten is currently living through the process of having their front yard taken over by city workers building an expansion of Bluffton’s River Greenway. I’m pretty excited by this, because it will make riding my bike into town a little easier and eventually might stretch a few miles north toward our part of the county. But talking to Jamie reminded me that changes in public infrastructure are never easy, that there’s always a downside or some risk to innovation.

Reading this article on school policies toward public track use in Washington state reminded me that in addition to vandalism, schools must consider liability issues. And just recently I was irritated to notice that someone left the gate to the Norwell baseball field open, remembering how it got vandalized a couple of years ago. We had to take the senior banners down after every game this spring because of the potential threat of drive-by spray painters.

I’m not going to lead some campaign to open our local track, but I’m at least going to find out when it might already be open for summer workouts. An extra jogger on an outside lane likely wouldn’t get in anybody’s way.

I’m also going to add the New Haven track to my list of places where I could work out when I’m away from home. But the main thing that comes out of this for me is that I’m always going to make sure I have a pair of shoes and a change of clothes in the trunk, so that I can take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to run.



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