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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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It is hot, y’all. We’ve had multiple 90-degree days here in Boston this month, and the heat doesn’t seem to be letting up. Add to that the constant, endless, gnawing anxieties of the pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for stress and frustration. I am still healthy, but I’ve been on furlough all summer and no one is too sure when we’ll get to go back to work. It’s exhausting.

I am trying – when I can – to focus on the silver linings, and one of those is helping with the frustration, too: park yoga.

My beloved local studio, The Point, has been offering Zoom classes during the pandemic, but about a month ago they also began small, socially distanced in-person classes in Piers Park, down the hill from my house. I’ve been taking my green mat and walking down there once or twice a week, and I have to say: it is lovely.

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There are usually a half-dozen of us there, and we set up our mats in the long grass. Sometimes there’s music; more often it’s the background noise of children and runners and tankers going by in the harbor. (There was some excitement the other night involving a literal wild-goose chase and some very hyped-up kids.) We do sun salutations and lizard poses, stretch out in warrior, try to breathe deeply and let the various stresses fall away, for a little while.

I’ve appreciated the work that goes into Zoom classes, but by May or so I was all screened out. It is so nourishing to be together in person, to see Taylor’s smile or hear Devon’s laugh, to nod at the other students I know by sight. The community matters as much as the poses and stretches. And I am deeply grateful for all of it.

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tulips-pot-red

When the quarantine orders came down in mid-March, I thought: at least I’ll still be able to run. 

I kept running, mostly as usual – even a little more than usual – for five weeks, except when it poured rain. (Thank goodness for online yoga.) I live in a neighborhood with lots of public space: the Harborwalk, several parks and the East Boston Greenway. I love a three- or four-mile run through these spaces, and I was enjoying the chance to run nearly every day. Until my body mounted a serious protest to those weeks of working on a hard kitchen chair.

I panicked. Then I paid attention. Then I bought a foam roller and took nearly a week off running and did a lot of resting and stretching. The past week or two, I’ve mostly been back to running, though I’m taking breaks to walk more often, and sometimes shortening the distance.

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After several days of feeling good, I was expecting to go on a longer run this bright morning, but I woke up with tired muscles from last night’s long walk. So instead of the planned four-ish miles, I took a slow walk/jog down the hill, through the shipyard, down the pier and back, through the park. It wasn’t the longer run I had hoped for, but it had sunshine and movement and flowers, and it felt good to get out and move. I followed it up with some yoga, which was just what I needed.

I’m slowly learning to trust my body: though I’ve done yoga for years, running has both helped and forced me to inhabit these bones, muscles and tendons in a new way. I am learning to pay attention when my body says stop or wait or maybe not today. And I’m also looking forward to the day – maybe tomorrow, maybe next week – when she whispers Yeah. Let’s go. 

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One thing I’m noticing in this strange “now normal” is the absence of the usual transitions in my day.

Like a lot of workers, I usually commute to my job, which means (in my case) leaving my house, walking to the train station, getting on the subway, switching lines, then walking to my office at the other end. That ritual, and the physical movement, helps signal to my brain and body that I’m at work, and that I’m leaving work when I do it all again at the end of the day.

I don’t miss crowded subway cars, but it can be easy for all the hours at home to start feeling just like one another. So, last week, when my friend Anne Bogel posted 10 of her favorite work-from-home tips, I was caught by the first one: Walk yourself to work.

Like Anne, my “home office” (in my case, my kitchen table) is almost no distance from the rest of my living space, especially since I live in a studio apartment. I only have to carry my laptop a few feet to start working, and that’s not always enough of a demarcation. So I’ve started adopting Anne’s trick. Some mornings, I’ve been going for a run first thing, if the weather and my schedule permit – which feels great and definitely gets me moving before the workday starts. But when it’s raining or I have early meetings or otherwise can’t squeeze in a run, I’ve been putting on a jacket and walking myself to work.

I go around the block and back up through the park, or down the hill and through the nearby shipyard. Sometimes I carry a travel mug of tea, or a clementine, and I try to pay attention: to blossoming trees and sidewalk chalk and my neighbors, out walking their dogs (or their kids). Once in a while, I wave at someone I know. And I usually arrive back home feeling better, and (slightly) more ready to start the workday.

Like a lot of things I’m trying right now, it’s not magic, but it’s helping. And most days, that’s good enough.

What work-from-home tricks are you trying, in these days?

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…is something I am saying a lot these days.

One reason for that: it’s winter. Never mind the mostly-mild weather and wild temperature swings; this time of year is always tough for me. The lack of sunlight can leave me feeling dull and flat, and I’m always exhausted (physically and emotionally) after the holidays. But I am trying (as Maggie Smith keeps reminding us) to keep moving, whether literally or otherwise.

Here are a few things that are helping me, as we continue to move through January:

My light therapy lamp. Real talk: some days I don’t know if it makes any difference. But I flip it on every morning anyway, and most days I think it does take the edge off these long, dark evenings.

Putting the bread in the freezer. This is not like Joey having to put Little Women in the freezer on that episode of Friends (by the way, I saw the new movie twice and adored it). I live alone, so freezing a loaf of bread is one way to ensure it doesn’t all mold before I can toast it. (These days I’m loving Trader Joe’s multigrain sourdough.)

Taking a walk. Which is always a good idea – whether it’s down the street to the library or Trader Joe’s, around my neighborhood on a weekend, or over to campus for a meeting.

Eating all the clementines. I’m going through them like they’re candy, and I’m totally fine with that – because they’re bright, delicious and healthy.

My budding amaryllis, which I wrote about the other day, and which might actually be magic.

Working a puzzle at a girlfriend’s house the other night. I agree with Anne: puzzles are relaxing and good for your brain.

Yoga, even if I have to drag myself there (and sometimes I do).

What’s helping you get through, these days?

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darwins mug ledge coffee shop

This is the summer of strong Earl Grey, drunk without milk in a ceramic mug or a white paper cup, both of them bearing the blue Darwin’s logo on their sides.

This is the summer of freelance projects: a two-part feature story, an annual report, some calendar and publicity work, the usual book reviews and some author Q&As for Shelf Awareness.

This is the summer of libraries and coffee shops: hours spent with my laptop, elbows on a green table, answering emails and wordsmithing sentence after sentence.

This is the summer of sunflowers and roses, of tall purple iris and pink snapdragons, of smiles from the guys at my florist and drawing a deep breath every time I walk in.

oceana rose kitchen

This is (another) summer of local adventures: a weekend in Falmouth, a return to Marblehead, a glorious Sunday in Lenox, a Friday at Wingaersheek Beach.

This is the summer of Amanda’s salsa, scooped up with tortilla chips or spooned onto burritos, huevos and quesadillas every chance I get.

This is the summer of long runs on the river trail, past loosestrife and birdsfoot and Queen Anne’s lace, through morning haze and thick humidity and evening light.

trail morning summer green trees neponset

This is the summer of blue and purple hydrangeas, of bright yellow beds of black-eyed Susans, of tall gangly daylilies in every shade of red and orange.

This is the summer of boot camp workouts in parks and parking lots, sweating and laughing through push-ups and burpees, growing stronger and feeling grateful.

This is (another) summer of yoga on a green mat: Tuesday evenings, Friday mornings, the occasional Saturday afternoon.

This is the summer of pink streaks in my hair, freckled shoulders and striped skirts and my Wonder Woman bracelet.

This is the summer of soaking in my Cambridge neighborhood, while readying myself for what’s next.

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