Boston: More than a Marathon

Words and photos by Boston runner, Becca Tolkoff.

In middle school, I started having nightmares about the 100-yard dash, part of the Presidential Fitness Test in public schools (an 80’s fad).  There were metrics and percentages, sit-up tests, and this weird arm-hang event for girls, and medals were given out at school-wide events in the auditorium. Although I was competitive even then, I was extremely shy and overweight and completely unfit. In my nightmare, it would take all my effort to get my legs going at a jogging pace and when I finally got them going, they would just slow down again.   

I found the joys of running later in life. Did I mention I grew up 3 blocks from Mile 23 of the Boston Marathon? In Massachusetts, Marathon Monday, aka “Patriots Day” is a state holiday-most people do not go to work and it’s a matter of “where” you will spectate, not “if” you will spectate. Watching the marathon was considered a “safe” activity by my parents. So while my inner athlete was resting and doing homework in high school, there was a little voice inside my head that I could not completely ignore. Freshman year, I made a promise to myself that I would run a marathon before I turned 25.   

I crossed the finish line to the Boston Marathon at the age of 24 ½. My athletic career took a hiatus for 6 years for pregnancies and nursing, though I stayed fit through them all. I found a group of women to run with, the 10 of us are fiercely protective and supportive of one another. We run the BAA medley together every year, a 5k/10k/half marathon series that provides a natural build-up of miles. We run the 100on100 every year in Vermont, a relay event for people who like to run hard during the day and sleep at night, and who love maple syrup.  

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Now I am 43, I’ve got 6 marathons under my belt, 30+ half marathons and countless 5k/10k’s, team relays, and 4 middle/high school aged kids. I own a community fitness business, I am learning to do handstands off the wall, can ski at an intermediate level. I am also trying my hand at race directing (August 2019…the first ever Rowed Run 5k—a team event combining running and rowing crew along the Charles River—join me!). I encourage my kids to be active and find physical activities that they love and to do all their homework even if they have to stay up late.

We live a couple blocks from Mile 22. My kids know I like to watch the WHOLE marathon, from the elites to charity runners. The later miles of the marathon course serves as one of my regular running routes. I run the course in reverse from Washington Square (Mile 22), up Beacon street, crossing to Commonwealth Ave at Cleveland Circle and up to Heartbreak Hill and back, the hills are great for repeats. It can be a great 6+ mile training run. This route is easily elongated into longer runs, either following the marathon course backward or just taking Commonwealth Avenue up into Newton. Commonwealth Avenue is also your best bet in the winter after a snowstorm, as the carriage roads are reliably plowed.

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While Minneapolis, FASTZach’s hometown, has an amazing network of city lakes, Brookline/Boston offer reservoirs and rivers. Jamaica Pond and the Boston College reservoir offer flat 1.5 mile loops, BC bosting packed dirt. The Brookline reservoir on Lee Street/Route 9 offers packed dirt as well, and a loop just under 1 mile—perfect for timed miles and shorter distances.

If you love running on a track, there are 3 free tracks in town to choose from for your sprints or Yasso-800’s. Harry Downes Track is on the Brookline/Jamaica Plain line, and it’s well-kept and has water—its right by Jamaica Pond, and offers parking. There is a city track along the Muddy River, near the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Fenway neighborhood. The third is the track at Harvard University by the Harvard Stadium.

My running group’s absolute favorite cross-training workout is running the Harvard Stadium-it takes us about 40 minutes (I believe the record is around 15’). It’s a bit of a Boston gem—maybe the best free workout in the city, and if you mention you’ve recently run “the stadium” people will be impressed. There are 37 rows of stadium-sized steps you can climb up and down. FYI, your calves will be aching for days, so do not risk it if you have a race that weekend. We love to hit it early and watch the sunrise. You’ll feel like you are in the Colosseum, it’s huge and beautiful and grand. We sprinkle in 10 push-ups every 3rd set and sprint every 5 sets of steps.

The November Project takes it over on Wednesday mornings, so steer clear from 5-7:00am – it’s loud and crowded then. Other days it is quiet, and you’ll share it with 5-10 other athletes, some runners, rowers, and some wearing backpacks training for large mountain adventures. Some days the Harvard football team will be on the field for morning workouts, and in winter the field is covered by a huge bubble for indoor sports. We hit the Stadium in almost any temperature, but skip after a fresh snow—you really have to wait for the snow to melt (or the November Project to shovel).  

There is a lot of great running in Boston! Check out these three routes created by FASTZach to explore Boston on your own. Plus, several running stores have evening run clubs and weekend long runs if you want company. Or just send me a note, and I’ll help you out, rtolkoff@gmail.com. Happy exploring! #FindYourRoute