My most recent entry about the Back Bay Fens section of Boston's Emerald Necklace park system inspired me to keep that theme and take my running to the opposite end of the Emerald Necklace to its end at Franklin Park. During the fall, the cross country course is used hundreds of time by high school, college and open runners. It even hosted the 1992 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships.
I was introduced to Franklin Park as a clueless freshman attending the annual Harvard, Yale & Princeton cross country meet as a member of the Princeton team. So clueless was I, that I was partially responsible for the entire junior varsity men's race veering off course. Luckily, I redeemed myself later in the fall when I learned from my faults and assisted in saving the majority of the varsity men at the IC4A Championship from meeting the same fate. Since that fateful fall, I have run many races, logged many training miles, and coached high school athletes in races at Franklin Park. Despite its popularity as a racing destination, at almost any other time it is rarely in use for recreation, outside of the occasional use of playing fields. When I am out running in the park (weekend or weekday), I am often all by myself with miles of trails and parkland at my disposal. This park is the hidden gem of the Emerald Necklace and perhaps of all of Boston. More on this in my Thought of the Day below.
The Run (map): I started the run at the Glen Road entrance at the Jamaica Plain side of the park. I ran up the hill and joined the trail for the cross country course at around the 1/4 mile mark. At this point, the course heads down hill, past White Stadium and up Bear Cage Hill. Bear Cage Hill has an actual deserted bear cage on the top that was part of the original zoo. Running down the back side of Bear Cage Hill, I ran past the "Giraffe Entrance" of the current Franklin Park Zoo (ironically not anywhere near the Giraffe exhibit), down the finish stretch of the cross country course, and past the finish line I crossed over to the golf course side of the park. I followed the series of paths and roads around the course to Scarboro Pond, located on the back side of the course. Then following the pedestrian paths away from the pond I returned to the golf course loop back to the crosswalk and then back to the cross country course. I jumped back on the course for "The Wilderness" section of the course, which is a half-mile long trail through the woods. Upon exiting The Wilderness, I took a left off the course and headed downhill back to my car. Thought for the Day:The fact that so few Boston residents take advantage of the trails through Franklin Park is somewhat frustrating to me. As I mentioned above, when I run in the park I often do not see many other runners. The loop around the golf course gets some use, but it is largely under-utilized. Less than a mile away the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, and Olmsted Park sections of the Emerald Necklace are often full of people running, walking, biking and just hanging out. These sections, however, are on the border of Brookline, which is one of the most affluent and desirable communities around Boston. So desirable that Red Sox owner John Henry has a mansion just up the street from Jamaica Pond on the Brookline side. Franklin Park, on the hand, is on the border between Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Mattapan. The sections nearest the park remain less affluent neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. They are neighborhoods often described, by both Boston and non-Boston residents, with the kinds of stereotypes associated with the "inner city." Because of its location, people tend to worry more about personal safety, as though around every corner there might be a drug deal going down, or a mugger hiding behind every rock just waiting for an unsuspecting jogger. In other words, people are afraid to go to Franklin Park out of prejudice. Brookline and the "safe" sections of Jamaica Plain are mainly white, and the folks who utilize Franklin Park on a daily basis are not. Residents in Jamaica Plain pat themselves on the back for embracing the diversity our neighborhood has to offer. Their exercise habits, however, reflect another reality.
I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that I close on the sale of my Boston condo in one month. One month! 31 days! I'm running out of time! I'm sure that I have at least 31 places that I like to run in Boston. I'll need to get running to cover all the ground that I want to cover in Boston for this blog. I currently do a lot of my running along the Emerald Necklace park system. Designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, its course starts in the Back Bay Fens, near Fenway Park, and winds through many Boston neighborhoods, near the Longwood medical area, along the Boston's border with Brookline and finishes at Franklin Park - home to hundreds of high school, college and open cross country races each fall. Like the Charles River, an entire loop is not in the mileage plan for me. So, I am breaking it into sections for the blog. Also, like the Charles, the Emerald Necklace parks have ample dirt paths and worn-in trails, and most of my runs in this area are on soft surfaces. Despite living in a large city, I have many trail systems conveniently located for me to log many soft surface miles. The Run (map): I started this run just outside of Brookline Village, parking on Brookline Avenue next to Brookline Coal and Ice. I ran the Boston side of the Muddy River past Longwood to the Back Bay Fens. Keeping the river on my left, I ran past many of the colleges and museums in the area including Wheelock College, Simmons College, Emmanuel College, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University to name just a few. At the conclusion of the Back Bay Fens at Boyleston Street, I looped back along the Fenway Park side of the Muddy River, ran through the Fenway Victory Gardens, and returned to my car along the Brookline side of the Muddy River. Thought for the Day: At the rotary in front of the Landmark Center, where Brookline Avenue, the Fenway and Park Drive all come together in a typical Boston traffic nightmare, there is a restoration project to "daylight" parts of the Muddy River that had previously been diverted underground in a series of pipes and other conduits. The goal is to return the river to a more natural open stream. Apparently changing the course and flow of the Muddy River through the years has created issues such as flooding that have caused property damage and interrupted train service in the nearby Fenway subway station. In fairness to the current managers of the river and parks, much of that diverting was done the 1940's when part of the river was filled in for projects such as a parking lot near the Landmark Center (which used to be a Sears building). My inner environmentalist is happy to know that, despite the Muddy River not being the longest, widest or most raging of rivers, it was still able to defeat the engineers and force humans to put it back to the way nature intended it.
While most of my east coast running has been in New Jersey and other places in the North, I have made numerous trips South for both family events and running-specific trips. I have family in a couple locations in Georgia, and my mother spends the winter in the Florida Keys. I also raced in Greenville, South Carolina in the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1997; Orlando, Florida in the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in 1998; and in Greensboro, North Carolina in the USATF Cross Country Championships in 2000. Running while traveling is a great way to explore new places. Last weekend, I took a short break from Boston and went South to Savannah, Georgia to visit my younger brother Nick, who is a designer for a Hilton Head-based advertising agency. Hilton Head Island just happens to be perfectly shaped like a running shoe. During this trip I went on two runs and I have the pictures for both in this post.
Run 2 (map): This time I ran south from the Country Inn hotel through Forsyth Park, known for its fountain, and returned by cutting through side streets along the park.
Thought of the Day: Savannah is, in my opinion, one of the most photogenic cities that I have ever visited. Running in Savannah is challenging because I found myself wanting to stop almost every block to take a picture of a church, house, garden or other scenic location. Check out the pictures in the galleries to the right and below. It’s hard to do Savannah justice in pictures; you just need to see it for yourself. If you travel to the southeastern United States, I highly recommend putting Savannah on your list.
For four years, from age 25 to 29, I managed the Gutman Conference Center at theHarvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). That time was extremely significant in my 16 years in Boston. I met and married (eloped with!) my wife, moved briefly out of Jamaica Plain to Watertown, and switched career paths from considering a Masters in Divinity to a Masters in Business Administration. Actually, coerced into applying to business school would be more accurate. The then-Administrative Dean at HGSE told me one day, “Apply to business school or I’m going to fire you, so you have no choice but to go back to school.” I had no choice.
For those four years I pounded lots of miles along the Charles River. The Charles River is 80 miles long, and like the Boston Marathon, its course runs from Hopkinton to Boston; it just takes a slightly different route. The Charles River's course is conveniently located about four blocks from former my office at HGSE, and my employer conveniently allowed me work my day around my ten mile runs along the river. I could go east to the Science Museum or west to Watertown Square; each loop is about 9.8 miles. The nice thing about the route west to Watertown is the network of worn-in dirt trails that run alongside the asphalt paths; there are also some nice stretches of planned dirt paths. This enabled me to get about six or seven miles of my 10-mile run on soft surfaces, which left me feeling a little less beat up with all the miles I was attempting to run.
The Run: Since I am not doing the mileage that I used to log on the river, for this blog I am breaking my runs on the Charles River into bite-size pieces. I started my run (map) from the well-known prep school, Buckingham Browne & Nichols, where my wife has been a History teacher for the past ten years. From BB&N, I ran west on the Cambridge/Watertown side, crossed over Arsenal Street and turned around at the North Beacon Street bridge to head back on the Boston side. Along the Boston side between North Beacon and Arsenal there is a view of the New Balance headquarters where, for a brief time, I worked as a footwear product manager. During nice weather, crew teams train out of boat houses up and down this section of the river. One of the best times to run is just at sunrise, when all you can see are little lights attached to the tips of the crew boats.
Thought for the Day: I chose this section of the river because I wanted to snap a picture of the inspirational graffiti under the North Beacon Street bridge that reads “Drop the Hammer”, meant as an inspiration to crew teams passing underneath the bridge. I always liked the phrase “Drop the Hammer.” In running “dropping the hammer” means to lay it on the line, give it all you’ve got and run hard ‘till you can’t run any longer. One can “drop the hammer” on an opponent by ending the race with a furious sprint that leaves the opponent in the dust. One can also just simply “drop the hammer” out alone on a distance run, and just hammer for the pure enjoyment of it.
To track my distances for this blog I am wearing a GPS watch; however, wearing a GPS watch makes me focus too much on the watch, and too little on my body. I’m always checking it for pace, distance and whatever wisdom it is supposed to provide, which takes away from what I love about running -- just getting out and enjoying being one with “The Run.” When I am in really great shape, and in tune with my body, I can tell you with relative accuracy my pace. Plus, the GPS watch has no reading on how I feel physically, emotionally or spiritually about my run. No machine call tell me when to "drop the hammer" because "dropping the hammer" is a gut feel. It's knowing how much is left in my tank to get me to the finish line, what pace I need to run to not exhaust the fuel, and, despite that knowledge, pushing my body faster, and faster and faster.