Staying on Track: Finding Inspiration at the Local High School
I had a heart attack at 36 and an emergency stent inserted into an artery saved my life. I didn’t die there in an unknown hospital. If my life had stopped then, I would’ve left my wife a widow after only two months of marriage and would’ve never had my two wonderful kids, never lived the millions of meaningless and joyful moments that happen in an eight year span of time.
Eight years of life also move a survivor farther and farther away from the event that nearly killed him. So the emergency element tends to fade. The doctor’s warnings become muted. The dietary ascetic that I was right after the heart attack has long since reintroduced chicken wings into the rotation.
Running is often the one healthy thing I do. I run 3-4 days a week–5K at least, 6 miles at most–to keep my damaged heart functioning as well as possible, polishing the rusty instrument that I’m left with. Do I like to run? I do not. Do I get a runner’s high? Don’t I wish. But running is something I need to do and I try to find small ways to enjoy it.
Lately I’ve been running around the track at our local high school. I did not attend the high school and have no affiliation with it besides geographical proximity. Even though I still run the backroads of our quiet NC community, I find myself driving to the track quite often. What am I getting out of it? What’s the appeal? The benefits are numerous and I think you should try it.
Each of those numbered lanes counts off the reasons why:
Lane 1. Running around a high school track makes you feel like a high school track star. While you run, you can populate those empty bleachers with whoever you want. Presidents, ex-girlfriends, parents who never came to your meets the first time around, scouts for the UCLA track team who like your dedication and mincing steps. Whomever you can imagine can sit there and watch you run. It also injects you with a second-hand school spirit and provides the fleeting sensation of going to school there. You’re not just some old dude running around the track, you’re a Scorpion or a Tiger. At least for a lap, you can feel like a student again.
Lane 2. The uniform quarter mile laps make it easy to count off progress. A meandering, five-mile run can seem endless and I’m the type of runner that needs to feel like he’s knocking off milestones. Eight down, eight more to go! Besides, the elliptical layout makes you feel like you’re in orbit and a part of something structured and bigger than you.
Lane 3. There’s something about the solitude and general safety that is appealing. There’s no traffic to contend with, no cars hanging too close to the shoulder and forcing you off the road into the knee-high weeds. There are no rabid animals lurking in the shadows to threaten you. I was charged and bitten by an aggressive dog six lots away from my house and started running with mace. That’s not exactly the ideal way to exercise, especially for someone that needs to keep a lid on the adrenaline.
Lane 4. Running at a high school track offers a great place to cool down. After my laps, I often walk the steps of the bleachers and look for treasure. Saturdays after home football games are great times to visit. I once found an unopened Happy Meal toy and a carefully sanded piece of wood that was a love memento for a girl named Rhianna. The fact that the place is deserted adds a layer of mystery—you feel like the survivor of a plague or death comet scenario. It’s just you in a sweaty t-shirt amid the relics.
Lane 5. You can bring your young kids and keep your eye on them the whole time. If they stay on the football field, they are literally never out of your sight. And when you’re done with your run, you can scour the bleachers for treasure together. My son likes to goof around on the random equipment that’s laying around. He ducks under hurdles, jumps out of the starting blocks, long jumps into the wet sand. One winter day we lolled on the giant high jump mat and let the blue, sun-soaked plastic warm our skin.
Lane 6. It’s easy to think: This is a professional track made for serious runners. At a track you’re not a weekend warrior going through the motions–you are training. The stopwatch feature on your iPhone has a lap counter if you want to really geek out and do a mid-run analysis to make sure you’re not fading too much. Personally, the spongy material helps my aging joints absorb the shocks of running. There are no potholes, or mole hills, or hidden ankle-turning dips.
Running at the local high school is a great way to mix up your cardio routine. It’s also the ideal location to start your fitness regimen if you’re coming out of a health crisis, or trying to avoid one. An imaginary crowd can really make some noise.