Juneau-Douglas High School hurdler Rachel Chenoweth said it started out two weeks ago as a dull ache. But it intensified until on some days, "it's so unbearable you can't even walk," she said.
Welcome to painful world of shin splints, which is a world many of the track and field Crimson Bears have been visiting in recent years as they train on the hard asphalt-like track at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"I'd say over the last few years we have had at least 90 percent of our runners get shin splints," Juneau track and field head coach Tracy Rivera said during last weekend's Region V meet at Adair-Kennedy. "Everybody we've got running this weekend has shin splints."
"Over time, it turns into a stress fracture, like the one I had my sophomore year," said Juneau middle-distance runner Breanne Rohm, who again suffers from shin splints this year. "Other teams won't come down here from Anchorage because of how hard our track is."
There have been so many track and field athletes hampered by shin splints in recent years that at last weekend's region meet a group of parents circulated a petition asking the City and Borough of Juneau to resurface the track. That will be one of many Capital Improvement Project budget items under discussion when the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee meets at noon on Wednesday, May 30, at the Assembly Chambers in City Hall.
The track surface the parents group and track team want is one manufactured by Atlas Track and Tennis of Tualatin, Ore. The surface, called the Atlas Poly-5000, is the same surface used on tracks at Palmer High School, where this weekend's state track meet will take place, and at Skyview High School in Soldotna. George Fisher, the president of Atlas Track and Tennis, said his company will probably install the same surface on one of Anchorage's tracks this summer.
Rivera and members of the track parents group sent Fisher pictures of the Juneau track and Fisher estimated it would cost between $180,000 and $185,000 to resurface Adair-Kennedy. Fisher said his company can lay the new surface right on top of the old one, and the cost was complete with 400-meter striping.
The main attraction of the Atlas Poly-5000 is a blend of recycled tire and athletic shoe rubber is sealed into the track with polyurethane and resin binders. The track will be soft at lower temperatures, easing some of the stress on young runners' legs. Fisher said they've had versions of this track last 40 years, with most installed in the rainy Pacific Northwest. With proper maintenance he doesn't think Juneau's rainy and sometimes cold weather will be a problem with the track's life.
"The rain really doesn't affect the life of the track," Fisher said. "It won't be a problem unless you didn't deal with it during installation. The track needs good drainage, but I didn't see any pooling of water in the photos I was sent so I think we're OK there."
Fisher said the track requires a new coat of resin be applied about every five years to put a fresh seal on the track, which costs about $30,000 an application depending on the track's condition. He said if the five-year resealing process is ignored, the track will be shot in about 10 years.
John Andrews, the activities director at Skyview High School, said his school's track was installed in 1995 (the year after Palmer's track was resurfaced) and the only damage has been one tiny bubble that came up this year. He said the first surface Skyview had was much too soft and wasn't put down properly, which is why his school switched to the Atlas Poly-5000.
"It's held up real well," Andrews said. "Every school on the Kenai Peninsula holds meets here now."
The track's $185,000 price tag is a bargain compared to some of the recent sports facility costs in town.
Juneau boys basketball coach George Houston said the school is looking at spending between $250,000 and $350,000 to replace the gym floor because of a water-seepage problem beneath the wood. The school has been able to dry the wood with fans, but that's only a temporary solution. The Astro Play artificial turf on the football/soccer field cost $900,000 last summer, and the proposed ice rink in Douglas has a price tag of about $3 million.
The current track -- which uses a mixture of sand, asphalt and rubber -- has been in place since 1982, said Bob Grochow, the park superintendent for the Juneau Department of Parks and Recreation. He said when the original surface was installed it cost about $200,000, but he thought that included some sub-surface work.
Grochow said the current track has more than served its purpose of being a community track facility. He feels the track resurfacing is more a priority with the school than with the city, but he said the city would work with the schools if the schools acquired funding. He also said the current track has rubber that softens up in warm weather, and there's a lot of difference when the temperature's 70 degrees instead of 50 or lower. Houston agreed, saying when it's 60 degrees you can leave an impression with your thumb in the track.
"It just hasn't been 60 degrees during the last couple of track seasons," Houston said.
And that's part of the problem.
Juneau senior jumper Clay Brown posted the state's top triple jump when he competed earlier this season on Skyview's track. But he hasn't matched that distance since then in two meets at Adair-Kennedy.
"Your spikes really don't sink in, so you slide around," Brown said, adding that runners feel like they end up running on their heels instead of their toes. "A nice, soft surface would really help. You can go so much further on the soft tracks. And our jump pits are like pure concrete."
The Palmer and Skyview tracks are considered the state's fastest, and that means athletes in Southeast are at a disadvantage when statewide times are used for at-large berths at the state meet. For example, Geoff Nordlund of Ketchikan was the only state champion from Southeast last year after he won the 110-meter high hurdles. Nordlund's time at state was 15.17 seconds, a significant drop from the 16.35 he posted at the region meet one week earlier in Juneau.
"It really hurts the sprinters, because the distance runners can get off the track to train," said Juneau distance runner Brandy Weston, who has had one of the more severe cases of shin splits on the team this year. "We send in all our times and it's hard to get people into state."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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