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Katie ww run selfie trail

Over the last three years, I’ve been astonished at the effect running has had on my body and mind. I am stronger, somewhat faster, definitely tougher than I used to be (and than I thought I was). But there’s another, more subtle shift in my mindset for which running deserves a lot of credit. It’s the change from That’s too hard or I don’t think I can – or even That sounds uncomfortable – to Let’s try it.

My friend Anne calls this the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset). The funny thing is: I wasn’t thinking about growth when I decided to start running. I was thinking about wanting to stay out on the river trail as the days grew colder and darker, and figuring out a way to make that happen. I was searching for something I needed – light and space and fresh air – and stumbled onto a sport and a discipline that has become part of who I am.

I may not have been actively seeking growth as a new runner, or in starting the boot camps I tried around the same time. But the growth happened, in both cases, because I said to myself, Let’s try it.

That mindset has spilled over into many other aspects of running: going farther and faster down the trail, running my first 5K, trying out new paths at home or on vacation, even running a 10K last year. I’m not expecting myself to nail a certain pace or time (usually), and I know I can always try it again, or get better, so it’s a little easier to say Let’s try it. (And the list of things I’d like to try – races I’d like to run, places I’d like to run in – keeps getting longer.)

I’ve noticed that I struggle to apply the growth mindset to other parts of my life. I tend to think of my skills and personality in fairly fixed terms: I’m a good cook, a reasonably accomplished knitter, a tidy-but-not-neurotic housekeeper, a voracious reader. I’m pretty happy with that last one, but I wonder if I’m missing out on some growth by accepting whatever “limits” I imagine my skills have. I may never be a gourmet chef or knit a perfect sweater, but I can work to build some skills in those areas. I can say to myself what I say when I encounter a new hill or an enticing race or a new way to stretch after a run. Let’s try it. Who knows what might happen?

We’re halfway through October, and while I’ve been running (and writing about running), I’ve also been reading. Here’s the latest roundup:

Total Recall, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski’s 10th adventure finds her investigating a man who says he’s a Holocaust survivor. Worried by the man’s behavior and its distressing effect on her friends Max and Lotty, V.I. tries to figure out if he’s legit. This one dragged a bit, though the historical angle was interesting.

The Secrets of Bones, Kylie Logan
Cadaver dog trainer and admin assistant Jazz Ramsey is stunned when one of her demonstrations turns up a real body. She begins investigating the skeleton, which may belong to a former colleague. This was an engaging enough mystery plot, but not as good as Jazz’s previous adventure.

The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found, Karina Yan Glaser
It’s fall in Harlem and the Vanderbeeker kids are caught off guard when the mysterious person sleeping in the garden shed turns out to be a friend of theirs. I love this series; this installment is sweet and funny, and a thoughtful take on a complicated situation faced by a lot of children. (I scored some fun swag since I pre-ordered my copy from NYC’s Books of Wonder. Support indie bookstores!)

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton
I’ve loved Julie Andrews’ work since I was a little girl; The Sound of Music is one of my all-time faves. This memoir covers Andrews’ early years in Hollywood (including Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) and her next two decades in film, plus her marriage to brilliant, mercurial director Blake Edwards. Warm, charming and really fun for Andrews fans.

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, Tessa Arlen
Aspiring screenwriter Poppy Redfern is sent to an airfield to interview several “Attagirls” – female pilots. But when two of the squad’s most experienced members die in crashes, Poppy and her American beau, Griff, suspect foul play. I love a British mystery and this one was really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

West Wind, Mary Oliver
It’s no secret I’m an Oliver fan, and these poems/prose poems are lovely and luminous and tinged with melancholy. I especially love “Morning Walk” and the last one, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
This is definitely one of the books of 2020 – I’ve been working on it for two months. Kendi shares his own story of coming to grips with his internalized anti-Black racism, along with defining and exploring terms like assimilationist, segregationist, etc. It gets dense at times, but is strong and thought-provoking. It’s increasingly clear to me that racism goes far beyond overt harmful acts, and it’s up to all of us to reckon with that.

The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen
Newlywed Lady Georgiana O’Mara (nee Rannoch) is at a loose end when her husband is traveling. But her best friend Belinda turns up and they take off down to Cornwall together, to look at a property Belinda has inherited. Before long, they find themselves staying at the local great house and caught up in a murder mystery. A fun homage to Rebecca and an engaging entry in this series.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I love de los Santos’ warm, thought-provoking novels about family, and I loved revisiting this one. It is the story of Taisy and Willow, estranged sisters who finally discover each other (and themselves), but it’s about more than that: love and second chances and the stories we tell about our lives. So good.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: TridentFrugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

I’ve been a runner for about three years now. But I was a yogi long before I was a runner. And these days, the two disciplines inform and bolster each other.

I discovered yoga back in Abilene, when a friend told me about some classes downtown at the Center for Contemporary Art. I showed up on a weeknight with my green Target yoga mat, unsure about where to put my feet or how to breathe or really, all of it. But I fell in love with wise, kind-eyed, practical McKay and her classes, and when I moved to Boston, one of the first things I did was find Healing Tree, the local studio. I took classes there for nearly nine years, until I moved to Eastie (and The Point, my current neighborhood studio) last summer.

When I started running in 2017, I kept on doing yoga: one or two vinyasa flow classes a week, the way I’d always done. I love yoga for the strength and flexibility it’s helped me hone, and the way a good class can clear my head, make me feel calmer, more settled, more at home in my body. Although running is a very different workout, I love it for many of the same reasons. So it makes sense that at least for me, they complement one another.

In normal, non-pandemic times, I go running most nights after work and squeeze in a yoga class once or twice a week. Since mid-March, I’ve been running (almost) every morning and going to yoga (in the park, when possible) once or twice a week, either at lunchtime or early evening.

Both disciplines help me pay attention to my body, help me grow stronger and more flexible, more attuned to my bones and muscles and how they interact with my mind. When I’m running, I pay more attention to my hips and shoulders because of yoga, and I’m sure the deep breathing practice doesn’t hurt, either. And my warrior poses and balance poses – tree, eagle, dancer – are stronger because I’m a runner. Both disciplines, too, remind me of the joy of effort and rest: working up a sweat and then a lovely cool-down walk when running, a series of challenging poses and then a peaceful savasana in a yoga class.

I didn’t really think about whether my running would affect my yoga, or vice versa, when I became a runner. But they balance one another quite well, and I’m glad for that. (Bonus: I can wear the same gear to do both, and – at least for now – practice both of them outside.)

Before I became a runner, I would have told you I was not a selfie person. My Instagram feed was mostly photos of flowers and sunsets, with an occasional book or cup of tea. (Some things have not changed entirely; all those joys still make regular appearances.) But I surprised myself by starting to snap – and even post – running selfies on the regular.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media: I enjoy sharing bits of beauty or great books or other people’s interesting posts, and seeing what others share, too. But I’m all too aware of the corollary that we often edit out the messy bits, to show only the highlights. And while I’m definitely not going to air my dirty laundry in public, I’m always wondering how honest/unfiltered to be online.

trail morning selfie sea water

While most of my running selfies involve me smiling, they are still a way to push back against the “highlight reel” a bit. For one thing: I’m always sweating, my hair is usually blowing around and I’m often not wearing any makeup. This is me, in the literal middle of a workout, and sometimes it’s glorious and I feel strong and confident. But sometimes my feet hurt or it’s cold or I just don’t want to run three miles in the morning (or evening). Sometimes I’m upset or frustrated, lonely or sad. Sometimes I am just not feeling it, for whatever reason.

On those days, I sometimes skip the selfies altogether, but sometimes I go ahead and take them. Snapping a selfie can be a small reset, a bit of a grounding ritual: I am here. In this moment, on this path, with this water or these trees or buildings in the background. I am here, sweat and crow’s-feet and whirling thoughts and all.

Katie trail blue gray water

In three years of running, I have not magically become a marathoner or a record-setter or a runner who runs with total ease. But I am a runner because I run, and my selfies are tangible proof: me, running, or at least pausing in the middle of a run.

Here I am without makeup, in workout clothes, not even close to perfectly coiffed. Here I am in an ordinary moment, which is worth celebrating as much as any day I get all dolled up. Here I am doing something I love, which brings me joy and strength and peace on the best days, and at least lets me work up a sweat and get out of my head for a while. Here I am, running, and sharing at least a slice of that joy with the world.

If you run, or work out, do you post selfies? (Or is this a totally frivolous topic? Even if it is, I think it’s worth exploring.)

I mentioned last week that I love running on vacation: it’s fun to lace up my sneakers and head out to explore a new neighborhood on foot. (I seriously can’t wait to run in NYC again.) But today’s post is about something a little different: running a new route that I know I can come back to.

For nearly two years, I ran almost exclusively on the Neponset River trail: past the marshes and reeds, across Granite Street to the parks on the other side. I went as far as I dared until the path ended, and ran my first 5K there. As long as I lived in the neighborhood, I was entirely satisfied: my daily runs didn’t need to be anywhere else.

When I started dog– and house-sitting for friends in Eastie last spring, the days were still short: I didn’t want to venture out on unfamiliar streets in the dark. So I brought my running gear to work and began doing lunchtime runs on the Esplanade. That route – close to my office, and a favorite haunt of Boston runners – has become one of “my” places to run. And as the days lengthened, I began exploring new running routes in Eastie. Those loops along the harborwalk and the greenway are now, of course, where I run all the time.

Last week, I tried out another new-to-me route: the forest path along the river in the Brighton-Watertown area, close to where my guy lives. We’d been for a bike ride or two in that area, but I’d never run that path before. I set off on a stunning morning, the Highwomen in my earbuds, savoring the light and the way it filtered through the leaves.

Running that new-to-me loop felt both normal and refreshingly new. I kept up my usual pace, mostly, but I had to pay attention to my feet (so many tree roots!). Plus, it was kind of fun not knowing exactly where the path would go. I adore my normal route and all its variations, but I didn’t know how much I needed that dose of novelty. I ran all the way to Watertown Square, where there’s another bridge over the river, and came back down the other side. By the time I reached my starting point again, I was sweaty and smiling.

If you run, or exercise regularly, do you like to switch it up sometimes?

heart neponset trail

Here’s one way I knew I was becoming a runner: I started buying Runner’s World occasionally at the airport.

I’m not much of a magazine buyer, except when I travel. But it’s fun to browse the airport newsstand and pick up something to flip through on the plane. (Man, I miss flying. Anyone else?) I remember buying the issue of Runner’s World with Shalane Flanagan on the cover. Inside those pages was a whole Technicolor world of performance running gear, advice for running in all seasons and weathers, odd terms like “splits” and “intervals” and “taper” and “shakeout run.” And most of the folks in those pages looked like me – but also they didn’t.

As a white woman who’s always been healthy and thin (genes + decent eating habits + a love of walking), you might think I’d see myself in runners like Flanagan or Deena Kastor or Amelia Boone. But I looked at those chiseled bodies and read about their workouts and thought, That’s not me. I saw myself far more easily in the stories about amateur runners: folks who run for fun and fitness and to push themselves, who haven’t made it a career.

A few months ago, I stumbled on the Instagram account @diversewerun, which features runners of all races, genders and body types, and highlights why they run. It’s joyful and fun, and it regularly reminds me of the huge variety of people who are runners.

I knew that running culture – like so many “elite” spaces in the U.S. – often looks very white, but that people of all ethnicities run, and they deserve to be seen. But the particular stories shared on that account (founded by Carolyn Su) are teaching me new things all the time. And it reminds me that this is one more place where we all need to do better.

If I felt intimidated by running culture – and I’m white and healthy and I can afford new running shoes – how much more intimidating might it be for people of color, folks with disabilities, those who see the price tags on running gear and think I can’t possibly afford that? Representation matters, as always, and I love seeing Carolyn and others highlight all kinds of running stories.

Running has the potential to be so democratic: anyone who can lace up their shoes and run can become a runner, no matter your age, weight, size, gender, ethnicity or fitness level. I am grateful to have found a home in this sport, and grateful to others who keep sharing their stories and reminding us that there’s room here for everyone.

the long run book snow menzies-pike

As is my wont, I started reading about running before I ever became a runner (though reading about it did not directly spur me to take up running). I remember enjoying Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, mostly for its rambling style and the Boston setting, years before I fell in love with the sport. But the books I’ve read about running in the last few years have, not surprisingly, resonated much more deeply.

I picked up Catriona Menzies-Pike’s memoir The Long Run (above) at the library not long after I started running. I loved it so much I read it again this winter. She weaves the history of women’s running together with her own experiences as a runner. Like me, she’s a writer who never expected to take up running; also like me, she has run after (and through) some serious life upheaval. Her writing is lovely and lyrical, shot through with grit and wry humor, and a dose of straight-up feminism. I love this book.

Katie Arnold’s memoir Running Home came across my desk for Shelf Awareness when I’d been running for about a year. It is about her struggle to find a place for herself, her love of trail running in the American West, her relationship with her dad, and so much more. I run differently than Arnold (who is now an ultramarathoner) but I loved so much of what she had to say. She is a thoughtful, engaging writer, a devoted daughter and warmly, utterly human.

I’ve read a few other books on running, mostly memoirs, which you can find on my Goodreads shelf. But these two are the standouts, so far. Anyone have other running-book recs? I’m all ears.

heart sneakers trail

One of the (many) intimidating aspects of starting to run was the gear. I’d been to enough yoga classes (and seen enough Athleta and Lululemon ads) to know that there’s a whole industry out there, with enough variations on the high-tech theme to make your head spin. I wanted to eschew all that, so – as previously noted – I started running in my old New Balance sneakers (and a sports bra that had definitely seen better days).

I still believe you can get out there and run in whatever you’ve got, but I have since replaced both those shoes and that sports bra (and the ancient navy shorts whose elastic was gone). In response to a reader request, here’s what I know and like about shoes:

Brand loyalty isn’t everything, but it can be helpful. It’s true that some brands/shoes fit different foot shapes differently. I’m a size 6 1/2 to 7, with “normal” arches (i.e. not particularly high or low). I’d worn New Balance on and off for years, because I liked the way they fit my feet. So the first (and second) pair of new running shoes I bought were New Balance. They are cushy and light, and not too expensive. Plus: fun colors.

Don’t be afraid to try on shoes, or try something new. My blue-and-white NBs were fine, but the toe box was a little big, and I wondered if the folks at a running store might be able to help me find a shoe I liked. I went to Marathon Sports (this was over a year ago, pre-pandemic) and tried on shoes from several brands: Brooks, Adidas, On Running. I was surprised that the Ons – with their super-deep treads – were my favorite, but I just ordered my fourth pair, so here we are. They’re lightweight and they cushion my feet well, and I like the bright colors.

Replace your shoes regularly. I have been astonished to find how my knees tell me, like clockwork, when I’ve been running in a pair of shoes for about six months/the equivalent number of miles. I have tried to stretch it a week or two here and there, but if I want to keep running and I want healthy knees (and oh, I do), it’s worth it to me to buy a new pair about every six months. (I do keep the old ones for walking/knocking around.)

There’s lots of advice out there: how to find shoes for your gait/stride, foot shape, etc. I was super intimidated to walk into a running store, so I recommend experimenting a bit on your own first, then going in once you have a decent idea of what you’re looking for. Or – if you’d rather talk to the pros first – go for it! There really isn’t much mystery to it: it’s about finding what works for your feet.

If you’re a runner, do you swear by certain shoes?

Katie silhouette trail river blue sky

I used to see her in the neighborhood all the time, on the river trail where I ran, or standing on the sidewalk by her house, chatting up a storm with Sharon or Claire or one of the other neighbor women. Her dog, Riley, a beautiful red golden retriever with a few years on her, was nearly always in attendance.

Riley was used to being showered with affection by pretty much everyone in the neighborhood. She’d walk right up and sit on my feet while Kenzie and I chatted a minute, nudging my hand to keep scratching her silky ears if I got too distracted by our conversation. There was a man who lived down the street – Paul or Joe or Mike, one of those monosyllabic Boston Irish names – who referred to her as The Great Riley. He always remembered my name because he had a sister named Katie, the only girl in a family of five or six brothers. 

Kenzie lived in the yellow house on the corner, which was her dad’s house until they bought it from him about ten years ago, she and her husband Frank, whom I’d regularly see on the trail too. He’d either be striding along, deep in thought, or sitting on one of the rough granite benches, watching birds fly over the marsh with his binoculars. I never saw him smile, but once or twice in December I caught sight of him wearing a Santa hat, which was at odds with his expression but fit perfectly with his long white beard and hair. 

Kenzie was kind and inquisitive and funny, a retired nurse with a daughter in her twenties and a stepson whom I never saw. She was the first neighbor I ever made friends with, after seven years in Boston and three different apartments, not for lack of trying. I was charmed by her open, easy manner and the New England accent you could have cut with a steak knife. I never even knew her last name, but we were friends, of a sort, and I was always genuinely glad to see her.

I haven’t been down to the old neighborhood in a year or more, not since I separated from my husband and moved across the city. I told Kenzie I was getting divorced the week before I moved out. “Put your phone number in my mailbox,” she said. “We’ll go for a drink sometime.” I wanted to, and I meant to, but I never did. Somehow it was easier to leave a few of those loose ends of my old life untied. 

It’s October again, and the air turns sharp as the sky changes from cobalt to serge blue to golden in the evenings. I think of the waving reeds on the trail, and the murmuring sound they made. Sometimes I think of Riley, gone now, and wonder if Kenzie has gotten a new dog. I hope she has. Our friendship was brief, but it sustained me, made me feel like I belonged in that pocket of Dorchester, between the old chocolate factory and the river, in the third-floor apartment that was home for a while.

I wrote most of this post as an exercise for a writing class I’m taking online through ModernWell this fall. Since it’s sort of running-related, my fellow group members suggested I share it with you.

lines color greenway east Boston

When I started running – edging toward it sideways, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts – I wanted to keep it really simple. It can sometimes be exciting to delve into all the details of a new project or hobby, but I was so intimidated by this one that I didn’t want any of that. I’d heard about the Couch to 5K app, but I wasn’t a true couch potato, and I wasn’t in this to win any races. I just wanted to get out there and move, and see if I could sustain this as a practice.

Several years later, that’s still exactly what I do: lace up and head out without worrying overmuch about my pace or speed or distance. But it’s surprising how often people ask – or offer unsolicited advice – about tracking my mileage.

I have a rough idea of how far I run, most days: I’ve looked at Google Maps and strung together the different legs of my usual loop around East Boston. When I used to run at lunchtime on the Esplanade, I had a good sense of that mileage, too. I did use the Couch to 5K app for a while, to increase the length of my running spurts before stopping to walk. But mostly, I don’t want running to become one more thing I obsess over.

I love a to-do list as much as the next person: crossing tasks off can be so satisfying. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and watched my word count climb with satisfaction. But I don’t want to do that with running. As long as I’m getting out there about six days a week, and logging about three miles (give or take) on most of my runs, I’m satisfied.

Catriona Menzies-Pike notes in The Long Run that all the miles she has run live in her body. That’s what I want: for all those miles to take up residence in my skin and sinews, to become a part of me. I want running to be durable and vital to me for years to come. For me, that means separating it a bit from the type-A tracker part of my brain. It’s a struggle sometimes, but being able to “just run” is entirely worth it.