01 February 2012

Climate Controlled Comfort?

The older I get, the more I want each day of my remaining time to be of great value. Yeah, I know, I should have thirty years left, maybe more, and I’d like to think I’ll be running for most of that time, but the odds tilt a little bit every day. So it’s kind of foolish to hang on, hoping for time to pass more quickly just to get to the end of winter. But we all do it anyway, each year wishing away the days, in my case till March 1st which in my twisted logic I call spring (see The Sixty Day Challenge).

This year’s been a little different. Winter’s hardly arrived. Halfway through the Sixty Day Challenge, and it’s been a breeze. This afternoon arrived absurdly summerlike, pushing sixty, a freak outlier by any standards, but not at all the first warm day this winter. Climate change, however, is a topic for another day. Today it was just a chance to hit the snow-free track for some intervals. In shorts. In February.

Irony of irony, as easy and breezy of a winter as it’s been, I’ve never spent more time running indoors, at least not since we used to bounce off walls during my First Lap running days – back that later. Since that first track meet back on New Year’s Eve Day, I’ve hit five, yes, count ‘em, five different indoor tracks during that twenty-three day, five-race stretch. In the seven years of my Second Lap running, previous to this year I’d hit, if my memory serves me right, oh, about zero.

The litany? On New Year’s Eve, the wicked fast 200 meter banked oval at Boston University. A week later, an unexpected avoidance of winter weather courtesy of a business colleague, gaining access to the flat yet charmingly indoor circuit at RIT in New York. The next day, the now famed 5,000 meter Hamstring of Death run at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center. Then the bizarro Smuttynose indoor half marathon on the bizarro three-hundred-ish meter squareish track at the Hampshire Dome. And finally, a week later, blisters still fresh from nearly three hundred left turns in New Hampshire, the Masters Mile at the Greater Boston Track Club Invitational at Harvard’s indoor palace. That final race was a mild disappointment insomuch as I didn’t go sub-5:10 as hoped, courtesy of legs rubberized by far too many races in far too few days, but it still checked in only a couple seconds off the first track mile that started this string.

Twenty three days, a veritable tour of climate controlled facilities. I’d say it was time to get outside and experience some winter, except that as noted, that’s been in short supply. Climate control in the great outdoors? Beside’s today’s balmy break, last weekend brought two days of glorious sunny double-shirt-only weather, resulting in nearly thirty-two miles including a smokin’ twenty-miler with a new GBTC running bud. For me, it’s the earliest jump on Boston training ever.

All of this was unthinkable in the First Lap days in Upstate New York of 1980. You know the drill, the snow drifts were six feet high and it was a remarkably long walk, uphill both ways, to and from school. And we liked it.

Except of course it was more or less true. It did snow a lot there (and still does). We did walk quite a ways, including not only hill climbs but the famous creek crossing which claimed an unlucky student every now and then, resulting in soggy days in class. And other than one or two really special meets where we’d travel to a distant college’s field house, we didn’t have real indoor tracks like those that seem to pepper the landscape today. We ran our winter track season wherever we could find anything that somewhat resembled a loop that was heated and covered with a roof.

Like the track drawn out in duct tape around the indoor tennis courts at Elmira College’s domes. Don’t hit the net posts, they hurt. But at least it had a decent surface, unlike running the outside hallway of the Broome County Arena. Today, they’d probably put a floor down over the ice rink and lay down a track. But back then? Heck no…. We ran our meets around the slick polished concrete concourse encircling the perimeter of the building. Who knew in those days about the bone-crunching effects of running on concrete? We were just happy to be indoors! The good news was that the design of the building allowed for some room to turn the corners. The bad news was that jutting ominously into the entrance and exit of each corner were delightfully sharp-edged railings on the ends of the stairways leading to the seating areas. Misjudge your turns, or slip on that shiny waxed surface, and you’ll save big money on that needed appendectomy.

But my favorite venue was our indoor training “facility” consisting of the two bent-but-parallel hallways of our junior high school, connected by three ladder-like rungs and thus forming something that really didn’t resemble a loop but allowed the possibility of running circuits. Paved in classic school-floor terrazzo, shinier and slicker than the concrete of the Arena and arguably harder, these were not wide hallways as it wasn’t that large of a school. And the rungs were even narrower. You simply couldn’t run at any clip above a jog without strategically bouncing yourself off the cinder-block walls of each turn, artfully using arms and shoulder to avoid the windows, lockers, and other concussion-ready hazards that lay in waiting at each right-angle bend. An interval workout doubled as an upper body workout. Passing was an art. And just for fun, we’d occasionally invite another school over to scrimmage and watch with glee as they plastered themselves to various parts of the structure.

Ahh, thems was the days. What we did for a little climate controlled comfort. Now the kids play soccer indoors, they rarely stand outside the toasty warm running SUV while waiting for the bus, and, wait, I said this wouldn’t be about climate change. I’m backing off the races and going outside this month for some certainly climate changed, but not climate controlled, good ol’ fashion winter.

If it would ever snow.


  1. Great memories of racing around that hallway at Broome County Arena for Ithaca High in the mid '70s. I don't know why it popped into my head, but I Googled it and saw your photo. It was the craziest venue ever, but I loved it!

    1. Thanks for your comment, you made my day! I’m tickled to have given you a smile. Do you still have bruises in your hips from the stair rails? (I still have cinders embedded in my knee from the M-E track…!)


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