Sunday, December 29, 2013

Long Run, December 28th: "Bad Dates"

Sometimes runs are just bad. It happens, but it is always discouraging. Whatever it is--low energy, nagging pains, or no motivation, there is always the fear that it's there to stay. Which is almost never true, thankfully, but it always makes me uneasy. When I think about a bad run, I say it in my head the way that guy wearing the fez says "Bad dates" to Indiana Jones after he stops him from eating one and points over to the dead monkey, which has been poisoned by said bad dates. Anyway, my long run on Saturday was scheduled to be 10 miles, and I found myself procrastinating beforehand, finding ways to linger around the house. Not a good sign, and mostly due to the fact that for the past week I've been fighting a nasty head cold. It's clearing up now, but still sapping me of my energy and not making exercise seem particularly appealing. Especially when I could instead snuggle under my new Eagles blanket and read from my complete Jane Austen collection that my mom gave me for Christmas. It didn't help that by the time I finally urged myself out onto the street, I had to immediately turn back for lighter clothes (I guess during all the time it took for me to get my butt out the door, it had actually warmed up into the mid 40s). So by 11:30 or so, I was finally headed out for real in an old Pete's Produce shirt I had found in the bottom of my drawer.

The first issue was that I was an idiot when I mapped out my course, the first mile of which took me down Cheyney road and onto a small segment of Pete's Farm at Westtown. Cheyney road has an icky blind hill right at the bottom of our street, followed by a rather harrowing, shoulder-less straightaway with another blind curve before the hill down to 926. I can't count how many dead animals I've seen on that stretch, so to avoid a similar fate I cut over towards the cemetery. The Old Cheyney Cemetery, nestled at the corner of the historic Squire Cheyney Farm, has some revolutionary-era gravestones and not a lot much newer. As I skirted the stone wall that encloses it, I could see many of Thomas "Squire" Cheyney II's descendants. It was the Squire who informed George Washington during the battle of the Brandywine that the British were in fact attacking from the north, and was then later appointed to the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention to ratify the US Constitution. My list of Cool Historical Figures That Make Their Way Into My Thoughts While I'm Running is ever growing.

Aside from that little juicy historical distraction, everything else pretty much sucked. The process of cutting around the cemetery and following the edge of farm instead of running on the road meant running on sort of lumpy grass and dirt, which immediately aggravated my ankle tendonitis. I slowed it down and weighed the risk of potentially reactivating an injury vs. becoming road pizza. I chose to stay mostly on the grass, but as I crossed 926 and ran up the hill onto Pete's farm, I was regretting my choice. Not that the ankle was killing me, per se, but it is not encouraging to have it begin to hurt during the first mile of a longer-ish run. I decided to cut over into the adjacent neighborhoods to get some flat road under my feet, and at the edge of the farm I found myself stepping over caution tape and a bunch of warning signs that the annual deer hunt was in progress in the very area I was leaving. Thanks for putting signs down at the other end...obviously I made it through OK, but I felt a bit creeped out. On the upside, once into the neighborhood I saw a man hitching some horses up to a buggy, and that was pretty rad.

For the next 3 miles or so I gingerly assessed the ankle situation, and to my relief it slowly began to calm down once I was back on flat road. The downhills had to be taken more slowly, but it would seem that no major harm was done. However, as the tendon pain began to ease up, I was increasingly aware of a growing disease in my stomach, particularly after a big push up Old Gradyville Road between miles 5 and 6. I call it the Roller Coaster Road, because it is perfect for letting up on the brakes and barreling down all its curvy steepness. Going up it on foot feels more like trying to run up a ski slope, and it seems that the formula is as follows: extra push up monstrous hill + swallowing a bunch of my own mucus = major nausea. Since I've returned home, I have been following a strict diet of Christmas "bonbons" which likely didn't help. As I plodded forward, hoping that I would feel better soon, I also realized that I had not taken enough care to fully memorize the name of the road I was supposed to turn on at the top. I made my best "educated guess" (wouldn't my elementary school teachers be proud), but the idea that I may be wandering off in the wrong direction when I felt like I was about to chunder everywhere was starting to make me nervous. At the intersection right at mile 7, I stopped a man wearing cool shades to ask for directions, and I am glad I did.

The next 3 miles were painful, to say the least. Lots and lots of downhill into the creek bed, with my stomach sloshing away with each step. My progress slowed to a pretty sluggish pace, and the sight and smell of a squashed fox almost put me over the edge. Moments after I regained my composure, a majestic deer bounded out in front of me, all elegance and beauty, plus a gaping wound on its underbelly with its body parts hanging down underneath and flopping around like a red towel. I don't know if it had been shot, or maybe had just caught itself on something sharp...either way it wasn't pretty, and at this point it was clear that the animal omens were out to get me. The final two miles were incredibly unpleasant and I had to stop multiple times. By the time I actually arrived back at the house, I was reduced to laying on the couch for the rest of the afternoon while my stomach slowly regained its confidence. Let's hope that next week goes a little better...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Long Run, December 21st: Hills and Heat

Home again, home again, jiggity jig! For my first day back at home for Christmas, I celebrated with a long run through my old neighborhood. I ended up sleeping until almost 1pm, so needless to say, I got a pretty late start. That was not my original intent, but I didn't get home until close to 3am. If I may briefly explain; my Amtrak train from Boston left South Station at 5:35 and was due to arrive at 30th Street around 11:30. However, as we were nearing Mystic, they informed us that apparently the 3:20 train in front of us had suffered an unfortunate encounter with Bambi and his parents. I felt  sorry for the three poor creatures, and I also felt for the people who were stuck on the train whose engines were evidently too clogged with deer smoosh to operate. Now, why Amrak hadn't figured out some sort of solution for these travelers before we arrived behind them two hours later is a bit baffling, but their brilliant idea of a rescue operation involved cramming all 300 of them onto our already-full train. The process took over an hour, during which the power shut off and it was stifling hot (and dark), and the aisles slowly piled full of travelers, either forced to sit on top of their luggage or jammed in between. I had been looking forward to some well-needed rest, but as we crept to New Haven (where they were ready to add on more train cars to make room so people could actually sit--another lengthy process), I paused 'You've Got Mail' and talked with my new travel companions who had to awkwardly stand in the aisle for the next hour and half. SO, to make a long story short, by the time I left for my run the next day, my teammates up in Boston had already been finished theirs about 3 hours previously.

If you recall, last Saturday it was approximately 12 degrees for our long run. And now, a week later, the temperature was hovering around 65. So on the shortest day of the year I put on my shorts, Nathaniel's old club soccer jersey that I had cut the sleeves off of, and set off down College Hill Drive with rivers of snow melt rushing past my feet, grateful to feel the air on my skin and be back in my old haunt. I followed our road down into the creek bed, where it becomes narrow and winding and the possibility of getting run over by the quarry trucks that come barreling around the blind curves becomes a real possibility. However, a year running on these roads back in 2011-2012 has conditioned me well, and I know which areas to watch out for. The creek was overflowing its banks with all the extra melted snow, and in each little dip of the road, the air temperature would suddenly plummet 20 degrees. As the road followed Chester Creek towards Glen Mills, I averted my eyes from the expanse of woods on my right, where Nathaniel had made the decision to leave his body and move on. Instead, I focused on the road ahead--this route was one of his favorite runs, and he did it often. It wasn't long before I burst out into the small town that is Glen Mills. By town, I actually mean post office. Because that's about all there is, although I did see a few people at the railroad crossing, decking out the old-fashioned Santa Express train with wreathes. The tracks here are actually part of the R3 commuter rail line that runs into Philly, but they stopped running the train out this far back in the 1980s. Now, they use this segment of the tracks for a tour train, but it was also the place where Nathaniel and I would walk, talk, imagine, and just be together. It was kind of our default activity, heading down to the train tracks.

One of the major differences between running here versus up in Boston is the terrain. Over the course of any run down here, there is at least one big hill per mile--I don't think I could find a flat run if I tried. If you take a look at the elevation map, you'll see what I mean. As I turned west after the crossing shortly after mile 2, I was faced with a seemingly endless rise that took me up out of the woods and into the highlands. With nothing but rolling fields and the occasional car, I was able to sing along to my music without feeling too much like a huge weirdie. After cresting the hill, I passed the golf course where Nathaniel and I used to sneak around, sprinting across the greens and diving under the small bridges to avoid the patrolling security carts, simply for the joy of being in our own pseudo-real version of a stealth video game. Turning onto Cheyney road, I was almost squashed by an oblivious lady in a red pick-up, who was carelessly staring out the passenger side window. I never thought I'd say it, but I miss Boston drivers.

I cut through a large development to escape the crazy drivers, and was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of over sized cookie cutter houses with their blow-up Christmas decorations sagging in the mud. I witnessed two middle school aged boys playing basketball in the driveway. Warm enough to wear just shorts and tees, they were clearly having a shoot-off. As one's shot neared the net, his friend managed to knock his ball away with a perfectly-timed toss and subsequently received a face-full of snowball for his efforts. The development dumped me onto Locksley Road, which used I run on almost every day during the year I lived at home. I followed it down, down, down, back into the creek bed and across the road I had begun on. Now at about mile 6, it was a steady 3/4 of a mile uphill again, and I turned Nathaniel's old iPod to the Grateful Dead's 'Touch of Grey.' Around 7 minutes long, I always used this song back in 2011 to carry me up this gargantuan hill, letting the words "I will get by, I will survive" urge me forward as I sweated out all my pain, fear, anger, and sadness until all I could think about was the burning in my lungs.

Given that I was feeling pretty good, I ended up extending my route to include a loop through the neighborhood that abuts Westtown campus, and then development-hopped my way back to my street for 11.8 miles in total. We live on top of a hill, and I realize how much I have missed the satisfying final push up College Hill Drive. It is good to be home.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Updates on fundraising and SNOW!

So since my last post about Saturday's team run, we have received a significant amount of snow up here in Boston. I like snow a lot, despite the fact that it makes my commute unpleasant and everyone crams themselves into the T (because no one wants to drive) and I find myself getting rubbed on all sides by wet coats. However, it is significantly more distressing these days because it makes running outside a challenge (not helped by the fact that the city of Cambridge has apparently never heard of road salt, nor do they make any efforts to plow the sidewalks). I do not have a gym membership, mind you, so switching to the treadmill until I can see sidewalk again is not an option. It was bad enough outside for me to have to take Sunday off, and definitely Monday, but today I decided to make a break for it before another snowstorm hit this afternoon.

I was intending to run around TD Garden area where I had spied some well-salted sidewalks during my commute, and avoid the Esplanade (which is never salted). But upon leaving my house at 7:00am, I looked up and saw pink back-lit plumes of steam coming from the stacks at MIT and suspected that there might be something good to see at the river. And amazingly, by the time I was passing MIT, I felt ecstatic and warm despite the 7 degree air, and wondered how I could have felt so grumbly about leaving bed.

There is a spot on Massachusetts Avenue, right past the weird man sculpture at MIT, where the buildings and trees suddenly fall away and the expanse of the Charles is upon you. It tends to sneak up on me, and I was reaching the end of that block when I lifted my eyes and at once the view of downtown Boston opened up in front of me like someone had suddenly flung open a set of french windows. The sky was the palest of blues and the rising sun was perfectly tucked behind the John Hancock building, radiating sheets of brilliant pink and orange light out either side that settled on the roofs of the back bay in a golden sheen, and illuminated the State House dome into a blindingly bright ball of yellow. Even the snow on the trees down on the Esplanade cast a peachy glow that was reflected in smooth swathes of color across the thin ice on the river. When I first moved here back in June of 2012, I told myself that if there was ever a time that I crossed the Mass Ave bridge and didn't think that the view of Boston was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, then it was time to move on and leave. It hasn't happened yet, but today I thought it with more sincerity than ever before. It was breathtaking, and not just because a nasty wind was slicing down the Charles and practically shaving my face off. To top it off, it seems that the cold had put off enough walkers and runners to leave me with the scene entirely to myself. I stopped in the middle of the bridge to throw a loose piece of ice down onto the water, and it merely skidded across the surface. Not that I really needed telling, but when the river freezes you KNOW it's cold.

I had to keep it short because of time constraints, so I just did a 6 mile loop. The ankle is feeling good with the tape, and I apologize to whoever's window I snot-rocketed while coming down Beacon Hill on Anderson Street (I thought it was just a wall, I swear). And in the meantime, I want to send out a HUGE thank you to all of my donors thus far!! With all of your help, I am currently at $3,047, or around 30% to my goal of $10,000, which is amazing! I am starting a new tab (up top) with the names of all donors listed.

ALSO, with the help of my mom and the hard work of Cindy Hodgson, we have produced a mass of printed cards that feature some of my recent watercolor artwork. My hope is to sell enough for it to be a significant portion of my fundraising. If anyone is interested, please contact me at <> about getting a set! For more information and pictures of the cards, see the tab above.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Long Run, December 14th: First team run!

So yesterday was my first day training with a program that many of us on the team have signed up for. Led by a coach named John Furey, it involves Tuesday evening hill workouts on the Common and Saturday long runs leaving from Kenmore Square, from now until the marathon. The program is tailored for marathon charity runners, so we get to meet many folks who are fundraising for other non-profits. While all of this sounds really cool, the downside is that we had to meet downtown at 7:30am. Now...I usually run at 7:15am during the week, so you would think that 7:30 would fit into my schedule quite nicely. BUT, Saturdays are my sacred sleep-in day, so when my alarm went off at 6:40 that morning, I can't say I was feeling super jazzed about how my day was starting. These feelings were compounded when I looked at the weather and saw that it was 12 degrees out, plus a bunch of wind. I have run in colder, but in general this whole scenario was becoming a bit offensive. Still, gotta tough it out.

I ran over to my teammate Nicole's house, who lives just two streets down, and was met with another runner (also named Nicole) who drove us both to Kenmore, saving me from having to a) take the bus and inevitably be late, or b) run there and add a good 2 miles to the training run. Very awesome arrangement. I had avoided bringing any extra layers (I have it down to a science, which running clothes to wear in given temps), just my Brooks leggings and then on top my thick Underarmour  under my magenta Brooks long sleeved half-zip, which is pretty thin. I run hot, so I have to remember to keep the layers to a minimum, but it can be tough to convince myself to go outside like that initially. I think the secret was keeping my head warm, with a fleece headband under my fleece Samaritans hat, which unfortunately makes me look like a huge dingus. Still, effective. The downside to all this methodology was that, while standing around outside and parking the car, I was absolutely freezing.

We scurried across Comm Ave to Joint Ventures, our meeting point. The upstairs is pretty great--a big weight room with foam rollers and such, and a good 50 runners warming up. John Furey laid down the game plan; out to Cleveland Circle and back, or a bit further to the reservoir if you wanted to make it 8 miles instead of 6 (I am not a huge fan of out-and-back runs, and hope we'll do some loops in the future). He seems knowledgeable. Given how I say his name in my head, I wonder if he could legally change his last name to be all caps, maybe even with several exclamation points at the end. And maybe while we're at it, just drop the E so that there is no room for confusion. Anyways, by 8:00 we took off in a hoard down Beacon Street with John FURY!!! scooting off to set up a water table at mile 2.

Since runners automatically separate based on pace, I was able to find people who matched my speed. There were some frontrunner dudes who I was with for a while, but eventually I found myself matched with a woman who introduced herself as Katherine. She lives in Brookline with her 3 children and husband who does work in the renewable energy field. Katherine is running for Boston Medical Center, where she also works. We had good conversation as we made our way to Cleveland Circle (thankfully she knows the area well), and we elected to continue around part of the reservoir and then to the top of a big hill next to Boston College before turning around. She was great company, and very good at estimating pace (she thought we were doing maybe 7:40). She's done the New York marathon, but never Boston. As we were passing the Temple Beth Zion, we happened to run into her Rabbi going up the steps. It seems like a very open-minded, caring community to be part of. It is great to have a running buddy.

When we got back, my legs and butt were so surface-cold that I could barely feel them. I kind of expected to look in the mirror and see that half my face had turned black and was about to fall off, à la Beck Weathers after the 1996 Everest disaster. Indeed my bad finger had taken a bit of a beating in the cold with all its poor circulation, but no permanent damage had been sustained. Although while stretching I kept noticing water dripping off some part of my body but couldn't for the life of me figure out where it was coming from. It turned out there was a massive chunk of ice frozen into the base of my ponytail, where I guess all my sweat had been accumulating.

I have to say, it was overall a very good experience. Not to mention coming home and it was not even yet 10am...I hardly knew what to do with myself (actually I went to Harvard Square to Christmas shop, just as the snow began to fall....ahhh). Unfortunately I will miss the next two Saturday runs, since I will be home for Christmas, but I will definitely continue them in the new year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Long Run, December 7th: Tape and Trolley Tag

So I just got a roll of kinesiology tape in the mail yesterday, and was pretty pumped to try it—it’s stretchy and light, and you apply just a few strips from muscle insertion to origin so that when the tape pulls on itself, it reduces the need for as much muscle contraction and allows for rest and recovery. The roll I got is bright yellow with biohazard symbols on it, and it looks about as ridiculous as I hoped it would. And thankfully it proved quite functional—coupled with my new, slightly more supportive Brooks Adrenalines, my posterior tibial tendonitis was completely at bay.

I started out by heading over the BU Bridge to Commonwealth Avenue, which provided a super sweet and compact view of the entire Back Bay and downtown. There was even a plane spearing up from Logan Airport over the whole scene, and it was very calendar-esque. I was initially planning to immediately head towards the Fens, but I decided to go down Commonwealth Avenue and out into Allston instead, without much of a plan. I don’t go down this way very often, and it was refreshing to see new things. I was parallel to the B line, and for a whole mile I stayed in time with the same Green Line train that had a dude in it wearing a hat that looked like Where’s Waldo’s. Also the conductor sort of looked like Sean Connery (old, not young). It would pull ahead on the straightaways but I would always pass it at the intersections. Playing train tag is actually pretty fun, and I learned that the B line is so terrible that if you instead just run at a medium pace, you will get there sooner. D'oh!!

I recognized the intersection with Harvard Ave, so I decided to follow that south into Brookline before I went out too far into Brighton and got lost (it’s happened before). Coolidge Corner was a lot more commercial than I had expected (always imagined it as kinda hipstery), and totally clogged with Christmas shoppers. Overall, very Christmasy in town; I saw 7 cars with trees on them. Once I could spot the Prudential again, I knew which way to head to get back into familiar territory, via Beacon Street. The C line follows this way. I had always sort of written off both the C and the B as slow and ineffective, but I was actually passed by a bunch of trains, thus confirming that the C is in fact much faster than the B (not exactly high praise, but still). I realized that I will revisit this road during the actual race, which was a bit of an overwhelming thought.

A short detour through Longwood Medical Area brought me to Huntington Avenue. Still a lot of college kids everywhere, but definitely a lot fewer rugby shirts and a lot more Doc Martins. The John Hancock building was reflecting the blue sky and clouds in the awesomest way; did you know that there are 10,344 window panes on all faces combined? Huntington took me right to Copley, where I passed the Public Library with all its flags half down. Nelson Mandela was certainly on my mind. He’s one of those people whose awesomeness is so inspirational, and also really rubs in your own mediocrity. Earlier I was internally whining about the injustice of work politics, which gets tough to validate after remembering the fact that Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years (YEARS!!), and then still insisted on forgiveness over vengeance. And led the emancipation of South Africa. And was elected president in the first multiracial election. Talk about getting slapped in the face with perspective. What a guy, what a humanitarian. He can go on the list with Abigail Adams. 

The last thing of note was on the small segment of Commonwealth Ave that I took from Copley to the Public Garden; I saw a small pet carrier on a bench, but it was empty. I realized the lady was a bit away over on the grass, with her leash attached to not a small dog, but… a KITTY! It was sort of loping around while she just followed it, and it had a gorgeously shiny charcoal-grey coat with long, very fine fur. Awww. Kitty on a leash! Anyways, it was straight home from there, although I took a rather roundabout way down the Esplanade back to the Mass Ave Bridge, against a really unnecessary headwind. Overall, good run! Except I only meant to do 9 miles or so. Oops. Still, very encouraging to be pain-free the entire time.