Saving Soldier’s Field Track: Health, Values, History, and a Shared Community Experience


This essay is in response to a 3-1 Rochester Park Board decision to restructure and pave Rochester’s only free, public, 400 meter regulation track located in the heart of Rochester, four blocks from the world renowned Mayo Clinic. The Park Board wishes to pave the existing cinder track with hot asphalt and shorten it to create a non regulation circle that can be used for food trucks and festivals. Go to Save the Track facebook’s page for more information regarding current community use.Thank you in advance for reading! RBM

 

 

Track and Field in Dublin, Ireland: Local visibility and opportunity inspires generations.

 

I am a first generation American who grew up in Rochester, MN.  My Irish, Dublin-raised, father, Michael Brennan, lived off of Memorial Parkway, two blocks away from the Soldiers Field Track. He came to Mayo Clinic as a young resident in endocrinology. From Ireland, my father brought with him his passion for medicine in addition to a lifelong passion for track and field, or “athletics”. As a young boy, the local athletics culture inspired him to cheer alongside the world’s fastest runners like Herb Elliot and Ron Delany at the Santry Athletics Stadium in Dublin. As for his own participation in running, he had one slight issue. He was a cigarette smoker when he arrived in Rochester in 1972.

 

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Soldier’s Field Track: A place that inspires health and competition.

My father tells the story of greeting his older brother, Colm, in the finishing chute of the Boston marathon in 1978. With a Marlboro in hand, my father puffed away while congratulating his brother for his marvelous feat. In a brief reflective moment, there was a disconnect that struck my father. He was a young physician, smoking a cigarette and destroying his lungs while watching his brother run a marathon. He decided to get his ‘health act’ together and start running. He did quit and he became a runner.

 

Due to the central location and convenience to Mayo, my father adopted the Soldier’s Field track as his training ground for fast intervals while balancing his medical practice and caring for his family.  The location was an easy escape from Mayo on his lunch breaks or after work while training for his own Boston marathon on the soft, 400 meter regulation track. Its simplicity was inviting, and its precision was rewarding. He was a cigarette smoker turn 2:56 Boston Marathon runner.

 

As a young kid, I remember racing my father around Soldier’s Field track. Kindly, he allowed me to nip him *just* at the end of our 200m races, as I dashed through the invisible finishing tape beating him by one tiny 8-year-old stride length. He took me to American Heart Association Life Runs and Soldier’s Field All Comer Track meets where I could test my 200m times over and over against my own peers.

 

Soldier’s Field Track: Created for all…Walkers, kids, young mothers, and athletes.

 

Through my lifespan, I was a fierce competitor as a Division I soccer player, Olympic Trials Marathoner, and most recently, as a Professional Triathlete. I currently train on the Soldier’s Field Track 1-2 times per week with hopes of qualifying again for the Olympic Marathon trials next month at age 43. Athletics and the joy of running that had been cultivated within our family and community culture since early Soldier’s Field track days blessed me with my own disciplined days of training vigorously around the track. Soldier’s Field Track is an integral part of my own athletic story.  When I became a professional triathlete at age 37, I required and appreciated the same precision, access, simplicity, and forgiving surface that my father had enjoyed.

 

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Elite Duathlon National Championship

 

 

 

 

Dissimilar from my professional peers, I had three kids to manage as an elite athlete. Life balance was easy at the Soldier’s field track. It was the perfect training ground because I could be a busy mother and a serious athlete simultaneously at any hour during the day. When they were little, I often lugged them with me to the track. They always asked, “Can I run with you around the track, Mom?! Please!?” I would tell them, “You can play in the sand or the grass, and after my workout I will race you around the track.” Everyone was happy. Full circle, these formative days ignited my own children’s dedicated striving at Tuesday night All Comer meets, local 5k’s, in addition to their school’s highly anticipated Track and Field day at Soldier’s field track. Witnessing hundreds of children sprinting, jumping, and throwing like little champions in a peaceful, safe, and family oriented track where healthy competitions take place is truly a thing of beauty.

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Soldier’s Field Track: A Mother’s Escape and a Life Lesson to Children.

 

When my kids were little, visually witnessing their competitive mother run laps on the regulation track was special for all of us. It normalized exercise and a healthy lifestyle. My children watched their mom pursue her ambitious goals while they played or threw a frisbee in the center green space. They “high fived” me as I passed them in the sand pit. This experience was not unique to me as an athlete. I met eyes with dozens of other mothers at the public track doing the same thing—the acknowledging smile or a head nod was the proof. Transcending differences, our kids became track playmates. Young parents have a free, community escape to pursue their own competitive goals or simple daily track walks, all while while keeping our kids safe and engaged nearby.

 

Soldier’s Field Track: A beautiful joining of cultures, economics, and abilities.

 

Soldier’s Field Track is a welcoming, non-intimidating track for all to use—runners and nonrunners. Of unique and deep importance to Soldier’s Field Track, my children and I meet strangers, Mayo visitors, patients, and walkers from ALL walks of life. We witness varying paces, abilities, purposes, and body shapes questing around the same soft, regulation track. The track quietly joins people together in a way that only sports and mobility can.  At Soldier’s Field track, you see natural uniting of community and a shared experience for diverse groups—striving athletes, young parents, caretakers of Mayo patients who just need a walk break. Sending runners to their own running silos in varying pockets of town breaks up our unity and common striving. Elite athlete or Mayo caretaker, we cannot compartmentalize our interests, purpose, and abilities to develop and build community. Community requires a shared experience and visibility that we are all striving together in this incredibly special city of ours.

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Soldier’s Field Track: Runners need regulation AND the track needs the visibility of runners.

 

Runners require two things: comfortable running shoes and regulation distances. Standardization in sports is how we evaluate progress. Standardization is how we compare swimming pools, basketball courts, three-point lines, soccer fields, and penalty spots, etc. Standardization matters. When I hit my watch’s lap button at 400m, 800m, 1k, or 1 mile, I know whether or not my training is on track for adequate training progress. I know when I am getting fitter when my split times are getting faster, and I know immediately when my body needs a break or is susceptible to injury (i.e. when my times are slow).  Soldier’s Field track currently shares the same 400m precision distance everywhere else in the world.  Regulation has always mattered. All running training books/online plans use standard distances to guide athletes.  If the public track is not standard, runners cannot train there anymore to make meaningful inferences. Those numbers are meaningless, just as a 21-yard timed swim would be meaningless at a swim meet. Of great importance, track meets cannot occur on a short track because there is no precision.

 

Runner’s don’t just need Soldier’s Field track; the Soldier’s Field track NEEDS runners.  The Soldier’s Field track THRIVES from the visibility of runners and walkers of all abilities. Onlookers see runners and walkers, and they want to run and walk. Movement is contagious. Its healthy. Its normal.  The track’s natural surroundings are inviting. It can never be locked up. Busy physicians, mothers, new exercisers, and visitors are ALWAYS welcome with NO strict running hours as a barrier to the time-starved individual commonly found in Rochester.

 

 

Soldier’s Field Track: Invest in food trucks, you get food trucks. Invest in running, you get priceless value.

 

Turning the health-oriented Soldier’s Field track into a hot asphalt paved parking lot for food trucks is quite honestly an embarrassment in a city with Rochester’s health values. The 3-1 decision to pave and redesign our community track because a one-week festival attracts more “numbers” than daily exercisers is mind boggling. This is also mind boggling: ONE THOUSAND local kids showed up to a one-day Med City Marathon kids race. MOST elementary schools have their own morning run clubs and hundreds of kids show up each week at All Comer Meets. We HAVE numbers moving through the runner pipeline that will soon overwhelm our resources. Where will they go as they develop their unique athletic stories?

 

 

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If we invest in food trucks, we get food trucks and saturated fat on a stick. However, if we invest in *more* track meets, potato sack races, adult friendly track meets, and adapted races for athletes with disabilities on a surface that is forgiving and a track that is standardized, then we invest in inspiration, personal transformation, and positive physical and mental health numbers. It is impossible to put a value on those numbers. Those are the numbers of TRUE value.

 

In summary, the Soldier’s Field track has provided innumerable blessings in my life:

 

  • Let’s inspire other smokers to become runners through track and field visibility and local culture.
  • Let’s ensure a free, public track for all economic groups, walkers, home schooled kids, and high school, recreational, community run groups, and serious runners.
  • Let’s provide continued opportunity for kids to run and race freely on a safe, soft, but competitive track.
  • Let’s help young parents simultaneously balance their family life and their need to pursue their own health goals.
  • Let’s allow children to high 5 their parents while using the track with the realization that this fosters health normalcy within families.
  • Let’s maintain access to a competitive track that is four blocks from the world’s best medical facility for congruency with Rochester’s community values.
  • Let’s provide a safe, durable, yet forgiving surface for track users to preserve their bodies.
  • Let’s house serious runners on the same track as recreational users so that we allow an inclusive environment to inspire one another along our unique life paths.
  • Let’s invest in personal stories of transformation, kids run clubs, and inclusive exercise programs that bolster our mental and physical health and nutritional habits. Food trucks do not accomplish this.

 

The above statements are what we ALREADY HAVE within the grounds of Soldier’s Field Track. Please, Park and Recreation Board, for the goodness of this community, don’t change the mission. BUILD the Mission. The running community is certainly willing to compromise but the integrity of the Soldier’s Field Track needs to stay as it has for generations.

 

If you would like to help, join runners and community members at the Park Board Meeting on June 4th at 4:30pm located at 201 4th Street SE.

Or please take one minute to sign the petition to Save the Track. http://chng.it/tsNByFXtgw

 

 

Soldier's field run catch sessionIMG_4973Screenshot 2019-06-01 at 22.23.53