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One of the (many) hard things about this past year: so much of it has felt exactly the same.

I love a good routine (and especially a good rhythm). I went to the same coffee shop (hello Darwin’s!) nearly every day for five years when I worked at Harvard. I run almost the same path through my beloved Eastie every morning. Even my nightly (very simple) skincare routine can be soothing in its familiarity.

But: the past 10+ months have held a severely limited orbit of people and places. With the arrival of a new year and no changes (except horrifying ones, like more COVID-19 deaths, and the attempted coup in D.C. on Jan. 6), I have been seriously craving some newness in my days.

I read somewhere that human beings need a mix of novelty and routine in their lives, which struck me as utterly true: the ratio is different for everyone, but most of us need a balance of some kind between comfort and adventure. Since a pandemic winter prevents me from seeking out some of my more typical adventures (I miss you, New York weekends), I’ve been trying to search for novelty in smaller ways.

Last week, I brought home anemones from the florist instead of daffodils or tulips, and their bright reds and purples (see above) made me so happy. I met a friend for a walk at the arboretum a few weeks ago – I hadn’t been there in years. We got lost trying to find each other, but even that newness was interesting, and good for my brain.

My guy and I have tried a couple of new recipes lately: fish tacos, a one-pot stew from Real Simple, cranberry-lemon scones. And last weekend, I drove over to his place and went for a run along his section of the river, instead of my usual harbor/greenway loop. Much of it felt reassuringly familiar – blue skies, pounding feet, beating heart – but there were new trees and paths to see and navigate, and it helped a bit. A change is, sometimes, as good as a rest.

How are you creating (or finding) novelty in these same-same days?

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It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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We had 13 (!) inches of snow here in Boston last Thursday, and I left the house exactly twice: once to shovel out my own front steps and walk, and once to shovel a friend’s front steps (I’m checking their mail and feeding their fish while they’re away). It was blowing and swirling – decidedly not a day for running. But since the storm passed, I’ve been loving the season’s first taste of winter running.

I became a runner right around this time three years ago, when it got too cold to walk for long on my beloved river trail. I’ve slowly been learning about, and buying, the right gear: fleece-lined running tights, a few warm headbands, snow spikes for when the trails are really dicey. Sometimes I have to talk myself into bundling up and heading out into the cold. But often, once I’m out there, I’m surprised again by how much I love it.

Running in the cold is an invigorating challenge: I have to keep moving to keep my body warm, and the resulting heat and motion feels satisfying. The road feels different under my feet when I’m dealing with snow and ice, though I love how the snow spikes take away some of my worries about slipping on ice or slush. I love the pure, sharp contrast of white and blue and green, and the cold air in my nose and lungs. And these days, I’m listening to Christmas music while I run (or dash?) through the snow.

There will be plenty of gray days this winter, and we’re expecting rain later this week. But for now, I’m grateful for these crisp, clear, snowy winter days, and the chance to get out and run.

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Here we are, at the end of a month of running posts – I did it, even though I wasn’t always sure I could come up with anything new to say. Since today also happens to be Halloween, I’m sharing a photo of the only 5K I have ever (yet) run in costume and talking about my love of Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman.

I wasn’t a comic-book reader as a child, and I am a little bit younger than the target audience of Lynda Carter’s iconic show. But I have a long history of loving badass heroines, and the 2017 Wonder Woman film captured my imagination. I loved Gal Gadot’s portrayal of courage, humanity, compassion and strength (not to mention the fact that she can fight evil and dance in the falling snow with equal grace). Since then, I’ve come to identify deeply with the character, who is both fierce and tender, committed to justice and just as committed to preventing needless violence.

As a runner, I’ve had to dig deep to find my physical strength on the days when getting out there (or getting through it) is a real struggle. But my association with Wonder Woman is more about that mental toughness I’ve found partly through running: the grit it takes to keep going, the grace to breathe through a tough situation and make it through.

The annual East “Booston” costume 5K went virtual this year, so I didn’t pull out my Wonder Woman outfit to run the race (though I did participate). But I wear a red leather wrap bracelet with the WW logo every single day. And though she’s perhaps not a runner in the modern sense, Diana is definitely one of my heroes in running and life.

Thanks for sticking with me through a month of #run31 posts, friends. It’s been fun. If you’re celebrating, happy Halloween. And if you live in the U.S. and you haven’t yet, please vote.

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Since I became a runner, I have actively tried to keep running from becoming something else I obsess about. This is why I (usually) don’t track my pace or mileage, why I don’t do a lot of races, why I don’t post any running stats on social media. (Besides, I’d rather look at photos of flowers or fall leaves or the harbor where I run, and the mere act of posting is often enough for me to say: I’m here. I did it. Let’s keep going.)

But running, like any new skill, offers chances to improve, ways to challenge myself, goals to set and (hopefully) meet. Sometimes I urge myself to increase the ratio of run/walk times on my runs: to keep going for longer before taking a break to walk. On the rare occasion I do a 5K, it’s fun to see if I can beat my previous times. And I’ve got a short list of races I’d like to run someday. (Top of the list: the Oxford Half, in my favorite city.)

For now, this goal-ish approach to running is working for me. The goal is mostly to get out there five or six times a week, to sweat, to move, to enjoy it. As long as I’m meeting those goals, the other ones are secondary. Running is low-pressure and high-reward. And, in this instance, that’s just the way I like it.

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When I started running, as previously mentioned, I didn’t tell anyone about it for a little while. This was mostly because I wasn’t sure it would stick. But even after I’d become a dedicated runner, I didn’t write about it here on the blog, or even talk to friends about it, much. Running felt, in those early days, both precious and precarious: something new and tentative that was all mine.

Fast forward three years and here I am spending a whole month writing about running (and if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you). I post photos from my runs on Instagram all the time (though that is also because I’m a flower fiend and a fall-leaf fanatic). But even while I share bits of my running with the world, I mostly run alone.

I could run with other folks if I wanted to: there’s a run club or two in my neighborhood, and I can see the appeal of running in community. I do enjoy the occasional buddy run with a friend or 5K with a crowd, and my guy and I have put in a few miles together. But mostly, running is a solitary pursuit for me. I like being alone with my thoughts, my music, the wind on my face and whatever pace I feel like setting that day.

Since my divorce and the pandemic, I’ve spent more time alone than I previously ever had, and sometimes it gets to me. Sometimes solitude and loneliness blur together until I can’t tell one from the other. Some days I find myself desperate for real, in-person connection. (Thank goodness for park yoga and walks with girlfriends and, most especially, time with my guy.)

Even with an abundance of solitude, though, I still like running alone. There’s something soul-nourishing about setting out for a few solo miles, where I’m out in the world but I belong only to myself. Running has become a form of meditation and self-care in addition to exercise. And mostly, it’s something I relish doing by myself, for myself.

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One of the most important things running has taught me: I can move through whatever is happening now.

I knew that, intellectually, before I started running. I knew it physically, too: I’d lugged boxes up and down many flights of stairs while moving, sweated through a challenging yoga class or two, walked until my legs were sore. And I’d survived a number of moves, losses and tough job transitions. But as a runner, the lesson is right there, on multiple levels, every time I step outside: I can and will get through whatever is going on right now. There’s no magic, or if there is, it is the durable, everyday, full-of-grit kind: one foot in front of the other.

In The Long Run, Catriona Menzies-Pike mentions that sometimes, waves of emotion will hit her from nowhere when she’s running: rage or fear or anxiety or sudden joy. This happens to me too: sometimes the emotions are related to whatever I’m consciously thinking about or working through. Sometimes they seem random, unrelated to the weather or my thoughts or how the run is going. But always, always, they pass eventually, as I keep running.

I’ve run through a few huge life shifts now: my divorce, my transition from Harvard to Berklee, a temporary stint and then an actual move to East Boston. Most recently, I’ve been running through the last seven-plus months of pandemic life. Sometimes the sadness and frustration seem endless. But sometimes it helps to be my own object lesson: to move through the air and the streets and the falling leaves, and know that I can move through whatever’s coming next.

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It’s impossible to be a runner for too long without hearing the stories of women who’ve been harassed, catcalled, or even injured or assaulted while running. It is a chillingly common experience for my fellow female runners, and it is completely unacceptable.

Everyone should feel safe when they run – which seems blindingly obvious, like something we should be able to take for granted. But we can’t, because of the evidence: so many women report being antagonized or hurt while they’re out running. The sport I love, which has brought me so much joy and freedom, becomes a context for pain and fear when people threaten or assault female runners.

I usually feel safe when I run here in Eastie, or in my parents’ neighborhood in West Texas, or even on the High Line in New York. But I definitely think twice before heading out the door: do I have my phone? Am I running in a well-lit neighborhood, especially at night? What will I do if a suspicious person approaches me? Here in the city, close to home, I worry less – but I still go through that mental checklist.

Here’s the thing: the onus should not be on me to ensure my own safety while running. It is everyone’s responsibility to treat others with care and respect. I am not “asking for” anything by going out for a run, except space to do it. I shouldn’t even have to think about harassment or threats, and neither should the many women who have endured painful or dangerous experiences while running. (It need hardly be said: as a white woman, I’m far less likely to suffer harassment or worse than women of color.)

My local running store, Marathon Sports, is sponsoring the #LetHerRun virtual 5K this weekend. I’m participating, because I believe everyone should have the right to run without fear, and because the proceeds will go to aid victims of domestic violence. Join me?

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My one little word for 2020 is resilience.

I haven’t written about it much here, either pre- or mid-pandemic, mostly because I have been too busy trying to live it. Resilience seems an obvious choice, perhaps, for someone rebuilding after a divorce; I wondered if I didn’t need a word that sounded a little brighter, more joyful. But resilience, it turns out, is the perfect word for this crazy year, which keeps throwing us new curveballs even as we scramble to field the latest ones. And, along with several of my other recent words, resilience is a perfect companion to my running.

Like so many parts of our lives – exercise, relationships, housework, even getting out of bed in the morning – running sometimes depends on an inner toughness, a willingness and an ability to keep doing the damn thing. This morning I woke up to grey skies and misty rain (though at least it wasn’t cold), and I had to decide to lace up my sneakers and go out for a run, knowing it might be miserable at first. (It was.)

I’ve run when I was tired, when I didn’t feel like changing clothes or getting sweaty, when my hamstrings were protesting from an intense yoga class, when it was cold or dark or I was just not in the mood. I’ve been lucky so far to mostly escape injuries (knock wood), but I have also run after a few minor incidents that had me worried about the state of my body. I want to keep running for as long as I can, and that means not just running when the weather is glorious or when I feel like it. My running is resilient: it has so far survived three winters, a divorce, a move, a stone bruise and the first eleven thousand months of a pandemic. As I keep on with it, I remember that I am, too.

I started running in 2017, when I was following magic to unexpected and sometimes challenging places. Running, as you know by now, has proven to be both. I kept running throughout 2018, when my word was grit – a word applicable to running on every level I can think of. And in 2019, when my word was thrive, I ran miles and miles on paths both new and familiar, determined to thrive even though I had no idea how to navigate the collapse of my marriage and all the attendant changes.

We are two-ish months away from 2021, and I don’t know as yet what my word for the year will be. But I’m betting that whatever it is, it will resonate with my running life in some way. I’ll carry it with me, the way I carry these other words in my bones and blood, all of them invisible but vital to who I am.

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“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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