Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Running Away: pt 3 > Boston and Needham, MA., USA

Here we go then – part 3 of 3!

Firstly, let me bridge the gap between Italy and Massachusetts… figuratively speaking, like!

I had a week back home before heading out West. Over the course of that week I managed just over 150km, including 2.64km in the very first minutes of Saturday, November 10 to ensure my runstreak didn’t come to an end because of my flight! And when I say I ‘managed’ just over 75km, trust me, I mean it…

…because they were tough! After two weeks of running on the flat, my muscles didn’t take long to feel the pain of the hills. They were well aware of being back home, trust me. Which wasn’t great as I made my way up Valley Road, Portishead, but which did cast a positive light on the rewarding nature of my homely training sessions!

Right… Boston, USA!
On Saturday 10/11 I left home at 2am to make my way to Bristol Coach Station, Heathrow and Logan. I opted to stay up until the taxi arrived, not least because that allowed me to catch up on “Lilyhammer”, “Homeland” and “New Tricks”. Not sure how I’d feel upon reaching the US, at 00:11 I went on a runstreak-saving 14’, 2.64km run on the main street at the end of my estate. Not sure what the handful of cars that drove past this lunatic in his yellow waterproof jacket (yup, it was raining alright) and yellow running shorts made of the sight but there you go… I like to think some of the impressions I make are lasting if not necessarily flattering!

The flight was a good one and I soon found myself in South Boston – for one night only. I’d be spending the rest of the time in Needham, a suburb of Boston which was actually further out of town than I thought. And the only reason I was getting one night in Boston was that the Sheraton in Needham was fully booked for that Saturday night, which I was therefore able to spend in the Holiday Inn Express, South Boston…
…which was clean, manned by really nice staff, but ultimately a bit odd. You can read my Expedia review if you wish. Personally, I wouldn’t bother.

If nothing else, this was within walking/running distance of Downtown. I’d signed up for the Freedom Trail Run, which is just what the name suggests: a run along Boston’s Freedom Trail, with sixteen stops to take in the sights under the expert insight of Eddie. So, on the Saturday, I walked from the hotel to the meeting point to ensure I could fathom the route. As a result I found myself in Boston Common, which is many things but common ain’t one of them. I wandered around the area and ultimately made my way down to the Charles River, not by following any plan but purely by following man’s inherent call to find water. As I walked over to the riverside I was blown away by the beauty of the spot and the number of runners who were taking advantage of its suitability for a pleasant run. I gave in to temptation and indulged in a 1.83km run in my jeans, liberated by the knowledge that I was wearing trainers and that’s all I needed to allow me to join in and feel part of the silent community of runners unspeakingly sharing this experience. I doubted I’d have the chance to treat myself to a run along the river again so I was happy with my token ten minutes!

I then headed back to the hotel to ponder whether to grab a bite to eat or not. I got there around 7pm, lay on the bed… and, before I knew it, it was around 9:30pm. Not really hungry, I chose to get a decent night’s sleep – the meet for the Freedom Trail Run was set at 8:15!

I ran the 5km back to Beacon Street and met Eddie and fellow runners. I got the usual comments as to whether I was cold in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt (my Bristol Half Marathon one!), and duly replied that, if I were, I’d have put on additional layers..! Around a dozen of us then took 90’ to run 6.27km, the emphasis clearly not on speed but on sights. Eddie truly did a fantastic job… here’s what I wrote on Tripadvisor:

RunKeeper's record of the Freedom Trail Run
Just Do It! I had a day and a half to spend in Boston last weekend prior to heading out to the suburbs for work. Earlier in the year I took up running - when planning ways to make this short period of time productive and fun, I came across Freedom Trail Run's website...
...and promptly signed up! The city and the location of the sights lend themselves perfectly to the concept, all fairly concentrated in a relatively small area. And you don't have to be a proficient runner: with the exception of 15' or so at the end, all runs are under two minutes as you move from sight to sight. So don't worry if it's been a while since your last 10-miler...
But what makes the attraction #1 in Boston (!) is Eddie's infectious passion, which allows you to live key pages in American (and, for the likes of me, British!) history. There is all the scope you need to take pictures and take in the history of what Boston has to offer. You can run light as the tour includes a drink of your choice at the end, just before boarding the ferry across the Charles river back to downtown Boston.

All in all, a great experience which allows you to see more than on a standard old walking tour. And trust me, there is enough to see in Boston to make it worthwhile getting a move on!”

As we headed back towards dry land, I asked Eddie for some tips as to how I may spend the afternoon prior to heading up to Needham. He said he thought it “looked like I still had some running” in me (there truly is a first time for everything!) and suggested I run over to Harvard. Sounded nice enough, although one of the attractions of Harvard as a sightseeing visit for Americans is that it looks very British, which wasn’t a major plus point for me as such. So… I did. First I ran back to the hotel and nipped into a shop in the nearby mall: I’d seen some casual shorts there the previous day and thought I’d give them a go for the run, so as to have pockets. And then… off I went.

Look, I won’t bore you with all the details. If you want photos, you can find them here. Let’s just say that, by the time I’d been to Harvard, having already run in and out of Boston in the morning and done the run, and got back to the hotel, on Sunday, November 11th I’d clocked a grand total of…

…are you ready? truly, are you ready for this?

…are you sure?!?


…44.12km. Or 27.4m. Over 3h34’57” and over several legs (the longest one of which being 13.28km, when I headed back from Harvard to the hotel, not necessarily along the most direct route…), but still – that’s a marathon and then a couple of kilometres…

…and that gave me a great feeling and a great boost. Not so much the running that distance (I’m just highly conscious of the stop/start nature of most of the day), but because my legs felt fine both then and the morning after. Knowing my legs can take it, even when supported by my more ‘casual’ choice of running shoes: a pair of Nike Air which I’ve had for years and not really worn that much, which I now use when I need to combine walking/travelling and running footwear! Indeed, they were the same shoes I wore in Berlin, where my 24km run the day after the conference had been my previous longest effort. Not bad for a spare pair…

So that was Sunday, November 11. I’d checked out of the Holiday Inn after the Freedom Trail Run but had left my luggage there, so headed back and grabbed a cab out to Needham where I’d be spending the next four nights at the Sheraton near PTC’s Headquarters. Play was over and four days of meetings now awaited me. When was I going to fit in any running?

Oh, one last Bostonian comment first…
…as we headed for Beacon Hill, Eddie kindly ‘allowed’ us to stretch our legs by running as fast as we wanted up the somewhat steep road. Always good to exercise that basic human instinct… but this was a first for me…
…if this had been a race (it wasn’t outlined as such), I’d have won it. Now I doubt the “Kiwi Marine” that was part of our group gave it 100%: however, regardless, I reached the top of the hill first. And I genuinely don’t think I have ever won a sprint, not in three decades of trying, with more or less conviction. Sprints just aren’t my thing, I bit like… correct, running. But when I signed up for the Bristol Half I did so because I thought I could run 21km, at whatever pace that turned out to be. A sprint… you kidding? Anyway, it wasn’t a race. Absolutely not. Or I’d have won it. And I don’t win sprints any more than I can stand running.

not a bad little trail,
as trails by offices go!
As for Needham… I managed to keep up my runstreak while I was there, although didn’t clock the miles I’d have liked. Getting up early wasn’t the problem, more so the fact that ‘early’ meant “before dawn” and that somewhat limited my options! Conveniently, there was a nice woodland trail behind the PTC campus. Less conveniently, even with my (economy) headlamp I couldn’t tackle it before dawnbreak, so I only managed to get out there twice. For the rest of the time, I happily ran along Needham, mainly to the campus and back. I got an eye-opener on the Monday, though: I knew that Americans start (and finish) their days earlier than we do in the UK, so I wasn’t surprised to see more runners around in my first five minutes than I might over here in the first hour. But… running with medicine balls, are you kidding me?!? Brings back memories of my last encounter with one of those things, in 1993. More of that another time – or maybe not. Seminal moment in my sporting career, mind – who knows, I might one day write a post entitled “When Squintani Met Tarabocchia”.

That’s more than enough for this one, not least for you! Let me sign off with a measure of how my standards have changed…
…after a few false dawns in Needham, I was concerned I’d not have a great week on the running front. With a further 20km over three days once I’d landed back in the UK, in the week of November 12 I clocked 54km. Which doesn’t sound too shabby – and yet until I saw the final tally I thought I’d slacked! Not bad for someone who in April embarked on a mission to lose a few pounds and only a month later decided he might just manage a 10k… indeed, I now refer to runs over 10k as “proper runs” and am somewhat dismissive of my own single-figure efforts. Which is ludicrous! This weekend will see me right: I am running a 10k in Weston-super-Mare and my week has been primarily focused towards that. It will be the first time I am not guaranteed a PB, the first time I will set off with an existing PB to beat – and trust me, that changes the mindset! In trying to speed up things in my 10k practices I have been sternly reminded (by my body) to “respect the 10k” – a lesson I hope to put into practice on Sunday and to never forget again!

So, thank you Massachusetts! I know our people had a little disagreement some time back, but you’re cool. We’re cool. Just like a cup of tea that’s been left to mash a little too long..! Oh, and I might wear my Freedom Trail Run t-shirt tomorrow. It’ll bring back some memories why wait for them to be old to bring them back?

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