Running in Boston

First of all, iamarunnerandsocanyou is going to call me out on this for not getting in touch with him, but my public apology goes like this: my schedule was such that I only had time to run before the sun was up while I was in Boston, which I figured no sane individual would want to join me for. So, my apologies, and I hope that my next visit to Boston is more leisure and less business so I can enjoy more of the city.

I was there for a field-related conference, giving a paper, which went swimmingly well and was by and large a great event. The conference hotel was in Copley Square, which is in the lovely Back  Bay area of Boston (and yes, is about two blocks away from where the bombings occurred in April). While my primary purpose for visiting was this conference, I do not think that blogging about it is going to keep anyone awake, so I’m going to bore you with other details about running and sightseeing.

I arrived late Wednesday evening and had enough time to quickly get the lay of the land before going to bed. The conference wasn’t to begin until noon on Thursday, so I woke up just before sunrise and went for a run along the Charles River Esplanade as it was rising, per Andy’s suggestion. It was chilly, but absolutely breathtaking – Thursday dawned a clear and bright day, and it was such a joy and privilege to be able to greet the day from that riverside location. I explored some of the Back Bay neighborhoods as well, and marveled at the architecture thereof (I’m a sucker for brownstones with gorgeous windows). It’s no secret that I fell in love with Boston at first sight when I first visited in 2006, and I vowed one day to move there, which is still a threat I think is valid. Every time I leave, a little piece of me stays behind.  (I know I’ve said this about New York City, too, but Boston has a spirit that New York just can’t catch, not that I can put that into words but if you’ve ever visited both places I think you know what I mean.)

After that, I got ready for the day and went over to Harvard to check out an exhibit sponsored by their Russian center. It’s called the Blokadnitsy Project, and it’s a collection of twelve photobooks compiled of pictures and interviews of and with a group of women who survived the German siege of Leningrad during World War II. It’s absolutely astonishing, and I think anyone in the Boston area should go see it. I don’t get moved to tears that much, but I had to choke back a sob when I saw a picture of one woman’s hands and her description of the way she used them to move and stack dead bodies of her fellow citizens into mass graves. It was incredibly moving, and I was glad that I had made the trip out there to see the exhibit. Plus, okay, walking through Harvard Yard is pretty neat, too.

After THAT, conference stuff began.

When I arrived from the T at Copley from the airport on Wednesday night, I did a triple-take at one building that I walked past on my way to the hotel. It wasn’t the Trinity Church, which I had been told to check out if I could (and as it turns out, I didn’t have time, alas! – but check out the building slideshow), but, as I later realized, the Boston Public Library’s Central branch, which I also later found out did “Art & Architecture Tours” on Thursdays at 6pm. Wouldn’t you know it – my conference stuff ended at 5:45pm on Thursday! So, when that happened, I booked it over to the library and got a wonderful treat. Seriously, click on that link and then click on the links and look at some of the pictures of those halls and murals – just gorgeous. I was in heaven. My favorite part – as hard as it is to choose just one! –  was the statue in the courtyard, which is lit up at night and looks simply amazing.

After the tour was over, I wandered around for a bit and chatted with the security guard about working in a place of such absurd beauty, and when my stomach gave an angry, empty growl, he smiled and we agreed that I should probably go fix that. On a completely unrelated note, I had no idea that Sam Adams makes a small-batch Gingerbread Stout – it’s no Hardywood Park gingerbread stout, true, but then again, what is? – that I discovered is rather quite good, to my surprise. Sam Adams has been doing a lot of seasonal small batches over the past couple of years, and this is one I’d drink again with pleasure.

On Friday I did not run, which was a wise decision since it rained all day. I conferenced instead.

On Saturday, I ran 7ish miles before sunrise that took me far down Commonwealth Avenue and past Boston University through Allston/Brighton and ontothe wrong side of Memorial Drive such that I was running in the grass next to a guardrail next to 40-mph-traffic, separated from the sandy ground of a train yard by a chain-link fence to my right. This was not the wisest idea, but I was not about to go playing Frogger in the dark with those cars, so I decided to just run as fast as I could to get the bridge I needed to cross back over to Brookline. When I got to that bridge, I had to go up a very dark and very tall staircase, which was a bit unnerving, but hey, stairs-speedwork! Next time, I will listen to the guy driving the truck who is motioning to me to tell me that no, Memorial Drive isn’t actually on that side of the road.

I conferenced the rest of Saturday, which was when I gave my paper and celebrated with a lunch beer and then had a fantastically amazing and satisfying dinner at The Salty Pig with some old friends. (Vegetarians, beware that clicky-thing.) Beers were had, laughter flowed in abundance. It was good.

It was also VERY sharply cold and windy outside. This did not change Sunday when I went for a run at 5am.

I can now say that I have gone on a run and not encountered a single other runner on my route, which, no matter where or when or in what weather I’ve run before, has never  been the case. So that felt kind of badass, but at the same time I had a few moments in which I seriously questioned my judgement. This isn’t because of the route I chose, but rather because of the wind, which was blowing at a steady 15MPH and gusting to a hearty 30MPH, when it was already only about 20F outside. (I later learned that this was a wind chill of about 9 degrees…!) I was dressed fine – long pants, gloves, and two base-layer shirts, one of which had a collar – but it was the sort of wind that no matter what you were wearing, it just cut right through you and hit you in the bones. I accepted that this would be true for my entire run (7ish miles again) pretty much when I stepped out of the hotel door and nearly got blown sideways, which I think helped a lot in my decision to not quit. It also helped that I kept telling myself that I’ve skied entire days in such conditions, albeit with more layers on and much more snow, and it helped even more that I loathe running on the treadmill and had first-hand evidence that the hot water in our shower was indeed capable of getting very hot.

So, on I went, past the gorgeous-when-lit Museum of Fine Arts  (another place I wish I’d had time to visit!), to the Longwood area of medical colleges, to the Riverway and the fens behind Fenway (though I missed Fenway Park by a couple of blocks, oh well – I consoled myself by saying it was too dark to appreciate anyway), over the Charlesgate and back to Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, past the Boston Common and up that goddamned hill that I always forget exists to Park Street and then over to Stuart Street until reaching my hotel. Again, beautiful buildings, even in the dark and pre-dawn light, and the few pedestrians who were out waiting for buses or on their own way to work or the airport gave me “lady, you must be nuts” look that made it worth it. So what if I almost tripped over a crack in the sidewalk because my eyes were full of tears from the wind? You run faster when it’s cold, and this run was no exception: it was the fastest pace I’ve held above 5 miles in a very long time, and it felt amazing, even given the conditions.

God, I love Boston. 🙂

After getting ready and packing up, I did last-day-conferencing, got myself to the airport early enough to have a gateside beer while watching football, and was able to continue watching football thanks to the magic of JetBlue and their free DirecTV. I also got to watch the sun set from the sky, which was a brilliant shade of red I’m not sure I would have gotten on the ground, so that was pretty neat, too.

I arrived in good stead, was fed a lovely hot dinner by Saint’s parents, and got myself back home late last night to breathe for two days before taking off for Thanksgiving madness with my own family – provided the weather cooperates – after which I think I will take a small break from traveling because as much as I love Boston, and running in Boston, and being and feeling such joy in Boston, my own bed is a wonderful place all its own.

My paper, by the way, was on the concept of “home”, which I think is somewhat apropos for this post. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, a bit early, y’all. Thanks for reading.


Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon

When I’m 95 and still running, I hope I can still experience “firsts”. I still have many to go, and I crossed off two more (one intentionally, one not) with this race, which was in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday.

Those firsts were: 1) pace a friend through her first half-marathon; 2) run a race in driving rain without a hat on. I wear glasses, if that seems like no big deal.

I’ll start with 2): I had no idea it was even supposed to be cloudy until I packed for the weekend on Thursday night, and when Friday progressed to show a Saturday morning forecast of 45 degrees and 60% chance of rain at 6am, I got nervous and irritated. Elite racers will tell you that these are ideal conditions because they mean you won’t overheat and won’t have the sun beating down on you, but they are not to be taken seriously because they a) don’t wear glasses and b) run fast enough that any rain that might fall on them either runs right off or dries with the wind as they fly on through the air. Non-elite racers like me suddenly have to wonder if we’ll be able to see, much less think about comfort. Yes, wearing a hat can mitigate the rain somewhat, but rain falls at an angle when you’re moving through it faster than a walk, and it tends to find its way onto your lenses anyway. I’ve come to terms with most of the things associated with running in the rain for long distances, but this is the one I can’t get past; if I can’t see, I have problems.


When it started raining – no, pouring – no, gullywashering and flooding – at 6:30am Saturday, with a race start time of 7:30am, I started to get even more nervous and irritated. I checked the radar to see that it would clear by the start time, but I still had to get to the start line to meet Friend, and everyone else in Saint’s house was fast asleep (I told them all I’d walk the 1.75 miles to the start line to meet Friend, and they took me seriously). At 6:55 I hit the panic button and woke up Saint, and had him drive me there, and of course, by the time we arrived and I met Friend, the deluge had slowed to a misty nothing. I kept my hat with me just in case, but told Saint I was likely to hand it off to him when he saw me just past mile 2.

And that’s exactly what I did. As we started the race, I warmed up as I always do, and my head got quite warm, and my glasses – heretofore clear of all rain drops – started fogging up. When we passed Saint and his parents, I tore off my hat and handed it to him, and he looked at me with a slightly confused expression, but shrugged and took it anyway; saying he’d see me at the finish. Ten steps later, I understood the look on his face: it began cats-and-dogs pouring again, and within a minute I was more or less completely unable to see where I was going. Friend wears glasses too, and didn’t have a hat, so she was already visually impaired…

What can you do but laugh? So we did, and relaxed, and settled into the realization that we were going to spend some time simply following the people in front of us.

And that’s exactly what we did. My goals for this race going in had been twofold: slow Friend down so she didn’t burn out in the first few miles, and finish strong and uninjured. Friend wanted to finish between 2:10-2:15, so I forced us to hold to what I thought was about an 11:00/mile pace for the first 10k. We managed a 10:42/mile pace for that first 10k, so perhaps we got caught up in passing people to get clear of bottlenecks, or maybe we were feeling the pre-race euphoria a little. I actually thought we’d gone out too slow, and that we were really going to have to bust ass to make 2:10, so I started edging us towards a faster pace around mile 8. Friend was still with me but lagging behind a tiny bit (maybe a half step), but she said she felt fine, so I pushed us a bit faster through miles 9-11. At mile 11 she started dropping back a little – maybe two steps – and I realized that we could have, maybe should have gone out even slower, because she wasn’t going to have the finishing kick left in her that I do – but, this is her first half, for crying out loud, whereas this is number 5 for me and I’ve had plenty of experience to teach me how to conserve. She’ll get there, too, in a matter of time. Anyway, she waved me on when we made our final turn because I think she could sense that I wanted to finish strong, so I went ahead, finishing ahead of her by about 10 seconds. I felt a leeeetle  bit bad that we hadn’t crossed the finish line together, though she did thank me profusely for holding her back in the first half of the race and for pushing her gradually in the second half. Physically, she came out fine (says she), and as far as I can tell she had the “holy crap I just ran a half-marathon” experience instead of the “I am never doing one of these again” experience.  had a great time, so I hope that she catches the bug as much as I did after my first half.

We finished in 2:14, so just inside her time goal, and that’s actually my second-fastest half time ever, so that’s cool. If I’d been on my own and actually racing it, I’d have pushed myself a bit more in the last half of the race, though coming off a marathon I’m still wary of attempting any PRs just yet. As it was, we covered the last 6.9 miles in 1:08, which is a 9:59/mile pace, so I’m getting better at this whole running-negative-splits-by-feel thing. I felt like I could have run another half when I finished, which means I’m recovering properly and doing well to maintain a 30-mile/week base – or, that I have delusions of grandeur induced by endorphins. Your call. 🙂

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT YOU, you say. What about the COURSE??

I loved the course, not just because it’s flat (yay Richmond!) and familiar (there was only one 1.5-mile segment I’d never run before, that went through a park, but I’ve been in other parts of the park before so I knew what to expect) and part of one of my favorite days in Richmond (this was the third year in a row I’ve run a race associated with this day, and the crowds never cease to amaze me with their support). There were a couple of long stretches down streets for a couple of miles, and a couple of bottlenecks in the park and on more narrow streets, but that will happen with any race. The crowd support is unparalleled, and there’s enough uphill and downhill to make it an interesting run. I’m still not a huge fan of the steep downhill finish, but I sort of let gravity do its thing this time and just let it carry me down as fast as my legs would let me go, and my quads were a leeeetle bit sore yesterday but fine today. (My knees, too, were fine.) Double bonus: we finished in time to get free pizza at the finish festival AND get free coffee from the McDonald’s truck that was there – both were things that had run out by the time I finished the marathon last year, which I hold against no one because I took my sweet time finishing that. ALSO, we got fleecy blankets at the finish line, which were perfectly wonderful in the cool rain after we were done. Saint took it since I already had one from my March half (they’re sponsored by the same company), and I was fine with that, since he’d earned it by standing outside in the rain for multiple hours dressed in an orange sweatshirt that he decorated to be Tony the Tiger and holding up a sign that said “YOU’RE GRRRREAT!”. (He was a hit with the marathoners, apparently, and as we were walking back to his parents’ house after I finished he got a lot of thumbs-ups and picture requests!)

So, would I run this race again? Abso-freaking-lutely, though maybe not next year (I’m thinking right now of taking the fall off from a long-distance race and sharpening my volunteer skills). Would I recommend this race for other runners? Abso-freaking-lutely, for anyone running their first or fifteenth. Have I bored you to death? Abso-freaking-

– wait, no, never mind. 🙂 I’ll end there; Boston is this weekend so I’m looking forward to trying to squeeze in some runs there. Have a good week!


(n). the state of being in between two worlds; considered dangerous because one can belong to either one world or the other, but not fully, and not both.

This word is almost certainly going to be one of the keywords associated with my dissertation, and I’ve been using it a lot recently, so it’s no wonder it’s been on my mind. But, it also applies to my current running regimen, or lack thereof: I’m in that odd month where I don’t really have anything scheduled until training for the next race begins. I did have a moment earlier this week where it occurred to me: oh, you should probably think about looking at A Plan soon. I did, but more on that in a minute.

It was nice to have a break. After a week off it was good to get back into the swing of things, getting back into the gym and running just because I can, and it’s been nice to be able to get up and run 12 glorious miles on a Saturday morning just because I felt like it.  I’m glad to have not lost much fitness, since I’m moving up to a higher-mileage training plan for Marathon #3, and I’ll be starting out with a long run of 10 miles. I’ll be doing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan, which starts with 26 miles in a week (which is just below where I am now) and peaks at, um, 50 miles as you can see from those three (3) (2+1) weeks with 20-milers in them. It’s a little intimidating, but it’s really just a nudge up from the Intermediate 1; I’m not changing much here, since I’m already accustomed to running 5 days a week and doing 2 Saturday pace runs followed by a third Saturday easy run. However, one thing I AM changing is the length of this plan: I’m taking out week 17 and only tapering two weeks, because I’m certain I will go insane if I have to taper for three weeks again. 🙂

It’s funny, though, how habits die hard even when you’re not training: even as it’s gotten darker earlier, with the later sunrise, and much colder – so I really have no need to run at 4:30 am to escape any heat – I still find myself waking up at 3am to get ready to run and go to the gym. I’ve found that if I run/work out before I go to work at 7am, I get much more done during the rest of my day, and I sleep better at night, though there are tradeoffs to all of this. I have no social life any more, except on the weekends, and while I absolutely exult in being one of the 2 or 3 people* out on the road in the pitch black with a canvas of stars and cold morning air around me, I kind of miss being able to see the fall colors in daylight, and being able to see the sun rise from a location that’s not my bathroom window while I’m showering.  Eh…. I don’t know. I really, really like running before the sun’s up now, and it’s working for me, so we’ll see how this shakes out when I have to run 10 miles on a Wednesday in the middle of February. 🙂

*There’s this one guy – known in the entire town only as “Running Man” – who deserves his own post, so I hope I remember to write about him later.

Aaaaanyway. Future plans: here’s the marathon I’m running in March: Virginia Creeper Marathon

It’s probably the most no-frills race I’ll ever run, and (sigh) Saint asked me if I thought I could knock another 20 minutes off my MCM time, and winter is good for faster running (because I always want to get home faster and jump in the shower), so I’m going to give it a go here. I feel like this will be the most mental of the marathons I’ve done simply because it’s so small and non-crowded, but perhaps a non-urban setting will give me some peace of mind.

It will be an experience, in any case.

More immediate future plans: This weekend I am running the Richmond half-marathon, where I’ll be pacing a friend through her first half. I’m excited for it, because I love this entire day and how the city really comes out to support all of the runners in all of the races. Also, it means I get to complete the trifecta of having run all three of the races associated with this day; in 2011 I did the 8k, and last year (as you may have heard) I did the marathon. Since I’m moving to Richmond in May it is entirely possible I will decide to run one of these races again in 2014, or, perhaps I’ll take a year off from it and volunteer. In any event, if I can, I plan to stick around and cheer on the marathon folks when I’m done, and with any luck, we’ll finish in time to see the winners come through.

Next weekend – well, starting Wednesday night, really – I’ll be in Boston (land of Dunkin’ Donuts, oh yes, they shall be mine) (and no, I’m not eating a Boston kreme right now, why do you ask?) for a conference, and I am SUPER-excited about that because I haven’t been there in 4 years and it will be good to see friends in the area and at other graduate schools. I’m hoping to be able to get out and see some of the city, though I don’t know how possible that will be given that there are a ton of talks I want to go to. My own is at 8am on Saturday, which somewhat thwarts my plans for a nice long Saturday run at a reasonable hour; in general, I hope to get some running done while I’m there but I don’t quite know how that’s going to work time-wise. I’m staying in the Back Bay area, so if anyone has any ideas on places to go or not go (as in, don’t go there at 5am because it’s unsafe), I’m all ears. (I’m looking at you, Iamarunnerandoscanyou!)

All right, I’ve gotta go finish up this talk and then move on with my day. What are your future plans? Whatever they may be, have a great weekend!

Oh! P.S. Shout-out to jonfitzsimon who is running the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon on Sunday. Good luck – you’ll do great!

MCM 2013: The post-mortem!

I’ve always thought that using the term “post-mortem” with a reflection of an event is kind of odd, since in the literal sense I am very much still alive (woohoo!) and the event isn’t strictly a living thing in and of itself. But it kind of makes sense, I guess, if you think of it in terms of having enough perspective on the event to be able to objectively analyze it. That, and the event is now history, something to be remembered rather than anticipated.

So, this may not be the most interesting post to people who aren’t me, but maybe you’ll find something of use in it if you happen to be reading. Also, I put pictures at the end, so if you get bored, you can scroll down to those for a good laugh.

For my recovery this time, I took five whole days off of running and any other physical activity that was not scaling stairs or shuffling after a bus I was about to miss. On days one and two, I felt sure that this was a good decision. On day three, I still felt that it was a good decision, but I could feel the soreness in my legs and joints going away for good, and I started to get that itch again. On day four, personal-life-things took an acute turn for the not-so-good and I was really regretting my stubborn decision to not go for a run even though I was very stressed out and craving like mad the endorphins from exercise. My legs were not sore, so I was itching quite badly to run, but I told myself “no”. Day five was 3x worse than day four, but I had a light at the end of the tunnel: on day four I’d set up a day-six morning run with the friend I’m pacing through her first half, so I knew I’d be getting out and chasing endorphins by the next morning. One of these years I’m going to make it a full seven days between “marathon” and “run again”, but this is not that year.

The run itself was a warm and cloudy 9.5-mile jaunt in about 1:40, which is about right for my long runs, so at least it looks like friend and I have about the same pace, which is good. I think she started out too fast, though, since by the end she had slowed down a lot and was not feeling happy. I’m trying to think of ways I can subtly steer her towards a slower start that don’t involve taking off from the start line at a half-jog, so if anyone has any suggestions (and no, loading her pockets with rocks is not going to work) I’m all ears. My own legs hurt a little by the end, but it felt fantastic to run again, both for the sheer motion and the endorphins. I’d told myself to stick to 8-9 miles, and accidentally overshot to 9.5, but I felt like I could have gone for at least another three or four.

On Sunday, I’d planned to run an easy-easy recovery 5 miles, but then I realized that I had not slept in and failed to run and been lazy and given Saint the pleasure of my company on a Sunday morning since… um… early June. Fuck that, I said, and rolled right back over and ignored the alarm. I have no regrets. 🙂

I was back at the gym this morning for some cross-training, and tomorrow I’ll ease back into the running-weights-Tuesday-Thursday and running-Wednesday and rest-Friday routine. Saturday morning I’ll go for an early, easy 11.5, and then Sunday I’ll aim for an easy-recovery 4.5ish.

Okay then! With that out of the way, commence the 2013 MCM post-mortem, which I have labeled “NOTES TO SELF”.

– I had zero, none, zip, zilch! stomach issues throughout the race at all; not even any feeling of having to poo, which was odd (but very much welcome!). This could have been due to a lack of water consumption on my part, but I did eat my usual pre-race cereal and finish it 2 hours before the race began (instead of finishing 45 minutes to an hour before running), so maybe my stomach had time to process it properly? One hour before the race began I ate a snacky bar, and all was well. I also sipped on water before the start, which turned out to be ok, so it’s good to know I can do those things again if I need to.

– Being on my feet as much as I was the day before the race (waiting in line at the packet pickup/expo for an hour and change, spending a lot of time walking to and from Metro stations and my hotel and places nearby) might MAYBE have fatigued my legs somewhat. My next marathon takes place the day after the local 10-miler WHICH I SWEAR I WILL RUN ONE OF THESE YEARS DAMMIT, so I plan to volunteer at the race for the second year in a row. However, I know now to look into volunteer opportunities that involve a lot of sitting down. 😛 I was at a water stop last year, but that was a good 3-4 hours on my feet, so that’s a no-go, which sucks since it’s a lot of fun.

– 3/1 long runs (run the first 3/4 slow and gradually speed up over the last 1/4 of the distance) should probably be written down on my training calendar so that I actually adhere to them at 3-week intervals. I think I started doing them early on in my training, and then by week 9 or 10 they sort of fell by the wayside, That may have contributed to my lack of strong finish.

– Running by feel is a good thing. I may honestly never wear a watch when I run ever again. I’m used to it now, so I can’t imagine going back. (Yes, this means you have to return the Garmin you got me for Christmas. Awww!)

– So far, day 3 after the marathon was the one on which I was the least sore, but having said that, future self: TAKE TIME TO STRETCH RIGHT AFTER THE RACE IS OVER, DAMMIT. Getting good sleep (at least 7 hours/night) and eating well (lots of extra protein) also worked well for me.

– Day 4 was when I got the itch to run again. I am telling my future self to ignore it. Wait until day 6. I REPEAT: WAIT UNTIL DAY 6.

– IMPORTANT: Try a two-week taper next time. Three might have been a BIT much. Maybe do a 22-miler 2 weeks out, and go from there?

– Not lifting weights the week before the race was a good idea. Do that again next time.

– It’s still okay to drink a beer or two the day/night before the race, but maybe no more than two. The beer lunch was a lot of fun, but it might not have been exactly the best idea.

Okay then! Post-mortem done. Pictures you want, pictures you get.

Because I am too cheap to buy anything from MarathonFoto before they reduce the prices heavily, here’s a link to the page that has my pictures:

Last but not least, here are the pictures Saint took, in chronological order!

I somehow COMPLETELY missed this guy’s sign, which makes me sad because that’s a reference to one of my favorite movies (“Better Off Dead”, if you’ve never seen it BUT YOU SHOULD):




























I saw a sign similar to this one at mile 7, and I had to actively avoid focusing on it as I passed it in case my bowels understood what was going on:




























Saint found this guy’s outfit amusing. Also that he stopped to stretch in that spot:




























Hey look, it’s me! Right around the mile 17 marker, and feeling great for it being that late in the race. You can see my grandfather’s pin on my left side (though it’s on the right, here):




























Around the corner, this is me making my confused “why are you running after me to take pictures?” face (the scaffolding on the Washington Monument behind me is coming down this week, btw):




























Finally, one last shot before we parted ways to meet at the finish:




























That one would have come out pretty well if not for that silly sign blocking half of my torso. 😛

That’s that, then! Happy Monday to you. 🙂