It was in the early eighties and “old man winter” was doing everything he could to make it miserable for my Club team. We were using the excellent facility at Milton Union High School, where I went to school and it was a beautiful eight lane all-weather track. When the first snows fell I would arrive at the track about an hour early with a snow shovel made of plastic so I wouldn’t cause any damage to the surface, and spend that hour shoveling the second and third lanes. I told my athletes I looked upon the shoveling as a weight workout, although I must admit I had trouble convincing myself. In about the first week of January a big storm hit which was a combination of ice and snow. It was impossible to use the track any longer. A member of a tennis club I partially owned at the time, was the manager of a horticultural center or nursery and they had plants growing inside the entire year but especially in the winter to have them ready for spring planting. I don’t know how the conversation came around to my Club training in this weather but when the conversation was over the manager invited me stop by the nursery to see what he had available. I want you to understand that there were no indoor facilities for running in the area.
The next day I drove the eight or so miles and arrived at his office. “Let’s go out to the nursery and I will show you what may work for you,” he turned to his secretary, “I will be back in thirty minutes or so.” We walked outside and then about fifty meters later we went into a greenhouse. On tables were thousands of plants. “How big is this place?” I asked. “Well each building is about sixty meters long and about thirty meters wide.” As I looked at my surroundings which was nothing more than plastic being held up by ribbing, I wondered how we would be able to use the facility. You couldn’t run the sixty meter distance because the tables were too close together and the plants were hanging into the walkway. I was about ready to tell him it didn’t look like it would be useful, when we came to the middle of the facility. “Now here is where I think you can run,” he said. I thought to myself, you must be kidding. Oh, the width of this area was alright, almost ten feet wide, but it was only thirty meters from wall to wall. “I don’t think this will work.” I stated with disappointment in my voice. He looked at me and a slight smile crossed his face. “No, I don’t expect you to run in here.” He started to walk toward the wall where I could see there was what looked like a garage door. He hit a button and the door went up, opening into another facility just like the one where we were standing. “Is this better?”, he asked. “Better, but there still isn’t enough room.” He walked to the wall of that building and pushed another button and the garage like door went up. Well, we continued on our journey and wall after wall opened up until there was a good three hundred meters.
The surface was concrete and there was a slight rise or fall between the buildings but I was beside myself. This would work, it really would. “This is something else.”, I stated in a joyful tone. “Can you use it when the doors are open?” he asked. “We sure can, but can you leave these doors open for extended periods of time?” He told me that each building had a different temperature depending on the plant that was being grown in that facility. “We can leave a door open for over two hours and the temperature won’t change very much.” He told me he would have his foreman lift all the doors at the agreed upon time and after we were finished he would close them.
It was settled, we had a place to train for the Winter and I thought to myself how I was going to tell my Club runners about this place without laughing too much. Two days later we had our first session. I couldn’t use any distance over 300 meters but that was alright. You could feel the difference in temperature as you ran through each building of thirty meter width. Off to the side were thousands of flowers and other plants growing for the Spring season. It was unique and possibly the craziest place I have ever trained. But it worked and of the twenty plus athletes who used the facility there were some very good people. Two of the boys, Rich Block and Greg Reynolds would break four minutes in the mile. Bret Hyde would go to the Olympic trials in 1984 in the Steeple and in 1965 he would win the National Championship. Owen Hamilton would make the Olympic team in the 800 meters for his home country of Jamaica.
Most of the athletes drove fifteen to twenty miles, one way, to get to the workouts but that was always the case. The winter weather made the trips a little harder. I wonder if the athletes of today would ever use such a facility .Well, they wouldn’t have to of course, they would just pack their bags and move to another climate.
When anyone talks about the “Greenhouse Effect”, I always remember the winter of 1982.