It’s enough to make you question the very tenets of free-market capitalism. I don’t mean income inequality or the disappearing middle class or manufacturing workers being left out in the economic cold. I mean actual runners being left out in the literal cold, specifically being denied access to warm and dry places to run when the snows of New England blanket the region. How can it be that in a Metropolitan area with three world-class indoor banked tracks and dozens of acceptable flat indoor tracks, honest citizens like me and my buddies are driven to lives of desperation and crime just to find an hour of time to train?
There is demand: we want to run fast, which we can’t do when we’re hurdling snowdrifts. There is supply: reference the tracks at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, BU, Brandeis, Wellesley, Babson, not to mention the many smaller tracks at area high schools, not to mention the Reggie Lewis Center, which sits in the middle of the indoor track universe, and serves the multitudes. What I want to know is, why isn’t there a rational market for track time where supply meets demand at a fair price?
But no, for some reason getting on an indoor track in winter seems to require really good connections, really good luck, or a willingness to take one’s chances and sneak “under the fence,” as it were. A recent attempt to secure track time for a small group one evening a week met with near complete failure. Some facilities claimed they were all booked up (but who is booking out all these tracks?), and some just weren’t interested in renting out their space.
The crazy thing is, it has always been this way. Over more than three decades, I’ve always felt like the hardest thing about running in winter was securing access to an indoor track. Before there was a Reggie Lewis Center, before there was a nice new track at BU, there were stealth workouts at the old Armory, sneaking past the national guard troops to run illicit intervals on the four-lane banked track they had set up in there.
But now, with so many facilities to choose from, there’s still no rhyme or reason to the way time is allocated.
At least at Reggie, you can purchase a pass and take your chances with the nightly high school track meets and weekend events. If you run in the morning, Reggie is a great option. If you run in the evening, you’ll be waiting until late, and then competing with half a dozen running clubs and teams for breathing room.
I have a fantasy that someone will buy an old warehouse somewhere and convert it to a for-profit track facility. No skulking around then, runners would simply buy time on the track through daily, monthly, or annual passes — just like a health club. Maybe there would be times for groups to rent it out, but there would also be open hours when anyone could walk in, plunk their dollars or dineros down, and run a workout. And the place wouldn’t close down for two weeks over the holidays, or cancel track access at the last minute to accommodate a tennis clinic.
In the mean time, I’ll make due. I know I’m actually one of the fortunate ones. I’ll use my connections, if I can. Or I’ll sneak in to places and hope I don’t get busted for running 400s without a permit.
But if all else fails, I’ll just stand outside in the cold, pressing my face to the windows and watch as happy, smiling people jog and stretch and cavort in warmth and comfort, while I feel my fingers and toes go slowly numb.