Starting Graduate School on the Right Foot

A PhD student’s guide to running in Boston
OCT 2019
Olivia
Y.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

On the snowy February morning before my MIT graduate school interview, I rolled out of bed, bundled up and went for a run along the Charles River path. As a former Division One cross country and track athlete, I have been running almost daily for almost a decade. The picturesque scene of a light snow falling over the river calmed my frazzled nerves.

As a new PhD student starting research which can be frustrating and incredibly hard at times, I knew running would be a crucial part of my routine. Running has always been a way to clear my mind and stay grounded. It’s my way of escaping the stress on campus. My way of abandoning the to-do list that constantly runs through my thoughts. My way of getting a breath of fresh air. Running makes me a better student and a better researcher — more focused, more clear-minded and happier.

Finding My Route

When I arrived in Boston last week for the start of orientation, one of the first items on my to-do list was to find the perfect running route.

Running in a city can be intimidating — with cars and stoplights and too many street names to remember. It’s also an amazing way to explore a city and quickly discover the area. If I still haven’t convinced you to give running a shot by the end of this article, these routes are great for walking and biking as well. 

Part of the appeal of Boston for me is its history as a running city. Boston is known for the Boston Marathon, the oldest and most famous marathon in the world. Marathon Monday is a holiday for most schools in the area, and many students spend the day cheering on runners from the sidelines, rain or shine. I am already counting down the days until my first marathon, and I hope to be one of the runners sometime in the next few years.

In the meantime…  here’s my list of the best places to roam the city.

1. The Charles River path

This beautiful path, stretching along both the Boston and the Cambridge sides of the Charles River, is the quintessential Boston running experience. Sections of the path are cleared during the winter months, making this the perfect place to run after a snowstorm. This is the path I ran during my interview weekend last February, and I have never had a more motivating winter run.

In the early hours of the day, I am used to being the only runner on the road, but along the Charles River, I passed hundreds of people getting in their workout just like me. This path has a special place in my heart because it was my first introduction to Boston. Every time I run here, I remember how nervous I was for the interview day and how much I wanted to be accepted into the program. Now, running along this path feels a little surreal, as my wish from that day has now become my reality.

The path spans seventeen miles end-to-end. Even the marathon runners out there will have plenty of miles to run. Conveniently, MIT borders the heart of the path. I would recommend running along the Esplanade, a three mile stretch on the Boston side of the Charles River, stretching between the Museum of Science and Boston University. For MIT students: just run across the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and run down the stairs!


A beautiful September morning on the Charles river path.

2. The Emerald Necklace

The Emerald Necklace is a series of six parks throughout Boston. All of these parks can be easily accessed by the T (the metro system of Boston). Pro tip: MIT offers subsidized T monthly passes at 50% off, but you need to sign up for the program before the semester begins. The

trails, a mixture of pavement and gravel, offer something for everyone. As the name suggests, these parks are the perfect place for those who miss the lush greenery of the city outskirts. I love that these parks are scattered throughout Boston, offering a way to explore much of the greater Boston landscape. The Charles River path may be the most iconic Boston running path, but these parks offer the most diversity, and a more authentic Boston running experience.

    a. Jamaica Pond

Jamaica Pond is a beautiful, rolling 1.5 mile loop that surrounds a pond in Jamaica Plain. This is agreat option for students in my program (joint division between MIT and Harvard Medical School), as it is walkable from the Longwood Medical Area. The pond is also accessible by T or car for those who are not necessarily near the Longwood Area.

    b. The Arnold Arboretum

The Arnold Arboretum, owned by Harvard University, offers free public trails and is another good option for MITers who find themselves across the river. The park itself is over 200 acres, offering gorgeous gardens and winding paths. I spent Labor Day morning there, running the paths before my first day of class.


The Arnold Arboretum on a sunny Labor Day morning.

    c. Boston Common and the Public Garden

Boston Common and the Public Garden offer another iconic view of Boston. The swan boats are an essential part of the Boston experience, even if they are a little touristy. As a runner, you can weave through the famous statues, fountains and ponds and soak in the history that surrounds the oldest city park in the United States.


The iconic view of the swan boats — a must-do even if it's very touristy.

3. MIT Briggs Morrison Track

For those who want a more structured run, the Briggs Morrison Track has open recreation hours almost every day. The Zesiger Sports and Fitness center, located nearby, has various cardio equipment and weights for those who want to supplement their running workout. If you would rather suffer through an hour on the treadmill when the weather gets bad, MIT also provides a beautiful row of treadmills in Zesiger.

Running is my escape from campus and a way of exploring the Boston area. I know I will be taking these trails regularly, especially as the semester becomes more hectic. Whether you are a current MIT student, an interested MIT applicant, or anyone who has stumbled across this blog, I hope you find your own way of exploring the city and escape the bustle of campus.