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Runners lament loss of neighborly track at Homewood Field


For the past seven years - whether it was blisteringly hot, freezing cold, raining or snowing - Rudiger Ruckmann left his Northwood home every Wednesday at the crack of dawn, carrying his water bottle and beat-up Adidas shoes, to run on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Field track.

"We would meet there in any kind of conditions - 20 degrees below zero, three feet of snow," the 41-year-old Ruckmann said. "It would be driving rain, 90 degrees, but we're troopers, and that was always a great meeting place for us and other crazy runners and walkers in Baltimore."

Yesterday, the track was closed as workers prepared to renovate Homewood Field's surface --- a process that will upgrade the turf but eliminate the cozy, quarter-mile oval that wraps Hopkins' storied lacrosse field.

Beginning today, workers will begin to replace the hard, forest-green Astroturf with a state-of-the-art synthetic surface, and the field dimensions will be widened to comply with NCAA soccer regulations so that soccer teams can participate in postseason play.

Jerry Schnydman, executive assistant to the Hopkins president, said it was impossible to gauge how many people use the track on a daily basis. But from the number of phone calls he and others received from people expressing concern over the loss of the track, he said, "It was a lot of people."

In response to the protests, Hopkins officials set aside $43,000 to build a new, 6-foot-wide rubberized track between the field and the concourse. It will be completed along with the field by late next month or August.

But university officials acknowledge that the new rubber track will be narrower and will have a less-forgiving surface, which might not satisfy the runners.

"I think we heard from both our university community and the neighborhood that this was a resource that would be missed, and we can't replace it in the current location with exactly the same kind. But we can do this," said Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

In some respects, he said, the new track will be an improvement, in that runners will be able to exercise while teams are practicing, and new safety nets will prevent errant shots on the goal from hitting runners.

But that doesn't matter to runner Bob Hilson. "Six feet does nothing for us," he said.

Hilson recalls seeing "everything you could imagine" on the track - different running styles, including people who preferred to run backward, and elderly women strolling.

On Sunday evening, a dozen die-hards - including 1977 Hopkins track captain Craig Snyder - gathered at the track for a ceremonial "last mile," organized by Falls Road Running owner Jim Adams, who has traveled from Towson to run the track since 1995.

"When you have a track - it doesn't matter if it's a university or high school - if it's convenient and the public goes there to exercise and get in shape, it becomes a part of your regimen," Adams said. "To lose that facility, it's just a major disappointment."

The mornings and evenings, Adams said, typically attracted a professional crowd. The middle of the day was favored by Hopkins students and athletes.

For Hopkins athletes, however, the field was becoming a nuisance. O'Shea said that in addition to the "rock-hard" surface's causing shin splints, stress fractures and other injuries, the men's and women's soccer teams could not host post-season games because the field was not wide enough.

The track team will be displaced for a season, according to Bill Harrington, a senior associate athletic director at Hopkins, as the location and cost of building a new facility are examined. He said that alumni of the lacrosse team have requested pieces of the turf, put down eight years ago.

Meanwhile, Ruckmann's running group, the Baltimore Pacemakers, has found a new track to run on at Gilman School. But Ruckmann said it will be hard to re-create the nostalgia of the Homewood track.

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