Local marathoners Ellen Lyons runs on a path near Marina Bay in Quincy. She prefers routes with "long stretches of emptiness." (Dominic Chavez / Globe Staff)

Going the distance

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ami Albernaz
Globe Correspondent / April 17, 2008

Anybody can jog along the Charles. But where do marathoners train? We asked three locals preparing for Monday's race where they like to run.

Somerville sunrise

It's 5:45 a.m., and Leevi Raassina, a fit 56-year-old with alert blue-gray eyes, has donned a fleece top, fleece hat, and Spandex pants for a pre-work run in the cold. His wife and daughter are still asleep; only the pet degu (a small chinchilla relative) stirs in its cage.

Outside, Somerville Avenue is just as quiet, the day's first light turning the black sky midnight blue. As he's done hundreds of times before, Raassina sets off on a narrow, industrial side street and turns down Washington Street, where Dalí Restaurant and the Kebab Factory on the normally bustling corner of Beacon Street sit dormant. He continues down Kirkland Street, turning on Quincy to cut over to the Charles River.

While training for his first Boston Marathon, Raassina has devised an ample stock of route variations. Some days he follows the Charles to Watertown, and other days he goes in the other direction, past the Museum of Science. If he needs inclines, he'll venture through the hilly streets of Somerville. Invariably, he stops at the Weeks Footbridge to stretch.

"You see rowers in the dark, and end up racing them at times," Raassina says. He crosses the Western Avenue bridge to Soldiers Field Road, running on the west side of the river until he reaches JFK Street and crosses back over to Memorial Drive. Because today's run is short - 4.3 miles - he'll run just a bit farther on Memorial before working his way back through residential streets to Union Square.

A Finn by birth who grew up in Sweden, Raassina ran his first and only marathon 25 years ago in Stockholm. "When I got to the finish line, I almost passed out from dehydration," he says. He's been building up to Monday's race for the past three years, and this time, he's running for a cause: the Bethke Cancer Center in Concord, where his wife, Marit, has been receiving treatments for the past five years.

When he returns home, Marit is waiting for him with coffee and breakfast. After he eats, he'll get ready for his job as a sales director in Burlington. Come tomorrow, he'll get up at dawn and do it all over again.

Mystic midday

At 11 a.m., first-time marathoner Dana Price, 25, steps out of her North Cambridge apartment for her daily workout. Dressed in a powder blue shirt and black shorts, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, she charges toward Massachusetts Avenue and turns right on Route 60, just shy of the Arlington line. The heavy traffic tapers off not long after that, and by the time she ducks into a small playground to stretch a few miles later, all is oddly serene.

"For most of the route, it's almost like you're in another world," Price says. Indeed, as she continues along the Mystic Valley Parkway in West Medford, with Lower Mystic Lake and Upper Mystic Lake to her left, Boston feels far away. Price discovered the route just a few months ago as part of the marathon team at Tufts, from which she graduated in 2005. The 11-mile route continues north into Winchester, past well-manicured lawns and the rolling green hills of the town's country club.

Price, who is a musician by night (she played violin and keyboards with Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women and is a former keyboardist for the Edith Piaf-tribute band Ziaf), began training for the marathon on a dare. After breaking all the bones in both feet in a car accident five years ago, doctors told her she would never run a marathon.

"I'm doing this, sort of, to show them," she says.

Price began working with a running coach, Joe McConkey of the Boston Running Center, in November. She has enjoyed the tangible achievements that come with running. "I like that I was able to run just 6 miles six months ago," she says, "and now I can run 20."

Squantum sunset

If you happen to be in South Boston, Dorchester, or Quincy during rush hour, you might catch sight of Ellen Lyons running from work in Post Office Square to her home in the Squantum section of Quincy.

"I like to use running as transportation," says Lyons, 50, in training for her eighth Boston Marathon and 16th marathon since 2000. Her 10.5-mile commute passes through the Seaport district and links to William J. Day Boulevard and William T. Morrissey Boulevard. It then skirts Dorchester's Tenean Beach and traverses Pope John Paul II Park, along the Neponset River, before reaching the home stretch into Quincy.

When Lyons isn't commuting home, she follows one of several routes through Quincy; she's partial to ones with "long stretches of emptiness." A favorite starts in Squantum and extends 8 miles southeast to Hough's Neck peninsula. The quiet stretch is surrounded by water at all points. On snowy winter days, she runs through the tony Marina Bay neighborhood, as "it's plowed really well."

Lyons hasn't always been so comfortable in her sneakers. Before she began running marathons, she hardly exercised at all. Her weight peaked at 250 pounds. "I worked and I ate," she says.

Her choice of transportation has also put her in contact with some hidden gems. Just beyond Marina Bay, for instance, is Squantum Point Park, the site of an old airfield where the Wright brothers once flew. Lyons says she likes running the field because it's "fast, flat, and beautiful."

On this evening, with the sun hanging low, a chilly wind blowing through the tall grass, and the rainbow Keyspan gas tank looming in the distance, the field serves the dual purpose of bringing Lyons closer to home and distancing her from the trials of the workday.

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