A Fresh Perspective at the Fresh Pond Reservation

This weekend, Noah joined me on what turned out to be one of my favorite runs in a long time — until it wasn’t.

I first read about the Fresh Pond Reservation while living in Philly; naturally, when Noah and I made the decision to move to Boston, I immediately started researching different pathways on which I would eventually run. When reading about Cambridge, Fresh Pond seemed to be a popular destination. But of course, once we got here, I was slow to adapt. We live to close to a running path that leads into the Back Bay of Boston, and as the road more traveled, that’s primarily where I’ve run.

In truth, I didn’t decide to run to Fresh Pond because I wanted to check out the reservoir. Rather, a friend recommended a sandwich shop nearby called Dave’s Fresh Pasta. I heard they had great prepared dishes, and if we’re being completely honest, I did it for the food.

The route to Fresh Pond starts out like a lot of my other runs — by heading toward Harvard. Instead of continuing along the river (which is a beautiful option as well), we followed the Fresh Pond Parkway. (Don’t worry, mom; there’s a sizable sidewalk that runs along it, so it’s not nearly as treacherous as it sounds.)

Actually, I was surprised to find that this was a fairly residential area, with lots of other runners, walkers and bikers, and some really nice properties and homes. It made this part of the run a lot more interesting than I anticipated. Before I knew it, we arrived at the perimeter of Fresh Pond.

Entering the reservation is fairly simple. Follow the signs and all the people with cute dogs as you meander through the woods until you come to an obvious clearing. Like many reservoir trails, you’ll come out onto a clean, wide, well-groomed pathway. From there, just run.

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After about eight days of heat, Saturday brought with it a gorgeous morning. Compared to the previous week, the air was much less oppressive, and the breeze off of the water was absolutely to die for. I could have done laps there all day.

A few of the other cool sightings: a nine-hole public golf course, which seemed to draw a nice crowd.

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And lily ponds. Lots and lots of little watering holes for puppies, since the reservoir is off limits.

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No detail is too big or small for the city of Cambridge. Of course they’d provide a picturesque pond with lily pads for people and their pets.

To contrast this ideal experience, the final push — a mile or so pathway from Fresh Pond to the sandwich shop in Davis Square — absolutely sucked. That’s both the beauty and the beast-like part of running. It’s not always sunshine and roses.

To get from the reservoir to Davis Square, Noah and I had to leave the cool and the serenity of the water and take a main commercial road. The heat seemed to radiate off of the concrete and cars. All of the calm I felt while circling Fresh Pond was gone. A wave of dehydration took over, making the remainder of our 5.5 mile run an utter slog.

Of course, we eventually made it. Once at Dave’s we picked up giant bottles of water, lots of fresh pasta, salads, sandwiches, hummus, artichoke pesto (which I’d use that evening to make delicious homemade clams) and more water. Legs tired, bellies full, wallets (aka shorts pockets) empty, we took the T home.

How about you? When’s the last time you took a run (or did a workout) that was awesome, awesome, awesome — until it totally wasn’t? 

6 Reasons I’m Head Over Heels for Boston’s Running Paths

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In a perfect world, I’d live near a river. That river would be long and wide, with tree-lined pathways and bridges connecting one side to the other. And there’d be people. Loads and loads of people at all hours of the day. Runners. Bikers. Walkers. Rowers. Out there solo. In groups. Whatever.

Welcome to Cambridge, the place I’ve come to quickly call home.

When Noah and I decided to move to Boston, we had to make a few important choices. The first was where to live, and I had no idea where to begin. There was Beacon Hill — a young, hip neighborhood with small streets and lots of brownstones. There was the Back Bay, where you can dine on $35 lobster rolls at lunch before hitting up Chanel. And there was Cambridge — in reality, a fairly large area with many neighborhoods, but to the uninitiated like myself, it was just one big clump on the map.

From what I had heard, Cambridge was residential. It was clean. It was quiet. And it was great for runners. This quickly became apparent on the weekend of April 15th, both the weekend Noah and I decided to apartment hunt as well as the weekend before the Boston marathon. (Coincidence? I think not.) At any rate, this was what I took away from each neighborhood.

While adorable and quaint, Beacon Hill felt claustrophobic. And, you know, as a lazy runner … there were wayyyy too many hills.

Back Bay’s sweeping streets certainly wooed me, but given that I intentionally moved away from New York real estate two years ago, it felt like it might break the bank.

Cambridge, for me, was the Goldie Locks of communities. And it was in Cambridge, after looking at about six properties and scarfing down a buttery lobster sandwich…

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…that we found the unit we’d eventually call home.

Today, for the last two months, and for what I hope to be years to come, I live just five blocks from the Charles River — that dream-like runner’s path I described just moments ago. Here are the six reasons I’ve fallen head over heels for it.

1. So. Many. Options.

On any given morning, I can turn right and run toward Harvard, or I can go left and make my way into Boston. On mornings when I have even more time, I can do both. The river runs in both directions, and neither is better than the other. Whether I choose to stay in Cambridge or venture into more urban surroundings, there is beauty everywhere.

2. Bridges over pristine water.

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This is one of my favorite parts of living near the Charles; there are bridges every half mile or so, which makes it easy to extend (or shorten) any run. If I get to the end of a run but feel like I have enough energy to go longer, I can — without having to commit to a long out-and-back or an overly aggressive loop. Plus, going back to numero uno, those bridges add variety. And, since I can use both sides of the river, they ensure that I never have to cover the same ground on any single run.

3. The city cares about what it looks like.

Much like Philadelphia, Boston does a wonderful job of keeping up its parks and rivers. The difference is that Philly was just a lot smaller. From the footpaths of Harvard (and beyond) to the Longfellow Bridge, which connects Beacon Hill to the area near MIT, it’s impeccable. You’ll find boat slips, boathouses, small parks, kid’s pools, kayak rentals, community gardens, quiet docks and even outdoor community gyms (think of it as a playground for adults). No matter where you turn, it feels as though the city has made an effort to be clean and helpful, while keeping everyone in shape.

4. It’s kind of a popular place.

This was one of the things I liked least about running in Philadelphia. It’s not that I didn’t feel safe; it’s just that there were enough incidences in the course of the two years I lived there to make me think twice about my morning run. And more than that, there weren’t a ton of other pedestrians out there on the paths, so if something did happen … well … I don’t really know what I’d have done.

Boston, on the other hand, is known for having a ton of eager beavers out there — dusk to dawn, rain or shine, winter, spring, summer or fall. Of course, come fall, the rowing will come to an end. And I bet you that once it gets snowy, bikers will hibernate too. But runners know no bounds, and I guarantee that come colder months, they’ll be out there in sub-freezing temperatures alongside me.

5. Docks, docks and more docks.

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I had this morning routine in Philly, where I’d stop midway into my run — just after I ran past the first bridge, which leads to the zoo — and stretch. There was something really rewarding about this one stretch of the Schuylkill. To me, it feels as though that’s where the busy part of Philly ends and the quiet bucolic landscape begins.

There’s a bit of that in Boston and Cambridge, but my favorite place to stop and stretch is actually along the river at any one of the many floating docks. More recently, I’ve set up shop near the Mass. Ave. Bridge for three minutes of planking. There’s something about taking a moment to step off of the pathway and onto the river that brings a really unique sense of calm.

6. Shady in a good way.

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The pockets of shade are sooooooooo nice. Especially in a heatwave like this — it has, after all, been above 90 for the last five days and above 70 around the time I typically run at 7am. Without all of those sweet, sweet trees to line the river paths, it’d be nearly impossible to break a sweat without passing out. It’s hot out there, but the breeze and the shady trees make it far more tolerable.

Your turn! Boston or not, what are your favorite aspects of wherever it is you choose to run?