On track for summer
Members of the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club make their way around the track at Deerfield Academy on a rainy Wednesday. During the summer, track practices take place on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
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The Deerfield Academy Running Club makes their way around the track on a rainy Wednesday.
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DEERFIELD — After half a lap, the thick rubber band taste of hot all-weather track doused in rain wears off and there’s nothing to the storm but cool water and heavy sneakers.
A thunderstorm has threatened all day, but eight people have turned out for Wednesday’s track workout. And they’re not high-schoolers or otherwise obliged to be there.
“Right now, 90 percent of America is indoors, dry, probably watching TV,” Barry Auskern shouts at the end of the first sodden lap. No one seems particularly bothered anyway, just soggy.
By the fourth 800-meter interval — half a mile, twice around the Deerfield Academy track — my sneakers are slapping like wet dishrags, but the air has cleared and the rain is slowing. Ahead of me, Will is still landing on the balls of his feet and holding to a sub-three-minute pace.
In Deerfield every summer Wednesday and Thursday, there are open, all-abilities track practices hosted at private schools under the auspices of the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club.
Auskern coaches the Wednesday workout.
The workout June 25 was 800-, 600- or 400-meter laps — runner’s choice — at near race pace with a minute of rest at the finish line, times five, after a 10-minute warm-up jog through a corn field.
Auskern emphasizes form, with a quick talk about proper bearing before the workout begins and occasional shouted reminders to “run tall” as he ran the laps with everyone else.
Most of the people on the track aren’t trying to relive high school glory days or even training for anything in particular — they’re at it for the love of it or the exercise.
Will Paulding, a 35-year-old physical-education teacher from Greenfield, was running as usual three days before his wedding and said he does it for the exercise.
“I’ve been running for years, 15 years, so this is just what I do to work out. I don’t lift weights, I don’t do yoga, I don’t do anything else; running is my fitness,” he said.
There are always 5- and 10-kilometer races happening somewhere in the area, and the speed-work of track practices helps.
Auskern, 54, a Greenfield attorney and Bernardston resident, started the practices about eight years ago with a running buddy for that reason.
“We realized that if we wanted to get better at racing we would have to go to the track once a week, so we did,” he said. “If you’re going to hurt in a race, somehow your training needs to prepare you for that.”
Auskern said he coached cross country briefly and years ago at a private school. In high school, he played tennis.
The Wednesday workouts are aimed at speed, but the kind of speed medium and long-distance runners can use, mile and half-mile repetitions, rather than true sprint work.
Kathy Lemay, 44, of Northampton started running for the first time after her divorce three years ago and hasn’t stopped.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was just in despair. And someone said ‘you should run.’ I said ‘OK.’ I was 41 and couldn’t run a mile. … since then I’ve done three marathons,” Lemay said. This is her second year of track workouts, and she said she comes back because everyone is welcoming and supportive, and it’s good exercise. If she doesn’t run for a week, she gets irritable and people notice, she said. “Running just makes me a better version of me.”
Grace Coller was a three-sport athlete in high school, and started running four or five years ago to lose weight after her first child. Smiling after the workout, she says her cheerful expression isn’t for show; she feels great for 12 hours after a run. Coller, who lives in Shelburne Falls, said she started with a basic fitness program at the YMCA and fell in love with running. Now she competes in triathlons and completed a Half Ironman, 70.3 miles, two years ago.
“You have to train for every discipline, and on a budget this is the best deal imaginable, you pay $15 once and you get Barry, who cares just as much about the super-fast one who is going to win the 5K and me, who just shows up and is going to try my hardest,” Coller, 35, said.
The $15 is the cost of an annual membership in the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, and it’s an insurance thing. The school would prefer not to have uninsured people exerting themselves on its athletic grounds, and membership takes care of that.
Garry Krinsky, 58, of Greenfield was a marathoner in the 1980s and ’90s, ran Boston nine times, switched to shorter races and is working back into races after an injury. When he moved from endurance running to shorter races, speed became important and track became a good solution. It was also a different kind of social running experience.
“Intervals are how you get your speed up, and it’s so much fun to do with people who aren’t necessarily my speed, I get to hang out with people I wouldn’t necessarily hang out with,” Krinsky said.
Run any kind of medium or long distance race or workout and everyone separates out into groups based on speed and the length of the course; that doesn’t happen on a quarter mile track.
Ed O’Connell, 47, of Northampton jokes that he comes to the practices because masochism loves company. “No honestly because … putting that kind of effort in with other people around, I think it does something to emotionally connect you to people, and it carries through in your other interactions,” he said. As a sport, O’Connell said he loves the honesty of running.
“There’s no luck component; you get out what you put in, and I love that part about it. And I love these people. And how often do you get to have a coach when you’re 47?” O’Connell said he ran with the cross country team his senior year of high school, and hated every bit of it. Now he’s slower, but enjoying it.
Alexis Greenblatt, 45, of Northampton said she attends the track workouts because Auskern helped her get faster last season, and picked running as an exercise after years of martial arts because it’s exactly as independent or as social as you want it to be, and races are easy to find.
“You have a reason to work hard, so you get these little peak experiences in your life that are fun and hard and exciting, and usually afterwards you get a banana,” she said.
On the fifth and final cycle of the June 25 workout, lightning blinked across the sky and Auskern called an end to the practice. Half kept going.
Information on the Wednesday and Thursday track workouts can be found on the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club home page, sugarloafmac.org. The Wednesday workouts begin promptly at 6 p.m. and end by 7 p.m.
Auskern emails each week’s workout to a mailing list of about 100 and a typical practice numbers less than 20 people at the track.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257