Boston Strong

Though I’ve never spent more than a handful of weekends there over the course of my life, the city of Boston has always had a soft spot in my heart.

In college, Boston was the airport that helped me return to my beautiful campus in the great state of Maine.

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On my 23rd birthday, Boston was the town that saw me ring in another year with two of my all-time favorite friends.

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Fifteen months ago, Boston was the city where on a trip with my sister I resolved to throw caution to the wind and pursue my co-worker, consequences and all, when I returned to New York because I had a sneaking suspicion that this thing was going to be more than just a passing crush. I was right.

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Boston has brought us all sorts of cultural treasures, from Mark Wahlberg to cream pie, and while I may tease it for its wicked accents and Masshole drivers and adorable belief it wears “big city” pants, this is one metropolis that’s always been alright in my book.

Unfortunately, as we now know all too well, the Tsarnaev brothers did not feel the same.

If you’ve turned on any broadcast in the past 24 hours, you know today marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. I myself wasn’t running in the event or cheering on the sidelines or volunteering along the race course, but I’ll recall the deeply personal horror I felt when I heard the news of the explosions for the rest of my life. I had just landed in South Carolina for a work trip and turned on my phone to a deluge of missed calls, and as panicked messages streamed in asking whether I had been running that day, I started to piece together what had happened. I called my mother, then my runner best friend, in tears from the Charleston baggage claim.

The truth is, I was 1,000 miles away from Boston and severely less impacted by the event than so many hundreds of spectators and athletes competing and cheering that day. But as a marathon runner, I nonetheless felt personally targeted and victimized and furious and scared from the events of that day, and I was left wondering whether our sport – and its most elite competitive event – would be forever changed.

In some ways, it has been. Gone are the days of rolling up at the starting line of a New York Road Runner’s race minutes before the starting gun and tossing my backpack into bag check. No longer are camelbacks allowed for hydration on marathon Sunday in New York City. Never again will racing bib-free be a shrugable offense.

Running as a sport has changed, and when 36,000 participants gather at the Boston starting line next Monday, they’re in many ways going to be running an entirely new race.

But at the same time, they’re not. They’re still going to be tracing the legendary route from Hopkinton to Boston. They’re still going to be plowing up Heartbreak Hill with six miles to spare. They’re still going to be turning right onto Hereford Street, left onto Boylston Street and then propelling themselves over that finishing line to a roar of cheers, to a sea of high-fives, and – if they’re anything like me after 26.2 miles – to the sound of their own gratified tears.

A lot has changed in the past 365 days, but the resilience of the running community – and the Boston running community in particular – has remained reassuringly constant. If post-JLo Ben Affleck has taught us anything, it’s that Boston rebuilds stronger, and when it comes to Boston marathoners, I think it’s safe to say that’s doubly true.

How are you remembering Boston today?

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History Lesson

When I reflect back on my formative years, it becomes clear that earlier versions of me made some pretty terrible judgment calls.

  • My 2006 self believed driving from Maine to Orlando overnight was a wise travel decision.
  • My 1995 self thought “party dude” Michelangelo would make the best Ninja Turtle husband.
  • My 1991 self dressed herself monochromatically, let her parents choose her haircut and thought it amusing to outfit her poor old dog in headgear.

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My 2014 self would never do something like that.

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Please call child services.

But while I generally think my current decision-making skills are more refined than those of my past identities, there’s one voice of reason I just keep coming back to: my November 2013 self.

My November 2013 self had just completed the New York City marathon, and despite all the excitement and success and adventure of the day, had walked away convinced she wouldn’t run a marathon in 2014.

“Take the year off,” she said as she limped down the finisher’s shoot. “Bask in a training-free summer,” she dictated as she collected her cape. “Return to the marathon circuit in 2015 refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to PR,” she commanded between mouthfuls of post-race poptarts, “and don’t take no for an answer.”

November 2013 Anne made a really good point. She knew this summer was going to be too busy to train well, she knew her knees needed a rest and she knew that not racing a marathon every year does not diminish one’s status as a runner. She made her friends and family promise not to let her run another marathon until the following calendar year, and she even managed to make it through the NYC marathon lottery process against all odds without throwing her hat in the ring.

November 2013 me knew a lot of things, but one thing she didn’t know was how racing her first spring 10K would leave her feeling strong and motivated, or how discovering her finisher’s shirt among her summer clothes would see her overcome with excitement, or how hearing everyone else plot out their marathon goals for the new year would have her itching to complete alongside them.

Current me didn’t know something either: how to hide her credit card number on race registration day.

Whoops.

Whoops. I guess I’m running a 2014 marathon after all.

What questionable judgement calls have you made today?

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Sole Mates

I spent years of my life searching for my perfect match. When I was younger, my stipulations were simple indeed — fun, amusing, low-maintenance – but as I’ve learned more about myself and my needs, my priorities have changed. I began looking for stability, support, durability – a partner who would be in it for the long haul. Once I knew what I wanted, I began asking friends for suggestions, putting myself out there and even tried looking online, as many in my generation are wont to do. But when it came down to it, I ended up finding my perfect fit the good old-fashioned way:

At a running shoe store.

Oh, you thought I was talking about Ben? Why ever would you think that?

When I first started running, I knew so little about shoes that I called them “sneakers” and was more interested in lace color than arch height. I bought shoes for excessive pronation off the rack because I liked the price, switched brands willy-nilly and even ran a half marathon in the same pair of Nike Fitsoles I’d worn at soccer practice three seasons straight. Undiscerning to say the least, I’m lucky I didn’t cross more finish lines with shin splints my first few months on the non-competitive circuit.

And then I met Asics Gel Neo 33s and finally understood the meaning of love. The sun shone brighter, the birds sang sweeter and my days of blistered heels and lost toenails were behind me. The shoes worked so well for my needs that I did what any sane runner would do: I went out and bought four more pairs.

And their purple cousin, Professor Plum, lives in Brooklyn.

And their purple cousin, Professor Plum, lives in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately, even four pairs cannot outlast two marathon training cycles and hundreds of miles in between, and when I went in August to add yet another pair to my footwear coffer, I was slammed with the devastating news: my dream shoes had been discontinued.

Asics had upgraded the model to a 2.0 version, and while the Paragon Sports clerk had promised me they’d be a seamless transition, I found myself sporting juicy blood blisters with every wear. (I could attach a photo here, but I’m kind.) So I regressed to my vintage models and pushed them far past the breaking point, with my second black pair clocking an unwise 497.1 miles – or the distance from Brooklyn to Raleigh, N.C.

Deep down in my heart, I knew it was time to start pushing my Asics into retirement, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave them, especially after all we’d been through. And then I got the perfect opportunity: my recent trip to Hong Kong.

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I knew I wanted to pack running shoes for my two weeks overseas, but I also knew I’d want the suitcase space to transport home all the overpriced knickknacks purchased at the Temple Street Market. So I made the difficult decision to pack one of my oldest pairs with the intention of leaving them behind in my hotel room after their final use – in this case, hiking a mountain.

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Not a shabby victory lap if you ask me.

As is the case in any long-term relationship, saying good-bye was difficult. But with 445.7 miles on at least two continents under their belt and a lifetime value of just 19 cents a mile, I think it’s fair to say that these bad boys had a very good run.

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Do you have a hard time putting your running shoes out to pasture?

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Higher Calling

Not quite a novice but by no means an expert, I clock in at around “mid-level” when it comes to many things in life.

Spanish skills? Mid-level. Cooking skills? Mid-level. Spooning skills? Mid-level, unlike my niece, who is apparently a big-spoon connoisseur.

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Uh, have you heard of knocking?

The label “mid-level” is particularly apt when describing my running abilities. While I’ve only once placed in a timed running event, I consistently finish in the front half of the pack, earning me a rightful spot as a self-deemed intermediate athlete.

So when my colleagues and friends in Hong Kong kept suggesting I run on idyllic Bowen Road in an area of town called the mid-levels, it only seemed too perfect a fit to be true.

Ace of Base knows what's up.

Ace of Base knows what’s up.

Turns out, mid-levels didn’t mean what I thought it meant. Turns out, mid-levels in this context means midway up … a mountain. And we’re not talking Harlem Hill-grade incline. We’re talking Victoria Peak, this 1,811 foot-tall precipice you can see from the 27th floor of my temporary office building.

The view in the other direction: snacks.

The view in the other direction: snacks.

Fortunately, I didn’t fully realize how long or steep a climb it was until I was already part way up, so I stubbornly plowed through slope after slope until finally — when I was huffing and puffing and about to turn back — I came upon the most glorious sight imaginable: the miraculously flat Bowen Road etched into the side of the incline. I caught my breath, thanked Buddha, and went for one of the most beautiful runs I’ve ever done in my entire life.

Photo courtesy of http://www.joggingroutes.org/, since running with my iPhone sounds worse to me than watching Monuments Men again.

Photo courtesy of http://www.joggingroutes.org/, since running with my iPhone is the only thing that sounds worse to me than watching Monuments Men again.

After I ran the paved trail beginning to end, I made my way back down the mountain even slower than I went up in fear of plunging to my imminent death, and when I hit sea level, I kissed the earth and deemed myself excused from all hill work for the rest of the month. Of course, I’m no mid-level glutton for punishment, so I changed my stripes come Sunday and opted to climb 3,064-foot Lantau Peak in the New Territories instead.

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I swear I’m on top of a cloudy mountain here, not posing in front of a white backdrop.

Was it tough? You bet. Given the choice to do it again, would I opt to sleep in and rest my weary legs instead of taking a three-hour uphill hike?

Not for all the rice in China — only half of which I’ve consumed in my first nine days on ground.

Have you ever accidentally done a much harder workout than you intended?

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Ahead of Time

If you’ve seen as many movies as I have, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that time travel always works out for everyone.

Want to father future resistance leader John Connor? Find his mama in 1984. Want to save a hippogriff and your godfather to boot? Use your time turner with a friend. Want to smooch deceased heartthrob Keanu Reeves hours after he’s been smushed to smithereens in a city bus lane? Rent his lake house, write him love letters and try not to think too hard about the fact that this devastatingly flawed plotline violates every established rule of the space-time continuum. Luckily, everyone’s good-looking.

Oh whoops, and spoiler alert above. My bad.

But you know what time travel isn’t very good at? Helping you stay fit.

How do I know about time travel, you ask? Because I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon, and it’s arriving in your inbox on Friday night. Bam. Time travel.

That, or I’m on the other side of the international dateline for the next two weeks. You be the judge.

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When I signed on to work out of the Hong Kong office for a fortnight this month, I envisioned returning stateside the epitome of health.

I’ll run in the evenings! I thought as I packed up my Asics. I’ll catch-up on shut eye! I dreamed as a boarded the plane. I’ll detox my diet! I imagined as buckled my seatbelt, reclined my chair and prepared watch six feature-length films.

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What I didn’t prepare for was being fed six feature-length meals before touching down in Asia. Let’s just say that I had to request a seatbelt extension somewhere over the Arctic Circle.

And the eating hasn’t slowed since. With a corporate expense account and no kitchen to cook in, I’ve been dining out three times a day in China’s culinary capital, and I have the waistline to prove it. On top of all the noodles and pork buns a girl for ask for, my office is also stocked full of just as many snacks as its New York equivalent, and my curious mind has had to try them all.

Like these M&Ms, for example. They’re in a different shape packaging than I’m used to! Maybe they taste different! Science demands I try them! (They are exactly like the U.S. version, turns out, but I still ran the experiment eight times to be sure.)

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Fortunately, the time difference has had one minor benefit on my health — the jetlag had me awake at 3 a.m. two times last week, allowing me to squeeze in a workout at my hotel’s 24-hour fitness center before rolling into the office at 5:45 a.m. Also, I start each morning eating an Asian pear — or are they just called pears here? — bringing my daily fruit/vegetable intake to a whopping count of one.

At least I’m not the only one eating out this week.

She tweeted this.

No, she’s not here with me. She tweeted this.

But while my first week here has been particularly indulgent, I’m intending to turn a corner tomorrow. After a week in the concrete jungle that is Central Hong Kong, I’m looking forward to escaping the city for a day of hiking with my colleagues on Lantau Island, home of the big Buddha. Hopefully seeing his giant, bronze belly will remind me that while there’s nothing wrong with a little food tourism, it’s probably best not to look like him when I land stateside in the near future — or, as we time travelers call it, the near past.

How do you stay healthy abroad?

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Pain in the Ash

Religion can be a complicated thing, at worst justifying discrimination and genocide, and at best, making it socially acceptable to dip your crackers in wine before noon.

A semi-lapsed Episcopalian thriving in the heathen’s paradise that is New York City, I don’t practice my faith much outside of Christmas with the family and muttering “Jesus Christ” at every tourist on Lex, and I’m certainly not as consistent about bowing my head for grace as my most pious niece, Keira.

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Please bless this kibble and bring me a bunny rabbit as a friend who I probably won’t eat but might by mistake. Amen.

But there is one season of the Christian year that I do tend to observe, well, religiously, and that’s Lent.

For those of you who don’t painstakingly count down the hours until Cadbury Crème Egg season like the rest of us, Lent’s a 40-day period in the Christian liturgical calendar reserved for prayer, penance and self-denial. It’s a ball of solemnity and fun, let me tell you.

Many people practice Lent by giving up something for the entire six-week period, like chocolate or meat or chocolate-covered meat, which, honestly, I think we should eat more of as a society.

But as my general policy – in fitness and in life – is against the unsustainable practice of outright denial, I prefer to stay mindful of the season by instead adding something to my daily routine for 40 straight days. I’d originally hoped it would be another running streak, but with two weeks of Hong Kong travel ahead for me – including two 16.5 hours flights bookmarking either side –40 days of running isn’t realistically in the cards.

So instead this Lenten season, I’m vowing to plank for one minute every single day between now and Easter. I realize strengthening my core muscles may not have been what Jesus and friends had in mind when they wrote the rule book, but it’s something that’s important to me and my health, so I don’t think they’d mind.

More importantly, the stronger my stomach is come April 20, the faster I can stuff it with crème eggs, and we all know that’s the real end game here.

What are you giving up – or taking up – this Lenten season? 

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Showing Up

They say you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take, but as someone who gave up taking shots after her 27th birthday, I can assure you that this aging body isn’t missing them one little bit.

Oh, it’s a sports idiom? I see. Carry on then.

When it comes to athletic feats, Wayne Gretzky had it right: there’s no way you’ll thrive on the rink or field or track or pool if you don’t at least show up and try. It’s not rocket science:

  • Unless you consistently go to yoga class, you aren’t going to be able to touch your toes. (Oh, you can already touch your toes? Show off.)
  • Unless you go to Sochi, you aren’t going to win gold.
  • Unless you lift weights, you aren’t going to build muscle, tone down and eat a delicious lunch to boot.
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… and one … and two ….

It’s with that idea in mind that I chose to sign up for the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon next month. After a sedentary winter and the imminent loss of my best pacer to his homeland, I knew the odds of my PRing at the March 22 event were slim indeed, but the chance of PRing while sleeping late that Saturday morning were far worse.

I pegged my PRing odds at 5%, my placing odds at 10% and my drinking Bloody Marys odds with my boyfriend and his mama post-race at an optimistic 98%. I learned the race course, did my speed work, resumed my double digit long runs and prepared to at least give it the old college try when it came time to compete in my first long race of the new year.

I was ready. … And then I learned I’ll be traveling for work that weekend, and my odds of absolutely everything plummeted to a disappointing zero. They say eighty percent of success is showing up, but I don’t think I can count this absent performance as a 20 percent win.

Luckily, easing the pain is the fact that I’m not missing this race for Pittsburg. Work travel destination? Hong Kong, which is boasting a high of 77 degrees this fine February afternoon. Don’t mind if I do, you subtropical climate, you.

And heck, if I really want to aim for a PR in March, I could always try my luck in an athletic event on another continent. This one, in particular, has caught my eye. Odds of beating my speedy 10K PR? Low. Odds of completing my first ever Asian road race? 100%. That is, if I show up.

Would you do it?

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