New Balance wasn’t interested in simply building a run-of-the-mill indoor track across the street from its Brighton headquarters.
It wanted to build the fastest indoor track in the world.
“We’ll find out” as soon as this Friday if that’s the case, said Jim Davis, the athletic shoe and fitness apparel company’s owner and chairman at the opening of The Track at New Balance Wednesday night.
Davis explained that a lot more went into the quest for world records than constructing a track that features a state-of-the-art surface and hydraulic banking technology.
“It’s the whole area,” said Davis. “You want to make it so that when an athlete comes here, he or she feels comfortable, they’ve got everything they need — and the track is designed to be quick.”
Runners have a separate building entrance that allows them to reach a dedicated and relatively peaceful warmup area one floor above the six-lane, 200-meter track. A separate trainer’s room is available for treatment or massage, plus hydration, an oasis from the din that up to 5,000 spectators can create. The steps on a separate stairwell that leads to the track are lined with cushioned material so runners don’t have to stop and remove their spikes.
“It’s really to eliminate any distractions that runners may have preparing for an event,” said Jim Halliday, president of the New Balance Development Group. “As we like to say, we don’t want the facility to give them any excuses not to have run well.”
That’s in part what Olympic gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin had hoped for when she was scheduled to join another celebration of the track Friday night, just three days before the Boston Marathon. She had planned to take part in several heats of mile runs, then join two other members of the New Balance women’s elite running team, Elle Purrier St. Pierre and Heather MacLean, plus Wisconsin high schooler Roisin Willis, to take a crack at breaking the world record in the distance medley relay. But on Friday McLaughlin withdrew from the relay because of a hamstring injury and was replaced by New Balance athlete Kendall Ellis.
“I’m definitely super pumped to see this track,” said McLaughlin prior to her withdrawal. “I know they’ve talked about how fast it’s going to be, ready for breaking records, which is what we’re here to do. I’m really hyped for it.”
When the gun goes off, the idea is that three elements never before included in one indoor track will combine to shave hundreds, maybe tenths of seconds from finish times and optimize the chances for records.
The surface — Beynon Sports’s BSS 1000 Hobart system — is a brick-red polyurethane with a granular top that’s melted so that its pebbled texture does not loosen up over long periods of time. With cushioning underneath, said Halliday, “it’s built for shock absorption; the track stays both firm and soft at the same time.”
The other two facets of the track work in tandem: Its hydraulic banks can be adjusted from flat to 12 degrees, and a “rising run” lane construction means a more gradual entry into and off of the curves, making the shape of the track more oval, with slightly shorter straightaways than older tracks.
The fluctuation between flats for every runner and when the rise and decline of the banks begin and end are different for each runner because each lane is individually configured.
“There’s geometry and trigonometry involved in the shaping of the lanes that allow the runner to enter the turns with a little bit more ease, run through the turn, and then be released out of the backside of the turn,” said Halliday. “What that shape of the lane does is to help counter the centrifugal forces that runners build up running around a more oval-shaped surface.”
The track sits atop a mammoth multifloor structure that includes a track and field throwing area, a space for basketball and volleyball, a turf area for soccer and lacrosse, plus New Balance’s Sports Research Lab and a live music venue with capacity for 3,500. It is certified by World Athletics, the governing body of international track, and records set on it will be officially recognized.
The track will host two New Balance events a year, including the New Balance High School Nationals. Boston College, which has a shoe and apparel deal with New Balance, will host its track meets at The Track, with other nearby schools, including Northeastern and UMass Lowell, holding invitational meets.