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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

As I’ve grown to love running, and explored various running routes around the Boston area, I’ve been doing a similar thing with cycling.

I used to love riding bikes in my neighborhood as a child, and I spent hours on my jade-green bike as a grad student in Oxford. But I’d lived in Boston for eight years before I got up the gumption to try riding the city streets on a bike. The traffic terrified me, and I didn’t have a bike of my own.

My guy (though we were just friends then) convinced me to try out Bluebikes, Boston’s bike-share program, two years ago after I’d started a new job at Berklee. My first dozen or more rides followed the same route between Berklee and Harvard Square – much more pleasant than the 1 bus, except in driving rain. As I got stronger and more confident, I began trying new things occasionally: turning down a side street to see where it would go, trying out part of my commute on a bike, riding around Eastie when I moved here. I began paying more attention to bike lanes and traffic signals, and I’m still trying to make my peace with the hills in certain parts of Boston. This summer, I inherited a bright pink single-speed from a friend, and I’ve participated in several protest rides, plus a number of long rides with my guy (who is a cycling instructor, advocate and general bike fanatic).

As with yoga, I didn’t really think of cycling as having any connection to running. But they inform one another, sometimes in surprising ways. I’ve gained confidence on a bike in a similar way to the confidence I’ve gained with running: in this case, the muscle memory was there, but it needed to be revived. I keep learning that I can go farther, pedal stronger and even ride faster than I think I can. Sometimes I need a rest day after a seriously long ride. And in both cases, the main motivation is the sheer joy of moving through the world in this particular way.

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One of my favorite things about running is the way it lets me move through the landscape, whether it’s a new-to-me city (or neighborhood) or my comfortingly regular harborwalk-to-greenway loop. I love the constant nudges to pay attention: to the feel of the road under my sneakers, the air on my skin, the changing leaves and flowers nearby, the dog walkers and rabbits and squirrels on the path.

But this summer, I got seriously lucky: the folks at PangeaSeed partnered with half a dozen local artists (like Imagine876, above) to create new, colorful murals in my part of Eastie. For a couple of weeks, I watched the murals evolve day by day on my morning runs, and I’m loving the gorgeous colors now that they’re finished. This one is in the shipyard, on the building that houses Downeast Cider, and you can see its vibrant colors from all the way across the harbor.

The mural at the top of this post is on the greenway, where I often run; it’s a celebration of the salt marsh sparrow, which is in danger of extinction due to rising sea levels. I’ve seen more of Sophy Tuttle’s work around Boston, and I love the bold colors and detailed depictions of the natural world. There are several more murals in the series, and they’re a welcome splash of color on grey days.

I love public art, especially when it combines beauty with purpose, and these murals definitely fit the bill (like this one, above, by Artists for Humanity Boston). They are all done by women and/or artists of color, and they call us insistently to treasure and protect the natural world. They make my runs more enjoyable, certainly, but I hope they also keep inspiring me – and others – to pay attention to, and care for, the world in which we live.

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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?

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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.

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Katie ww run selfie trail

I didn’t get into running to win races. (I am still not especially fast, though I am much stronger than I used to be.) But I’d only been a runner for about six weeks when I ran my first 5K.

It happened like this: I was running down on the Neponset river trail and saw a flyer for the annual Halfway to Dot Day 5K, scheduled for early December. I wasn’t tracking my mileage (I still don’t, not really), but I knew that if I could manage a race at all, it would be this one: a flat, simple, familiar course on the trail I already loved. I talked my husband into signing up, and we had so much fun we did it again the next year. (In true Boston fashion, we ran with layers, lots of fleece and snow flurries, both times.)

Running, for me, is a mostly solitary activity: I like the time by myself, at my own pace, with my own music in my ears. But once in a while, I thoroughly enjoy running with a community and testing my skills against a group. I’ve done a few 5Ks around Boston, the Super Run in San Diego, the MR8K in memory of Martin Richard, and Eastie’s own Halloween-themed 5K in support of the YMCA, last year. (I ran dressed as Wonder Woman.) My longest race, to date – and possibly the most fun – was the BAA 10K last summer. My guy came to cheer me on, and I loved (nearly) every minute of the course through Back Bay.

Just before I started running, I visited some friends in Oxford in the fall of 2017. My friend Mike was running the Oxford Half Marathon that weekend, and I walked to the end of the street with his wife and their children to cheer him on. We all yelled and waved as he ran past, and then I walked downtown to go to church. I remember thinking he was a little crazy to run a race like that without much training – but a few months later, when I became a runner, the Oxford Half hopped onto my list of dream races and has stayed there ever since.

As I said, racing isn’t why I run – I have a lot of other reasons for that, and I mostly like running alone. But sometimes a race is the kick-start I need to get out there, or it’s for a good cause, or it just sounds like fun. I’m happy to be an occasional race participant. And I’m looking forward to the day when road races can happen in person again.

If you run, do you race, or do you prefer not to?

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Katie trail blue gray water

When I started running, I may have had (as previously stated) some insecurities about it. I didn’t want to fail at this. I wasn’t even sure how long it would last. What if it proved painful or depressing or just not fun? What if I injured myself right away, effectively ending my running career before it began? What if I told people I’d started running, only to fade out like the autumn daylight over the treetops on the trail?

So I didn’t tell anyone, at least not for a few weeks.

I’m not even sure I mentioned anything to my husband after those first few sweaty evening runs on the trail. He knew I was out there walking, of course, but I didn’t want to jinx this new thing I was trying: me with my old sneakers and baggy t-shirts and the ancient sports bra I’d dug up from somewhere. I didn’t look like a runner. I certainly didn’t know if I felt like one. And I felt, too, that this new attempt was just for me: I needed a chance to see if it would work, without anyone else’s gaze, without perceived or actual judgment. For that first month or so, especially, I didn’t say a word to anyone.

heart sneakers trail

It felt freeing, to be out there on the trail, moving my body in a way that still felt foreign, pumping music through my headphones and trying to figure out how long I could jog before stopping for breath. I quickly learned that running lets you see the world at a different rhythm than walking (although then, as now, I will always slow down to snap photos of flowers or vivid leaves or a particularly breathtaking sky).

When I did start telling people I was running, I slid it in sideways: a casual mention at boot camp, a post on Instagram that emphasized the sunset instead of the reason I was out there seeing it. My previous perception of a runner – strong, dedicated, serious – and my perception of myself (at least, in regard to exercise) didn’t quite match up. But to my own surprise, I found both joy and satisfaction on the trail. (I still do.)

These days, I’m much more vocal about my enjoyment of running: I’ve done a few races, and my Instagram feed is at least half running photos (harbor views, leaves, flowers, skies, sneakers, repeat). It’s not my secret any more, though it definitely still belongs to me. But I am glad I gave myself a chance to try it without anyone knowing, for a while. It helped me move toward embracing running as a new and vital part of my life.

More #run31 photos and stories to come.

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selfie gray hat river trail

True story: when I started running three years ago, I wasn’t sure my newfound passion would survive the winter.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for more than five minutes: I grew up in Texas. We do not typically have snow – at least, not very much of it – in my hometown. The winters, with their short, dark, cold days, are one of the hardest parts of living in Boston for me.

So, when I started my running career outside in late fall, I wondered if I’d get too cold and give up come January or so.

To my own surprise, I came to love the invigoration of running in the cold: the sting of the wind on my cheeks, the equally sharp sensation of drawing in a frigid breath, the satisfaction of starting out shivering and running until I was warm all the way to my fingertips. I came to see it as part battle, part symbiosis: part of me relished taking on the cold, refusing to be bested by 20-degree temperatures (or, later, by snow and ice on the trail). But part of me simply loved being out there, even when it was freezing: an element of the landscape, moving with it and through it instead of only fighting against it the way we do when we bundle up in puffer jackets and hop from heated car to heated house.

I began digging out long-forgotten layers to keep me from frostbite on my winter runs: knee socks, fingerless gloves, handknit hats, a short puffer jacket I rarely wore. An old black fleece scarf of my husband’s, worn double-looped (chosen mostly because it was washable). Eventually, I’d splurge on fleece-lined leggings and insulated gloves. But that first winter, I was simply determined to keep going, and make do with whatever gear I could find.

With the exception of pouring rain (not my favorite), I still love running in all weather and all seasons. I’ll slather sunscreen on my face and chest in the summertime, pull on two or three top layers and my warmest leggings to get out there on the coldest days. For the months in between, I relish calibrating my running outfit to the season and the temperature. The gear is important, but it’s in the service of a larger goal: being able to get out there in the fresh air, and run no matter what the weather.

More #run31 stories and photos to come.

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It’s October – and even though a lot of our seasonal markers are missing these days, the trees are still turning and the nights are starting to draw in. I’ve been buying dahlias at the florist, and trying out a few pumpkin-themed goodies from Trader Joe’s. (Yes, I am a walking fall cliche, and no, I do not care. We need all the joy we can get, in these persistently weird and off-kilter times.)

A friend reminded me recently of a few lines from Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, in which one character rhapsodizes to another about October:

In that spirit, I’m wishing you a merry October, and telling you about a new project I’ve thought up for myself: #run31.

I’ve been a runner for nearly three years now; it started when I moved to Dorchester in 2017 and fell in love with the Neponset River trail. But I haven’t written very much about running, though it’s become a durable and vital part of my life since then. So, every day in October, I’m going to share a brief essay about running, mostly to kick-start myself (ha) into writing about it. I hope you enjoy them, and here’s the first one.

I never thought of myself as a runner. I wasn’t even, I believed, someone who enjoyed running. I hated playing soccer in gym class partly because it seemed like too much running up and down the field. I discovered yoga in my twenties and fell in love with it, but I was convinced I wasn’t one of those people: those gym rats who logged mile after sweaty mile on the treadmill, or those crazy runners who got up long before dawn to run along the Charles River in their spandex and special shoes.

My journey to running started, perhaps fittingly, with walking.

One of the reasons I love living in Boston is the potential for walking everywhere, eliminating (at least for some of us) the need to sit in traffic for hours every day. My jobs in Back Bay and Harvard Square have all allowed me to commute on the subway, then walk to my office, and use my lunch breaks to run other errands on foot: bank, library, post office, coffee shop. The longer I worked at Harvard (I was there for five years), the more I grew to love roaming the streets of Cambridge, either by myself or with a friend. Beyond the redbrick walls of the university buildings, Cambridge offers quiet twisting streets bordered by elaborate gardens and trees far older than I am. By the time I moved to Dorchester in the summer of 2017, I’d rediscovered my love of long walks. And our new apartment, sitting just a stone’s throw from the Neponset River Greenway, offered the perfect entry point for more rambles on my own.

As summer slipped into fall, I left the house alone most evenings, usually with my earbuds but sometimes without, and set off along the trail, noticing blooming asters and changing sumac leaves, rustling reeds and the footsteps of fellow walkers. When the weather turned colder, I didn’t want to give up my time out on the trail – but neither did I want to be chilled and miserable. I wondered: could I try running? Would I hate it as much as I always had? At least you’ll know, said a voice in my head. So I slipped on an ancient pair of sneakers and sped up my pace.

Three years later, I’m a dedicated runner: I buy new sneakers every six months, eye the weather forecast to determine which layers I should wear (and how many), and have a few 5K and 10K medals clinking in my dresser drawers. During this pandemic, I’ve hit the trails in my neighborhood almost every morning, and it is a consistent lifesaver. I feel better when I get that dose of movement in my day, but it’s also become a part of my identity in a way I never expected.

I haven’t run on the Neponset in just over a year: I moved to East Boston last summer, in the wake of my divorce, and now I run past the harbor instead of the river each morning. But so many elements are the same: the movement, the fresh air, the love of being outside and testing what my body can do. I’m a runner now, indelibly. And I’m so happy about it.

More #run31 stories to come.

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Last Tuesday, I did something entirely new to me: I spent 15 hours (yes, basically my whole waking day) serving as a poll worker at my neighborhood high school. This year, many veteran poll workers, who tend to be older, are stepping back due to coronavirus risks, so I signed up to help fill the gap.

As an experience, it was both eye-opening and at times mind-numbingly mundane. We did a lot of counting: blank ballots, tally marks, voter lists, early-voting ballots, all the scanned ballots at the end of the night. There was a lot of recounting and double-checking, to make sure the numbers matched the tabulations on the electronic machine. The smell of hand sanitizer hung in the air (with the universal funk of high school gym underneath). I wheeled my bike out of the gym at the stroke of 9 p.m., too tired even to pedal down the steep hill toward home.

All day, I kept thinking of something I heard Elizabeth Gilbert say a few years ago, in a podcast interview: some of the most important things in life are “ninety percent boring.” Writing is this way, she said, and marriage, and certainly raising children. And it occurred to me that this is true of democracy, as well.

Voting is, typically, modest and understated: you go to a school gym or City Hall or the Knights of Columbus clubhouse, give your name to a neighbor or a stranger, mark a ballot with a few dark circles. No one who came to vote on Tuesday was doing it to call attention to themselves. But what I loved was the aggregate: the mosaic, taken together, of all these people of different races, ages, genders and walks of life.

There was the young Hispanic mother in scrubs, holding her two children by the hand, who came to vote after work. (We made sure both kids got an “I Voted” sticker.) There were the retired couples, thin white hair and thick Boston accents, who came together in their sensible shoes. There were several women in hijab, alone or with their husbands, and a few men who walked straight in from their construction job sites, chunky boots and jeans smeared with dust.

We saw a number of first-time voters, young people feeling shy about feeding their ballots into the machine, unsure if they were doing it right. One woman rushed in at 7:45 p.m., saying she’d been on a deadline all day but was determined to come vote. The one that nearly made me cry was the biracial family with two tall teenage sons. One was voting for the first time, and he smiled shyly when I congratulated him. The other one wasn’t old enough to vote yet, but he followed his mother to the booth, and I knew: even if he didn’t act like it, he was paying attention.

Signing petitions, serving on a jury, ensuring free and fair elections: these things are ninety percent boring. Even protests can get hot and dusty and dull, though they’re fueled at first by passion. But these small levers of democracy are the ones that move it forward.

On Tuesday, there was a lot of sitting in hard chairs and watching people come through the line, one by one. There was a lot of pacing back and forth, answering the same few questions over and over, handing out stickers and pens, putting my limited Spanish to use (East Boston has a large Latinx population). It was, perhaps, ninety percent boring – though I truly enjoyed chatting with my fellow poll workers, and my guy came in to bring me dinner. But that made it no less important: in fact, possibly more so. And at the end of the night, we left satisfied that we had done our part to ensure that everyone’s vote counted.

I’ll be working the polls again this November. If you’re able, I’d urge you to consider joining me.

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