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.