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Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

“Are you a morning runner?” a friend asked recently, on a rambling (masked) walk along the Esplanade. She’s the second or third person to ask me that in recent months, since the pandemic has shifted all our rhythms so drastically. I thought about it for a second. “I guess I am now.”

When I started running, I started doing it at night – after work and the long commute home, I’d grab a snack and pull on my running gear. I loved rambling alone down the Neponset river trail, even as the evenings grew longer and darker. I bought a running light at Target, and though it made me nervous sometimes, I kept running mostly in the evening for nearly a year. (I do love a morning/noontime run on the weekends, when I don’t have to squeeze it in before work.)

Two summers ago, I was between jobs for a couple of months and did a lot of morning running. When I started working at Berklee, I switched back to evening and sometimes lunchtime running – mostly because I am not motivated to get up early enough to run, shower and then commute to work before 9 a.m. But the pandemic has shifted that rhythm, along with so many others, and these days, I get up and run (after breakfast and tea) almost every morning.

There’s a lot to love about both kinds of running: for me, getting out there to move early in the day can be very satisfying, physically and mentally. I love watching the neighborhood wake up (if I’m out early enough) and the morning light on the water. But I also love a good evening run: it can shake out the cobwebs from a long day at the computer, and the sunsets over the river or the harbor can be truly spectacular.

For now, it seems, the time of day I run depends on the rhythm of my life at any given moment. Which is fitting, given that I want running to be a durable and flexible part of my life. It has to fit, and I’m willing to do what I need to do to make it fit into my days. It’s adaptable when I need it to be, but also sturdy – whether it’s happening morning, noon or night.

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It’s no secret that I am a creature of habit and stability: I drink the same tea (usually from the same mug) nearly every morning, write in my journal almost every day, buy myself flowers (at least) once a week and run the same basic route throughout Eastie nearly every day. But I read somewhere that humans need a combination of stability and novelty, and that’s also true for my running route. Sometimes, changing up the loop a bit can be just the refresh my brain needs.

When I lived in Dorchester and ran on the Neponset, this looked like circling through the hills of Pope John Paul II Park, or going out as far as I dared to the point with the wooden pier flanked by beach roses and a forsythia bush that turned shocking yellow in the spring. Once in a while, I’d turn around and run the other way, through the woods toward Milton, but not very often: I loved my water-and-sky views too much.

Here in Eastie, the beginning of my run is always the same: out the door and down the hill, down the harborwalk to the point and back. But once I finish that loop, I have choices.

I can run the length of Maverick Street and take the back entrance to the greenway. Once there, I can loop around the stadium – or go through the playground framed by locust trees (currently a gorgeous golden yellow). Once I rejoin the greenway, I can run straight down it toward home, or if I want a little extra distance, I can go the other way, up toward the YMCA, the playground and the branch library. (The maple trees along that stretch are a glorious red right now.) If I’m just not feeling it, or the skies have opened up, I can turn back through the shipyard after running the harborwalk, and head home early.

The ending is usually the same, too: either past Piers Park or through it, and then home. I love passing the same landmarks on my route: the community gardens, the houses with mums currently decking their front porches, the public art, the patches of asters (in the fall) or daffodils (in the spring). I love paying attention to the small changes through the seasons, and making small changes, as needed, to my route to stretch myself or just wake my brain up.

This is one reason I hate running on a treadmill: it’s endlessly the same. Running outside, even if it’s the exact same loop, always offers new details to see, and the light changes subtly every single day. But there’s also more room for variation in this “regular” route than I sometimes remember. Turning just one different corner can make such a difference to the morning, and it’s a good reminder: sometimes a little novelty is just the thing.

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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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As I’ve said many times this month, I started running with low expectations, and even a bit of trepidation. I knew a lot of people who got a kick out of running, and I was no stranger to the joys of a long walk or a sweaty, satisfying yoga class. But I knew that if running proved downright painful or unpleasant, I was unlikely to stick with it. I wasn’t sure how it would feel.

I recently reread Marisa de los Santos’ The Precious One, and one of the characters, 17-year-old Willow, is a runner. She notes, near the beginning of the book, that “when I run, my body stops being a grouping of parts and becomes a single thing. A fluidity. A living, breathing verb.”

I don’t always feel like that when I run: sometimes it’s a slog, heavy sneakers pounding on pavement. Sometimes it gets a bit monotonous. But at its best, running feels the way Willow describes it: “For me, being good was not the point. The point was cutting through the air, using the air, the way I used the ground. Who cared about good when there was joy like that?”

Running is sometimes meditation, sometimes a much-needed dose of solitude, sometimes a way to work off anxiety or tiredness or a plain old case of the blues. But often, it is that kind of joy: the physical pleasure of my body moving in concert with the air and the ground, the music pumping in my earbuds, lungs and legs and heart working together. It’s not always a conscious kind of magic, but it is always a kind of miracle. And that joy is one of the main reasons I keep heading back out there again and again.

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I know running is good for me physically in a lot of ways: our bodies were made to move, and sweating may help clear toxins out of our systems (as well as improving circulation). I’ve enjoyed building up my endurance and strength by running, too. But I’ve wondered for years about that elusive “runner’s high,” or the feel-good rush from endorphins released by exercise. When I started running, I wondered if I’d ever feel it – though that wasn’t why I kept heading back out to the trail.

Like a lot of things about running, the endorphins don’t usually arrive with high drama: I don’t round the final bend or crest one last hill and get a sudden rush of joy or euphoria. Sometimes, if it’s a particularly tough run, I arrive back home being simply grateful I’ve made it. But I do often feel better than I did when I set out. I feel accomplished, and (usually) satisfied with my efforts. These days, it’s an excellent way to start the day, and when I was mostly running after work, it was a gratifying way to cap off the workday. And – lest we all forget – let Elle Woods remind us that endorphins may help prevent murder. (“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!”)

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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.)

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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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heart sneakers trail

Around the time I started running, I also started a series of boot camp workshops with my friend Erin Madore (who now owns and operates Savin Hill Fitness Studio in Dorchester). We met on Monday nights in the basement of a spa in Quincy, and that initial six-week series spawned a year and a half of working out together. I’d never done anything like a boot camp before (see also: convinced I was not a gym rat), but I came to love that group of women, and the strength, flexibility and joy we found in sweating together.

About a month into the first boot camp series, I noticed some occasional twinges in my knees, both when I was running (still very slowly) on the river trail and when I was doing squats and lunges in boot camp. I hadn’t injured myself, that I knew of, so I asked Erin about it. She listened patiently, then turned her keen blue eyes on my ancient New Balance sneakers. “Honey, how old are those shoes?”

I was embarrassed to tell her – and frankly, I’m not even sure I knew how old they were (multiple years, for sure). I still wasn’t sure this running-and-workout thing would stick, but I knew I couldn’t keep doing it in broken-down shoes. So I took myself to Nordstrom Rack (and the attendant overwhelm) the following week, and came away with a new pair of shoes. And – most of you know what I’m going to say next – it made such a difference.

Since then, I’ve gone through a few more pairs of shoes; I buy new ones about every six months. I’ve switched from Nordstrom to the helpful folks down the street at Marathon Sports (shop local!), and from New Balance to On Running. As I write this, a new pair is on its way, and the violet ones I’ve been wearing since April will become my walking shoes.

One reason I love running in general is that it helps me pay attention: to the sky, the light, and how I feel in my own body. Wearing down a pair of shoes, and knowing when it’s time to order new ones, is a part of that attention. It’s fun to pick out a new color and I love the feeling of springy new sneakers on that first run. But mostly it’s a reminder: running is one way among many that I take care of my body. And keeping my feet (and knees) happy is definitely critical.

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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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