Monday, December 22, 2014

Long Run, December 20th: Christmas Secrets

As the "official" training season kicks off, I have been frequently thinking back to last year as I begin to follow nearly the same schedule. Our first John Furey training program run was last week, and I once again extended the 6 mile out-and-back into Newton to make it a bit under 9 miles. We had a significant number of Samaritans runners there, and I shared the first 3 miles with our alternate, Jesse, who has just received a bib and will for sure be running in April! It was not nearly as blistering cold as last year, just another depressing morning in a succession of dull, white-sky days we've been having. Overall it went well, and the highlight was probably when I had to step into the middle of a traffic jam on Beacon Street and windmill my arms at a dozen inert turkeys to herd them out of the road and into the center island. I have no idea what business they have in Brookline, but I suspect that three of them were the ones who pursued me aggressively on the top of Summit Hill a few months ago, causing me to flat out run away down the hill and some guy in a car saw the whole thing. This time I successfully asserted my dominance.

Once again, I missed the second Furey run by heading home for Christmas on Friday. The Furey schedule was only for 8 miles on Saturday, but last year I did over 12 here in Cheyney and I felt pressured by my former self to achieve something similar. I set off to do the same route, but changed my mind before I even reached the bottom of the street. I was aware of the unpleasant dip in air temperature as I headed down the road that follows Chester Creek, passing the spot where Nathaniel and I once spotted a muskrat plunging into the stream. We often headed this way on our walks, usually to follow the train tracks that parallel the other side of the creek to the clearing along the pipeline. There is a hollow tree down the embankment that is more than likely still filled with rocks that we once tossed into the opening over some hours as we sat on the rails.

I don't love running on Creek Road as it is narrow with blind curves, but the awkward rail spacing makes running on the tracks even more uncomfortable. So I took the road and was rewarded for the risk when I came across an object on the side that I have been coveting for a long time. Among all the useless and gross (and suspiciously alcohol-related) litter that lines these wooded roads, Nathaniel would occasionally find car hood decals that he would save until Christmas to wrap and put in my dad's stocking. After he died and I began running, I continued the tradition after finding a cracked Toyota decal on the side of route 926. I rarely find more than one a year, and I was bummed that this year I had struck out. Cambridge is generally not rife with car parts alongside the road. Call it what you will (a Christmas miracle?), but now merely days before Christmas I found not JUST a car emblem, but a highly coveted BMW one that had clearly been rattled off someone's hub cab by one of the crater-like potholes that cover the length of this road, exacerbated by annual flooding of the creek. Pennsylvania tends to "let nature run its course" with the roads, which probably partly explains the incredible nonchalance of an apparently large crowd of boozing drivers--I am fairly sure that any erratic drunk driving could be explained away with "just dodging potholes, Officer" and if it weren't for breathalyzers, that would probably be a tough one to argue. I know I probably look trashed when I drive down this road. But I threw the alignment out of the Prius once and I am not about to do it again. Anyway, into my pocket went the ornament, and on the 25th it will join the Honda, Lincoln, Toyota, and Nissan decals that sit above my dad's desk. Dad has been warned to not read this blog until then, as this is just about the only surprise I have for him. My family is not so great at buying gifts without excessive consultation with the recipient first.

Instead of continuing along Creek Road to do the run that I did last year, I turned left onto Old Gradyville Road, a monstrously steep and winding "roller coaster road" that I rescued a box turtle from this summer. I felt like I was running in place for several minutes as I huffed my way up the narrow drop before it finally leveled out and continued to route 352. I was going to Ridley Creek State Park to run the loop, which I have often driven to but I have never actually run there and back. I was mildly concerned by the fact that I wasn't actually quite sure how far it was, but in my head it couldn't be more than 14 miles round trip, and I was feeling good enough to risk it. When I got there, I was sharply reminded of the year right after Nathaniel died, when I lived at home and often came to this park to run, as I know he once did too. I ran clockwise around the circular loop, which meant running up the nasty big hill instead of taking the gradual up-and-down way. I paused at the base to catch my breath and ready myself for the climb, and took off my ear buds to hear Christmas music coming from a small log house. It is a pretty park, and it was nice to have the pseudo-company of other joggers and dog walkers. I thought of my Samaritans teammates at the Furey run, which probably began right as I did at 8:05a.m.

Once I was done the 4.5 mile loop, I decided to take 352 to 926 so that I wouldn't have to run back exactly the way I came. In my head it wasn't very far, but over 2 miles later I realized that my inner map was a bit skewed. Nathaniel and I usually opted to take the roller coaster road home, but we would also sometimes go this way solely to pass this one particular Church that tends to post absurd biblical advice on its sign. It has been too many years to recall any specific quotes, but we usually managed to find a way to read and interpret them in a way other than was intentioned. I was too distracted by a bamboo forest on my left to even notice the church until it was too late, and from there on I was continually craning ahead to see if I could spot another landmark--an odd missile-like rocket structure that someone randomly has on their front lawn. It felt like ages until I passed it, and I was beginning to run out of gas. But once I was able to turn off 352, I felt like I was on the home stretch and MC Hammer put some pep back in my step. It was satisfying to push it out up College Hill Drive and collapse onto our driveway. It may just be the tip of the iceberg, but a hilly 13 miles without any fuel or water along the way felt like a good enough accomplishment for now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cards Cards Cards!

The new cards have just arrived from the printer! Click the "cards" tab above to see this year's four prints and for information on how to order a set. 

Long Run, December 5th: The Alewife Brook

I got a bit of a later start than I wanted on my run on Friday morning, and I was also planning for 5 or 6 miles, which ended up not really happening. I was just thankful that it was still sunny when I left the house and headed up North Street towards Medford. I had decided that the main purpose of this particular run would be mainly academic; I wanted to map the course of the Alewife Brook, starting from where it meets the Mystic River. At my new job at Cambridge Friends School, we have recently pitched a project for the 8th grade that involves working with the Friends of Alewife Reservation to monitor the water quality a couple times a month. The Alewife Brook itself has an interesting story; I'd always known it as nothing more than a not-so-pristine stream that runs adjacent to the notoriously jammed-up Alewife Brook Parkway that curves its way to Fresh Pond, as I've often run along the footpath that lies between the brook and the road.

However, it has a bit more of a story than that. A plaque near the sidewalk along the Parkway informed me that the brook once served as a migration stream each May and June for hundreds of thousands of alewives that would leave the ocean and travel up the Mystic River into the Alewife Brook and finally into small ponds to breed. Hence the name of the final stop on the red MBTA line, Alewife. The Native Americans were kind enough to show the European settlers how to use the small 10-inch fish as fertilizer, so the settlers killed the alewives (and the Native Americans) and used them (just the fish, but who really knows) to fertilize their crops. Our idea at CFS is to help the Friends of Alewife Reservation to monitor the water of the brook and the nearby Little River, which are both affected by combined sewage overflows from parts of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington. To get a sense of where these CSOs are along the length of the brook, I took a turn down the parkway to eyeball the course of the brook for good testing spots. I had always run on the path next to the road, but now that the foliage is down I could see a trail on the other side of the water and discovered a new bike path.

The upper half of the brook has natural banks, but after Broadway it turned into a cement trench with occasional pipes feeding into the side from under the road--the CSOs. It was dry out so I did not see anything draining into the brook (although I did run back there the next day during some rain and did see several overflows open, particularly towards Mass Ave). I wound up at the edge of the block-shaped reservation, which I did not fully explore although I did run on the boardwalk past a marshy body of water called Yates Pond. I wanted to get to the much larger Fresh Pond to loop and come home, which is already about 7 miles total.

The parkway arcs over the commuter train tracks right before the mall. To my left was a tall chain link fence, and as usual I tried to peer through the grid to spot downtown Boston from my elevated position. The Prudential and John Hancock were small figures about 6 miles off, hardly showing above the tree line. I always feel unbearably far out whenever I get a now-rare glimpse of the city's minute skyline from my new neighborhood. Something about the brightness of the day and the perfectly compact view enticed me, so I ditched my former plan when I reached Fresh Pond and turned towards Harvard instead of continuing around. I wanted to see the city, so I headed eastward a few miles until I reached the Charles River bike path. As I wound down Memorial Drive from Harvard Square, I was able to appreciate the slow expansion of the mini-skyline over the course of several miles until I reached the Mass Ave bridge and my field of vision was filled left to right with downtown Boston. I continued until I reached the Whole Foods by MGH (via the gardens and the Common) and rewarded myself for my impromptu 11 miles with an overpriced coconut drink. The electrolyte boost may have helped, but I did still spend the rest of the day inert on the couch before getting Friday burgers with Daniel. I always like those runs best, the ones where things don't go as planned. To top it off, I got to see 5 of Boston's local water bodies. Not bad for a lazy Friday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thursday, November 27th: The Thanksgiving Run

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, as it is the only time of year that you can find all six siblings in my mother's family and their children in the same place. Couple that with homemade cherry pie and some serious turkey, and I probably couldn't be happier. I take a little bit of pretentious pride in the fact that, even as a small child, I valued that one special time of year when the whole family got together more than the overly-hyped holiday that comes 3 weeks later and everyone gets a bunch of presents. I have no shame in eating an uncomfortable amount of food on Thanksgiving, and my new addition to the repertoire of traditions is to treat myself to a longer-ish morning run so that I can eat even MORE.

Since I've moved to Boston, we've begun doing a double Thanksgiving that begins with my parents driving up from PA on Tuesday. Come Thursday, we scoot up to New Hampshire to do some feasting with my dad's crowd, then high-tail it back down to PA in time for Thanksgiving #2 on Friday in Jersey. It is chaotic and awesome. So this year, I was able to do a pre-gluttony trot around the city before heading to NH, and now I am going to tell you about it.

There is something special about running through the city when it is unusually empty, like for the time being it is a little bit more yours than anyone else's. Thanksgiving morning tends to be like that, especially at 7am, and I love it. This year we had an unusual, sloppy snowfall on Wednesday. It may have made travel a nightmare, but the sunlight bouncing blindingly off the snow and the air hovering just around freezing as I left my new house on Dow Street sure made for a pretty scene. I knew I wanted to run through the downtown, but living near Teele Square now (almost at the end of the Red Line, near Davis) makes looping downtown a very far run. So I did a straight shot with plans to take the T back, and headed downtown the most efficient way possible via Inman Square and my old neighborhood. It has been quite a while since I've had to run on snow, and I was quickly reminded how the reduced traction is somewhat exhausting, but I felt fresh enough. There were very few people out.

The clouds began to take over the sky around halfway there, and it wasn't long until I arrived at Mass Ave by the big pit at MIT, marked by the scent of apple fritters and sticky buns that always hangs for blocks around the Flour bakery. I stopped on the Harvard bridge to soak in the view, and it was as lovely as ever. I felt a little cheeky as I cut onto Commonwealth Avenue simply to enjoy making a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston, as I imagined I would last April 21st. After only having gone 5 miles or so, it felt nearly impossible to think how it will feel having come an additional 21 (guhhh). Still, I took a pause at the finish line that remains always painted on Boylston St. by the public library and tried to feel confident in the first baby steps that I have made towards being able to endure 26.2 miles of pavement.

The snow in the public garden had nearly melted in the warm pocket of air downtown, and I was pumped at how close I managed to get to a group of cute ducks (I love ducks). A sizable group of people were letting their dogs run and play on the lawn of the Common, and I tried to seize some of the palpable canine energy as I chugged up the hill towards the State House. Mary Dyer sits on the corner where I turned to head down the back of Beacon Hill, and I thought briefly of her heroism. It pretty much goes without saying that she was a bonafide badass, and I could not do what she did. Running marathons and whatnot looks like a bit of a paltry effort compared to taking the noose like a champ for religious freedom.

I had been planning to stop at the Starbucks on Cambridge Street before taking the T from Charles/MGH, but I decided to continue over the Longfellow and get one last view of the city instead. The green construction fence that blocks 90% of the view is a drag, but merely feeling the wind whip up as I crossed the Charles was enough to push me over the final leg into Kendall Square. I located a Starbucks in the Marriott, the same hotel where my dad stayed before the finale of his BDD awareness walk. Coffee in hand, I caught a nearly-empty train headed home. Unexpectedly, by Harvard I suddenly realized that I was insanely close to experiencing something I have always wished for but has never actually happened--to be completely alone in a Red Line Train (not for reasons that are weird--I'll explain in a second). Only one dude was in the car with me, and I practically started to get a bit nervous with anticipation. The guy got off at Porter, and for the first time in the 2 and a half years since I moved here I was free to run up and down the length of the car like a dingaling and do flips on the bars like I was on a giant, moving jungle gym. Awesome, right? Unfortunately the duration of the ride between Porter and Davis is easily one of the shortest, so my moment of triumph was short-lived. Basking in the glory of it all, the brisk walk to my house from Davis Square was further enhanced by the fact that Holland Street was choked with Turkey Trot runners, decked out in gobbles and turkey basters and costumes that made it look like they were riding turkeys. Nice. The day only got better from there, but it was a mighty good start. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2014

So it begins...

Well hi. Last time I wrote on this blog was the night before the marathon, and I was just about ready to eat myself into a Ben & Jerry's stupor and watch high school movies from the late '90s like I'd just been dumped by some highly attractive but clearly confused hypothetical boyfriend. I did watch the race from Heartbreak Hill, which was its own sort of special experience. For one, I got to watch the world's most sinewy women come blasting up the hill. For two, I did jump into the race for about a quarter mile to help encourage my training partner, Katy, but other than that, it was all spectator business for me.

But that is all months ago now, and fast forward through a brief but restful summer, a move to my new home near Davis Square during a blazing hot Labor Day Weekend, the start of my new job, a gorgeous and colorful fall, and I am now finding myself once again at the precipice of the same daunting challenge that I nearly completed last year. I debated back and forth in my head for a while about whether or not to apply to run again, mostly avoiding the thought, especially while I was still confined to a boot cast. I couldn't even run comfortably until mid-summer, as the toe took longer than anticipated to heal (it's still a bit wonky, and can't fully curl down, but it does the job well enough). Easing back into running come late summer was not very graceful, and the uncomfortable fact that running 3 miles in some 80 degree summer heat felt akin to a marathon through Death Valley wasn't exactly encouraging. Yes, I fell out of shape. I fell pretty heavy into the brunch side of things for a couple months there, and it's almost like that didn't help. I guess high intensity pancake carbo-loading can have a variety of effects. Who knew?

Regardless, come September I found myself thinking about the marathon quite a bit, although I did not feel the same energy and nervous excitement that I felt as I applied last year. This time I just felt scared. I invested so much last year, physically and emotionally. The let down was incredibly hard, and the possibility of facing that again seemed just too frightening--because the reality is, training for 5 months for a one-time event that falls within a small, half-day window...there are just so many things that can go wrong! Stomach bug, flu, heat wave, running injury, freak staircase injury, bombs (apparently)...I mean, the fates can play a serious hand in this. But when I received Eve's email with the application attached, I knew I wasn't kidding anyone. Of course I was going to try again.

And thus, here I am, several weeks into running regularly once more. The training is definitely daunting when a 5 mile run (which used to be my daily staple) still feels pretty rough, and I know that my fitness is not at the same level as when I applied last year. But I am still ready to give it my all, come what may.

I have new cards to sell this year, too. I am in the process of getting them scanned somewhere other than Staples, since they did a terrible job. Stay tuned for more info on how to order sets, because the other half of all this is that, oh yeah, I have to raise over $13,400. Again. But hey, it's for a fantastic cause, and I couldn't be more proud to represent Samaritans once more. As I stand on the brink of many challenges to come, I sort of feel vaguely like King Theoden of Rohan as he looks down at all the 10,000 Uruk-hai charging the walls of Helm's Deep and steadfastly declares, "So it begins..."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I imagined this night for many months, rehearsing in my head all the little things I would have to remember and wondering what it would feel like to be lying in bed, on the brink of running my first marathon. For the longest time it seemed rather incomprehensible, as I was still physically incapable, nowhere near my fundraising goal, and the brutal weather made spring seem like such a distant concept. Ironically, it was not until several weeks ago when it began to dawn on me how that distant fantasy had ever so slowly crept close enough to the point where I could began to envision it, almost just before it was all snapped away. I have often struggled to walk away from unfinished tasks, no matter how small or even unimportant to me. Way too often I'll be at work staining some mouse brains or whatever and realize that I am actually on the brink of peeing my pants, but I'll be damned if I let myself go to the bathroom before I am finished putting on these antibodies. And I don't even care about immunostaining (nor is it remotely time sensitive). So with this loss, I have never in my life felt such a sense of incompletion. It is highly unsettling, and unbearably distracting. I feel stuck, like I cannot move forward and tackle my next challenges--leaving my job, getting a new one, and finding a new apartment all within the next few months--until I have finished this. It is a new phenomenon for me to feel such stagnation, and finding the ability to let go and focus on new tasks has been annoyingly difficult, and thus far unsuccessful. What the heck am I going to do?

When we parked downtown to go to the expo today, it just so happened to that we found a spot on Commonwealth shortly after Mass Ave. As I headed to the convention center with a throng of relatives in tow, I found myself taking a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston. I wont pretend that many tears haven't already been shed over the past 2 weeks, and the bitterness of traversing these final turns of the course in my clunky boot on my way to collect a bib that I wont even use set the tone for a very difficult time at the expo. I felt so out of place in my stupid boot and dour mood, the sheer opposite of everyone around me. And I couldn't help but feel some resentment...I put in just as much work as everyone else, but nobody cares about someone who *almost* ran the Boston Marathon. The recognition is in the race, not the training, even though the race is the best part. At least I had a lovely conversation with the KT tape vendor, who read my cloudy expression and gave me two free rolls of Boston Strong tape.

Tomorrow, I wish all my friends and teammates the best of runs. Naturally, the weather looks perfect. I have decided to watch on Heartbreak Hill, and you should catch us on the left hand side (most likely), probably with an obnoxious amount of noise makers and some very glittery signs. I'll have my yellow Samaritans shirt on. I absolutely applaud everyone who has made the effort to partake in this amazing event, and I have loved training alongside you. Good luck!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Friends,

First and foremost, I want to thank all of you for your unwavering support during my training and fundraising process. You'll see that I just topped $12,000, which I honestly would have never thought possible. But you all made it happen! Another $500 to go, and I will have hit my new goal. At our team potluck last night, the staff from Samaritans expressed how absolutely impressed they are with the marathon team's record fundraising this year, and how incredibly important it is for the year's budget. Thank you so much.

I have a sad story to share.

Last Saturday evening, as I was puttering around my new apartment in my compression socks before bed, I took a bad step coming down our metal spiral staircase. My left foot took the brunt of the fall as it hit the railing, with the bar coming right in between my big toe and the one next to it. After an incredibly sleepless night, x-rays at Mt. Auburn Hospital confirmed what I had been dreading: that my big toe has been fractured. Two separate podiatrists, including a friend of Dr. Hagan who treats the Boston Celtics, have informed me that given the diagonal nature of the fracture, it is at risk for displacement. Additionally, it extends into the joint. With the race coming up on the 21st, there is not enough time for it to heal. I cannot run.

For the past 5 months, I have lived and breathed nothing but this marathon. I have prioritized training over my work, over my search for new jobs, over my social life, over sleep. Because I loved every minute of it, and because I knew that at some point it would pay off when the big day came, hard as it was to imagine when I was slogging along in the dark through the snow and ice and 5 degree wind. There has been nothing that I have worked for so hard and so long, nor something that I was more honored to take part in. To me, it would be my greatest accomplishment thus far in my life. There are no words for this kind of devastation, for how bitter a disappointment it is to have this taken away.

I am trying to my best to stay positive, but it is not easy. The warm weather has come swooping in to Boston right on cue for April, and spring has suddenly sprung. With it has come once again the memory of April three years ago when Nathaniel took his life. I have realized that I had been using the marathon as a replacement for my grieving, and it has helped me battle through a lot of emotional upset, both recent and old. To let that go merely days before the anniversary of his death feels like losing a piece of Nathaniel all over again. Nathaniel was always my main emotional support, as I shared with him all of my hardships and relied on his advice. Ironically, when he died, I needed his shoulder to cry on more than ever before. But I couldn't. Since his death, running has become my new way of coping with pain, and there is nothing I need more right now than to hit the road, breathe hard, and run out the pain of this loss. But I cannot, nor will I be able to for 6 to 8 weeks.

With the doctor's instructions to not work for 2 weeks, I have already had a significant amount of time to sit with my leg up and try to adjust to idea of cheering on my teammates from the sideline instead of running myself, as I had visualized it for many months. It is heartbreaking, but I am so thankful that I was at least able to do the 21-miler from Framingham, and how incredibly well it went for me. I am thankful that this injury will ultimately heal, and I will run again in time. I am thankful that I had such inspirational teammates to run with all winter, to keep me company and motivate me. I am thankful that I got to do almost all of the training, which is 99% of the experience anyway. I am thankful that I had this wonderful goal to get me through the winter much more gracefully than last year. But I really, really wanted to cross that finish line. I felt so ready. I WAS ready. Possibly more ready than I have ever been for anything in my life. Who knows, perhaps I will have it in me to train through another winter and try again next year, if I am given the opportunity.

I will leave you with a poem that my Aunt Pat sent to me last Christmas, which I have hung on my wall above my dresser to look at when I feel low. Thanks for your support, everyone. You all have been amazing.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

    - Ellen Bass

Monday, March 31, 2014

Longest Run, March 28th: Peak Run

Although 21 miles really isn't significantly further than our previous 18s, there was a lot of build-up around this particular run. Probably because it is our peak run before the taper, and also because it serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts--actually being bussed out to the start, beginning earlier in the day, etc. Good practice for establishing the pre-race mental checklist. Did I remember my iPod? Can I fit all of these gels in this tiny pocket? Is my tape secure? We made a better effort to get to Joint Ventures early this time, which left time to foam roll and lube up (almost forgot to BodyGlide...dear God). At 7:15 we all piled onto the 3rd of the 4 buses that were carrying us out of Kenmore Square, although we probably should have picked one that wasn't already mostly full so that we weren't only left with the back seats that were repeatedly blasted by bad bathroom air every time the door swung open. The sun was out, it was already high 40s, and spirits were definitely up. I was saddened, however, when talking to Morgan who informed me that Katherine (my buddy on the BMC team) is currently not cleared to run, although she may just go for it anyway. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to be knocked out by injury this late in the game.

When we got to Framingham, the mass of runners headed out of the parking lot right onto route 135, about 6.5 miles from the official start in Hopkinton. I started out with Katy, Helene, and Natalie. After about a mile, it was clear that I was going to need to shed my long-sleeved layer, and I was so grateful that I had decided to put a short-sleeved shirt underneath. Our aid stations were set up about every 2 miles, so we were able to hand off unwanted clothing to John to bring back for us. I was itching to speed up, but past experience has taught me that starting out slow is definitely wise, so I held myself to around a 9:30 pace with the others as we finally got a glimpse of uncharted course. Framingham is not actually particularly gorgeous, although the variety was more than enough to satisfy me, and it was fun to see the occasional lake or patch of woods. We entered Natick very soon thereafter, and I immediately recognized the area. Back when I was jobless and staying with my Earlham friend Carolyn, I ran on these roads for a good month and it was fun to revisit them a year and a half later. Soon after passing the street where her parents live, I gave in to my desire to speed up, so I put in the earbuds and said goodbye to the others.

As I headed through Wellesley with the miles slowly ticking by, it was exhilarating to see how many runners and supporters were out. Given that this marks about 3 weeks until the race, a huge number of runners were also doing their peak run on the course. A whole plethora of charities had aid stations set up, often with a small cheering squad to go with. Shortly before the big downhill coming down Washington Street, I passed a tent for the Martin Richard memorial foundation, in honor of young boy who was killed during last year's marathon. His mother, who has been recovering from her own terrible injuries, was there handing out gatorade and the heaviness of their family's difficulties (many of whom suffered serious injury) welled in my throat. Passing each charity tent, I found myself struggling emotionally, thinking about how we were all undergoing this difficult physical journey for essentially the same reason--that we had been hurt by the loss of a loved one for whatever reason, and were now on a mission to spare other families from the same hardship. Although there were also some sports companies out to support us as athletes, such as the Saucony tent. The runner ahead of me received emphatic praise for wearing Saucony shoes, while my Brooks Adrenalines and I just got a stony nod. My running capris were Saucony brand, but apparently that wasn't worthy of acknowledgement. Heading down Washington Street, I passed our usual feeder road from all the Riverside runs, and knew I was about half way. John Furey passed by in his pickup on his way to the next water stop, and we had a brief conversation yelling through the open window as he checked in on how I was managing. He has really just been the best trainer.

As I turned onto Commonwealth Avenue from Washington Street, I passed the fire station right at the corner. With the recent loss of two Boston firefighters last week during a severe blaze in the Back Bay, the marathon seems to have gained one more layer of significance to many people. The firefighters out at the Newton firehouse have unfailingly set up a drink station each Saturday throughout the winter, and were out as usual to support the runners. Having just recently experienced a fire of my own, the recent blow to the Boston firefighter community has hit home a little harder than I would have anticipated. Tackling the first of the four hills to cheers from a group of sideline supporters, my emotions were all over the place and seemed to stay that way for the majority of Commonwealth Avenue (a "roller coaster" would be the most conventional metaphor for the state of my mood, but I think roller coasters are the best thing ever, so I am not sure if that phrase works as well for me). One second I was cheesing from ear to ear, and the next I felt like my chest was about to implode. I am beginning to suspect that these feelings will be amplified x1000 on race day, which might get messy. Running while crying is sort of like trying to talk while being tickled.

Body-wise, I had taken great care to tape both ankles this time, and I was so thankful that my usual PTT did not make much of an appearance. Although around halfway through, I began to get occasional shooting pains up my left achilles tendon, which slowly morphed into a steady burn by the time I reached the bottom of Heartbreak. This new and exciting phenomenon thankfully did not slow me down, but I was a bit concerned as the soreness increased with each mile. Going around 8 minutes per mile or maybe a bit under, I was beginning to feel a little tired but was able to climb the hill without much trouble. When I hit the crest adjacent to BC, the Prudential and John Hancock appeared on the horizon and I got all sorts of sentimental tinglies up and down my arms and legs. Slogging along the course, it almost felt like I was reliving the pain of the last three years in reverse, but physically this time. Coming up to Boston has been a major milestone in my life since Nathaniel died, and seeing the skyline burst into view as the endpoint to my longest run thus far in my life, I felt some semblance of gladness that I had been brought to this point in time. Obviously I wish things had gone differently, very differently, but it is unlikely that I would have moved up here and found myself taking part in this 117-year-old tradition had my life unfolded as planned. I am sure that Nathaniel had terrible associations with Boston, given his only times up here were sudden trips to McLean Hospital and MGH during his lowest moments, and I often wish he could just run with me and see the city and how beautiful she is. It is hard, being unable to share something so special.

When I got to Cleveland circle, I ate my final gel--the one with extra caffeine to put some pep back in my step. A lot of my teammates opt for the super all-natural, caffeine-free fuel made out of bee pollen or beet essence or whatever. I admire their health-consciousness, but I am personally a fan of the chemicals in these situations. My legs were beginning to feel a bit sticky and I could tell I was dehydrated, but with that final dose of stimulants plus a high-five from a random BU kid, I knew I was going to make it. I passed through Kenmore and finally found myself heading down Boylston Street and saw the newly-painted finish line glowing yellow and blue on the pavement. The sidewalk was clogged with totally oblivious shoppers just doing their thing, and as I stood next to the Public Library soaking in my accomplishment, I had to resist the urge to shake the nearest person by the shoulders and scream, "HOLY CRAP, I JUST RAN HERE FROM FRAMINGHAM!!!" So I instead just gave myself a pat on the back (weak), and then turned to run the final mile back to Joint Ventures via Beacon Street so I could satisfy my morbid curiosity and take a peek at the site of the awful fire. It was very sobering to see, and I lingered a while to talk to some others who were doing the same.

All in all, I would say that it went better than I could have expected. My left achilles was quite sore, but seems like it should recover with rest. I ran the 20 miles to the finish in 2 hours and 47 minutes, which includes all of my stopping for gatorade, at traffic lights, and for a few pictures. It is intimidating to think that had I not run the first few miles so slowly or gotten caught at lights, I would theoretically be able to beat the Boston qualifying time of 3 hours and 35 minutes. Seems unlikely that will happen (especially given the traffic-jam situation that will undoubtedly plague the first few miles during race day), but the idea that I could be capable is enough. I think Nathaniel would be proud.

Post-run picture of Nicole, me, and Nicole outside Joint Ventures in Kenmore Square

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Long Run, March 22nd: Steamboat Willie'ing It

Over the past week I have been trying to be gentle with my pulled booty muscle. I ended up having to skip the peak hill workout, which made me feel like a slacker and I didn't like it. But every time I got up from my chair at work I sort of staggered to the side and was walking like an 85 year old, so I figured I wasn't in great shape to do 9 reps up Beacon Hill. It felt better as the week wore on, and I tested it out with two shorter runs on Thursday and Friday and it seemed that as long as I maintained my normal range of motion, it did not worsen. I partially blame Carl for this occurrence; the Sunday before last, we were both getting really into the super uptempo live version of I'm So Excited by the Pointer Sisters, one of those songs that makes you want to bound along rocking a huge cheesy smile and give a thumbs-up to every passerby, and maybe even bust a sweet dance move or two in the crosswalk (ideally midair). Something about this image reminded us of Steamboat Willie as he speeds along, twirling the boat wheel. Minus all the borderline-inappropriate animal abuse that happens throughout that short (couple that with all the antisemitic stuff, and sometimes I really wonder about Walt Disney), the general vibe of the video totally fits the song. So I put it on my running playlist for Monday morning to rock out to as I ran a loop to Davis Square. I was still a bit stiff from the 19-miler, and in the end just got too jazzed up...I Steamboat Willie'd too hard and pulled my butt. When I sadly relayed this Carl, and he pointed out that no one has ever said that sentence before. Truth. At least now I know that I have to be careful with that song.

As I was walking down Norfolk Street to meet up at Nicole's on Saturday morning, it was dreary and cold out...there's a shocker. But then I passed by someone's unkempt flower plot and saw the tiniest crocus bud peeking out through the crusty mulch. I almost completely spazzed out at this sign of life, as I had been close to accepting that summer has maybe been canceled this year. My dumbphone does not have a very elite camera, so here is a grainy picture of the little guy. I should also point out, lest you think that Boston is about to burst into full spring bloom, that the adjacent photo is not to scale--I think the real deal was even smaller, so dinky. Spring is struggling this year.

Our 12-mile route had the same path as usual, actually identical to the absurdly cold run I did all alone back in early January when I had to smear all the vaseline on my face; out to Newton Centre and then right on Centre Street straight to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill. Katy was there, so we decided to run together. She's gotten so much faster compared to a few months ago, which is pretty awesome. I was pleased to find that while I could feel my bum muscle hurting a little, it did not seem to be aggravated by our pace or the miles. My ankles were more the issue, although they were also both having a good day. Yes, it is now a plural situation. The left practically hurts worse than the right. Boooooo. Still, we were able to maintain around an 8:30 and that felt pretty good. I would ideally like to run a similar pace for the actual race.

Going down Commonwealth Ave for what felt like the millionth time, I broached the subject of ice baths. 
I've never been too tempted to try, as I am a huge weenie about cold water. Our family cabin in the New Jersey Pine Barrens rests on a bend in the Rancocas River, which is awesome to swim in but definitely quite chilly. There are an embarrassing number of old pictures of my cousins all playing in the water and then there's me in the corner still clinging to the ladder on the dock, inching in at a glacial pace. Usually by the time I had tortured myself for half an hour and finally eased in, everyone else was ready to get out. Katy likened the ice bath process to that scene at the end of the 6th Harry Potter book, when Dumbledore instructs Harry to make him drink the toxic potion no matter how hard he protests. Because despite the discomfort, apparently ice  baths are quite good for you--constricting the vessels to force out lactic acid buildup, and reducing inflammation around all the mirco-tears. I decided that I would try the junior version when I got home; that is, coldest tap water but no actual ice. I could maybe attempt ice if I had someone to hold my hand, but all I had was my laptop and Center Stage to distract me for 10 minutes as I gingerly sat with my lower half submerged and my top half bundled up along with a neck warmer and hot tea.

Our next run is the much-anticipated 21 mile peak run, where we will actually be bussed out to Framingham and run to the finish. Thus far we haven't see any parts of the course beyond the Riverside area, although on Sunday my parents (who were in town for the weekend) and I drove out to Hopkinton and cruised the full marathon route. There was a moment on the way out when we had been speeding down 93 for about half an hour and I started to wonder if, as Gob so eloquently puts it, "I made a huge mistake." But once on the actual course, it was quite fun to get a feel for beginning part and I am hopeful that I can actually do this. Probably wont be able to Steamboat Willie-it the entire way, but as long as I can maintain some semblance of forward motion for 26.2 miles, I'll be pretty pumped.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Long Run, March 15th: The Ides of Smarch

Thus far, March is living up to its doodoo reputation with a whole lot of indecisive weather nonsense. Couple that with the transition to DST, and my runs over the past week have fallen all over the spectrum of awesome to suck. From waking up once more in the pitch dark and heading out into the low teens to see the sun rise over the city (what is it, early January?) to our hill run on Tuesday evening in 60 degree temps and actual daylight for the first time, the weather has been truly schizophrenic. I know that I tend to write a lot about the weather, but as I only run outside, it's hard to not be slightly obsessed. And now that it is know, there are a lot of people in the world that not only get off on pulling a fast one on you, but are also truly talented at it. While Comcast may have perfected the art, March can sure push the limits of human frustration with a very calculated formula. It'll start off with daily highs consistently 10 degrees below the annual average until we're actually about to lose our shit and believe that spring will never really come. And ONLY then maybe slip in a 50 degree day or two, just so we'll finally turn off our full-spectrum lamps and maybe even start weaning off our Seasonal Affective Disorder medication. And then once that spark of hope is lit, time to really just ham it up with an icy downpour followed by a flash freeze and a snowstorm. Like the perpetuator of any abusive relationship, March knows that we have all been emotionally weakened by January and February, and is so ready to dangle the warm weather bait and toy with our desperation because it knows that no matter how many 0-degree-windchill surprises it throws at us, we'll always come hopefully crawling back. So sick, really perverted. I may have run away with this one a bit, but I am sure any other New Englander will understand.

But anyways, on Friday it was practically in the single digits for my 5-miler and then on Saturday it was sort of Seattle-esque with a chilly drizzle, maybe high 30s to low 40s. Very tough to dress for, especially given the long distance (18 miles) and the tendency for the morning to warm up halfway through. I opted for all the wrong articles of clothing and didn't realize until it was too late, but there you go. When I got to Joint Ventures, I was pumped to see Morgan and company, as well as Katherine. Buddies are essential on the longer runs. Katherine pushed the pace at the beginning, and I was discouraged by how fast a mere 8:30 felt. My legs felt like they were fighting through glue. I chalked it up to the sheer amount of food that I ate the previous night to celebrate Pi Day, but was still struggling to feel comfortable and was therefore not much of a contributor to the conversation. After passing the reservoir by BC, I finally felt body settling into the rhythm with more ease.

When we hit Newton Centre, Morgan suddenly stopped and sadly admitted that his IT band was too aggravated to continue. I truly felt for him as he walked over to the T to ride back. This is the time when everyone's bodies are falling apart to some degree, and it is certainly a matter of playing it smart and calling it quits before more serious damage is done. But it is so discouraging to miss out on the peak runs, which are important for feeling mentally prepared. Katherine and I continued on without him into Waban. It was so damp out that my hands had gotten quite numb, but she was nice enough to lend me her mittens for a while to warm them up. As we neared Washington Street, she stopped to answer a call from her husband. When we started back up, she was instantly struck with intense hip pain, deep in her piriformis. She thought it would wear off after a little while, but as we turned onto Comm Ave she shook her head and fell to a walk. I tried to say encouraging things about how it will certainly feel better with a few days rest, but I could tell how upset she was. Overuse injuries are such monsters, both physically and mentally. I felt heavy as I continued on without her, also not particularly stoked on the idea of doing the remaining 9 miles alone.

With my companions dropping like flies, I assessed my own injury situation. Recently, my left ankle has finally decided to join in on the fun with its own posterior tibial tendonitis, and the downhills are always when it springs up. Both sides were beginning to ache, but not in a super debilitating way, so I decided to maintain pace. Thankfully, after the first hill I saw a chain of people that I recognized--Natalie, Katy, and Helene from my Samaritans team. They had headed out a bit earlier and were going slightly slower, but I was so happy to have company that I decided to continue with them. The sun had come out, and we began stripping our layers. At the base of Heartbreak Hill we decided to finally take a picture with the pump-up gorilla that always hangs out at the corner by the Heartbreak Hill Athletic Company.

As we passed BC and headed back onto Beacon Street, they had the idea of passing through Kenmore to the actual finish in Copley. Katy and I had talked previously about how we have become accustomed to pushing it out over Mt. Kenmore to finish right there in the square, and how it may be psychologically challenging on race day to continue for another mile. My energy levels were finally up and I was into the idea, but I was worried about my ankles--by Coolidge Corner, with each step it felt like the pavement was coming up to bash the underside of my foot. Everything ached. Still, I had John Hancock in eyesight and I wanted to take it in to Copley Square. So at Kenmore I said farewell to the group so I could finish at my own pace, and as soon as I bumped it back up to my normal speed my feet felt infinitely better. Going slower must somehow fatigue them in a way that my intrinsic muscles aren't quite as used to.

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and next thing I knew I could see the Public Library. I have run down Boylston Street so many times, but never with 19 miles behind me. As I finally reached the faded blue and yellow finish line that spans Boylston Street, I stood there waiting for the others and tried to imagine what it will feel like to stand here again in five weeks. I honestly have no idea. But for that moment, at least, I felt pretty awesome.

I cheered the others in, and we took our time walking back to Kenmore, grabbing coffee and water on the way. I think walking it out was actually very good to ward off stiffness later on, although I was still all chafed up in the usual spots. I took Sunday off to rest and sleep in, and felt great this morning on my run to Davis and back. However, I may have skimped on the stretching too much on Saturday because when pushing off extra hard to clear a curb, I felt a muscle deep in my right butt suddenly pull. I am sure the bitter cold was also a factor. Luckily I was only two blocks from home, and it didn't actually slow me down. But walking to work later on I found myself doing this weird Long John Silver peg leg gait, and it is hurting even when I sit. Hmm. I am hoping that a non-overuse type injury such as this will resolve itself within a week or so, but it is worrisome. I am learning more and more that the real challenge of this is not getting your endurance up--it is keeping injuries away. Way less fun.

Friday, March 14, 2014

This is how I felt when I went on my run this morning. Thank you, everyone, for helping me reach my $10,000 goal!!!!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Long Run, March 8th: Final Riverside Run

I actually don't have a lot to say about our run on Saturday. None of my usual running partners were present, so I did the headphones and picked a runner to try to keep in my sight for the way back from Riverside to challenge myself a little. I did go a little faster than usual, and my feet were all achy in various ways when I got back. Including the left foot. The good foot! Not OK. Luckily there were quite a few Samaritans and other runners to talk with on the train and back at the facility. It was sunny and pleasant out (maybe mid thirties), although later in the day it shot up past 50 and I saw runners in shorts, which made me realize that I really should have just slept in and run on my own time. Walking around the downtown later, I realize how much I have missed doing my own runs around the city. Oh well, it wont be too much longer now--only about another three weeks at peak. On the upside, there was a moment when I was caught in the island at the intersection after BC, waiting for the green line to train to pass and I was sort of jamming a little to my music and then I looked up and saw the conductor of the train nodding along so I started rocking out a little and he smiled and started really grooving. That made me happy.

In case you haven't looked over, check out how close I am to hitting my goal. Nice. I feel like at this point I can aim to shoot even a bit higher. I still plenty of cards left over that I am looking to sell, if anyone is interested! Click the tab above.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Long Run, March 1st: Rabbit Rabbit

Something about waking up and it not being February anymore put me in decent spirits on Saturday morning. February is the worst month anyway, but this particular one has been a struggle, needless to say. Not helped by my own inability to get my brain back online since the fire so I can succeed at doing simple things. Like going to Market Basket without losing my wallet, or park my roommate's car in one of the many spots where it wont get ticketed and towed, or properly remove those "damage-less" Command strips from my immaculate new walls without taking a chunk of paint and drywall with it. Yes, I moved into a new apartment last weekend with two of my roommates, just on the other side on Inman Square; moving is the least fun, but I have a home again. And as long as I manage to not sabotage the deal with my half-functioning brain, I should be here through August.

So on Saturday morning I was ready to finally take a stab at 18. Despite the fact that it was finally March and the sun was shining at 6:45 am, informed me that it was 13 degrees out. And to make things more complicated, was predicted to warm up to the high 20s by 11:00am. I have previously talked about my clothing formula and how I know what to wear for certain temps, but spanning a 15 degree differential is not something that I am equipped for. So I decided to dress for the cold and suffer later, and then walked to Nicole's and we headed downtown with Nicole #2. We rolled into Joint Ventures only a minute or two before the run began, and while stuffing a gel into my little pocket and quickly getting Nan's iPod ready, I scanned the crowd for one of my previous running buddies. I knew Katy was in New Orleans and Katherine was nowhere to be seen, but once outside I ran into Morgan from BMC, who was about to head off with 4 other runners and graciously invited me along. We began by heading in the opposite direction to tag Mass Ave before running back through Kenmore and down Beacon (I guess without doing that, the planned course would only be 17.4, and nobody wants that). 

The long trek out past Newton has become very familiar, but new company brought new conversation, including Morgan's story about an unexpectedly rough Thai massage. It felt good to laugh. As we circumvented the BC reservoir, we came up behind a pretty large guy who was trotting along and chatting with several people, who ended up being Tedy Bruschi. I don't often find myself in a situation where I feel physically on par with a former NFL player, and it was a rather nice feeling. Once through Newton and past Chestnut street, we were finally in new territory as we entered Waban. Waban is where Carolyn would sometimes pick me up from the T back in August and September of 2012, when I was trying to find work up in Boston but by the end of the summer was still jobless and then also homeless. Hence me living for some time at her parent's place in Natick, which was so nice of them. I thought about that as I passed through the village.

When we hit Washington Street, we were back on our usual Riverside Run course. For the record, I did do the 10-miler last Saturday right before I moved, but I was too busy to write about it. Although it is worth mentioning that I ran with Katy, who has FINALLY received the bib she deserves! Which means all of our alternates are now able to run, and I am so pumped for her. Anyways, Washington Street was out of control as usual with tons of cars and crappy sidewalks, although we did see Batwoman and Superman. By the time we turned onto Commonwealth Avenue, the sun was facing us and as the hills rose up under our feet, I was starting to get hot. When we hit our water stop, I decided to just go for it and strip my Underarmour layer. Which I knew meant taking my shirt fully off, but I thought that if I just got behind the car and did it quickly, it was all good. It would have gone better if I hadn't gotten both layers tangled around my neck after trying to sneakily remove the Underarmour without taking the top layer fully off, and then gotten stuck trying to put my damp outer layer back on, and if Captain America hadn't been coming down the hill to see the whole thing.

When we got to Heartbreak, we all popped in our music to get in the zone for the hill. I had just eaten a GU that had extra caffeine, so I was feeling pretty amped. I was making good time when suddenly  I came upon a guy hunched over the side of the hill, puking aggressively into the snowbank. Everyone was just running past him like we were in one of those hardcore "every man for himself" situations, as if Heartbreak Hill had suddenly become the freaking death zone on Mount Everest or something. So I stopped and asked if he was OK, and he just managed a weak "no" and I realized that he was clearly just a high schooler. A junior named Calvin, I learned once he straightened up a few minutes later, whose teammates had all left him behind. Morgan and the others passed by, but I felt bad leaving this kid all by himself, especially after he confessed that he really needed to run with someone. So we finished the hill slowly together and then headed down to Cleveland Circle, and he explained that about 100 students from his high school were training to run the Providence Marathon in May, which totally impressed me. I think in high school I could run about 3 miles. I told him about Samaritans and Nathaniel, and he opened up about a friend that he just lost to suicide. He mostly seemed too exhausted to speak, so I talked about struggling to find my passion and the fruitless job hunt and the recent fire, but then realized I was starting to freak him out about becoming an adult so I hastily switched it up and asked him about what he was interested in. Turns out that he is all about computer programming and hopes to go to MIT. About two miles from Kenmore, he had to take a turn to reach his destination, which was about a mile away. I felt really awful leaving him half-collapsed on a hedge, but I figured he could always just walk the rest of the way. Guess that's what happens when you start a 14-mile run at a low-7s pace.

I appreciated doing the last couple miles on my own, able to pick up the pace (I had to pee soooo bad!!) and listen to fun songs. No chafing this time, thanks to a liberal amount of Body Glide, and no wall. Guess I'll have to wait for 21 miles for that. And besides my ankle tendonitis being more present than usual (I've had to ditch the Mizunos and go back to the Adrenalines), everything went fine. We're getting close to the peak, and on top of it I only need $304 more dollars before I hit my goal. Let's hope that it's all a good sign that March will be better.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Wall

This past Saturday, my Samaritans teammates took on 18 miles--our longest training run yet. It varies from person to person, but it is usually around that distance that the body runs out of stored glycogen and thus you encounter "the wall" and your legs literally cease to work. Even months of preparation, slowly increasing the distance and coaching your body to burn fuel more efficiently is often still not enough to prevent that dreaded moment when your form falls apart and your pace slows to a crawl. I have been waiting for the time when I first experience this feeling, and I was fully prepared to possibly hit the wall for the first time on Saturday morning.

Many say that a good part of running a marathon is mental, and that part of your training is about learning how to psychologically overcome your body's screaming cries to cease all activity once that wall is hit. To be that worn out and still maintain pace requires a mental strategy that is unique to each runner. Everyone has that kind of determination inside somewhere, but it takes some searching to find where it is hidden. I did not make it to the 18 mile run on Saturday, but I was instead given a different opportunity to practice searching for that emotional override. It has been a week, and I am finally beginning to feel relief from an incredibly mentally-taxing journey that began at 4:00am last Wednesday morning, when I was jarred from the deepest sleep by the sound of heat blowing out the glass downstairs and the panicked cries of my roommates who awoke to find flames licking their windows. Several minutes later I found myself in the street, staring in dazed disbelief at the fire erupting from the neighboring apartment building, which was quickly spreading over to our dear third-floor residence at 238 Prospect Street. Standing bare-legged in the 5-degree air with my shoes on the wrong feet and my coat only half on, clutching the two items I had time to grab (my pet snake and childhood blanket) to my chest, I felt like I had hit the wall.

There was not a whole lot that could have prepared me for what we would find when we were allowed to re-enter our apartment 7 hours later to gather essential items, such as phones and wallets. The burned ceiling and roof had rained a thick blanket of insulation through our apartment, sodden with water that had quickly frozen into a crusty, ashen layer that stank unbelievably. My heart fell as I looked into my two roommate's rooms that had taken the heaviest damage--they were unrecognizable, and almost nothing was left. I quickly learned that firemen will go to any lengths to extinguish a fire (and rightly so), even if it meant coming in like a tornado and upturning tables, throwing armoires and dressers, and busting out windows so that they could pull hoses through to spray across the narrow alley. My own room was thankfully against the other wall of the house and although it sustained heavy smoke damage, many items were salvageable. I was completely in shock as I crunched across the piles of debris and aimlessly collected some clothing and sentimental items as every 30 seconds our smoke alarm emitted a gargled, dying chirp from deep in a pile of collapsed ceiling. Almost more than anything, we were so thankful to find Tara's kitty, Memphis, safe and sound jammed beneath Tara's bed.

I'll admit that to maintain a reasonable level of functioning over the next several days, I had to dig pretty deep. The logistics of losing your home and belongings suddenly in the middle of the night are quite complicated, and it was almost too easy to feel utterly overwhelmed. But, just as the cheering crowd can make a world of difference even in the toughest race, support and kindness came swooping in before my shock had even worn off. The people at the Cambridge Public Works took us in, provided breakfast, and kept us up to date on the situation (it took hours for firefighters to extinguish the fire fully) while the wonderful American Red Cross paid for two nights at a pet-friendly hotel and provided us with a small stipend to help pay for some new clothing and toiletries. As word spread among my friends, coworkers, and marathon teammates, I received countless invitations to crash on spare beds or couches. With nothing to wear to the multiple interviews I still had lined up at a career fair on Friday, Carla and her roommates stepped up and pulled out all their best clothing to find items that fit. My mother drove up from PA to join in with those who helped me move out whatever was salvageable from our apartment, and also do countless loads of laundry in an attempt to wash out the sickly sweet stench of smoke that saturated my clothing. Others offered their basements to store my other items. The owner of Casa B restaurant in Union Square graciously comped a fabulously delicious meal to my mother and me, and the folks at ImprovBoston donated the proceeds of Sunday night's show to all 18 who were displaced. Moreover, the bar manager at Bukowski Tavern in Inman Square has volunteered to donate all of his tips from tonight towards the cause as well. I have been blown away by the community's response.

Needless to say, my training regimen took a hit after everything that happened. I finally managed to pull off a short run on Monday after continually feeling too exhausted to even consider it. It was not a great run; the tension in my back and shoulders practically inhibited my breathing, but the lowest part came when I turned up Prospect Street and instinctively crossed to the other side at the intersection with Broadway, ready as usual to push it out for the final block. For a year and half I have run all through Cambridge and Boston and along the Charles or up through Somerville, out into Arlington and around Medford, or down by the harbor and through the beautiful Public Garden, but no matter where I went I always began and finished at 238. I had not cried yet since the fire happened, but to continue down Prospect Street without stopping at our little blue house with the white porch railings, I was overwhelmed by that all-too-familiar weighty feeling of loss. But with a new apartment will come new memories, and I am continually reminding myself to count my blessings. The people in 240 and two of my roommates effectively lost all that they had, and worst of all, one woman lost her life. I survived unhurt, and have a huge network of friends and family offering their support, which is really all that matters. And as hard times often breed new acquaintances, we have finally actually made friends with the second-floor residents of 238 and even shared laughs in the fact that I, being the last one to mobilize that morning, did not manage to put on pants. In the end, mental toughness takes practice and I can only hope that when I finally do hit mile 18, I will be readier than ever to dig deep, find my strength, and continue onward.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Long Run, February 1st: Sweet Sixteen

It was such a relief to step out my front door on Saturday and be greeted by mid-30s temperatures for the first time in weeks. It would seem that the two-week cold snap has finally released its grip, and probably just in time too, as I was beginning to regress into a very dour mental state that involved me repeatedly questioning what the hell the Pilgrims were thinking when they decided to inhabit the inhospitable gulag that is Massachusetts winter. I felt it particularly during the hill workout this past Tuesday night--although it was a somewhat reasonable 18 degrees, it rocked me a little harder than I had anticipated and left me sore and stiff. But, heading downtown on Saturday morning, I was feeling ready and was especially pleased to see Katherine show up at Joint Ventures shortly before 8:00. I was in the mood for some company and pacing advice. We got a slightly later start while we waited for the potty line to dwindle, and in the meantime she introduced me to Morgan, who also is running for Boston Medical Center. Turns out he is 25 as well, and he confessed that he had also never run 16 miles before. The two of us sort of shrugged and exchanged a "guess we'll see what happens" look and off we went.

The scheduled course was the exact same one we've been doing every time, only plus a full lap around the reservoir on the way out. I am getting pretty bored of these stretches of Beacon and Commonwealth, but having a new running companion was a good way to shake things up. Morgan talked about how he transitioned from a music major to a religion major, and then somehow wound up doing clinical work in depression studies at BMC. He is also a Zen Buddhist. He and Katherine chatted about clinical studies and their coworkers and there was lots of doctor jargon flying around so I just listened as we wound our way around the reservoir and headed out into Newton. John had set up maybe 5 water stops for us, and we took our time at each to snag some Gatorade. I found myself hitting the Swedish Fish pretty hard, except after two chews they would solidly cement themselves into my molars and stay there for about a mile. Which was sort of a gross phenomenon, but also convenient. Our pace hovered around an 8:30, which felt slow and very sustainable. I had no intentions of pushing it as I did two weeks ago, as my body really took a beating that day.

We paused in Newton Centre at Peet's Coffee for a quick pit stop (thankfully they didn't yell at us), before moving onwards. After the cut-across to Commonwealth Avenue on Chestnut Street, which plops us midway through the Newton hills, I was pleasantly aware of how good I felt. In fact, after eating a radioactive-looking "island flavor" GU at the bottom of the 3rd hill, by the time we reached Heartbreak I could feel myself getting a bit bonkers. Katherine split from us at Coolidge Corner to run home, and so Morgan and I pushed it out together for the final mile. There is a raised overpass over the turnpike just before Kenmore Square that we have dubbed The Kenmore Hill, and seeing it appear after trotting for several hours is always most welcome.

I have to say, I did not feel as wiped as I thought I would afterwards. It's funny how my perspective of what constitutes a "long" run keeps being steadily pushed futher. My Brooks Adrenaline's have started to wear significantly on the outsole, and a trip to the South End Athletic Company the next afternoon (where they did a fascinating free gait analysis video on a treadmill and I was that irritating customer that asks a million questions) led me to buy a pair of Mizuno Wave Inspires, which are slightly less clunky but will hopefully still keep my ankles from doing the tango. We'll see how they perform, and at least I know I can always switch back to the Adrenalines if they seem sketchy. Next week I will in NH skiing and will miss out on the 10-miler, but I will make up for it midweek sometime.

As I wrap this up, I want to once again thank my multitude of supporters who have been so incredibly charitable. With everyone's help, including the two most recent and unbelievably generous donations from Steve Piltch and the Shipley School, I have almost passed the $9000 mark! At this rate, I am feeling confident that I will reach my $10,000 goal by April. I am floored by the generosity of each and every one of you, and so touched by the outpouring of support. Thank you so much, everyone!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Long Run, January 25th: Riverside Run #2

I was really not feeling in the mood for a long run when I got up on Saturday. I had been up a bit late stringing pretzel necklaces with my coworker, Rebecca, for us all to bring to the craft beer festival downtown on Saturday evening. So I was tired, not to mention sick of the cold, which I can feel beginning to take a toll on me. This past week in particular was rather challenging. Super early on Thursday morning I ventured out into very low single-digit temps to do an 8-miler around the Fresh Pond area with Carl's girlfriend, Katie, who is running on the Tuft's team. When I got back to the T, my hands were so frozen and swollen that I was literally unable to unzip my pocket to get my T pass out. There was a train coming in 1 minute and I was already late getting home, but no matter how hard I tried, my fingers could not grasp the little zipper. In desperation I started rubbing my butt up and down on the sensor to see if it could read my card through my pants, but it didn't work and definitely got me some weird looks (in the end, I was so completely helpless that I just had to ghost in after someone). The hill workout on Tuesday night was equally ridiculous. We have yet to have reasonable weather for any of those--first the extreme cold, then the downpour, and this week's fun times in some very heavy snowfall that reduced traction to the point where I felt like I was running in sand. I am done complaining, but let's just say that whoever decided to put the Boston Marathon in the spring is not my favorite. In fact, they are almost certainly dead at this point, and I don't feel bad.

The upside of Saturday was that it was a practically balmy 20 degrees out, although really clouded over and sort of dull. Nicole and I have been setting our rendezvous time later and later, so we got to Joint Ventures not too long before we all once again piled onto the T at Kenmore for the trip out to Riverside. I was zoning out on the train, almost ready to take a nap, when I looked down the car and got a wave from Katherine, the woman who I ran with way back in December on our first Furey run. It was great to see her again, and after reaching Riverside we embarked on the journey back together. Even though she hasn't been able to attend many of these program runs, she explained how she's been running to and from her job at Boston Medical Center with her work clothes in a little backpack, and that she recently took her 2-year-old for a 12-miler in a running stroller. She had also acquired one of those nifty GPS watches that clocks your mileage and pace, so she was able to keep an eye on our speed.

The first segment of the Riverside run isn't so great, as it's along big roads and the sidewalk wasn't really shoveled so there were a lot of snow and ice patches. I was really glad to reach Commonwealth Ave, which has the carriage road to run on. This time, it was filled with even more runners than before, which Katherine thought was hilarious and she even ran into some people that she knew from her sports club. The masses of runners training up and down the Newton hills is really quite impressive, although you can totally tell we're the charity bunch--pretty rag-tag compared to what people typically imagine when they think "marathon runner." It was great energy all around though, and after the first hill we ran into Katy who was running with another teammate, Helene, who is my "big sib" on the Samaritans team (since she did it last year, although was unfortunately stopped before the finish). We chatted with them for a while before moving on, and then it was just the two of us.

After passing BC and jumping onto Beacon Street for the final 3 miles home, Katherine began to explain her journey to her current job--how she moved out the Bay Area after college and got involved in health clinic work which led her back to Yale for graduate school and then up to Boston to work at BMC. She is 40 (although doesn't look it), and surprised me at one point by exclaiming how much she loves getting older, and how each era of her life seems better than the last. Upon hearing her say that, I couldn't help but express my envy and admit that I definitely struggle with the fear of getting older and how much stress it brings me to think about it. She listened thoughtfully while I explained more fully how derailed I was at age 22 when Nathaniel's death really pulled the framework from my life and left me with reeling with uncertainty and questions that did not make me feel very optimistic about my future. After reflecting on this, she wondered if it was a bit like climbing a mountain, where the uphill battle seems endless but when you suddenly turn and look back, that's when you are able to see how far you have come. And she was right--moving forward does seem slow, but in many ways my life is less stagnant than I sometimes believe.

Katy caught us again while we lingered and talked to John at the water stop that he'd set up right after BC, so the three of us took the final few miles together. It seems a bit backwards that running 10 miles would make me feel more energetic, but the sluggishness that I'd felt while on the T had finally passed. When we got back to Joint Ventures, Katherine's watch device declared our pace to be around 8:22, which had felt really slow so we were both pleased about that. And I felt way less wasted than I had last week after pushing it so hard on the 15 miler. I think that this speed is probably the way to go if I am going to stay in one piece. I took care to spend some time rolling a golf ball under my right foot to stretch my plantar fascia, and I think that helped ward off the heel pain which always flares up very aggressively after the longer runs. I'm still skeptical about my hips, which feel a bit off. I asked hot Dr. Hagan about it on Wednesday, and he said not to worry about it too much--that nobody is perfectly even and the exercises he's having me do will help level them slowly on their own. I wasn't entirely sure I believed him and kind of just wanted him to knock them back into place, but he seemed confident that all was OK. I skeptically agreed, uncomfortably aware of how the more he frustrated me the more I felt attracted to him...not sure what that's all about, but regardless, my injuries are indeed slowly improving despite the increases in mileage, so I guess I will just have to take his word. We'll see what next week's 16-miler does to me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Long Run, January 18th: Roid Rage

I've only ever run two half-marathons, although I have run 12 or 13 miles a few other times on my own. I think the longest I ever ran was maybe 13.5, back in June. So with today's scheduled run being around 14.7, I knew I was passing into a slightly new realm. I took better care of my body on Friday night this time, partly because I've been feeling a bit run down since the middle of the week and possibly on the brink of illness. Our hill workout on the Common Tuesday night almost put me over the edge--I will always run in wet weather, but this was a real deluge of 45-degree rain, and I was truly dripping wet and chilled through during my commute home. But a super laid back movie night yesterday (seeing the new Hobbit...for the third time) with Carl followed by All-Star Pizza Bar awesomeness and early bedtime left me feeling ready and not-sniffly on Saturday morning.

Thus far I have always chatted with others during the long runs, but today I was hoping to listen to some music to help with my pacing and get the adrenaline going. Nothing can get me flowing better than listening to the right tune, and I was kind of in the mood to push the pace up, which would make conversation too difficult anyway. Then I realized that I had forgotten my ipod at work. Still, there were a LOT of runners today, so I hoped to find a buddy that would maybe at least run with me, even if we didn't talk so much. As the crowd petered out onto the street, I started out alongside a girl in a purple top. She appeared to be following two quintessential-looking runner dudes (all skinny and wearing shirts that had things like "XC" and "26.2" on them) and as they made their way to Cleveland Circle, I kind of just tagged along. Their pace wasn't too aggressive, but it wasn't slow either--maybe around a 7:30. I knew I had a long way ahead of me, but I had laid down a loose plan: by the time I got to the Newton hills, I wanted to be tired. Last week I took them really easy, but I was ready to beat myself up a little today. She and I didn't talk except for a few brief words at an intersection; I almost started conversation but we were going a little too quick to easily speak. Plus she seemed to prefer being silent. So, at the first water stop right at the reservoir, as the three of them lingered over their drinks, I decided to move on. I figured they would catch me soon after, but I didn't see them again. We had exited Joint Ventures ahead of most of the crowd, so I knew that there were probably only a few people out ahead of me. Maybe I would see them, maybe not, but for now I was alone. I really wished for Nathaniel's ipod.

Following Beacon Street into Newton, the downhills were jostling my bladder at just the right frequency to induce major pee urges and I cursed myself for drinking that mug of green tea after getting up. The area was super residential, so I was pretty much out of luck. I found my attention occupied with scanning my surroundings for the perfect pee bush, but my college days are over and public urination has since moved higher on my list of unattractive activities. Especially in a ritzy Newton yard--I found myself coming up with ridiculous scenarios involving me dropping trou behind some sculpted hedge only to be caught in the act by some intellectual-looking doctor who had shuffled out in his bathrobe (which would be brown) to grab the paper (probably with a pipe in his mouth) so he could begin his morning ritual of dominating the crossword with his intelligence, and then catch me defiling his yard. Should this cringe-worthy scenario occur, I already had a speech forming that would potentially lessen the possibility of his calling the cops or turning the hose on me. Regardless, by the time I had finishing coming up with all this nonsense, I was arriving in Newton Centre and all of it was irrelevant, since there were plenty of cafes that certainly had restrooms. But since I had just passed mile 6, I decided to not bother anyway--after 8 miles your body sucks the pee back up. Or something like that.

Aside from some people going in the opposite direction, the only person I'd seen were glimpses of a guy wearing the hallowed blue and yellow BAA marathon jacket up ahead. I passed him on Chestnut Street, but once I was on Commonwealth Avenue, I was yet again part of a pony parade of runners from all sorts of charities and training programs. I had managed to maintain a pace that I judged to be just a bit under 8 minutes, and was beginning to feel it. One runner passed me with a dog, who was exerting all sorts of extra energy by bouncing from side to side and shaking his toy. "I wish I felt that good," a lady runner muttered as we passed the hyperactive animal. I totally agreed, so at the base of Heartbreak Hill I was pleased to see John Furey and his Gatorade, and decided it was time for an energy gel.

Heartbreak Hill is not a particularly big hill in either length or steepness, especially compared to the ones back home. Its menace stems from its location, about 21 miles into the race. Apparently it is so named due to an incident back in 1936, when Native American runner Ellis "Tarzan" Brown, who had taken off at a record-breaking pace, was overtaken on this hill by defending champion Johnny Kelley, who gave Brown a sympathetic pat on the back as he passed. This action spurred on Brown, who rallied and passed Kelley to win the race, thus breaking Kelley's heart....regardless, with a comparatively measly 10 miles behind me, the hill did not pose a significant threat. In fact, by the time I reached the top, I could already feel the GU Roctane gel kicking in. I've only ever used them on my two half-marathons, but they had a rather noticeable effect on my energy levels. They're mostly just a ton of sugar and caffeine, but I'm pretty sure the Blueberry Pomegranate flavor also has cocaine and steroids in it because around the time I was passing BC I was developing an overwhelming urge to scream "BRING ITTTTTT!!!!!" at the road ahead in my best linebacker yell. I didn't. Instead I just continued on quietly while resisting the desire to start running really fast, since I still had about 3 miles left.

After Coolidge Corner, I managed to get my roid rage under control and finished in a reasonable manner. As always seems to happen, I began to feel a bit tired during the final mile. Aside from that, I didn't really feel like I had just run the furthest I had ever gone. The steady drizzle had kept me from overheating, and while waiting for Nicole back at Joint Ventures, I had time to fully stretch and foam roll it out. This past week I have found that, while my plantar fasciitis and posterior tibial tendonitis haven't been very bad, I have been experiencing muscle tension all the way up my right side, especially through my hamstrings and glutes. Looking in the mirror, I am definitely able to see that my right hip sits a bit higher than my left, no doubt the root of all this nonsense on my right side. I will definitely be bringing this up with Dr. Hagan on Wednesday, and hopefully he can fix my cooked body with his magical hands. For next weeks 10-miler, I'll probably take it easy again and slow it down so I can chat to pass the time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Long Run, January 11th: Riverside Run

After waking up multiple times in the night to pound glasses of water before crashing back onto my pillow, I was pleased to find that, come 6:45am, my decision to consume the liquid equivalent of two loaves of bread the previous night was not going to haunt me too terribly. Despite my overindulgence, I was feeling pretty ready as I made my way over to Nicole's house to carpool to Kenmore. Moreover, I was so relieved to finally have the weather on my side again. If you live near anywhere, you are familiar with the fact that this past week was unfairly cold--in fact, our first hill workout on the Boston Common on Tuesday night was in probably just about the most brutal cold and wind I have ever experienced. But today could not be more different. The air was damp and misty, and it was already mid-40s. The snow piles were steaming, and the only downside was that the freezing cold ground was producing huge patches of very invisible black ice on the wet sidewalks. I almost wiped out several times just at a walk.

Shortly after Nicole, other Nicole, and I arrived at Joint Ventures, the group headed down into Kenmore station to ride the D train out to Riverside ("ride the D"...yeah, gets me every time). Although our first attempt was thwarted by the T driver, who was some kind of dangus. These green trains are like little two-car nuggets, and it pulled all the way up to the front of the platform. The throng of us began to walk quickly over to where the trolly was, and as the massive crowd neared the doors, they promptly slammed shut. One runner banged on the door, since there were obviously like 50 of us trying to get on, but the driver ignored us and scooted away down the tracks. Uh, what? So we were a little late getting to Riverside, but I think we were all thankful to have a bit more time to wake up.

A sizable number of people had decided to commute on their own and meet us on the platform. It was there that I ran into Katy, one of our alternate runners who we are all hoping will get a bib sometime in the next couple months. Training for a marathon that you may not be able to even run in (not to mention being on call to jump into fundraising potentially very late in the game) is a whole new level of selfless, in my opinion. The two of us took off together on the journey back to Kenmore, amidst hundreds of other charity runners from many different training programs that were also practicing on the course. I felt like I was a part of a rainbow of runners, with everyone's brightly colored athletic tops and jackets dotting the road ahead of us as we navigated up and down the Newton hills. Getting close-ups of the dozens of runners who passed us going the opposite direction began to trigger some major running shoes and clothes envy, as well as brand guessing. Adidas. Nike. Nike. Under Armour. Brooks. Nike. Lululemon (nice). Athleta. Saucony? Nike....

Katy was great company, although I probably did most of the talking. As we dodged black ice on Comm Ave, we discussed injuries and our mutual interest in the human body and the physiology behind our various pains, past and present. She has hip issues, while meanwhile my right leg was busy cramping up from top to bottom. She admitted that it seemed not ideal for an alternate to be dealing with injuries, but we both agreed that everyone has their problem areas. By the time we were cruising into the BC area, I was busy reliving my epically idiotic blender disaster and she shared an equally gruesome finger injury tale that involved getting her ring caught on a basketball hoop. All in all, the ten miles flew by without much effort (maybe I have last night's liquid carbo-loading to thank for that), and as we arrived into Kenmore Square we were cheered on enthusiastically by some randos leaning out their 3rd-floor apartment window. A trainer at Joint Ventures held a complementary Runner's Yoga session soon after we arrived, so the next half hour found me flopping around on the floor trying to fight my hamstrings into poses with intimidating names like "fallen warrior" and "one-legged frog" (I was not successful). Proper stretching is an area in which I am "Developing Skills," which is a 3rd grade report card way of saying that I have nowhere to go but up (once upon a time I received a DS in the "fine motor skills" component of Phys Ed--that's actually the real reason I picked running). But hopefully incorporating that into my ever-growing running routine will help loosen up my right side and help keep strain off my ankle, which is so far holding up with a little TLC from Dr. Hagan, thankfully.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Long Run, January 4th: Cold

It didn't seem like many runners were interested in doing the training program long run this weekend, given how the sidewalks are snowy and slushy it's extremely cold. Still, I was a little surprised to be the only Samaritans representative down in Kenmore Square come 7:30am on Saturday morning. Thankfully, I am someone who (as long as I am running in the morning) is not too bothered by cold temps. That said, it was still not easy waking up in my icebox of a room at 6:30 and shuffling out into the barely-lit morning to catch the number 1 bus in Central Square. The sky was still dim and my street looked muted, but the air was so cold and clear it made everything seem sharp as nails. At about 1 degree out, the packed snow on the sidewalks felt hard as concrete and it was the type of powder and squeaks and crunches, and even copious amounts of rock salt couldn't convince it to melt. I think there might have been a  pretty view of a sunrise-in-the-making from the bridge, but the bus window was so caked with salt I couldn't really make out any detail.

As 8:00 rolled around, the eight or so of us who gathered at Joint Ventures smeared vaseline on our cheeks and noses to ward off frostbite, although thankfully it was not very windy out. The nor'easter that brought the snow and cold had been replaced by a rather soft but steady breeze from the west. Our route took us down Beacon street, and by Coolidge Corner it became clear that there weren't really any other runners who were my pace--a few faster ones out in front of me and the rest behind. I wished I hadn't forgotten Nan's ipod. So thus began a somewhat lonely and really freaking cold run out to Newton Centre. Yet Beacon street is so busy, and I had the T to look at and people walking their dogs, so I never really got bored. At the beginning when we were more clumped together, several passersby gave us sort of knowing winks and "oh, aren't you all brave!" kind of comments but were really probably just thinking we were crazy. And by the time I got to Cleveland Circle, I was beginning to have my own doubts. My Asselin was freezing, and I began to wonder if butt frostbite was a thing. My left foot had gone numb, and it seemed that if I bumped my numb elbows, weird zingers would shoot down my arms and into the sides of my palms. Hmm.

John had his truck parked next to the reservoir, and was waiting for me with water cups as I approached. "How are you doing, how do you feel?" he asked with this super concerned look on his face. He told me that calling it quits due to poor footing didn't count as copping out, but I assured him I was really doing fine. He looked dubious and urged me to cover my face with my gator as I left. The wind coming off the reservoir was a bit too refreshing, so I did indeed pull the fleece over my nose, although my breath soon began to cake the outside with ice. The rest of the way into Newton was a kind of dodgy, footing-wise. Big patches of un-shoveled sidewalk meant a lot of dancing back and forth between the road and the walk. Newton Centre was a mess, and I had to wade through puddles of slush and climb over a few snow banks to reach Centre Street. The upside was that the sun had now risen above the buildings, and I was so thankful I was wearing all black. Still, it had barely crept past 6 degrees.

Coming up Commonwealth Avenue, I knew that I was supposed to turn on Chestnut Hill Ave, but I was not sure when to look for it. I saw a car drop off two runners who took off ahead of me, and as I passed the driver I slowed to ask where I should look for the turn. She was clearly in charge of another charity training program--the National MS Society, it turned out, and although she couldn't give me directions she instead offered me gatorade, water, and gels. I declined, but thought that was awfully nice of her. I caught up with her runners and spoke with them briefly before spying John up ahead with gatorade, and he said the turn was in 3/4 of a mile. He asked me again how I was doing, and then concernedly asked if I thought he was negligent for not canceling the run. I did my best to assure him otherwise, although he was obviously worried he was going to find at least one of us stripping off our running clothes in the throws of hypothermia on that final stretch of Beacon Street.

The journey back from Cleveland circle was uneventful. By the last mile I began to feel a bit tired, and could feel the loose footing taking its toll on my legs. It is hard to maintain pace on slippery surfaces. We slowly all staggered back into Joint Ventures one by one. Somehow I was sweaty, yet freezing, yet overheated, yet numb. I decided to wait until I got home to see how my butt looked (turns out it was fine). Let us hope that next week brings warmer temps and a larger crowd to train with.