Interview: BCAE running expert Melissa Riesgo
Always meant to run, but don't know how to start? We spoke to Melissa Riesgo, running instructor at the Boston Center for Adult Education about running culture. The ex-marathoner and run club regular graciously answered our very unathletic questions about running in Boston.
Where do you like to run in Boston?
I went to school at BU and while I was living on campus, I loved running around the Charles River. That seems to be the place where tons of people love to go. There’s just a huge loop—I think the entire thing is 13 miles—and with the bridges and everything, you can make different loops and run it everyday and it doesn’t get boring. Now, I live right on the Arboretum and it’s pretty big. It’s great because you can run trails and that kind of thing. It’s a contrast to running around the water but it also provides hills, which you don’t get along the river. So those two places are great depending on what you are looking for.
Is there a running community in the city?
There are tons of free run clubs in the city. I know of a few by name—I’m part of the City Sports run club because I work for City Sports. That one is really great and really growing. I know Niketown has a run club. There’s another one called Back On My Feet, which is in different cities. There are different clubs that invite all levels. They do different distances, usually around three to five miles but sometimes they meet for longer runs.
Do you run outside all year long? Boston gets really cold… and hot.
Yes, I do. I’m from Maine, so I’m used to the cold weather [laughs]. Some people don’t mind running on a treadmill or in a track, but I personally don’t really like it. Part of the reason I love running is to get outside and get fresh air, especially if you’ve been inside an office all day. Running around the river does get really brutal in the winter because of the wind. Running through the city is better in the winter. It also gets dark really early so that gets hard.
What is it that keeps you going when it just gets so cold?
Well, I ran the Boston Marathon in college. I did more running in preparation for that than I’d done for the past, especially long runs. I did many long runs when the weather was terrible. You obviously have to be wearing proper clothing, but in terms of just pushing on if you’re doing 15 miles and it’s blistering cold out, you just need to know what your goal is and keep that in your head. Just have good clothes on and make sure you’ve fueled up beforehand.
What does that mean?
People like to do different things. Some people carry water or energy chews or something to eat if they are going on a really long run. For some people, it’s music that really helps them keep going. If you’re trying to increase your mileage and run for longer, you just need to build up your endurance, and so much of that is mental. Running is just as much mental as it is physical. You need to have it in your head, “Yes, I can do this many miles,” and have a good mentality about it.
What’s the weirdest tradition or running-related habit you’ve heard of?
I thought this was weird at the time, but you’ve probably heard of this barefoot/minimalist movement with running shoes. About a year ago, sort of before that whole thing started, there was a guy that I worked with who just liked to run barefoot. He would just run barefoot around the city—which is obviously dangerous. He just liked how it felt, but he ended up stepping on something one day and couldn’t run for a week, so it was probably pretty stupid.
He must have had some pretty gnarly-looking feet.
Oh yeah. He would literally just run out of the door barefoot. But now they have those Five Fingers, which are those barefooting shoes. They are pretty common.
I think a lot of people have these conceptions of some runners as kind of crazy people. You see people running barefoot, or in a blizzard… What is that? What do you think gets people so crazy about running?
I’m actually reading Born to Run right now, by Christopher McDougall. It came out last year, it’s incredible. It’s just about running barefoot and how that’s so natural for us. Centuries ago, the cavemen ran to get their food, they ran when they were scared, they ran when they were happy. Running is just ingrained in us, while the other sports were just invented. We were literally just born with running. It’s kind of a rare sport in that way. And you need so little. Just some time and a place to run. It releases endorphins and it makes you feel great.
It can still be intimidating for beginners, though. What advice can you give people for taking the first step?
I’m constantly learning more through working with beginners, but in my experience I think that the best way to just begin running if you’ve never even done it at all is to just start really gradually and slowly build up time and distance—the first thing you should think about is time when you start. A good basic schedule is maybe even five minutes out and back. Just listen to you body to see what you are able to do. Do a little bit every other day. Running is natural for our bodies, but it is really hard on our bodies at the same time. I think it’s about four times your body weight coming down on each leg as you are running, which is a lot of impact.
If you’re totally new to it, you want to just start so gradually because you want to see how your body will react. I think that’s the most important thing—to listen to how you’re feeling, and to not beat yourself up about how you’re doing. I mean, you just ran ten minutes without stopping and that’s ten minutes more than you were running before. The progress will be gradual over time but it really is amazing how much you can gain without even knowing it. Within four weeks you could be running a half an hour without stopping. Incorporating walking into your run is fine. Go out and run and if you feel like you need to walk, then walk. That’s fine.
Melissa instructs Running For Beginners at the . Next session begins May 2. Enroll now at bcae.org