My Favorite Running Routes

Last time, I talked about running. This morning I am going to continue that discussion by telling you about my three favorite running routes. I’ve moved around a lot (too much) since I first began running, so I’ve run in cities, small towns, and suburbia, in some pretty ritzy areas and some really ugly areas. Coming up with this list was easy. I didn’t include races, or any place that I ran only once due to happenstance. These are three routes I spent some time on, and got to know intimately.

When I lived in Medford, Massachusetts, I could run from my home, around Mystic Lake, and back home to make a circular 6-mile run.  Some of the route was on sidewalks, some was on trail right alongside the lake. It took me through three towns: Medford, Arlington, and Winchester. I became so familiar with this route that I named several landmarks along the way, including the Squirrel Tree.

Also in the Boston area: both sides of the Charles River. At various times I lived in Back Bay, the South End, the North End, and in Central Square (Cambridge), and from each of these locations, my run inevitably took me to the Charles River. I first discovered this route not as a runner but as a walker. I was living in a dorm at the Berklee College of Music, and for the one semester I was there, I spent more time exploring the city than I did attending class. My steps eventually took me to the Esplanade, which runs along the Boston side of the Charles. The Esplanade is a popular tanning spot in the summer, and I logged many hours laying on a towel, reading and baking myself.

Then there is the Chicago Lakefront which is, in a word: AWESOME! My spotty college career began at Northwestern University in Evanston, just north of Chicago. I would ride my bike south from the beautiful Northwestern campus all the way to the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park. There I would get a hotdog and/or ice cream from one of the many street vendors before heading back north. The whole round trip was approximately 40 miles. Later on, I would run along the lakefront, starting from various places. There was always something going on, always some new variation to discover. I especially liked it on gray foggy mornings, when the sky and Lake Michigan would merge into what looked like a big blank spot in the universe, as if someone had erased everything east of the city.

I haven’t run any of these routes for several years now, but I assume they are still there, only no doubt changed a bit since I last saw them.

My Drug Is Running

I ran today for the first time in just over three weeks, the length of time I’ve been battling a nasty cold which began with a cough then settled in my sinuses. This morning’s run was short and slow, but it felt great. Tomorrow I will do it again.

I’m a terrible runner. Though I’ve completed a handful of marathons, I’ve never done one without walking part of the way, and never brought in a time under four hours. I’m sure my technique would make a track coach weep. Plenty of people have told me running is unhealthy and needlessly hard on the joints, especially the knees. Indeed, my back and my left knee do occasionally give me trouble. Nevertheless, running makes me feel good. It is both physical therapy and mental refreshment. It is my emotional stabilizer.

From elementary through high school, I never participated in any school sport. I dreaded gym class. I was one of the only three or four boys I knew who never joined Little League. Riding my bike was my main form of exercise, that an assortment of neighborhood games that closely resembled Calvinball. (Readers of “Calvin and Hobbes” will understand.)

Then when I was 19, I let a roommate, Wally, talk me into running with him. We lived near Revere Beach, just north of Boston, so the run was scenic and pleasant, in spite of the fact that Wally was a good six inches taller than me and it was all I could do to keep up with his long strides. I’ve been running ever since. I don’t listen to music while I run, and other than Wally, my running has been almost entirely a solo activity. It’s my alone time, even when surrounded by thousands of other runners in a race, which these days is much more likely to be a 5k or 10k than a marathon. Also: I run outside as opposed to on an indoor track or treadmill. Enduring four seasons of Iowa weather is part of it.

Life undeniably comes with problem, worries, and frustrations. We all need to find ways to cope. There are bad coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol, but there are plenty of healthier options. Running is mine.