Running in the city

Running in the city

One of the cool things about my new job working in downtown Boston is the running.  We are fortunate to have a nice, big, well appointed health club in my building specifically for the people who work in the building.  I can lift weights and do yoga and even use the treadmills and bikes if the spirit moves me.

What I mostly do is use the showers to clean up for work after my runs.  The locker room is home to my apparel changing routines.  When you work in the city you have to carry your change of clothes with you and like superman be adapt at swapping outfits.

Boston is an amazing place to run.  Running is part of our local fabric and part of our culture.  Boston is a runner friendly city.

I’ll roll out of bed and jump into my running stuff.  I’m usually up by 5:00 and can be hitting the start button on my Garmin in the city before 7:00.  I might have a bite or two of oatmeal and a first cup of coffee on the way in.  I have my work clothes in my back pack, with my snacks and lunch.

I’m not the only one on the train wearing running clothes in the early morning.  There are lots of us on our way to a gym or a run.  The backpack I use is the one ASICS gave me for the 2014 New York City Marathon.  This means at least 3-4 times a week someone will ask me “Did you run this year’s race?” I get to tell my story about being on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  True story – I was.

From my office building on Federal Street I can zig zag through the alleys to Down Town Crossing.  In the morning the streets are pixilated with scuttling workers walking to work from some station.  ‘Walking’ doesn’t satisfactorily describe what they are doing.  There is a different walk.  A city walk.  It is a high velocity striding.

They make very good time.  I’m often surprised by some diminutive office minion passing me with alacrity.  Even though I have trained my own city walk in airports and cities around the world.  Heels click clack on cobbles and echo from brick as they city walk with serious purpose.  It’s a bit of a competitive sport in itself.

I pop out of a cross alley and run by the Catholic shrine building.  I would avoid it if I could.  The homeless sleep there.  There are suspiciously noxious puddles on the century old granite stoop and I hold my breath.  The 7-Eleven pipes Christmas music into the morning as I pop into the square of Down Town crossing.

The crowd thickens through the brick nexus of Down Town Crossing.  I usually shift out into the road to avoid the pedestrians.  Any cars there are are moving slowly and tentatively.  They are the minority here.  The pedestrians rule the squares and cobbles.  They drive here only with our tacit disapproval.

From there it’s an easy block slightly uphill to the Common by the State House on Park Street.  On my way out, it’s early and the pedestrians are not yet legion.  City workers are late starters.  They scoot into work closer to 9:00.  Delivery vans are idling and there are early morning work details.  Steam wafts otherworldly from the manhole covers.

I enter the park at the top corner by the Park Street station.  In the morning commuters spill up in clumps from the subway.  I run diagonally across the park. I take different paths on different days.  Sometimes I skirt the frog pond that is now an ice skating rink.  Sometimes a more southerly route by the Christmas tree donated annually from St Johns Nova Scotia.

On one route I run by an enthusiastic homeless man who cheers on the runners.  I give him a smile and a high five as I run by.  In the summer months there is a carousel crouching artistically at the path junction just past the frog pond with its painted horses.

My mind floats in the morning and the carousel horses remind of Jim Morrison’s poem about the Sargasso Sea.

When the still sea conspires an armor

And her sullen and aborted

Currents breed tiny monsters

True sailing is dead

Awkward instant

And the first animal is jettisoned

Legs furiously pumping

Their stiff green gallop

And heads bob up





In mute nostril agony

Carefully refined

And sealed over

Powerful thoughts find you in the quiet city park in the morning.

Past monuments and dogwalkers I continue diagonally towards the river.  On the western route I may cut through the other half of the park and over the pond where in the summer the swan boats swim.  There also the ducklings walk, and I make way.  But, usually I got the more direct route down the lumpy and uneven red brick side walk by Cheers and I’m certain no one knows my name.

There is a light at the crossing place and sometimes I am forced to wait.  That is more likely on the way back.  In the early hours the pedestrian lights are a mere suggestions or maybe schoolyard dares and we all scamper across the traffic.  In Boston the pedestrians mostly ignore the lights and are comfortable staring down the cars and playing matadors with the taxis and trucks.

8 or 9 minutes into my run I am now on the beige stucco pedestrian bridge that folds itself over Storrow Drive and dumps me onto the Charles River path.

Facing the great basin of the river Charles (and we love that dirty water) to my right is the Longfellow Bridge with the rattling Red Line train. Beyond that is the Museum of Science and the Zakim Bridge brining hordes of commuters down 93 into the heart of the Big Dig tunnel.  Beyond that, the harbor.

In front of me is the Hatch Shell.  To my left is the great length of the river path.  About a kilometer up river the MIT spans over into Cambridge.

The jog over, weaving through the city, is a perfect warm up.  Once I get to the river it is miles of unbroken bike path.  If I have a hard work out, this is where that work begins.  It doesn’t matter how much room I need.  All that room is there and more.  1600 intervals, no problem.  10 mile step up run, got room for that too.

There are always runners there.  The earlier I go the better the runners are.  There is a direct correlation between hard-core-ness and early workout.  I see the Boston marathon jackets.  These are not the fun runners.  These are the serious.  The workers. The strivers.

There is a steady stream of cyclist busy on their own commute into the city.  The runners fast and slow, the bikers and the walkers weave in and out on the trail in a subtle and intricate dance of speed and effort and purpose.

Out on the river the crews from Harvard and MIT pace their shells.  You can hear the distant and muted shouts of the coxswain in the low sun.  In the morning, even in the summer, the sailboats aren’t out yet and the duck boats full of tourists have yet to begin plying the basin.

I can run all the way upriver.  Unbroken path for miles.  When I get up into Cambridge I start passing college students in their sweatshirts.

From my office I can run different routes.  I can follow the Freedom Trail markers up through Charlestown to see the Bunker Hill monument and Old Ironsides.  In the course of a casual 10K loop I can hit most of the historical landmarks in the City.

I can scoot across Atlantic Ave and explore the Seaport district.  I can go west of the park and have a look at the finish line in Copley.  I can go more southerly down Tremont and circle back through Chinatown.  It’s a small city.  Geographically.  It’s not laid out in a grid like NYC or Chicago.  Boston is more organically derived like some medieval cities on the other side of the Atlantic.

These are the exploratory routes. The casual runs.  If I have a workout I run on the Charles River Path.  The surfaces are an odd combination of cobble stones, red brick, granite, cement and tar with occasional steel plates.

In the city, especially during rush hours, it is a crazy kinetic game of frogger.  You have to keep your head up and your peripheral vision open to time the gaps.  People walk at different speeds and come from all directions.  Most of them are looking at their phones.  They weave about drunkenly and sometimes stop abruptly.

Your advantage as a runner is your agility and relative speed.  I find myself hopping sideways and surging to avoid collisions.  It’s like that old computer game Asteroids.

It’s a younger crowd the city crowd.  That makes me happy.  There are a fair number of smokers in the crowd which make me unhappy and a bit confused as to how that $5 pack of smokes makes it on a person’s priority list in this expensive city.

I like running in the city.  I like the feel of it.  Me in my running stuff pushing hard through the din and melee.  I feel like I’m on display.

The truth is, I’m an outsider here.  An old ghost sidling through their midst.

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