Category Archives: fitness

Running Down a Dream

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This past weekend, I went down to New York to visit my brother. I hadn’t seen him since our roadtrip in July, and I wanted to see him at least once before the holidays. It was a really good trip, and not just for some of the peripheral benefits — much needed zone-out time on the bus, a change of scenery and some fun meals. It was a good opportunity to get perspective. I chatted with him about The Project, and just talking over the issues I’m having moving forward helped me sort out a possible plan (or two) of attack. We had a few other conversations that were really, really good to have, some more meaningful than others. For instance, I chatted with him a little bit (though, in retrospect, not enough) about writing process. I sometimes forget that we are both writers, albeit in different forms and styles, and it’s something I should take advantage more often. Especially when, like lately, I’m at a bit of a fork in the road with my writing. It’s in my blood; it’s just a matter of keeping the blood flowing.

One of the more interesting moments of the weekend came toward the end of the run we went on Sunday morning. The New York City Marathon heads right down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, right past where his apartment is. When we set out, the stream of runners had not yet hit 4th Avenue, but as we looped back, we saw that they had arrived. Thousands of marathoners stood between us and my brother’s apartment, hot showers and a trip out to breakfast.

s_Frogger_2I had no idea how we were going to get across the street. But my brother knew exactly what we were going to do: we were going to Frogger our way across.

Here’s where the arteries of that shared blood split off: I’m a goody-goody, and he’s a rule-breaker. I saw cops posted on every corner and median in sight (heck, his apartment is around the corner from a substation), and I saw no way of stepping into the thick of the NEW YORK CITY MARATHON without getting collared. But for Andrew, it was no bigs. He stood poised on a cop-free corner, while I stood nearby wringing my hands. Before I knew it, he had burst off the sidewalk, keeping pace with the runners while sidling his way across the southbound lane. Upon hitting the median, he did it again, crossing the stream in the northbound lane while maneuvering toward the opposite curb.

Dumbfounded, I had no choice but to follow. I felt much like I did the time we broke into the abandoned Rhode Island School for the Feeble Minded, half-expecting a cop to jump out of the shadows and slap cuffs around my wrists.

But, much as I did in that abandoned school, I soon realized there was nothing to fear. I simply minded how I navigated myself through the crowded field of runners, and before I knew it I was across the avenue, standing next to Andrew. And hey, maybe now I can say I’ve run in the New York City Marathon (twice — we had to do this a second time to get to breakfast).

If you’re careful, my brother has taught me more than once, you can break a rule or two every now and then and it’s more than worth it — whether the reward is a hot shower, a good meal, or just the reminder that the world is more flexible than you may think.

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Trekking to Fields Corner

With time running out on the nice weather in these parts, I seized yesterday to accomplish something my husband and I have been wanting to do for a little while.

Earlier this summer — the same day I rode my bike to Lexington, actually — Rick walked to Quincy. From Somerville. Why? We have some friends who recently moved to Quincy, and they told us about an ice cream parlor that had an eight-scoop challenge. I told Rick the only way I would let him participate would be if he walked there. I said this somewhat facetiously — an impossible condition, I thought, that more or less amounted to a “no way” — but Rick decided to take up the challenge. And he did it — hoofing it all the way to Quincy, eating an ungodly amount of ice cream with our friend, and succeeding in not horking it up afterward.

On his walk, he went through Fields Corner and noted all of the tasty looking Vietnamese restaurants there. Indeed, I had eaten at one of them when my friend Katy and I went on urban expedition through parts of Dorchester. We quickly decided that we would reprise part of the walk at a later date, with the goal of having a tasty lunch at Fields Corner.

After that point, however, the weekends always found themselves filled up quickly, and here we were entering mid-September. With a sunny forecast and projected highs in the low 70s, we decided we should do the walk yesterday — after all, being New England, we could descend irretrievably into autumn by tomorrow.

IMG00354-20090920-1434It turned out to be a great call. We charted the course — 7.5 miles — and set out on our way. We went through Union Square and cut through some nice looking east Cambridge neighborhoods before exiting onto Mass. Ave at MIT. We crossed the river — one of my favorite things to do in the city, it never gets old — and trundled past the commotion of Comm. Ave, Newbury and Boylston Streets. We took a brief sidetrack to view the reflecting pool at the Christian Science center — another Boston locale that never gets old to me.

Once we got to the Mass. Ave T station, I was in heretofore uncharted territory (on foot, at least). I was reminded of how much I need to do a thorough wandering of the South End, not only by walking past the delightful brownstones but by rediscovering the garden area just behind the eastern entrance of the Mass. Ave. T station. I don’t even know what it’s called, but I’d been through it only once once, and by total accident at that. I hadn’t even known how to find it again, but now that I have, I must return post haste.

As we continued walking down Mass. Ave, we observed the gradual transformation of the city from the hectic retail corners along Boylston and Newbury Streets to the tony South End brownstones to the less stylized areas around Boston Medical Center.

IMG00356-20090920-1513Once you cross Melnea Cass Blvd., though, it’s like an entirely different city. We entered the Newmarket district and the sidewalk crumbled beneath our feet. Stores and apartment buildings were replaced with loading docks and other outlets of urban industry. In the middle of the somewhat drab landscape, however, were two intriguing eateries,Victoria’s Diner and The Hen House, that we’ll have to come back to try.

IMG00357-20090920-1525We soon approached the South Bay Center, which always seems out of place to me with its big box outposts, its Applebee’s and Olive Garden. From there, Columbia Road was just up ahead, and imagine my surprise to see a giant pear right at the intersection. It turns out that the pear sculpture was erected two years earlier to mark the completion of a 12-year turnaround for Edward Everett Square.

As we hooked onto East Cottage Street, we wound our way through a very charming Dorchester neighborhood — I would presume we were technically in Savin Hill? As we exited out onto Dot Ave, we took in the diversity of the stores and the people around us. By this time, hunger and the desire for a good sit were really settling in. We’d been staying hydrated with our water bottles, but we were ready for a good rest.

IMG00359-20090920-1618Luckily, we soon discovered Pho So, where we had delicious fresh spring rolls, seafood pho (him), vermicelli with pasted shrimp and grilled pork (me) and the most amazing watermelon smoothies ever (they pretty much tasted like someone had thrown a watermelon in a blender — and that is in no way a complaint). As we took a load off, filled our bellies and listened to the football games on TV, we felt delightfully content. In one Sunday afternoon, we had taken a long healthy walk, seen a cross section of our amazing city and eaten a delicious meal. For one of the last nice days of the year, I can’t think of a finer way to have spent it.

It’s A Long Road to Travel Six Miles

I was sitting on a stoop in Davis Square at 4:05PM yesterday when I realized that the weather was perfect for a run. The downpours were, I thought, behind us. It was grey, cool (but not too cool), with a slight breeze. I was transported back to San Francisco, when I went on the most perfect run one morning under similar conditions. I looked at the bus schedule and saw that there was a 4:08PM bus back home, and it would be leaving from the busway right across the street. Of course, as I walked up, there it was… pulling away, early.

So I walked a bit and caught a 4:35PM bus home. Just as I got off the bus, though, the skies opened up. While I am grateful for a good drenching now and then (and indeed was this time), I was sad that the heavy rain pretty much put the kibosh on my plans to go for a run.

I spent pretty much the next two and a half hours dithering about in my office, looking out the window, gauging the heaviness of the rain, occasionally stepping onto my front porch. When the sun began to set, I realized that if it was going to happen, I needed to do a run on Broadway, not along the poorly lit Mystic River. I began plotting routes on Map My Run. And at a certain point I just stood up, said “Alright,” and got dressed. I was sick of sitting around wasting time. Something had to happen, or I was going to feel lousy about it.

My plans were ambitious — for me, anyway. I live at the foot of Winter Hill, which I’ve tackled by bike many a time but never while running. I plotted a route that took me over the Hill to the Powderhouse Rotary and back. If I was wiped, I could just go back home and log 3.3 miles. If not, though, I had an extra 1.2 miles in my back pocket.

The hill was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Before I knew it, I was looping around (after loosening a too-tight shoelace) and heading back up the hill the other way, which was also not that bad. As I passed my 3.3 mile exit ramp, I decided to keep going. In fact, I decided to more or less forget about the length of the route I had plotted and run as long as I felt able.

At this point, I wasn’t even really mindful of the fact that I was running. A lot of times, it’s a struggle — I am extra aware of each step and the labor each one requires, painfully mindful of how much distance stands between me and the next milestone, or the finish line. Sometimes, my stride is reduced to barely a trot, whether out of exhaustion, soreness, heat or some other factor. Last night, though, my pace was good. I was moving, almost mindlessly. Only my most basic brain functions registered what was going on and kept me breathing and moving, while the rest of me exulted in the sensations of exertion, of cool, damp night air rushing past me. A light mist began to fall, cooling me even more.

When I approached the 4.5 mile point, I decided to run around a block a couple of times to get me to five miles. Then I ran up and down a street a couple more times to get me to nearly six miles. I then ran a couple of extra blocks that I thought would get me to 6.2 miles, the length of a 10K. (Though when I got home and measured the route, I turned out I only did 6.03 miles. Drat!)

When I stopped, at the Stop sign where I conclude all of my Mystic River runs, I felt great. I was drenched, sure, but I wasn’t winded or spent. As I walked down the remainder of the block back to my house, I felt quite alive, and grateful I stopped dithering around and made something happen. Not only did I finally tackle Winter Hill, but I logged the longest run of my short running career, in some fine running weather to boot. All it took was getting over my own inertia and getting out the door. I’m sore today, but it’s more than worth it.

A Journey to Lexington Center

When an open Saturday with (relatively) low humidity and clear skies presented itself, I knew how I was going to spend my afternoon. I needed to finish what I started three weeks previously and bike all the way to Lexington Center.

So, I headed out from Winter Hill, stopping in Davis Square for a bottle of water and a smoothie at the Blue Shirt Cafe (the Peanut Butter Delight, to which I am addicted). I headed out, again making some stops along the way, including at my revered Spy Pond. When I zipped past my previous farthest point on the bike path, I cheered. I knew I was just 1.25 miles away from Lexington Center.

Now, I had heard that Lexington Center was really cool and had lots of good restaurants, but I didn’t know what exactly to expect. What I found was a thriving and busy little square that reminded me of a more spread out Coolidge Corner, with a hint of Arlington Center. Everyone was out since it was a gorgeous day.

My co-worker had recommended a sushi restaurant, and in wandering down Mass. Ave in search of it, I stumbled across the Battle Green, which sported several monuments and remembrances to the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. Yep, “The Shot Heard Round The World.” Even though I knew that Lexington is where that all happened, I guess I didn’t expect that the battle site would be that close to where I was.

I found myself held rapt by history. Even though it was history with which I was intimately familiar, it was humbling to stroll the (oddly empty) green and see the various monuments to the battle and the Minutemen who lost their lives, and for whom the bike path I rode is named. I noted with interest that a flag pole had been designated the official memorial to the Battle of Lexington, and I was awed by the memorial erected in 1799 to the Minutemen from Lexington who died in that opening battle. (“The Die was cast!!” the memorial excitedly declares in recapping the events of that April morning in 1775.) I also enjoyed learning about Prince Estabrook, the slave who was the first black soldier of the American Revolution.

As I strolled the Battle Green, I felt like I was out of town on vacation, and I was delighted to be a tourist agog in my own state. For me, the visit gave Patriot’s Day — which rolls around every April with an implicit joke that we need a day off to watch the Boston Marathon and see an early morning Sox game — a bit more heft and importance. It was not lost on me that I had come there from Winter Hill, which was a stop on Paul Revere’s ride to Lexington. The thought of retracing, however loosely, that bit of history pleased me.

After I finishing touring the Battle Green, I did indeed find that sushi restaurant, where I scarfed down a couple of delicious sushi rolls. I then headed back out on the path, pausing once more by Arlington’s Great Meadow. My next goal for the bike path is to bring a friend and wear appropriate clothes and bug spray for exploring some of the walking trails that jut off the path in the area of the meadow. Or perhaps I will make it a goal to reach the end of the bike path in Bedford. It’s just over three miles from Lexington Center, and I know I can do it, though I’ve heard that as a locale it is not that interesting, aside from the feeling of triumph at having completed the path. (I think I’ll spare myself the off-road informal extensions of the path past Bedford.)

For now, though, I am basking in my latest accomplishment, and appreciating the unexpected history lesson I received as a reward.

(Full photo set on Flickr)

16.25 Miles

I understand that for many bikers, this is nothing. This is every morning. This is a daily commute. This is a lunch break. But for me, it was a revelation.

Sunday, I set out to ride my bike for the four-mile round-trip to Davis Square and back, with the simple mission of returning library books. I was pleased by how much easier the usually arduous ride up Winter Hill since getting my upgrades at Open Bicycle. Then I decided, why not hit the bike path? It was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon. When I got to my usual destination of Spy Pond, I thought — why not keep going?

The one other time I tried to ride farther down the bike path ended badly, as I was wearing a backpack and my bike was not really ready for such a ride. This, however, was the farthest I’d stretched my bike out since it got fixed up. And I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

I was able to stash my messenger bag in the front basket. I took breaks for water and rest along the way. My goal was to make it to some indicator that I was in Lexington, which I achieved when I reached the Seasons Four garden shop. (When I checked GMap Pedometer later, I was dismayed to learn I was just 1.25 miles from Lexington Center.)

It also turns out that my stopping point was five miles from the end of the Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford. But keep in mind, round-trip from my house to Davis Square is a hair over four miles. So, in truth, I came just over five miles short of completing the Davis-to-Bedford circuit. That makes me happy.

I haven’t been on my bike much lately, but the relative ease with which I accomplished this ride has got me excited for the next nice day when I can (hopefully) tackle the whole route, tacking on the distance between my house and Davis Square. I can’t wait.

By the way, the above photo? Spotted along the path. Oh yeah. Hold onto that feeling.

M.O.M.’s Run 5K

MomsRunLogo_cureThis year, I seem to be running the same races I did last year as a novice runner. (In truth, my main criteria for a race is that it starts and ends in Davis Square, which automatically limits my options. ) So that makes this my second time doing the M.O.M.’s Run

Coming off of the alcohol-fueled insanity of the Ras na hEireann in March, the M.O.M’s Run is a welcome change of pace. The field is significantly smaller, it’s more of a family affair (duh, it takes place on Mother’s Day) and since it has a walkers’ portion, there is also a greater diversity of ability on hand. It’s a race for everyone. On top of everything, it’s for a good cause, inspired by longtime Somerville resident Mary O’Brien, who died of breast cancer in 2002 and proceeds benefiting breast cancer research.

There are a lot of nice things about the race. The race has a ton of sponsors who donate food and drink, so runners have plenty of snacks and water pre- and post-race (and I don’t mean just granola bars — Redbones donated pulls pork, Dunkin’ Donuts brings in boxes of sweet treats, pizza is on hand, yogurt and bananas for the more health-minded… a crazy spread). It’s also headquartered at the Dilboy VFW, which I have a strong affinity for since co-hosting a dance party there a year and a half ago. All in all, it’s a very Somerville race, which is something I can’t say for the Ras or the Jingle Bell Run, which though organized by the Somerville Striders usually end up feeling like a bunch of rowdy out-of-towners are loitering on my lawn.

I ran this year with my friend Chris, who is at a much higher level than I am but is relatively new to racing (not that I am some old pro, but hey). The course is different than the other three Davis Square races I have participated in, all of which use the same course. This one heads way out east before looping back, and it is pretty hilly. Last year, I ran a 37:55, which marked a 3+ minute improvement from the 41:18 I logged in my first 5K ever 2 months previously, though there was a lot of walking going on.  I’ve been doing well on my runs — on Wednesday, I ran a continuous 5.5 miles! — though I don’t do a lot of hills, nor do I do a lot of speed work. I was quite curious to see how this race would shape up.

It did not feel easy. The first mile was, well, a first mile — it’s always an effort to get going. But the second mile was absolutely terrible. My legs felt like they were made of lead, the sun and warmth had done a number on me before I made the turn to head back west and the hills were a big challenge. On top of all this, it was windy — 30mph+ gusts! — and my hat blew off twice (luckily, some friendly runners were nice enough to pick it up for me both times). 

I did not feel good about how I was doing. I convinced myself I was the pulling up the rear, but was too scared to look behind me and check. I tortured myself with the idea of shifting down to a walk. A bit after the second mile marker, though, as the race began its downhill descent toward the finish line, I got a second wind and was able to make up for some of my sluggishness between miles 1 and 2. As I approached the finish line, I was surprised to see I still had a chance to beat the 35:49 PR I logged at the Ras in March. And I did — by about 14 seconds 🙂 

Chris beat me by about 45 minutes, because he’s awesome, and together we indulged in some free food. A half-banana, some macaroni salad, scrambled eggs and a donut — the breakfast of champions. And afterwards, for dessert, we played some catch! (It’s already time to get the old arm ready for softball.)

My only complaint is with the people who brought their jogging strollers. Now, like I said, one of the things I like about this race is how it’s a family-oriented event, and I applaud the moms taking their kids along for the ride. 99 percent of the time, all is well. But at one point, I felt something bump against the back of my ankles — it was the front wheel of one of those jogging strollers! I looked back, and the mom didn’t seem too penitent, and she soon passed me. But that really grated my cheese. What if I had fallen? If you’re going to run in a crowd with those things, watch where your front wheel is. If you can’t, don’t bring it to the race.

The more appalling stroller incident, however, was in the last downhill leg of the race. There was a man who was running with a jogging stroller for two. At one point, he releases his hands from the stroller — to do what, I have no idea — for five or so seconds, letting the stroller barrel on down the hill. Sure, he was inches away, but what if the stroller pitched forward, veered off oddly, or somehow caught speed and escaped his grasp? Maybe, for those who run with jogging strollers, this is no big deal, but it certainly caught my eye. 

Overall, though, it was an awesome experience. I’m already excited for the Somerville Homeless Coalition race, which combines some of a perks of the Ras (the thrill of a big crowd, a timing chip, a really cool long-sleeved tee) with a decidedly local feel and the knowledge that I am helping out a worthy cause. Last summer, I didn’t run at all, but this summer, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Nike was right

Yesterday evening, despite staying at work a little later than expected and having already walked to work that morning, I decided to go for a run since the weather was so beautiful. I’m recovering from this cold and it’s been two weeks since my last run, so I had low expectations for my stamina. I planned a loop that allowed for an early cut out and a total distance of almost exactly 5K. 

By the time I got to the cut out point, a combination of feeling OK and being determined to push myself propelled me onto the longer loop, which winds through the scenic Mystic River Reservation, past the athletic fields and giant windmill. I got an additional psychological boost when I finally began the return portion of the loop. The evolving riverside scenery also helped.

As I was hitting the main path back to civilization (not that I am that far removed from civilization with I-93 literally 20 feet to my right, but at least I’m not on the street), I realized what I was doing — I was taking control. I’ve been feeling a little bit overwhelmed and doubt-riddled lately, and a little bit like I’m not in control of my own destiny, lacking the discipline to do the things I actually *want* to do. Those are sometimes the most difficult to accomplish, it seems. I always look with curiosity at my friends who whine about wanting to do X but don’t do anything about it. I’m realizing, much to my chagrin, that I’m one of those people. But grabbing the reins on your own life is harder than it looks.

But last night, I was doing it. I was exerting discipline, pushing myself in directions that, while challenging, were not only what I truly wanted and needed to do but were what I knew my body could handle, even if there were some minor cries of protestation or reluctance. In the end, I was pretty beat, but the endorphins were worth it. When I measured out my route this morning, turns out it totaled 4.75 miles, which ranks among my top runs ever.

If you want it, own it. End of story. Now I just need to take that lesson into other areas of my life.