When I was in eighth grade, I joined the track team. It was a bit of a tall order for me as I was not in great shape and hated running. The results weren’t pretty either. I ran the 800 meters and never finished better than last place during the season. Each day’s practice began with a quarter mile team run in which the time difference between the fastest and the slowest runners could not exceed a given number of seconds. I invariably came in last and caused us to have to run the entire drill over again at least a handful of times. For any readers who were on the track team with me that year, I apologize.
Despite my considerable room for improvement, our track coach, Mr. Breault, always encouraged me to keep trying my best. With his support, a small kernel of interest in the benefits of running was planted in my brain. This initial interest got me started running on the treadmill in college and eventually I discovered that I actually enjoyed running outside.
Over the years, I have gradually come to see myself as a bit of a recreational runner and I never travel without my running shoes in my bag. No matter what corner of the world I’m traveling to, I find that lacing up is a great way to see the city and beat jet lag. It’s also the best way I know to combat the stresses of everyday life. My innate response to the frustrations of working at an AIG subsidiary over the past year has been to hit the treadmill or the street with regularity.
I was recently home for the Thanksgiving holiday and woke up on the morning of Thanksgiving to unseasonably mild weather. I laced on my shoes, grabbed my iPod, and hit the road. Usually, my runs in Sanford consist of a loop from my parents’ house near the Department of Public Works to the Louis B. Goodall Statue or maybe Hannaford. It’s a nice route. Moreover, I enjoy passing the Goodall Mansion and the library and seeing what’s new in town, be it a new store in the Mid-Town Mall or the unveiling of the crèche in Central Park.
This time around, I decided to take a longer run through areas of town I hadn’t explored on foot since high school. Growing up in Sanford, I spent the entire summer racing around in the woods on my bike. I was also an early convert to hiking the Mousam Way Trail. These days, I usually travel through town by car, so I was surprised by all of the interesting developments that have taken place there.
After completing my usual route from my family’s house to Hannaford, I continued along Main Street to Springvale. The first surprise came when I passed by the entrance to the Rail Trail on Main Street. Although the path was a bit muddy, my curiosity got the best of me and I proceeded down the path a bit before deciding to explore it in warmer weather. Next, I discovered the terrific landscaping and park around the corner of Bridge and Main Streets. Thanks to the Urban Walk guideposts, I learned that there had once been a Sears and Roebuck shoe plant at that site. More recently, this area has been landscaped and even has a picnic table that sits right along the river bank.
Further down Pleasant Street, I turned onto River Street and headed back toward Sanford. Along the way, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the area is quite runner-friendly, with plentiful sidewalks that are well maintained. I never noticed that while speeding through in a car. These sidewalks also lead to the Gowen Park area and the paths that wind around Number One Pond. With its benches, trees, and flocks of geese, the pond looked terrific in the November sunlight. Proceeding up Riverside Avenue, I passed the St. Ignatius Gym that my great-grandfather built and looped back onto Main Street. On the final stretch back along Main Street, I passed Jerry’s Market, which since as long as I can remember has long been the one and only place where my family buys turkeys, roasts, and pork pies at the holidays.
As I discovered all of the terrific parks, trails, and attactions throughout town, I couldn’t help but realize that I was seeing my hometown from an entirely new perspective. Surely the hard work of a group of people in our town has helped to develop and maintain these areas, but many of them were right there during my childhood. I simply didn’t take advantage of them or forgot about how nice they were over the ensuing decades. I guess my belief that running is one of the best ways to get to know a place holds true. But in this case, I didn’t need a passport to find a place that I wanted to explore. All I had to do was open the front door.