Name: Goss Track at Fessenden School
Location: Newton, Massachusetts
Dimensions: 350m 2-lane track (4-lane for 100m) with ~105m straights, ~70m curves, and nearly right angle turns
Surface: all-weather, with sporadic hay
Facilities: Brand new all-weather track enclosing a brand new turf field used for lacrosse, soccer, and other activities. A high netting surrounds the track, protecting runners and spectators from projectiles. At the North end of the facility, there is a long jump runway and pit. On the West side there are low aluminum bleachers.
Access: Open (no gates)
Over the past two years, the Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts completed work on two new turf fields on its lower campus, which borders Albemarle Road across from Gath Memorial Pool. For many years, my morning shakeout runs have taken me along Albemarle Road, so I watched the construction of the fields with great interest. Once they opened, they seemed to be busy all the time, including in the evenings. It looked like Fessenden was actively renting out the field to City recreation leagues, and other organizations.
But in spite of frequent “run-bys,” it took me quite a while to realize that the construction included an actual track. The narrow path that encircled the Southernmost field looked like it was there for maintenance, not for competition. I remember thinking at some point, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that turned out to be a track…” To my horror, it turned out to be a track, a two-lane 350m track with Procustean extended straights and painfully abrupt turns.
Most tracks, even the most run-down among them, attract a following of local runners and walkers. It’s a sad oval, indeed, that doesn’t have a few dogged souls visiting to complete a few circuits now and then. But I have never seen a runner on the Goss Track. In fact, until I checked on the Fessenden Web Site, I didn’t realize that it had actually been intended for competition. But according to the site, Fessenden hosted a meet there in April 2016, predating the laying down of the final surface. The photo at the top of this post proves it.
So I guess it’s a good thing that the track hosts meets, but I can’t shake the impression that this was a facility built by people who either openly or subconsciously hate running, or think of it as a kind of punishment. Or maybe the architects just thought, “hey, running is running, no matter what the dimensions of the figure that contains it.”
As part of my research, I ran a few laps on the track, and after two circuits I did start to hate running, and felt like I would do rather do just about anything else. Each time I rounded a turn, I resented the sudden change of direction, and the straights seemed to last longer than any straight should last. Furthermore, the two lanes feel very claustrophobic, especially with the fence on one side and light poles and other obstacles on the other. I tried to imagine running a mile (4.597 laps, if my math is correct) and shuddered at the thought. And then there were the hay bales lining the last 20 meters of the home stretch and encroaching into lane one (of two) on the first turn. When random farm supplies are left to clutter half the width of a track, it is not a sign that the track gets frequent use.
One strange detail: the long jump runway had numbers marking every 20 feet from the takeoff board. When I saw “20” I assumed it was a takeoff mark for the triple jump, but then when I realized that “40”, “60”, and “80” were marked, as well, I realized my explanation made no sense. I guess the marks are intended to help jumpers measure their approaches, but I’ve never seen such a thing before, and besides, everyone knows that all middle school long jumpers measure their approaches by running backwards from the takeoff board and having a friend tell them where they “jumped,” i.e., where they should start their approach going the opposite way.
Those markings were especially curious, given that the track itself had no markings other than a start and finish line for the 100m.
Oh well, perhaps given enough time, one could learn to negotiate the tight turns, one could adapt to the unorthodox distance, and possibly develop an affection for this place. But for me, even the fact that — at approximately 0.8 miles away, it is the dedicated running surface that is closest to my house, I will not be returning soon. I will still run by in the mornings, as I did before the track was built. But from now on, I’ll be staring straight ahead, pretending not to notice the awkward, misfit oval in the neighbor’s yard.