The asphalt track curves around the old softball diamond rather than the traditional loop around a football field. The two soft corners lead to a third sharp turn that resembles a slice of pie. No one is allowed to play softball anymore. As it turns out, bats can be used for good and evil. Many sports have been thrown into the off-limits category. Thankfully, running has survived so far.
The innermost side of the track is designated for walkers; runners own the outermost portion. I’ve determined that if I hug the outside of the track each lap measures 355 meters. As I run in pie-shaped laps, I skim my eyes over inmates lifting weights in the rec yard, shooting hoops on the basketball courts, and the double fence with tiered concertina wire to dampen any temptation one has of attempting a different sort of run.
The first nine laps go by quickly, two miles done. I’m reminded of the countless physical training (PT) tests I did in the Army. Two minutes of push ups, two minutes of sit ups, and a two mile run, just like this one. One year when I was stationed in Germany, the air was so bitterly cold that the blood trickling out of my nose froze, forming crystals on my cheeks. A test grader asked if I was all right as I ran by him, but I couldn’t answer. The cold was burning in my lungs and, oblivious to everything but the need to push harder towards the finish line, I had no idea why he was asking me that. I just nodded and pushed.
The halfway point of the 23rd lap marks five miles. I remember my first marathon, the original marathon. The highway from Marathon, Greece to Athens was under complete reconstruction in preparation for the Olympic games the following year. I was completely unprepared to run. I galloped up the long hill to the half-way point at a foolish pace. The second half took me twice as long to complete as I limped my way into the 1896 Olympic Stadium and onto the final 300 meters of the race. The music playing over the PA system lifted me and I sprinted to the finish looking far stronger than my six-hour finish time indicated I was.
“Five minutes until the end of Rec Field!”
I near the end of my 35th lap. One more lap will net me eight miles and not a bad Saturday morning. I pick up the pace for the final lap and my mind slips back to the 10-mile race the Canadians organized around Kandahar Airfield. The morning air was cool and that all too familiar, stinging cloud of dust lingered over the expansive US base in Southern Afghanistan. Despite the noxious surroundings, the run felt great. I’d left one of the two young infantrymen from my unit in my wake. The second guy was about 200 meters ahead of me but within sight. I picked up the pace as I made the final turn towards the sand volleyball courts of the Boardwalk. I didn’t quite catch the young sergeant, but I did finish five minutes faster than my last 10-miler which had been on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym. The post-run endorphins are always worth the effort, if nothing else.
“Rec field is now terminated!”
Why do they have to say it like that? I gulp down ice water as I stroll around for a cool down lap. I am confident that in a few months when the temperatures drop my training will allow me to complete the 59 laps of a 13.1 mile run in the hour and a half we are allotted for Rec field. That’s not what I’m truly looking forward to, though. No, what I really look forward to is that first morning of freedom after my release when I will slip on my running shoes and head out on a long run soaking in the sights and sounds of freedom. I won’t plan a route and I won’t know how far I’ll run, but I’ll be running and I’ll be free.