My Boston Marathon

We are one week on from the 119th Boston Marathon. I sat down to write this post several times over the past seven days, but it almost seemed too soon. I had to spend a few days icing and recovering physically and emotionally. While walking was a little painful, not to mention funny looking (maybe that’s why so many runners insist on wearing their Boston Marathon jackets for days…it explains their awkward gait) I felt as if I was floating on a cloud of accomplishment. True the weather was terrible, the headwind brutal, and my legs painful, but the Boston Marathon was an amazing experience.

I woke up on Marathon Monday and turned on the TV, hoping Mother Nature had made a game time decision and not rain on my parade. It was a total buzz kill when every other phrase uttered by TV journalists was “the weather is not ideal.” Maybe this is what professional football players feel like before a big game played in the middle of winter.

My Dad walked me to the Common where I boarded a yellow school bus for the journey out to Hopkinton. On the Mass Pike the reality that my feet alone would be carrying me back home started to sink in. Thankfully, passing motorists waving and honking jogged my thoughts out of that mental rabbit hole. The stranger sitting next to me was even more nervous than I was, and trying to calm her down (which ultimately resulted in me passing her my People Magazine) actually calmed me down. There was nothing else either of us could do at that point. We had the clothes on our back, it was too late to get another layer. We knew it was going to rain, the only question was whether we would be running in it for all 26.2 miles, or only some of them. I figured there was no point in worrying; basically everything was outside of my control…except for my head. My legs were trained to run this distance, but it would be up to my head, my mental toughness, to get me to the finish line.

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After arriving at the Athlete’s Village and waiting in a 40 minute line for the bathroom, I finally saw a friendly face: a co-worker also running Boston for the first time. It was great to have someone to walk and chat with, it cut the tension building in my mind and body. With 30,000 plus people running this race, I saw another familiar face when I reached corral #7 (actual proof that Boston is a really small town). As we started to trot towards the starting line, the excitement was palpable, and the rain started falling. Hard.

The first several miles were slow, congested and wet. I got into a near shoving match with a Belgian, (thanks to that kind, and cute, stranger who acted as a bodyguard of sorts after the run-in) and I nearly fell after a runner right ahead of me stopped short trying to avoid a monstrous puddle.

The first 10 or so miles are a blur. It was raining, miserable, and the crowds were thinner than I had expected and hoped. My windbreaker was soaking, and my muscles were cold and tight. I had a moment when I wondered to myself: Why did I think this would be fun? Could I call an Uber? But I just put my head down and ran…and ran…and ran.

At mile 13 my right IT band (a polite way of describing my butt) and my left achillies started hurting. I felt pain with each step. This is when the power of the crowds and my fellow competitors meant everything. Between signs that read “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever,” and the herculean efforts of some of my differently-abled fellow participants (including Maickel Melamed) inspired and motivated me to keep going.

The turning point was around mile 17, still in pain, but with a heavy mist instead of a downpour, I heard a bellowing “It’s a Mahlmarathon!” and “Go Mahlman!” From some dear friends. My pace instantly increased, and a broad smile took over my face (Thank you Hannigans! That is exactly when I needed you!). As I took the right at the Newton Fire House with Heartbreak Hill ahead of me, I saw an incredible sight. A man in a wheelchair, using his legs to shuffle himself up the hill…backwards. As I passed him I told him how great he was doing, choking back tears, and nearing causing me to hyperventilate. That is what marathons are all about: individuals of varying abilities pushing themselves as far as they can.

Once I passed mile 20 I realized I was not going to make my goal time, but quickly got over it (pleasantly surprised with myself about that), as the crowds thickened and I started spotting more and more familiar faces among the thousands braving the rain to cheer us on. That’s when I got really emotionally, again fighting back tears because the combination of running and blubbering was causing hyperventilation.

Prior to that day, folks had told me not to weave from one side of the course to the other, it would mean taking extra steps and wasting energy. But when I saw my two besties at Kendall Square, I didn’t care. I swerved, nearly sprinting to the other side of Beacon Street to give them huge hugs. I don’t know if I said anything, but I felt a huge lump in my throat and again had to fight back tears. As I took that famous left from Hereford onto Boylston I saw my Dad waving, I could barely contain my excitement. After shedding that soaking wet windbreaker, hurling it at him, I took off. With about 300 yards to go my legs were hurting and tightening even more, but I felt like I was in a nearly full-out sprint. I couldn’t hear anything, the crowd was so loud.

Crossing the finish line was euphoric, but also a reality check. As soon as my legs slowed to a walk they stiffened up and I started shaking from the cold. Thanks to the volunteers who helped me get into my tinfoil blanket and peeled my banana for me because my fingers were too cold to function. I limped to the bar where I would rendezvous with my Dad and friends. Within minutes I had warmed up, and I chased my marathon with a banana and bubbly (a great combination, in case you are wondering). Celebrating with my Dad and some of my best friends, a celebration that eventually devolved into a 90’s dance party, was the icing on my Boston Marathon cake.

A banana and bubbly

A banana and bubbly

My People

My People

Despite running for 4 hours and ten minutes (although I stopped to go to the bathroom, so really four hours and 8 minutes, but who’s counting. Hint: me.) I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t get over how amazing the entire experience was. I learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center, and helped them with the important work they do. There were so many amazingly generous people who donated to my marathon efforts, plus all the emails, calls, tweets, posts and texts of encouragement I received. Then those brave souls who tracked and cheered me on in less than ideal conditions. And I’m pretty proud of myself as well: other than a less-than-serious passing thought, I never seriously considered stopping. Despite the rain and pain, it was never really an option, I was committed. It’s overwhelming to think about, even now, one week later. Which is one of the reason it took me so long to write this post. I am still so touched by everyone who shared this experience with me.

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In the end, I can corroborate the expression….There’s nothing quite like Boston.

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A Different Sort of Resolution: The Boston Marathon

Happy New Year friends!

How many of you made a resolution when the clock struck midnight? According to the US Government (I must have missed this questions on the last census) the top New Years resolutions are to lose weight, volunteer more and to quit smoking. While all of these are very worthy goals…and 40% of us do indeed make these sorts of resolutions (only 8% of us keep them)…I’m making a different sort of resolution for 2015, or at least first four and a half months of it: I’m running the 2015 Boston Marathon.

This will not be my first marathon, but it will still be a serious challenge (duh!). I love to run, so motivation will not be my big obstacle. While I was training for my previous marathon (or as my mother describes it “practicing” for the marathon…although a dress rehearsal is not a bad idea) I was working in TV and I didn’t have to be at work until 2:00 in the afternoon. I had all morning to diligently train (arguably I over-trained judging by the IT band injury I sustained) in the best season (August through November). This time around I work normal people hours, so training will have to be squeezed into those dark hours before the sun comes up over frosty New England. Plus I absolutely hate treadmills, so if you follow me on Instagram (and I hope you do) I’m warning you now you’re in for dozens of frozen Charles River sunrise shots between now and April 20th.

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Another challenge, although I really do see it as an honor, is the fact that as I train I will also be raising money for a worthy cause. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County may just be one of the most important Boston organizations you have never heard of.

I’ll start at the beginning: a very good friend of mine is an assistant District Attorney in Boston. She prosecutes individuals who have been accused of sexually abusing children. I frequently think about her when I’m having a bad day at work. I get stressed about the logistics of an event, or the phrasing of a press release. She is putting sickos behind bars. She is keeping children safe. That’ll certainly give you some perspective on your “work emergency.”

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I learned about The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) through her. When a child is abused and comes forward, although heartbreakingly, many do not come forward, there are multiple parties and moving pieces involved in prosecuting such a case (police, prosecutors, doctors, etc.).  A coordinated response from experts in their respective fields is required to reduce stress on the victim throughout the investigation and intervention process. CAC believes that helping abused children and their families requires an approach that addresses the physical, emotional and legal dimensions of abuse. It is terrible that so many children are the victims of this god-awful kind of abuse, and they deserve to be protected, to get justice, to be safe and to heal. This is a cause I can get behind that…and I am…for 26.2 miles. Will you join me?

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I’m going to be bringing you all along for both facets of my marathon challenge. I will be updating you on how my training is going, with words and images. I will also be telling the story of The Children’s Advocacy Center through the dedicated folks who help these victims, from DAs, to Victims Advocates, maybe even a police officer if I’m lucky. It won’t be my typical adventure, but I hope by spending time with these dedicated professionals and shining a light on all the hard work they do every day, it will help us all gain a some much-needed perspective and will inspire us all to help those in need, whomever they may be.

If you are feeling generous and would like to contribute something (doesn’t have to be a lot) to my marathon effort to help CAC you can do so by clicking here. Thank you in advance!

Let the training begin!

Flying through the Flywheel Challenge

The six weeks of the Flywheel Boston Summer Challenge flew by. Not only was it great to get to know the Flywheel philosophy, but each week I received encouragement and tips (what food is best to refuel after class, how much water do we really need) to help me achieve optimal results.

Just to recap: the challenge was to attend four Flywheel classes each week for six weeks. I manages to get to four classes three of the six weeks. I blame a few summer weekends away and a work trip for missing the mark those other three weeks. But even missing a few classes, I could see and feel the progress I was making, and I ended the challenge with one of my best performances ever.

As some of you may have read, my first class left me humbled and exhausted. Not only was the class really difficult—challenging me in a way running does not—but with all of Flywheel’s technology I could see exactly how I stacked up against the rest of the class…and I didn’t do as well as I assumed I would. But over the six-week challenge I could see my improvement both in terms of how I felt at the end of the class (more energized than totally exhausted) and my placement in class (read about my rise up the torq board here).

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What I also noticed was the sense of community that exists when you become a flywheel regular. Going several times a week I started to see the same friendly faces, bumped into friends I had not seen in a while and started to make new ones.

The Summer Challenge certainly earned its name, but with the accompanying support and with Flywheel being as awesome as it is, it was a challenge I was happy to take up.

If you are looking for a physical challenge, even if you are an indoor cycling veteran, I highlight recommend you give Flywheel a try and stay tuned for their next challenge.

While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.

Eye of the Tiger

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I took up Flywheel Boston’s “Summer Challenge,” and a challenge it has been.

In my new-found experience, the thing that sets Flywheel apart from other indoor cycling classes is the technology. Those of you who have taken indoor cycling classes know it’s an imprecise science. You base your effort on perceived exertion, and we all likely lie to ourselves at some point when it comes to exertion. Upping resistance is left to the individual turning a knob to the right, however much they want. RPMs can only be calculated by counting how many rotations your leg makes in ten seconds and then multiplying by six. Seriously. Math while pedaling.

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With Flywheel all of this is quantified for you. Your resistance, or torq, is clearly displayed on your bike, your RPMs are also displayed, no need for arithmetic. While this is a godsend for those of us who want to get the very most out of our workout (and proof of it), it can also fuel real competition when your ratio of torq to RPMs gets tabulated into a “Power” number that then ranks you on a large screen for everyone to see.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I covet a spot on the torq board. I usually make a brief appearance at the bottom of the top ten in the opening moment of class, but then I am banished to abyss of 11 and greater none of whom are displayed. But that doesn’t stop me from working my butt off to earn a spot on that darn board.

I’m a competitive person, but if you’re not, maybe you wouldn’t feel this need to push yourself to the point of utter exhaustion to achieve the elusive goal of having your Flywheel user name (while mine is a simple derivative of my name, there are a tons that leverage “sweat,” “fly,” or “Boston”) flash on a flat screen. But if you’re not a competitive person, you likely will not end up a Flywheel devotee.

So what’s up with the torq board? I had a lively discussion about this with friends over dinner. Would I work has hard, pedal as fast, climb the hills as aggressively, if I opted out of the torq board (which you can do when you check in for each class)? The answer is simple: no. It’s human nature to push a little more, run a little faster or pick up the pace if we’re trying to catch someone, or if we feel someone on our heels. If during most group exercise classes you are competing against yourself, at Flywheel you are competing against the person on the bike next to you, or across the room from you.

So each class I work my butt off to try to remain on the torq board throughout the class. Last week I identified my problem: Sprinting. I’m a great climber. Hills are easy for me, I can take on a lot of resistance without much of a problem. Sprinting is another story; I just can’t spin my legs fast enough to get to 100 RPMs. But I’ve been making progress over the course of the Summer Challenge, and this morning I had a break-through! While it was not really a physical breakthrough (it was a strategic one) it yielded the results I had been hoping for.

Today I added more resistance than my teacher suggested; I was playing to my strength. My RPMs were not as high as she suggested, but I knew from experience I was never going to get there anyway. With the added resistances my power number skyrocketed. During the last sprint of the class my eyes were locked on the troq board, stalking the 10th spot, hoping my name would flash up there. It took me a while to realize that my name was already on the screen…in the fourth spot! I was number four, but it may as well have been number one. I finished the class with an overall ranking of ninth in the class. Now full disclosure, the 6:30 a.m. class was not full, but there were at least two dozen people there, 15 of whom I beat (It’s my blog, I don’t have to feign modesty here). And it was a victory of the sweetest–and sweatist–kind.

And the Torq board is not Flywheel’s only technological innovation. Each person in class can also access a report featuring the stats of their rides, so you know exactly what you accomplished and approximately how many calories your burned. So even if you don’t make it onto the torq board, at least you can feel better about those fries you just ate.

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While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.

Spinning My Wheels

Today I’m embarking on a slightly difference challenge than I typically do. But variety is the spice of life, right?

I have always been a really active person; from Chestnut Hill Father’s Club softball, to playing three sports in middle and high school, and squash in college. I think sports have contributed to my drive, determinations, work ethic, and certainly my competitiveness and helped shape the person I am today.

After college, having defined myself as an athlete for so many years, I yearned for a new challenge, and ways to validate my desire to still call myself an athlete. That’s when I started running half-marathons and marathons. I love to run, and staring up a hill at mile 10 certainly presents a challenge. But even distance running is not quite the same as being on a team. Having people to cheer you on and motivate you. And most importantly, a coach to yell at you. Yes, in the years since college, I have come to the realization that I like to be yelled at (under certain circumstances).

It’s because of all of this, that when the nice folks at Flywheel Boston asked me to take their Summer Challenge, I jumped at the chance. I, and the others who accepted this challenge, will be attending four of Flywheel’s indoor cycling classes each week for six weeks. To help me stay on track I’ll be getting daily motivational emails, and if that isn’t motivation enough, those who do make it to four classes a week will be entered to win prizes. Who doesn’t like prizes?

When you arrive for a class, you pair of shoes are already set aside for you, how nice

When you arrive for a class, you pair of shoes are already set aside for you, how nice

Now let’s back up: Flywheel is a specialty indoor cycling studio. It started in NYC where it exploded in popularity with a cult-like following. Last night I found out why. I attended my first class of the challenge with instructor Christina Lodde. Christina has been teaching indoor cycling for nine years, and has been at Flywheel since it opened here in Boston last October. I asked Christina what she liked best about her job, she said it was the fact that she is motivating so many people. The Flywheel Studio is set up stadium-style, so when Christina is on her bike at the center of the group, I can only imagine how much energy she feels coming at her. And boy does she succeed at motivating people. To my slight disappointment, I would not call what she was doing “yelling.” But between her music selection (which included a healthy dose of hip hop, thank goodness), her energy and her motivational words (which thankfully were not delivered high-pitch squeal like I have experienced in other female spin instructors) I was in it to win it.

Christina helping a fellow Flyer with her bike before class

Christina helping a fellow Flyer with her bike before class

My first class was exhausting, exhilarating and humbling all at the same time. Christina warned me before class to do my best to get my torq (the level of resistance) and my speed in the range she would provide as a target during class (all these numbers are displayed on the bike, so you can track your progress). I nodded politely, but didn’t think I would have much trouble. I run a lot, and have taken indoor cycling classes for years, yet when the lights dimmed and the music was turned up I had trouble achieving the RMP (revolutions per minute) that Christina provided.

So while I thought this endeavor would just challenge my schedule (while just in Back Bay, it is not as close as my go-to running route along the Charles River, and therefore takes a  little more planning) and stamina, it seems this will challenge my athletic ego as well.

I will keep you posted on my progress over the next six weeks, but you don’t just have to read about my Flywheel challenge, you can take this challenge with me! May 23st is the last day to sign up for Flywheel’s first summer challenge, so you still have some time! Wish me luck!

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While Flywheel Boston is allowing me to take their Summer Challenge for free, all the opinions express on this post are my own.

Day Hike, Shmay Hike

Sometimes I set out to find adventure, and sometimes adventure just finds me. That’s what happened this past weekend when I headed to New Hampshire to go hiking with some friends. I had been hiking before—or at least I thought I had—so I didn’t think anything eventful enough would happen to warrant a blog post. That changed even before we arrived.

Sunday morning started with an early wake-up call and we were on the road speeding toward the White Mountains before 7:00 a.m. Speeding turned out to be the operative word. We were pulled over by a New Hampshire state trooper, who calmly asked my friend behind the wheel, “Do you know how fast you were going?” at which point I nearly laughed out loud because I thought cops only said those sort of things in movies.

You see, I had never been in a car while it was being pulled over before. This is less a testament to my strong driving skills (in fact I can count on two hands the number of people who claim they nearly lost their lives with me behind the wheel), than an ode to my seven years as a New Yorker who’s preferred mode of transportation was, and continues to be, her own two feet. So seeing the lights flashing behind us set the tone for the rest of the day: we did not have luck on our side.

Speeding towards the White Mountains

Speeding towards the White Mountains

We got back on the road and met Corey Fitzgerald at the base of Little Haystack Mountain. Corey runs Northeast Mountaineering, and you may remember him from my rock climbing adventure earlier this summer. At that time, my friend Eleanor and I had so much fun we swore we had to return to New Hampshire soon, and Corey was the obvious choice to accompany us.

I didn’t think much about this hike until a few days beforehand when Corey gave us a list of what we should wear, bring and pack. Then I realized I was ill prepared for this day hike. I couldn’t find my hiking boots, which I swear I had owned at some point in my life, the only backpack I had barely fit my camera and the only thing I had to wear on the lower part of my body was yoga pants. It turns out I am more “Troop Beverly Hills” than Outward Bound. I remedied the gear situation with a little help from Facebook, Hannah Moore and Lulu Lemon.

The weather forecast took a last-minute turn and at the summit of the mountains it was predicted to be between 35 and 50 degrees with rain, thunderstorms, and wind gusts of 40 miles per hour. Corey had sent us an email detailing our journey and said that we would have 11 hours of daylight to complete our hike. This elicited the following email response from me: “WE ARE GOING ON AN 11 HOUR HIKE???”

This was the first clue that my idea of a “hike” and Corey’s idea of a hike may be two very different things. My second clue came when we started up the mountain, and it was very steep and rocky. That was when I realized that “hiking” to me is more like a scenic stroll…on a slight incline. Don’t get me wrong, my friends and I kept up with Corey (for the most part) although the pace he was setting was likely that of a snail compared to his normal clip (his hands were in his pockets and he was whistling while we were huffing and puffing). We stopped about ever hour to have a snack. We had some amazing views on the way up, and then a storm rolled in. As the rain came down, we continued to climb up, but our determination wavered.

Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

“This has already been a great day,” may have come out of one of our mouths after just two hours on the trail.

But Corey verbally whipped us back into hiking shape with “We have to summit something.” Did we…really? But summit we did. We “tagged the top” (even if I’m not outfitted like a hiker at least I can use their lexicon) of Little Haystack after more than three hours. The panoramic views of the White Mountains were amazing, and watching the rain fall on different parts of the terrain was really cool.

Taking in the view from the top of Little Haystack

Taking in the view from the top of Little Haystack

Photo courtesy of Nicole Richards

Photo courtesy of Nicole Richards

Corey had planned for us to travel an hour and a half along a ridge and summit a few more peaks before heading back down, but with rain moving in, we decided to go back the way we came.

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The weather quickly changes from this…

That rain was heading towards us.

…to this and that rain was heading towards us.

And that’s when the rain really started coming down. And then there was thunder. And lightning. We hiked down in the rain for more than two hours. During which time one of my hiking buddies became terrified that we would be struck by lightning, Corey kept whistling, and I realized that my raincoat was “water resistant,” not “waterproof.” Every layer of clothing I was wearing was sopping wet. Needless to say we were much less talkative on the way down; although I nearly broke into chants of “Beverly Hills, what a thrill…” with the hopes of injecting some comic relief into our sullen march down the mountain.

After a least an hour of rain. Photo courtesy of Nicole Richards.

After a least an hour of rain. Photo courtesy of Nicole Richards.

I was freezing by the time we got back to our car, and drew stairs when I ordered hot tea at a bar in Woodstock while wearing a puffy down jacket…in August. Lesson learned: I am a city mouse, and I may just have to accept that. Or at the very least invest in the appropriate gear before my next outdoor adventure…which is actually coming up next month! I will be foraging, yes foraging. I will be living off the land for a weekend…gathering nuts and berries, hopefully catching a fish or two…all because one of my readers suggested I try it, thank you June in Chicago!

So this hiking trip was probably a blessing in disguise. I now know I am woefully unprepared (both mentally and materialistically) for a night in the wilderness; I have a month to get ready. And hopefully my quads will be working by then, because the day after this hike I could barely walk.

The view from half way up

The view from half way up

Thanks to Corey Fitzgerald of Northeast Mountaineering, for another amazing adventure. Thanks also to Eleanor Crow and Nicole Richards for letting me include them in this post. And a big thank you to Shelley Long for providing the perfect analogy for my outdoorsiness, or lack thereof.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As you all know, I take requests on this blog. If you have something you want to see me try I will make every effort to bring it to life on these pages. Several months ago, one of your fellow readers suggested I try ice climbing. I made every effort to make this happen, but sadly I was too late and all the ice in the Northeast melted before I booked it. So as not to disappoint the great gal who made the suggestion, I found the next best thing: rock climbing.

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I did attack a rock wall once, with surprising success, but I knew that this would be different. Climbing at a rock gym offers a certain sense of safety despite the fact that you are off the ground…maybe it’s the brightly colored mats covering the floor. But I figured this outdoor adventure would make for a good post: I’d fail miserably, you would laugh, and that would be that. I should have known better, it’s never that simple.

Hiking in to Pinkham Notch

Hiking in to Pinkham Notch. Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

Our day began early. My friends Laurie and Eleanor (who has a great travel photography blog that you should check out) agreed to come with me and we were due in the White Mountains of New Hampshire by 8:00 a.m. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the copious amount of caffeine consumed on the drive, but we busted into the bunkhouse of Northeast Mountaineering laughing hysterically. Corey Fitzgerald, co-owner of NEM and his fellow guide, Vincent Dude, were probably not expecting this much pep. Nor were they expecting the impromptu stand-up comedy routine we performed as we hiked into Square Ledge at Pinkham Notch, right in front of Mt Washington. The ledge is 100 feet high (I don’t think I knew that until after I started climbing).

It may have been because we were still laughing so hard, but I volunteered to climb first without thinking twice about it. Seriously, it takes me longer to decide whether to screen a phone call. Before I knew it, I was off the ground. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m a natural (but don’t take my word for it, read what Corey has to say)! Women may worry that they don’t have the upper body strength to climb, but it’s all in the legs. All I had to do was find a crevasse to wedge a toe in and simply stand up on that leg. Plus, I was so focused on what was directly in front of me (the rock) that I didn’t really look around and register how high I was. I think this is a testament to the cumulative effect this blog—and all these adventures—have had on me. I have somehow Metamorphisized from a worrywart into an adventurer. Climb a mountain? Why not, it’s Saturday!

About 50 feet up

About 50 feet up

At the top I had to belay down, and that’s when my bubble burst. I was terrified as I leaned back and walked my feet down the side of the ledge as Eleanor lowered my harness (and me) slowly to the ground. And when I say terrified…I mean scared to death…deep breathing, maybe an audible whimper. I even yelled at some tween boys climbing nearby when their shrieks just about sent me over the edge (sorry, rock climbing humor). Corey said it was actually pretty normal for people to be more nervous on the way down, which made me feel a little better. But only a little.

On my way down…holding on to that rope for dear life. Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

The obvious hypothesis I came to while nearly hyperventilating was that it’s all about control. Despite being harnessed to someone on the ground I felt more in control while actively climbing up, on the way down I was anything but. I really thought I was over this control freak thing, but maybe I can be excused because I was 100 feet in the air.

I didn’t let that loss of control—or fear of death for that matter—stop me. I climbed two more times. Corey had repelled from the top of the ledge to take some of the amazing pictures you see here, and he was able to coach me from the top. On my subsequent climbs I told him a few times that I was done, I had made it high enough, that I was going to head down. Without putting any pressure on me, he encouraged me to keep going. “Don’t you want to tap the carabineer (which marked the very top),” he asked. Well, of course I did. On my next climb when I couldn’t find a foothold and got frustrated he suggested I take a moment to rest and take a look around. That was the perspective I needed. Soon I found my next move, just as I’m sure he knew I would. BEST GUIDE EVER. I am really proud of my friends as well; both faced a fear of heights or physical limitations and did a great job.

Still smiling

Still smiling. Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

I learned a few lessons from this adventure, including that fact that while I may be more brave—or maybe brazen—as a result of trying all these new experiences, I’m not immune to momentary freak-outs. But it’s o.k. to be scared sometimes, just don’t let that fear hold you back from trying new things or testing your limits (to a certain degree). Pushing past that fear and those limits helps us discover what we are made of and how much we can accomplish.

Eleanor attacking the ledge

Eleanor attacking the ledge. Photo courtesy of Corey Fitzgerald

I also learned how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. This rock climbing experience could have been very different if I had been with different people—both friends and guides. We never stopped laughing, and Corey and Vincent were the definition of supportive. I usually don’t gush this much on the blog, but they were fantastic. I was not compensated in any way for this post (I actually paid them), so you can trust this recommendation. If you are thinking of rock climbing, hiking or ice climbing in New England you should do it with Northeast Mountaineering. We have already booked our next outing with them: Franconia Ridge in August. I think I am becoming outdoorsy!

Can you tell we had a great time?

Can you tell we had a great time?

 Many thanks to Laurie Murphy and Eleanor Crow for climbing with me and to Corey Fitzgerald and Vincent Dude of Northeast Mountaineering helping us do it. As I mentioned above I was not compensated for this post. To Valerie Jupe, who suggested I trying ice climbing, I will try again next winter. I will not let you down!

You Can Do It (Put Your Back Into It)

I started to write this post several times. One version opened with me discussing how there is likely no one who doesn’t like to get a massage. Another was about how everyone has given informal massages to friends and family, and wouldn’t you like to have confidence that you were not making them cringe. In yet another opening paragraph I went so far as to philosophize about how, as Americans, we go through our days surrounded by people but we hardly ever touch. But all these openings seemed too serious for what I did this past Sunday, which was simply to put my bare, oily hands all over a friend’s back.

Molly Kerrigan is the blogger behind Wicked Cheap in Boston, as well as a licensed massage therapist. She works knots out of clients at Beacon Massage in Newbury Street and at Boston Mobile Massage at the Copley Marriott health club. On top of all that, she is incredibly generous and took the time to teach me how to give a real massage on a friend, who will go nameless in exchange for agreeing to go topless for this post (don’t bother scrolling down, this is not that type of blog).

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Molly at work

I didn’t think too much about what giving a massage would be like before I arrived. I have had plenty of them and I’m pretty comfortable with strangers… albeit trained professional strangers…putting their hands on me. But when my victim, um, I mean my friend, was facedown on the table I realized how intimate it really is. We started our lesson with Molly walking me through how she begins a massage session. First she rubs a client’s back over the blanket as a way of introducing her touch. This was the first time I saw this process as an introduction. We can walk into a spa from a rough day at work, from a fight with a spouse, from dealing with a child’s tantrum – as a result, a massage therapist really needs to ease their clients into the treatment so that they feel comfortable and relax.

“The biggest difference between rubbing someone’s back and a massage,” Molly explained, “Is intention.” Molly demonstrated the five main strokes in Swedish massage (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction and vibration) and explained that she uses the same strokes and techniques on all her clients, but how she executed them depends on what she feels in the person’s body – she is constantly listening with her hands. She could tell which side of her body my friend carried her purse on, and spent a good deal of time trying to work out one knock lodged near her shoulder-blade.

After walking thought the strokes and showing me how she uses her whole body (if she just used her hands and arms she would not be able to see clients all day) she let me try the techniques. I filled my palm with massage oil, and using the entire surface of my palm and all five fingers, started making long smooth strokes along my friend’s back. I have to admit; it felt really weird at first. Well, if I am being honest, it never stopped feeling weird. Maybe I was on to something when I said that we Americans are not used to touching one another.

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I wasn’t sure how firm I should be gripping and I was worried I would hurt her. I found that even though I was just taught all the strokes, I was just making it up as I went along. I moved on from the long strokes because that felt way too awkward, so I started kneading her back. I worked my hands around her shoulders  and down her spine. Then I pulled my hands off her quickly while pronouncing, “What’s next?” We moved on to her legs and then her neck. I was especially tentative (and my friend said she could feel the difference) when I was holding her head in my hands massaging her neck. But cut me some slack, I did have her head in my hands!

My afternoon of massaging made me realize not only does a massage therapist have to have the training and skill to physically do his or her job, but also there has to be intuition and a certain comfort level that no doubt comes with the year of training it takes to become a licensed (in Massachusetts) massage therapist. I clearly do not have that level of comfort, but thankfully there are trained professionals, like Molly, who do. They love helping people relax and unwind and they can listen with their hands. I will stick to listening with my ears.

Thanks to Molly Kerrigan who helped me think about massage a new way. I would also like my friend for allowing me to rub oil all over her back and take pictures of it. I owe you a drink at the very least! I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Run like the Wind…or a Gentle Breeze

Today I ran the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island with three very dear friends. I don’t consider this one of my adventures, and had not planned to write about it. I have run this exact race before as well as many other half marathons, and I have even run the whole kit and caboodle of 26.2 miles once before. No, this was not a stretch for me, but there were several aspects of how I prepared for, and ran this race that may be proof of me mellowing from my former Type A self…or maybe I am just getting old. You be the judge:

I have always been a pretty competitive person. I’m not so much trying to keep up with the Joneses, as I am keeping up with Emily. I set very lofty goals for myself, work hard to reach them, and am painfully disappointed if I do not. I have a very high-tech running watch that allows me to track my pace, distance, heart rate…it could probably tell me my horoscope, but I don’t know what all the buttons do. But I didn’t wear it for this race. I told myself that I was running for the fun of it, and it seems that I just about convinced myself that it was true.

Secondly, I have a lucky race headband. Here it is:

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I bought it the day before I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 2008, and I have had it with me for every race since. It is supposed to be a joke. But it’s also a little serious…at least to me. I have never, nor will I ever, win a race or even win my age group. I know this. But I want to run fast and improve upon my personal best in every race.

I put my lucky headband on early this morning. I heard the wind howling outside, so I thought the headband would not only help me run like the wind, but would also keep my ears warm. But when I walked out of the door and realized that the wind betrayed a rather mild morning, I left it at my friend’s house without a second thought. This was supposed to be fun after all.

I never run with anyone. Running has always been my time to get lost in my thoughts, toss around ideas and get fresh perspective. Amazingly enough, during what I consider the important parts of this race — the start and the finish — I ran with my friend Libby. Not only was it great to have someone to chitchat with, but when Libby and I re-connected around mile 12, I needed her! I had been keeping what I thought (remember, no fancy smancy watch) was a good pace most of the race, but at mile 12 I really started to slow down, I could feel it. When Libby appeared beside me with a big smile and wave, I thought THANK GOODNESS!

I picked up my pace to match hers and we crossed the finish line strong…and side-by-side. Imagine that!

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Me and my friends, Dana, Libby and Laura after the race

I know what you’re thinking…I did all this maturing and mellowing…going out there not to win, but to have a good run…but how was my time? If this was a movie I would have not only beat my personal best, but maybe Libby and I would have beat the Kenyans to boot. But this isn’t a movie, and I don’t actually know how long it took me to run 13.1 miles. See, the official times have not yet been posted on the race’s website. If this was any other race, I may have already placed a call complaining about the delay and demanding my time. But instead, I am emailing with my friends about how we should do it all again next year. This display of patience is quite unlike me…or maybe it is. Maybe this is the new, ever-evolving me.

After saying all that, please indulge me: Come one Amica! Where are those results? Tick, tock…

Row This Boat Ashore

This post represents the one that got away. During my recent “Olympic Endeavors,” when I attempted to master different events, I wanted to learn to row, but could not squeeze it into my personal Olympic fortnight. But on a recent weekend in Chicago I was able to make my sporting dreams come true.

I arrived at the Lincoln Park Boat Club to meet my coach for the day, Lev. Lev is a former Russian champion and agreed to help me climb into a scull, metaphorically speaking. But attempting to climb into said scull is where the trouble started, literally speaking. I truly did need some assistance getting into the boat. Balancing on one foot on a dock, while slipping the other into a shoe bolted to a boat that is bobbing in the water may sound easy…well no, it doesn’t sound easy either.

Lev and me, notice I am doing all the work

Once I finally got into the boat (a double with Lev seated behind me) the lesson began. I understood the basic movements, but rowing it’s not as easy as hopping on that erg in the corner of the gym. Lev instructed me to always keep my left hand above my right, but my two hands should never be more than two inched from each other. This alone was difficult, and I kept knocking my knuckles. Ouch! You also need to master the flicking of your wrist, which is what turns the oar’s blade to allow for alternatively cutting down on drag (when it is skimming above the water) and increasing drag (when you are pulling it through the water).

There were a lot of things that I had to remember to do at the same time and some strokes were better than others. When I was not doing something quite right Lev was not shy about telling me. There was, however, a slight language barrier. Yes, Lev is from Russia, but his English was not the problem. He was using rowing terminology that I was not familiar with, and when I did not response appropriately to his corrections, he would just yell them louder, which did not help my understanding of the situation. Because he was sitting directly behind me in the scull, his frantic gesticulations that were meant to help me understand him, went completely unnoticed. What I did notice was the ever-increasing frustration – maybe it was desperation – in his voice. And I was getting frustrated and desperate as well. Lev kept telling me to relax my shoulders which I was clenching up near my ears out of stress. How could I relax with this tiny Russian hollering in my ear?

I would have one or two good strokes, but the third would be missing a critical element. At one point Lev told me to concentrate on using my legs to put some power into my stroke…that’s when I lost every ounce of technique that I had managed to scrape together.

I eventually found my groove. I was still knocking my knuckles but my stoke became more fluid as I got more accustomed to the movements, and doing them all at the same time. It took several hours, but by the end of our time on the water, Lev even said that I was a natural rower and implored me to continue taking lessons when I returned to Boston. I think he was being very kind.

What was surprising – or after 50 posts maybe it shouldn’t be — is that when Lev and I were talking about non-rowing things — where I was from (Philadelphia by way of Boston), his homeland of Russia, what brought me to Chicago (to visit my aunt, a competitive rower) — I was not so worried about my stroke, and that was when Lev said my stroke improved. When I wasn’t worrying about being good at rowing, I actually became good (or at least goodish) at rowing. This simple fact comes up again and again on these adventures of mine. Thank goodness I keep being reminded that I don’t have to be perfect at everything, this time by a mad Russian. Maybe one of these days it will sink in.

It was touch and go there for a moment, but I ended up really enjoying rowing; you are on the water, looking at beautiful scenery and working out.  Many thanks to Lev for his help and patience. Thanks also go out to my fabulous aunt, Ann Kinnealey, who made this day possible. I was not compensated in any way for this post.