In September 2006, right after returning home from our honeymoon, Steve and I moved to Fairview Heights, Illinois. Across the street from our little apartment was Longacre Park. I went there nearly every day, sometimes twice to walk or to run. I have never loved running as much as I did there on that trail.
Although it’s been nearly seven years since I’ve been there, lately it has resurfaced in my mind, probably since I started running a lot again. I smile before I fall asleep at night, imagining the trail and remembering every inch of it. Remembering it makes me happy. So I want to write it down, for when I can no longer remember it without reading this.
It’s a 1.5 mile track, and I start right before the 1.4 marker. I run across the street – it’s only one lane going each way, but it’s busy nonetheless. My feet quicken naturally once I cross off the sidewalk onto the grass, for there is a sharp yet short slope down to the trail. Once I hit the trail, I turn up my iPod. There is a quick turn and a cluster of trees. I can see the pavement ahead now.
1.5 Marker – flat, short and winding tenth of a mile – there is a field to my left and there are people throwing around a frisbee. In front of me, cars are pulling into the park. I cross a short bridge, then make sure no car is about to hit me and I cross the pavement to the start of the trail.
Beginning marker – there is a drinking fountain here and then the trail turns sharply to the right and climbs a hill. The hill isn’t too high, but is the highest one on this trail. I take the hill on my tip toes, which always eases my hatred of hills for some reason. The trail here is matted dirt and a lot of pebbles, large and small. To my left is a field that doesn’t seem to get much attention. To my right is a thin row of pine trees separating this trail from the road that runs next to it here.
.1 Marker – the top of the hill. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. There is shade here from the pine trees, and then the trail turns left. I can see the lake – it is a quarter mile away by way of the trail but only 100 meters if you run down the hill from where I am.
.2 Marker – the neglected field on my left, a picnic table on my right and now a hairpin turn, taking me back towards the road, but this time down a small hill, over a tiny wooden bridge. Now the lake is directly on my left. I switch my iPod to an upbeat song because I want to finish running around the lake before the next song ends.
.3 Marker – the road on my right is high above me now, the lake is sunken down from there. There are people walking slowly, many feeding the ducks in the water. There are people with cameras, with seemingly nothing to do or nowhere to be. It is nice to see. I sprint here, wanting to get out of there way, let them get on with doing nothing.
.4 Marker – here the trail turns around the oval bottom of the lake. This part is always hard for me, for some reason. Up ahead on my right there is a an access road for maintenance crews and drunk people, perhaps. I see a groundsman on a riding lawn more and pick up the pace, self-consciously.
.5 Marker – the easy part before the next marker, and the last full tenth of a mile before I’m out of the lake area, but for some reason, I don’t enjoy it. I’m too worried about all the Canadian geese around me, imagining my presence will piss them off and they will begin attacking my simuntaneously.
.6 Marker – there is a slight hill here, and people everywhere, milling about. Some people on dates are having picnics, other people are waiting for someone who is in the bathroom, which is a wooden building here. I always hurry through here, too, eager to escape the ducks and the people I don’t know.
.7 Marker – I look for cars again here, although they rarely drive this far into the park. There is a pop machine here, and I always think this is such a great idea and every park should have one. I love the last half of the trail here – this is where only the exercisers go. There is no lake and the scenery isn’t particulary beautiful, but there is camradarie in those of us who are still pushing along.
.8 Marker – a field on my left again, some boys casually tossing around a baseball. Here is where I see the lady who was walking in the opposite direction when I started. I look at my mileage and estimate how much faster than her I am going. I calculate how far I should be when I see her next and determine to make it a little farther than that.
.9 Marker – I just crossed over another tiny wooden bridge. There was one of those long forgotten wooden exercise contraptions with instructions on doing pull ups. The trail turned, and I started to lose motivation so I switched my iPod to a power girl song. This next stretch is straight and I need to sprint here again like I did back at the .3 Marker.
1 Mile Marker – The field is on my left, which gives me some comfort in the company of strangers, because on my right is a thick grove of trees and shrubbery. There are rabbits darting around. I know on the other side of it is a neighborhood, but I can’t help but think of what a great place this would be for a lurker. It is dusk now so I speed up in the paranoia that there is a stranger in the shrubs, planning to grab me. I will outrun him.
1.1 Marker – there is a baseball field on my left now. There could still be a lurker on my right. I don’t allow myself to slow down until I make it around the corner. The trail turns left as soon as I pass home plate. I run away from the shadowing trees and bushes and now I can see the parking lot from here. I slow down a bit, telling myself not to slow all the way to a walk. One time I ran by here and there were a few kind women with a cooler handing out ice cold bottles of water. I always hope they will be here again, but they never have been since.
1.2 Marker – the trail turns right and there is another baseball field. I am running by chain link again, this time it is butted right up against the trail – I could drag my hand along it if I wanted to – which is discouraging. I can see the busy street I need to cross ahead of me and I power through, even though I’m panting and exhausted. Once I reach home plate, the trail turns around to the left.
1.3 Marker – the busy road is to my right, trees here on the left, and there is a nice scattering of crunchy leaves on the trail. They have just erected the “Seasons Greetings” sign for the impending holidays. This part of the trail is where I decide whether I’m going to veer off for home or run another one. I can run another one.
This is where I learned to love to run. I hope to one day run here again, and relive all of this. I don’t know why I would ever be near East St. Louis, but if I’m ever passing through, I will stop and lace up my Sauconys and run four laps like I used to.