Michael Gilio’s running club usually sees three to four new members a year. After the Boston Marathon bombings, six new members joined in less than a week.
Beyond the numbers, Gilio senses a new rigor, a new determination among runners. Three to five people used to show up for 5 a.m. runs; now 12 to 15 lace up for the early morning grind.
“People are inspired,” said Gilio, president of the Greater Norwood Running Club.
This year, about 13 members of the club had qualified for the Boston Marathon. Now, each of the roughly 65 members is working toward the qualifying mark.
“It’s not just everybody on my club — it’s the word on the street,” he said, noting that marathons prior to the September qualifying deadline are filling up. “Everybody just wants to be a part of the 2014 Boston Marathon. They want to prove that you can’t shut down Boston and you can’t stop something that we love.”
Whether you’re fired up to conquer the 26.2 miles, or simply stirred to run for the victims who no longer can, the region south of Boston is rich with woodlands, trails, and coastal routes for runners of all levels. With an eye toward Marathon hopefuls and beginners alike, here a few options I tried for getting up and out there.
The Hale Reservation in Westwood boasts an extensive 20-mile trail system, with marked loops ranging from 0.9 to 2.5 miles, as well as countless unmarked trails winding through 1,100 acres of woodlands and around three ponds. The reservation also offers an encounter with nature — deer heedlessly munch leaves, and if you leave your earbuds behind, the chirping birds will provide the soundtrack.
My cross-country training days a thing of the past, I wondered if jaunts nowadays — stunted by stoplights and throngs of pedestrians through the hill-less city streets — had softened me.
On a warm early spring day, I started out on the reservation’s Storrow Pond Trail, which begins at the main entrance and features wider trails, gentle slopes, and stunning views of Storrow and Noanet Ponds. The trails are well-kept — a bed of soft dirt laden with pine needles, clear of potentially slippery leaves, broken up by patches textured with small rocks and roots.
While the trails bring you to near seclusion in the thick of the woods, they also wind by boathouses, fishing spots, and other areas where people of all ages revel in the reservation’s natural attractions.
The Hale Reservation draws a slew of runners from freshmen on the high school track team to marathon trainers, to elderly folks who have known the place for years, according to Paula McLaughlin, director of development and community relations.
James Terzian, a Westwood High junior, runs at Hale almost every day for track practice.
“It’s very peaceful and there’s lots of shade — it’s nice to get out of the sun,” he said.
The scenery isn’t bad either.
“It keeps your mind off the pain,” Terzian said.
On the southwestern leg of the Storrow Pond Trail, I crossed onto the Page and Sadie Trail, a more dynamic, bumpier path with steeper and more jagged inclines. With the scent of the fresh, glistening pond adding to that woody balm, the trail twists and turns around Noanet Pond, crossing over access roads and spits of beach.
John Bleday, who lives a mile up the road from Hale, has been running at the reservation since he was in eighth grade. The now nationally ranked collegiate runner says its best assets are the soft surface and the nature. Over time, he’s ventured farther afield and is still finding new trails.
“The trails go on forever, you can really just get lost,” said Bleday, who runs for the Dartmouth College track team. “Really . . . get away from houses and kind of suburbia.”
Jack Wiggins, a Hale board member, was part of the reservation’s first Marathon team this year.
“For somebody training over long distances, those dirt roads and trails provide an easy way of getting a lot of miles on that softer and more forgiving ground than a paved road,” said Wiggins, who did much of his training on the reservation. The scenery is “much more interesting,” he said, but added that the uneven ground also means you should watch your footing.
For a less woodsy expedition, World’s End in Hingham offers a perfect blend of forest and beach, with open expanses of grass bracketed by trails shaded by leafy trees. Choose to trod along wide, tree-lined carriage paths (bumpy, grassy, and rocky at parts) that loop around two big rounded bluffs jutting into Hingham Bay, or navigate through narrower dirt-packed trails crisscrossing the breadth of seaside slopes.
Any point on the 251-acre coastscape presents panoramic views of the bay, the Boston city skyline in the distance to the northwest, and Nantasket to the east. The broad hillsides are a vision in hues of pinks, yellows, and greens. The bracing, salty breeze that catches you coming up the first slope mixes with the sweetness of the cherry blossoms for a surreal treat to the senses (maybe enough to make you forget you’re schlepping uphill).
For a rougher trek, you could elect to wind around the rocky shoreline. A steep, extended slope on the side of the second bluff provides a great spot for a hill workout.
Further south, the Sippican Lands Trust has seven featured properties in Marion with public trails through woodlands, cranberry bogs, and marsh.
Tucked away in the woodlands of White Eagle Property are cranberry bogs, offering a series of straightaway stretches on a soft, sandy surface. While sand is a somewhat unstable surface, it gives you a better workout, strengthening your core, legs, and feet, as well as ramping up the aerobic challenge.
McLaughlin, who snapped a photo of a few of her runners crossing the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon minutes before the first explosion on April 15, said dozens are already inquiring about the 15 anticipated bibs for the Hale Reservation’s 2014 Marathon team. Hale became an official charity of the Boston Marathon last year, and all funds raised by the runners (who fund-raise instead of qualify) on the team benefit the reservation.
“They want to be there, they want to fund-raise,” she said. “They want to be a part of 118.”
If you’re not as motivated as these Marathon hopefuls, consider joining a running club.
Gilio said many solo runners see his club training and wonder what it’s like to run with a group.
“I think they just want to be with people more when they run — they are more comfortable,” he said, adding that the social aspect is a huge draw. “It’s not just a run, it’s everybody talking about their day and what’s going on.”
Getting out there is the first step. Wiggins had never run as much as he did during his marathon training.
“It’s one of the best ways to stay in shape for a lot of different things,” Wiggins said. “It’s also a way to get outside, and with a great property like Hale, it’s a great way to explore things.”Anne M. Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AnneMarieSteele.