Monday, May 4, 2015


Two whole weeks after the fact, and I finally feel like I have settled down enough to begin wrapping up this whole marathon thing with a final blog post. Hobbling out of my apartment the day after the race, having woken up early due to the aching pains radiating up and down my legs, I walked with Daniel to meet my parents for a large and lovely breakfast at Ball Square Cafe. I spotted a significant number of other runners sporting their purple and orange 2015 celebration jacket, although I noticed that few were walking as funny as me. By late afternoon, after sitting inert in the car for 6 and half hours on the drive down to PA, my parents had to practically pry me out of the backseat. I have to say, only three days later did I begin to experience a (slight) reduction in the full-blown rigor mortis that had rendered me completely unable to go up or down the stairs without hoisting myself up the railing with my arms. I take it as an indicator that I probably could not have pushed myself any harder, although it is also somewhat shameful validation of my pre-race notion that no, my body was not nearly as ready as it was last year. The paralyzation of my quadriceps has once again brought to mind a mythological device of yore, the so-called Airlin Berlift, initially merely product of Carl's bungled attempt at saying "Berlin Airlift" during the drive to Thanksgiving dinner back in November. But we liked the sound of it, and the name inspired an imaginary 1950's-era piece of hydraulic machinery, a sort of personal elevator-seat that could support one's weight while slowly changing height, ideally to enable a Mrs. Cleaver-type housewife in pumps and a frilly apron to steadily insert a runny pumpkin pie into the oven without sloshing the uncooked filling. This sort of nonsense was perpetuated by the plain fact that my mother and I could have used such a device earlier that Thanksgiving Day.

However, given the nature of most appliances from the '50s, the Airlin Berlift would probably have cost a fortune, been solid chrome and weighed 600 lbs, taken up half the kitchen, moved painfully slowly, and yet broken down frequently during delicate baking maneuvers (with potentially catastrophic consequences). Upon observing my inability to raise myself up from the car seat, Daniel suggested we launch a special Airlin Berlift attachment seat, made specially to hoist crippled runners into a standing position. Only $2000 extra! (note: does not include the forklift you'd need to transport the Airlin Berlift to the driveway). 

Anyways, I digress. I'll begin on the morning of April 20th, when  when my alarm went off at 6am. I'd had trouble sleeping for several days due to nerves, and felt rather crappy, but I nonetheless got on my uniform, tied my ribbons, choked down the driest peanut butter bagel known to man, and headed downtown to meet my team on the Boston Common. We were all shaking in the damp morning cold, and unbeknownst to us, it was not destined to get any warmer. A Samaritans staff member wrote messages on my calves (the only skin that I let show in such cold), and we got on the bus to Hopkinton soon thereafter. Our school bus, apparently, was the slowest of the fleet, and it took us nearly an hour going about 45 mph on route 90 to get to the Athlete's Village, and probably 25 BAA buses passed us on the way. Not that any of us were anxious to sit around in the developing rain, but I had mistakenly decided to chug my liter of water on the bus after deciding that I didn't want to be drinking much more once I got there. So, by the time we arrived, I had to pee so badly that I died a little when I saw the snaking line for toilet in the wall of port-a-potties that surrounded the compound. As I stood in the rain, doing a pee/cold dance in place, I checked out the "Athlete's Village" with a certain amount of skepticism. A large tent pitched in a muddy school sports field under which people sat huddled under trash bags and surrounded by garbage, discarded clothing, and foil blankets, the Athlete's Village was more inspiring of a refugee camp than I had anticipated. As my wave was ushered to the start line nearly a mile away, the rain began in earnest and many of us realized that our thrift store jackets, which we had intended to pitch before the start, were the only things keeping us from becoming hypothermic. So, clad in dirty sweaters, pilly fleeces, and over-sized hoodies, we exited the village towards the start line before veering off from the pack of people into a cul-de-sac of port-a-potties right near the start line. It was getting windy. Mounds of discarded clothing were being collected by volunteers into trash bags and then dug through furiously by us in a desperate search for gloves, hats, and other warmer items. Opting out of putting someone's dirty socks on my hands as some of my teammates opted to do, I made the best "sleeve gloves" I could manage and was swept up in the crowd moving to the start line.

The first two or three miles of the race were so choked with people that it was slow going. I located my teammate Davia in the crowd, a relief as we had lost track of her in the Athlete's Village during the post-bus-ride port-a-potty dash. She and Jimmy and I remained close to one another for several miles, while it began to rain in earnest. The road was narrow and wooded, and immediately upon passing the start line, the roadside was littered with peeing guys. The crowd was thick, but I did my best to dodge puddles for at least the first 6 miles, and Jimmy stayed not far from me for most of it. It was miserably cold, but after 3 miles or so I decided to throw away my mom-fleece, a powder blue number made by Columbia that I found at the Goodwill in Central Square. Runners were so densely packed that we were nearly doing 11 minute miles, but by Framingham it began to spread out. I scanned the sides for Uncle Dan and Aunt Julie and cousins Celia and Sonia, but it was a long stretch of town and I was unsure of their exact location. I did end up running into them towards the back end of town, and ran over to exchange hugs. I was sort of amazed they could tolerate standing around in such weather, but vastly appreciated the gesture.

I had another 6 miles before seeing Carolyn and her family, and I settled into a sort of mindless state. It was raining on and off, and I was already soaked, so I stopped bothering to dodge puddles. Around mile 8, I could feel my calves tightening as they had been doing lately. The roadside crowds began to intensify as we approached Natick, as did the headwind, and I distracted my mind from my contracting calves by reading the motivational signs that spectators waved. My favorite was "Pain is just the French word for bread." By the time I reached Carolyn and her family at the bottom of their street, I had to admit that I was feeling rather tired, and I still had 15 miles to go. But seeing them gave me a boost, so I carried on and looked forward to my next familiar faces, the Samaritans staff at mile 17. As I approached Wellesley, I could see a police officer shepherding back a flock of screaming girls that were nearly breaking down the barrier. Many were sporting red lipstick and brandishing signs advertising free kisses, and I couldn't help but smile at the entire scene. One co-ed with dark curls tapped her cheek as I ran by, so I stopped for a quick "la bise" but was instead delivered a full smack on the mouth. Wellesley was choked with spectators, and I was beginning to need it. I could feel my body almost slipping away, and kept catching myself running with a struggle face. Not good.

Soon after hitting mile 16, I became uncomfortably aware that it was becoming almost impossible for me to do my normal mid-foot strike--my legs almost felt like they would wobble out from under me. I found myself heel striking instead, a way that I haven't run for nearly 2 years now, but I practically had no choice. I had never hit "The Wall" before, ever. Not in training this year, not even in last year's 21 miler. But the sudden and unmistakable transformation of the surrounding air into thick molasses was enough to tip me off. I suddenly got much colder as well. I repeatedly breathed onto my wet hands that had stiffened into curled claws inside my sleeve-gloves. All I could think of by this time was reaching Daniel and my parents at Heartbreak hill, where I knew they had gloves waiting for me. I had been steadily eating a gel every 30 or 40 minutes, but at this point I was uncertain that I could command my fingers to undo the tiny pocket zipper, so I was relieved to see the Clif gel station up ahead, also because I knew I would find Samaritans shortly after. As I sucked the fruity goop, I heard Steve Mongeau yelling my name and I ran over, practically begging one of them to warm my hands with theirs. A woman standing with the Samaritans staff saved me by handing me her gloves, but my fingers had lost all dexterity and I was completely unable to put them on. Steve jammed them over my frozen hands, offered words of encouragement, and sent me onward.

By the time I turned onto Commonwealth Avenue by the Newton firehouse, I really felt myself beginning to lose it. It was tiredness like I had never experienced--usually when I get tired on a run, I just take a big breath, perhaps slow my pace for a few strides, and then settle back into the rhythm of my music. This tiredness was not in my heart or lungs, but in my body, and my mind was receiving so many alarm calls from my legs that I couldn't focus on my music whatsoever. I had lost all form, stiffly heel-striking up the first Newton hill, which looked about twice as huge as I remembered. My memory the next few miles has burred into patchy pictures of scenes from the roadside. I would glance wearily into every medical tent I passed, feeling the pull of a comfy seat and warm broth. But I continued forward, each step jarring my rigid body. On the third hill, I pulled up next to another runner and the two of us exchanged a woeful look. He asked how I was doing. Struggling, I said. He was as well, and explained that he usually hits the wall around this time, but he seemed much more accepting of the situation than I was.

By the time I passed Heartbreak Running Company and saw Heartbreak Hill rise up in front of me, I focused on the cross streets, looking for Hobart Street halfway up. That was where my family would be, and suddenly I could see them waving a huge sign and cheering for me as I approached and then collapsed my body onto the guard rail to rest. I felt absolutely terrible, but they encouraged me to drink water and eat another gel (with a double shot of caffeine--at this point, I had probably
consumed the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee). I think I scared my mother by looking so utterly wasted, but after a minute or two flopped over the fence, I was ready get this thing out of my system. Six more miles.

Usually, my favorite part of the course from training is the point right after the peak of Heartbreak Hill, right when you pass Boston College and the skyline of Boston opens up ahead like a first glimpse of the Promised Land. I had been anticipating this moment, but what I hadn't brought into my calculations was that my training runs were exclusively done on the parallel carriage road, and in this particular area the carriage road topped the higher side of the hill while the main road actually stays significantly lower down. So my view remained elusive, and as I headed down past BC, things deteriorated a bit more as the wind from the reservoir ripped down Comm Ave and threatened to push me back to Hopkinton. Making the turn onto Beacon Street at Cleveland Circle, I was aware of huge crowds screaming encouragement, but it was hard to focus on anything other than fighting the urge to stop. Passing those who were walking was the hardest, as it took every ounce of will power to not slow down and join them.

I knew based on my pace that I was just at the cusp of possibly getting under 4 hours, something that I believe would have been easy for me last year, but all bets were off this time around. I had crossed the start line at exactly 11:20, and although I was too tired to check the time on my iPod, I could sense that I would probably have to maintain pace perfectly to just barely make it. Still, the urge to walk was insane, and two or three times I found myself walk-hobbling for 10 or so seconds without having even made the conscious decision to stop running. In my mind, I tried to channel Nathaniel's strength, imagining his awesomely powerful legs taking over for mine. On several different occasions I heard my name, and looked up to see Sam and Molly, Lucas Braun, Donald from CFS, and finally my physical therapist in Coolidge Corner, who gave me a huge cheer of encouragement. I passed many runners who looked absolutely beat, and I occasionally mustered the strength to pat their shoulder and urge them forward. Before long, I could see Mt. Kenmore (the overpass that crosses 90) looming up ahead, seeming so intimidating that I fell to a walk even before tackling the actual hill. Yet I ran the thing itself, through the jam-packed Kenmore Square, and was straining my eyes for the turn onto Hereford when I realized with horror that they were routing us onto the underpass beneath Mass Ave, which meant going uphill on the other side. Two of the toes on my left foot were aching badly, probably because my crooked big toe is unable to fully perform its duties, so I hobbled up from beneath the bridge with my toes awkwardly curled in my shoe in an effort to relieve the pressure. Turning right on Hereford, I checked my iPod and saw that it was 3:17pm--I had three minutes to make it under 4 hours. Left on Boylston St., and I could see the finish line up ahead. It seemed to recess almost like a mirage, and although a post-race viewing of the finish line cam revealed many runners around me, I felt completely alone in the broad avenue. I passed the Public Library, quickly raked the grandstand for my parents, and then stepped across the line. It took me 4 hours and 34 seconds. Not exactly what I'd always hoped for, but I did my best with what I had at the time.

I had always imagined the race would be a hugely emotional experience, mainly based on how the 21-miler was for me last year. Running for me is usually such a high, and with that high comes the potential for rather rapid mood swings, as I experienced during the longest run last year when my mind went crazy thinking about the race, how meaningful it was to me, Nathaniel, etc. But instead, this time my body was in such physical agony during the race itself that I couldn't think about anything except not collapsing into a pile of broken runner parts. Shuffling away from the finish, perhaps in an attempt to convince my body to regain its trust in me, I resolved to never, ever do something like that again (although, ask me now or even just a day later, and you may hear something different). My parents came running from the finish line security area, as they had intended to watch me finish from the grandstands but had gotten caught up in lengthy bag checks, but a fence separated us. I ended up hobbling several blocks down Boylston Street while well-trained volunteers put my medal around my neck, handed me food, undid wrappers for me, and stuffed an emergency blanket over my head as intense shivering began to overtake me. I was coaxed onto a heated bus for a bit to warm up (turns out that many runners had hypothermia this year), then finally met my parents and Daniel in the family area and the three of us headed to the Samaritans after-party, where Carl joined shortly after.

And now, two weeks later, I just have to say how grateful I am to all those who supported me by writing encouraging emails, donating to Samaritans, buying my cards, wishing me luck, or keeping me in their thoughts. Training for the marathon these past two seasons has given me a lot of courage, and I am truly going to miss the sense of purpose that filled my life because of it. I feel like I have gained so much from this whole endeavor, and I have trouble finding words that accurately describe how touched I am by the outpouring of love that I received along the way. Unfortunately I will not be doing much running in the weeks to come, as my do-whatever-it-takes-to-finish-even-if-it-includes-changing-my-footstrike approach to the final ten miles of the race resulted in a stress fracture in my left foot, something that has been recently diagnosed after two weeks of tenderness. But, given my injury last year, it almost seems seasonally appropriate to wear an air boot in the springtime, so it seems I am just keeping with the tradition. If anyone wants to buy the patents for the Airlin Berlift and sent a prototype my way, I could definitely use it to help me get around (as long as I make sure to leave two or three hours early). I am already counting down the days until I can get running again in a month or two, but until then you can probably find me with my feet up and enjoying the fact that it is 75 degrees and I don't have to be up and running by 8am on Saturday in the blistering cold. I could never have done it without your help!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

This is it!

Here it is, the night before the race, and I hardly even have time to post an update! Hopefully people got my email today and know that they can track me during the race by using the BAA Boston Marathon Mobile App, if you enter my bib number 30188. You can also text "30188" to 234-567 to receive simple text updates. Both will let you know when (if) I pass the 10K, half-marathon, 30K, and finish.

I wish I felt a bit more confident in my abilities right now, but I am going to do my best to fight through my injury, this supposed 20 mph headwind, and rain to reach the finish. Thank you to everyone for your endless encouragement, love, and belief. You have all helped me more than you can know.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


The past two weeks have not gone exactly as I imagined, although it is certainly an improvement from last year, as at least my bones all remain in one piece and I haven't found myself bursting into tears in public at any point. After the 21-mile fiasco, I quickly activated my 1-month BSC membership that Michelle graciously gave me last year, and my usual Cambridge/Somerville running routes have been replaced by the elliptical in the corner that looks down over the Singer sewing store in Davis Square. I haven't been a gym rat since college when it rained for 6 weeks straight during my final spring semester at Earlham, and I've had to re-train myself to not shamelessly stare at all the fascinating and totally bizarre workout behavior in my surroundings.

First, I'll share the good news: with the help of a physical trainer at Boston Sports Medicine, plus a lot of rest and cross training, I believe that my behind-the-knee issue is more or less on the mend. I did not feel ready to do last Saturday's 12-miler, so I did my best to simulate it on my elliptical in the corner, feeling oddly on display for all of Davis. I also hopped onto the treadmill for about 3 miles until I began to get telltale twinges, but overall I felt optimistic afterwards. For the rest of the week I followed a similar routine, gradually upping my treadmill mileage to the point where I felt comfortable heading to Kenmore yesterday morning for the final 8 mile "long" run. Mentally, I needed it. And it went well--I took it at a bit of a clip, and was very pleased that I hardly felt any semblance of pain. It was a gorgeous morning, and it was hard to believe that after two years of beginning and ending my long runs on Beacon Street, the next time I would be there will be during the race itself.

The slightly-less-good news is this: after spending yesterday afternoon doing light activity throwing the Aerobie on the sunny Boston Common, I was intensely sore in the legs (especially my calves). I woke up this morning and hobbled to the bathroom looking something like an arthritic pirate with two peg legs. I chalked it up to improper hydration and perhaps also some electrolyte imbalances, as, believe it or not, I was able to run in capris yesterday and not only did I not succumb to hypothermia, but I actually got HOT. Still, it is not reassuring to feel steamrolled after an 8-miler when I am expected to run over 3 times the distance in just over a week. I am pretty nervous, to be honest. Ironically, I was completely confident in my abilities last year, but I am a bit dubious this time around. I think it is going to be very hard, and I am trying to let go of any desires to finish the race in any specific time goal.

To wrap it up, this coming week will hold a few training runs before I spend next weekend relaxing with family as we honor the 4th anniversary of Nathaniel's death. I have received a great influx of donations over the past several days, and am so pleased to report that I am merely $201 from surpassing last year's total to fulfill this year's fundraising goal! I am still thinking about how I can thank my many donors for having such courage in me and my mission to support Samaritans. You all are truly awesome people.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hammy Setbacks

I was given the gift of company during our snowy 12 mile run last Saturday, something that was greatly needed to push me forward. We all showed up before the run in some amount of rough shape. These three weeks at peak are brutal on the body; following up the 18 miles on March 14th with 8 miles of hill reps the following Tuesday, and we were all feeling various body parts starting to "go." By the final few miles, I was uncomfortably aware of a twinge that had sprouted deep in the area behind my left knee. I hoped taking Sunday and Monday off would give it time to settle, but my hill workout on Tuesday was cut short on the 5th rep when it steadily worsened. I took three days off, iced, stretched, and left for the peak 21 mile run yesterday morning feeling pretty hopeful.

The 21 mile run was sort of my final hurrah last year, although of course I wasn't aware of it at the time. It was a beautiful day that permitted us to run in short sleeves, and I think it was the first time my arms had seen sun since October. This year, however, the weather was not so generous, and we got off the buses in Framingham amid steady snow. I was pleased to have time on the bus to connect with my teammate, Davia, and we started off the run together. I recalled taking the first 4.5 miles rather slow last year, and I decided to repeat that tactic. I also wanted to use these first few miles to feel out my hamstring. I was fully aware of the absurdity of it all, testing out an injury's readiness with a ridiculous 21 miles (I'd normally give it a test run with, I don't know, one mile at most?), but I was feeling the pressure of knocking this one out. Completing the 21 mile at a good pace last year made me feel 100% more ready for the actual race, and I needed that reassurance more than ever this time.

However, half a mile in, and I could already tell I was in trouble. A tight feeling and slight burning sensation were already pulling all my thoughts to my left leg, and as we cruised up to our first fuel station at mile 3, I dreaded the decision I knew I would have to make. My energy was raring but I held myself to a jog, hoping to at least make it to the Samaritans tent at mile 8, where I knew Daniel would be waiting. But shortly after Natick Center, I could tell I was about to start making things quite worse, so I stepped off to the side by some cheering supporters at the fire station to borrow a phone and call Daniel. Coincidentally, we had just taken the time to memorize each other's phone numbers the night before, and I bitterly mused at how quickly it came to good use.

It was hard to not feel like this twinge in my hamstring was the Toe Incident all over again. Race Day feels so far in the future all winter, but the days seem to fly by after the peak run. As I chilled down in the falling snow waiting for Daniel to arrive, masses of runners passed by and it felt all too familiarly like last year when I stood on Heartbreak Hill on April 21st to cheer for my teammates and thousands of others, wishing I was almost anywhere else. Climbing into the car after Daniel finally arrived, I felt like such a failure once more as we sped past hundreds of runners down the length of Washington Street and Comm Ave. Feeling incapable with only three weeks to go is not a position that makes me feel very comfortable, and I spent the afternoon riddled with anxiety and feeling quite sorry for myself. I had a sports massage that afternoon (a gift that Daniel gave me for my birthday way back in November), which I had scheduled with the intent of it being a kind reward to my aching body after putting it through the mill. However, it was now instead the first step towards healing this issue as quickly as possible, and I explained everything in great detail to my massage therapist before we got started. He was a rather eccentric guy, which I probably would have handled better in a lesser state of anxiety, but I was soon completely preoccupied by physical discomfort as he tackled my frozen hamstrings and quadriceps with some pretty serious maneuvers. I am quite aware of how tight my legs tend to be (absolutely not helped by my lackadaisical approach to stretching, nor my genetics; 8 years of ballet in my youth and I could never do a damn split, if that tells you anything), but I was less aware of how that tightness inhibits my ease of movement. My range of motion was miserable, but after one excruciating hour, I had gained many inches of hamstring reach and I was amazed at how different walking felt.

In short, I now have my work cut out for me once again. I quickly activated the one-month membership to Boston Sports Club that Michelle gifted to me last year after the accident (something had told me to hold off using it!), and I already have a plan in motion for the next three weeks that involves heavy cross training, superhuman amounts of stretching, and probably another visit or two to the magical hamstring masseur. I am in a much better emotional place now than I was yesterday, and hopeful that I can reorient myself and work around this setback to still run on the 20th. I am telling myself that last year was my year to rock the peak run, while this year will be the one to rock the actual race. And now, I am going to go stretch.

Lastly, if you are curious, check out this link to read about the Boston Strong quilt (made by a Samaritans marathon runner last year) which will be hanging in the Statehouse from April 1st - 20th.

Friday, March 20, 2015

I left school around 4:00 on Tuesday, armed with my hot pink gym bag filled with all my hill run essentials. The workout actually starts at 5:30, but for once I managed to not get sucked into various meetings or project planning or discussions about curriculum, so I decided to get a head start while the sun was still strong. It was almost 50 degrees and almost blindingly sunny, and I hardly felt the sense of impending doom that usually precedes the hill workout as I waded through rivers of snow melt on my way to Porter Square. My foot felt solid, despite having run 18 miles three days prior; a very rainy ordeal, which left me chafed where the wet seams of my shirt rubbed against my sides but thankfully spared me any foot pain. With patches of grass showing among the snow piles for the first time in nearly two months, the world felt decidedly less hostile. Looking to the north, I could see the thinnest strip of deep gray sky on the horizon over Arlington and Medford, but everything looked peachy in the direction of Boston as I headed into the T to go downtown.

My 20 minute trip underground brought me up onto the Boston Common amid a completely different scene than the one I had left in Cambridge. Evidently, during the time that it took to travel underground to the other side of the river, that tiny layer of gray sky had quickly stretched its way over the entire Commonwealth and brought with it a 15-degree drop in temperature and a wind that ripped up Tremont Street and made me struggle to push the door open to exit the subway. I knew that the forecast for Wednesday was a mere 27 degrees, and it seemed as though Canada was on her way in already for a most unwelcome visit. The first drops began to fall only moments after starting my first steps around the Common and Public Garden to warm up, and by the time I reached the bottom of The Hill, I was barely able to open my eyes through the stinging rain.

As I began my repetitions up and down the length of Beacon Hill, head bent down to reduce the sharp bite of the rain on my face, my view was reduced to the toes of my blue sneakers coming in and out of frame with each stride and the glimpsed faces of passing commuters, mostly hidden beneath hoods and umbrellas. With so much of the world shut out, I was mainly left to my own thoughts. Thoughts of work, of my parents who are away in the Middle East. Thoughts of Nathaniel. The wind increased, and I began to think of a Shipley family who recently lost their 13 year old son, Cayman, to suicide. As I pushed my way up the hill, I thought of what they must be feeling at that very moment. Agony, I knew. I remember the first weeks after Nathaniel died, how every second of the day was punctuated by a deep pain in my chest that radiated into my upper back, like the grief was boring a hole right through me. I had never experienced emotional pain so profound that it became physical as well, and it is not something that I will forget. I remember those first moments of each morning, when I was barely coming into consciousness, often out of a regular dream with nonsensical plot lines and familiar faces; where for a few rare moments I had forgotten that he was gone and everything carried on against the familiar backdrop of my life, one that included my brother. And then I would wake up, and in an instant that gaping hole would open up like a vacuum and every emotion, every traumatic memory, every regret would come rushing in to fill the void. Other nights I would dream of his death, and my emotions would follow me right into my sleep. I felt completely and utterly broken. As the rain soaked through my clothes and froze my forearms, I wondered if Cayman's family was feeling anything like I had. I know that he had a sister.

The rain steadied, and then abruptly transformed into pelting hail like someone had thrown a switch. As I let gravity take me down the hill to prepare for another repetition, the little balls of ice rolled ahead of my feet while more pinged both delightfully and somewhat painfully off my body. Trying to catch the little hail stones in my hands, I turned around to head back to the top and was overwhelmed by the thought of why am I doing this? I could run this hill a million times and it would never bring Nathaniel back. I could run marathons for the rest of my life and it would not ease the Naib family's grief for their son, Cayman. The grief for a loved one is as enduring as their death. I know I will always grieve Nathaniel, because I will always love him. So why, why have I felt the need to once again pour myself into training for this one particular race? Squinting my eyes against the stinging ice, I scanned the snowy Common as if the answer lay somewhere nearby.

Not surprisingly, I did not come up with a brilliant response during the 45 minutes I spent going back and forth over the same length of Beacon Hill. I thought about how I am running to support Samaritans and the tireless work they do each day to support those who are feeling desperate, suicidal, or are grieving a loved one. Every time I go into the office to drop off my school bag before a hill run, I hear the volunteers answering countless helpline calls. The admire the volunteers for their calm courage as they tactfully and skillfully navigate whatever comes through the line; just hearing their side of the conversation is enough to make me leave the room as promptly as I can. I could never do what they do. But no, supporting Samaritans is only part of it, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on the rest. Turning to head up the hill for my second-to-last time, my body was beginning to scream. Was I running for the physical challenge, like an attempt to achieve some semblance of solidarity for the those who struggle daily as Nathaniel did? Like if I could will myself up the hill one more time, perhaps someone like Nathaniel would find the strength to hold out a little longer? Yet I had no doubt that my bodily cries paled in comparison to the inner marathon he ran every day. For soon I would be done and sitting on the T to head back home. He was never done.

Heading back up the hill for my ninth and final time, I felt uneasy. The hail had ceased and it was now just bitterly cold and gusty, and I was dressed inadequately. Why couldn't I pinpoint the true reason why I felt driven to do this? Was there no reason at all? Perhaps it was just a distraction from my grief, or a way to feel like I was doing something amid the helplessness of it all; not very empowering reasons, I concluded. Feeling somewhat defeated, I ran the last rep hard, and when I reached the top I doubled over with my hands on my knees, my heart racing out of my chest. The sky remained a deep, mottled gray, but I happened to glance up at the state house to my left and saw one tiny slit of blue sky peeking out from the clouds behind the golden dome. Turning around to go down for the final time, I looked ahead at the massive mirrored side of the John Hancock building in Copley Square and saw that the slim swath of blue sky behind me was magnified and reflected across all 60 stories of Boston's tallest skyscraper, 760 feet of brilliant blue contrasted against the surrounding dark cloud layer. In my mind, I almost word-for-word replayed Meg Ryan's conversation with her mother in Sleepless in Seattle ("It's a sign!" "But you don't believe in signs!"). I admired the oddness and beauty of it the whole way down the hill and by the time I reached the bottom, the building stood tall and gray again, washed out against the stormy backdrop. I couldn't quite figure out the physics of it all, but it somehow brought me comfort. I am indeed doing something small, perhaps nearly insignificant, like one fleeting sliver of clear sky in a massive storm front. But it is beautiful, and who knows; perhaps it will reflect as something huge for someone else, whether it brings them hope or comfort or will to continue. It is big for me. And maybe that is enough.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Long Run, February 28th: PA Love

I can hardly think of a better way to say "good riddance" to February than by waking up super early and running 18 miles in fifteen degrees. Except for maybe a large, homemade brunch. Or sleeping in, and then doing a long run...or perhaps not running at all, maybe just playing with a cat instead. Actually as I write this, I am beginning to think of a rather large number of things that may be more desirable, so I'll just move on. I am sure that I wanted nothing to do with life when I woke up at an unmentionable hour to drag my sorry behind to Kenmore Square. I was, however, quite excited that my mom and Daniel would be joining the fun by handing out gatorade along the course. My mom and dad were in town for the weekend, and although my dad was busy at the IOCDF board meeting on Saturday morning, mom and Daniel agreed to be my support team.

It was awesome seeing my mom at Joint Ventures right at 7:30, and I started the run with more energy than usual. It was brilliantly sunny, but quite cold, and poor conditions around the reservoir and near Newton were forcing us to modify our usual route and instead do a simple out-and-back on Beacon Street and Comm Ave. I knew that my two cheerleaders would be waiting at the turnaround at mile 9, so I ran only the first mile or two slow with some Samaritans runners and then did my best to hurry down Beacon and get to Commonwealth Avenue quickly. It felt a bit odd heading the wrong way up Chestnut Hill Ave, and I realized that the backside of Heartbreak is actually possibly more difficult than the front.

Interestingly, Comm Ave all the way to the Newton firehouse was more of a spectacle than usual, with swarms of runners dressed like superheros and somewhat inexplicably like various fruits. The mood was contagious, however, and I found myself smiling at the ridiculous costumes. I was also aware that, for the first time, I was now "that person" coming down Heartbreak instead of going up. Generally, when one is panting their way up a hill, seeing other people cruising down the opposite way all effortlessly makes the sweat taste a bit more salty. I have often resisted the urge to yell at them for going the wrong way. You're supposed to go UP Heartbreak hill, durrr.

The density of superheros and other costumed runners increased as I approached the firehouse at the intersection with Washington Street, where I was enormously pumped to find Boston's legendary Keytar Bear playing on the side of Comm Ave at a gatorade table. His keytar beats are actually so fresh that I sometimes can't even handle it. I've never seen him outside of the T or Faneuil Hall area, so that really rocked my world for a second. In case you've never heard about this guy, read his interview for Boston Magazine here. It's pretty hilarious. My favorite part..."The costume is a little dirty. Do you think it's horrifying?" "I think it's horrifying." Also the way he hates on obnoxious school children.

Never have I continued beyond the Newton firehouse, but it was like entering the doldrums from the Phantom Tollbooth. The superheros and music disappeared, the carriage road got way more icy, and I swear even the snow got dirtier. Only our training program was going out another mile before turning around, so there were just few runners in general. But soon I could see Ma and Daniel at the turnaround, and it was nice to catch a break for a few minutes. I felt good though.  Heading back, I positioned myself with two other girls from the program who were holding 8:20 - 8:30, which is just about where I wanted myself. The run back was somewhat uneventful, to be honest. I held pace, got to see my cheering squad once more at the BC Wall, and then picked up some speed for the final 3 miles down Beacon Street to finish in about two hours and 40 minutes, including all the stops. I am sure that consuming three hyper-sugary gels along the way helped the process, but overall I was in high spirits. Good riddance, February. On to my least favorite month of all, March.

Friday, February 27, 2015


I realized that I failed to document my last two longer runs, a 16-miler on Valentine's Day in PA and then a 10-miler right before returning to this winter hellscape. Both were rather lonely affairs, as Daniel was unable to join. However, my 16 mile loop included running to Ridley Creek State Park from my house, so my parents drove directly there to walk the opposite way around the circular trail and caught me around mile 9 to provide water. It was one of those incredibly dull white-sky days, which always makes me gripey, and it didn't help that I just felt "off" for the first 3 miles. I did, however, run right by the most spectacular and densely populated Poopland that I have ever seen, right on the edge of someone's yard. Nathaniel's main issue with dog owners was the lack of poop-pickup diligence, and frowned at the phenomenon of turd accumulation on one's lawn, rendering barefoot play a real game of Russian roulette. He coined the term Poopland some years ago, and actually submitted a definition here for your convenience. Overall, the run was significantly less gory than the previous 16 miler, and I finished just before the snow began to pick up. I did my 10 miler on the following Friday (because on Saturday we went into NJ to visit Grandma Jean), and while I got my bright sun, I also got only about 10 degrees. Which is actually what's on the menu for tomorrow's run, our first 18 miler. There should be some rule about the number of miles not being allowed to exceed the number of degrees. While I can admit that the weather doesn't owe me a thing, my inner 5-year-old wants to whine about how unfair it is, especially when tells me that the average high for this time of year should be 41. I didn't hold back grouching about the cold last year, but the past two months have proven just as brutally frigid. Oh, plus the 102 inches of snow that we've gotten. Did I mention that 8 feet of snow makes running difficult?

The hill run on Tuesday was particularly brutal and cold, a good 8 miles of going up and down the Beacon Street hill, 14 repeats. One repeat for every degree, it turned out. Yes, I am looking forward to spring. I am, however, very stoked on the fact that I have topped $9,000 with my fundraising, a huge leap forward! I am so impressed by and grateful for all my dogged supporters. You all are amazing, so thank you! I'll leave you with this definitely not-photoshopped photo, which I feels all too accurate.