Where are Boston’s street signs??

Seriously, I mean what the hell. Did the city planners specifically try to make it difficult for non-Bostonians to navigate? It sure seems like it.

I’ve been in Boston now two weeks, and I must have run at least an extra 15 miles from getting lost. Most of them came from a run last Sunday which alone added six miles to the tally. I’ve come to rely on instinct during runs more than logic. Usually it works- knowledge of the phases of the moon led me home one evening- but more often than not, it just leads me more astray.

During last Sunday’s run I decided at a certain point to head back to the Charles River and get back home from there. Sounds simple, right? I wasn’t sure exactly where I was so I started looking for geographic signs that would lead me to the river (it curves, so it’s not enough to know which way is north).

I see some large buildings so I head there, figuring they may be near water. Once in the maze of buildings, I notice some Duck Tours in progress (if you don’t know what these are, you should visit Boston!). Remembering the old adage, “amphibious boats filled with tourists always lead to water,” I follow them for a while. Eventually, soaking with sweat and running low on water, I see the sparkling blue of the Charl–uh oh. It’s Boston Harbor, not the Charles River.

I had a long way yet to run, but I stayed by the water and eventually made it back. After an extra six miles, that is.

Besides for getting lost all too frequently, I have only the best to say of running in Boston. There’s the perfect mix of natural beauty, city activity and sights, and other runners to make running here awesome.

Chasing the Charles: Running in Cambridge, Ma

I’m in Cambridge for the summer, and naturally I am taking advantage of the incredible running environment here. Never before have I seen such a concentration of runners, hitting the streets all the time, no matter the weather. Runners of all abilities, the slow old ones (“old” meaning 50 in this extremely young neighborhood) and sprightly young college track runners.

One interesting thing I have noticed is the lack of the traditional running wave when running around Boston- maybe I’ve only run into grumpy runners or maybe people don’t do it here simply because it gets ridiculous by the 30th wave on a single run. But I love having other runners around me; it’s part of why I love racing. I draw energy from them, pace off them, pick them off, and all too often am passed by them. Running will always be a solo sport, but it’s nice to do it alone together once in a while.

I almost ran into disaster (pardon the pun) on my very first run in the Boston area. It was approaching 10 p.m., and I decided to go for a short run on the bike path along the Charles River. It wasn’t a great run from the start, but what really started it downhill was when I almost fell into the Charles River. Not so close, really, but I did slip off the path and badly twist my ankle. Thankfully I had less than a mile left to go and managed to hobble back safely, but it was an unpleasant start for my summer running.

After a short running hiatus due to the ankle injury, I resumed running by the river and in Boston. So far it’s been great, the miles fly by with so much to see and so many runners and bikers to watch. On a 10.5 mile run this past Sunday I hit the halfway mark and was confused, thinking I could not possibly have done more than three miles, let alone over five. But I had, I was simply so distracted by the sights that the time flew (though not really, unfortunately- it was a rather slow run).  I plan to continue to cheerfully chase the Charles all summer long (and hopefully think up some new alliterations).

Running and Exploring

I got lost in my own backyard last week. Okay, not literally, but pretty close to it. I went for a five mile run that included an out-and-back on a short trail by a nearby lake. On the way back, I decided to explore a little, and discovered a whole network of trails I never knew existed- and this is about a mile and a half from my house, mind you. It was in a fairly small area, but there must have been a dozen trails. Most weren’t well-maintained, and it didn’t require a large leap of imagination to see some of the locations as prime serial-killer real estate, but it was actually beautiful. And I even got a little lost, which was easy because of the large number of short, winding trails with no markers.

The nicest part about it was knowing that this was so close to my home, and yet it looked so drastically different. I even saw a bit of wildlife- if you count a chipmunk and a bright orange bird as wildlife, that is. There were also campers, which is extremely unusual for that area. Unless those were the serial killers I mentioned earlier…

It would have been more pleasant if I had taken water, though, it was humid and in the 80’s. But it was the first time in a while that I used running as a real means of exploration, with no map or planning of a route, and it was a lot of fun.

It’s that time of year again… Rejoice, it’s National Running Day!

So apparently it’s National Running Day. I always find out after the fact or, in this case, with about two hours left to the fact (see my post “Today is National Running Day?? Why Wasn’t I Told?!?” for proof) . Why am I not intimately involved in a day dedicated to my fellow running brethren? Because, frankly, it’s not devoted to runners. It’s devoted to wannabe runners or beginners. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully support people in taking up running, and it might even deserve its own ‘day,’ but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not so much a “Runner’s Day” as an “I Would Like to Be a Runner Day.”

To all those aspiring runners and beginners out there, I will tell you this: it kind of, but not really, gets easier. Perhaps not the best motivation, but it’s true. Running is about pushing yourself. Yes, you can build yourself up to a certain fitness level and be comfortable maintaining it, but that’s not really the point. I think it’s exciting to see how far you can push your own body. Inserting speedwork and occasional races into your running routine is all part of the fun of the run.  But, then again, I’m not so intense that I don’t frequently go on runs at a comfortable pace and merely enjoy the act of running, the scenery, etc.

Breaking Your Feet into the Vibram Five Fingers

I’ve seen quite a few questions online concerning beginning training in the world’s favorite lizard-shoes, the Vibram Five Fingers. As a proud owner of said shoes and writer of a running blog, I feel compelled to address this issue.

As a disclaimer, though, I use them mainly for track sessions, rarely doing more than 3 miles with them. So if you’re interested in doing long runs in your Vibrams, I can’t give you any specific advice, though what I say may still be relevant.

First of all, and most importantly, take it slowly at first! Yes, I’m sure you’re excited to have the coolest shoes in town, but if you start out with a 15-miler, I assure you that your calves will hate you for a long time. I started with just one short run a week with them, even shorter than my typical short runs. If you still want to get in the distance, switching shoes midway is always an option (though I’d recommend starting with the Five Fingers, because getting them onto sweaty feet mid-run might be a challenge).

Secondly, unless you’re used to barefoot running/walking, expect some pain. My calves especially suffered, though nothing too terrible. I’ve seen recommendations to begin by walking in them for a while before running. It’s sound advice, though you can expect some stares if you plan on wearing them to work (they’re just jealous).

Thirdly, I do not recommend racing in them, at least at first. I raced the Fifth Avenue Mile in them last year, and it was not a smart decision. Racing the mile alone would have been fine- but I didn’t take into account all the walking around and warming up I do before races, which puts considerable extra stress on unprotected feet. (On a related note- the city has a lot of rocks! One of the many things you discover when your soles are less than a centimeter thick). So take into account all the pre-race walking around before showing your Vibrams off to the competition. If you do plan on racing in them soon after you get them, I recommend getting to the race in different shoes and putting the Vibrams on there. But give yourself enough time, you don’t want to get caught struggling with them when the horn blows!

As per running form in the Vibrams, I can only tell you what I do, which is pretty much a sprinting pose, landing and pushing off with the front of my foot. But I mainly wear them for speedwork, so if you’re doing longer, slower runs in them, or you’re typically a heel-striker (I land mid-foot in normal shoes), then it might be better to try something closer to your normal stride. Or simply do whatever is most comfortable. But don’t take my word on this issue, there may be better advice out there.

Races and River Running

It’s been a while since I posted last, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have running news to share! Well, personal running news, I haven’t heard of much international running news since the historic Boston Marathon a few weeks back.

On May 1st I raced the somewhat less historic Long Island Marathon, finishing with a respectable 5 minute PR despite not feeling my best. It was a beautiful day for a race, though, 65 degrees, sunny, breezy…. ahh. I haven’t raced since then, nor have I signed up for any races, I’ve been quite busy lately. I do plan to do some 5k’s soon, though, it’s that time of year again.

I’ve actually been feeling a bit burnt out lately, and probably as a result have been getting a few minor injuries. It’s interesting how that works- my mind doesn’t want to run, so my body somehow compensates to prevent my running. It’s frustrating, but probably beneficial in that it’s forcing me to take it easy for the moment.

I’ll be in Cambridge this summer and hope to do some running along the Charles River. There’s really something special about running by a moving body of water. Besides the distraction it offers, the flowing water always seems to give me strength. Interestingly, I sometimes feel the same way when running next to traffic, though of course that lacks the natural beauty a river offers. Anyway, I’m just excited to be mixing up my running routine. Suburbs are by far the worst running locations in the world. The extremes are much better- country running is beautiful, and city running is interesting- but the suburbs are just plain dull.

Fog Run

I set out late at night into the fog, the sound of my footsteps swallowed by the enveloping mist, not disturbing the peace of the deserted town. Small animals scattered before me. The only sound was a train passing by; a train lit up brightly with not a soul on board.

That may sound like the beginning of a horror movie (the 2007 movie The Mist was what occurred to me), but is in fact the true circumstances of a late-night run I did a couple of days ago. There was a dense fog when I started running, and my town really was strangely deserted. I had expected the segment by the train tracks to be the creepiest part when I started out, because it’s in a less frequented part of town even in the daylight hours. It turned out, though, that the portion along the busiest road was most disturbing- I met not a single person on the way, I can’t even remember more than one or two cars passing me. And I might have expected that if I ran at 2 a.m. (which I occasionally do), but if I remember correctly I ran before midnight. My town’s not exactly hopping with excitement, but the emptiness at that hour startled even me.

Despite the “creepiness factor,” the run was actually quite nice and relaxing. Not seeing another single person allowed my thoughts to wander completely uninterrupted; the fog helped the illusion of complete solidarity by smothering me in a  thick white blanket, preventing others from seeing me or me them (if there were any others to see).