Running Central Park

by Sara on August 15, 2014

IMG_1409For the hundreds of runners who happen to live in the crowded little island of Manhattan, what I am about to write about may sound pretty average.  Perhaps it’s akin to the way I feel about people running the “Rocky Steps” {aka the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art}.  It isn’t that the act is unimpressive, or not worth getting excited about, but for me it’s become common place and routine.  Something I very likely took for granted when I lived and ran in Philadelphia.

When I found out I would be attending a work event in New York City for two days, I am not even exaggerating when I say the first thing I thought of was, “how can I make sure I get my speed training in”.  And then a brilliant idea was born, I could run in Central Park obviously.  How did I not think of this before?  And once it was decided, the more  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The more I thought about it, the more excited I got.

Central freaking Park people!  It’s been on television, its been in movies, its the finish line for the New York City Marathon, and yet in all the times I have visited New York City I have never really spent any time there.  I have never run there.

Much to my disappointment, the moment I set foot on the New York streets I was greeted by grey skies and oppressive humidity.  Later that day as I left the hotel I had been holed up in all day learning about fashion-y things I was greeted with rain.  Whatever.  Nothing is going to stop me from this run, it is going to be so SO epic.  Although maybe I should find out what kind of elevation I am getting myself into, since you know I have this awesome tempo run planned and everything?  Google, what does the elevation chart for the outer loop of central park look like?


Not exactly flat.  Oh well, I was still pretty jazzed about the idea of this run so I head to my hotel {because I’m not fancy enough to stay in the same place as the work event – that would be too convenient}, quickly change clothes, grab my phone and some cash and head out.  It’s about a 17 block from my hotel to the south end of the park, and I am grinning like a weirdo the entire walk.  I race across cross-walks, loving the feeling of my feet flying and can’t wait to be set free.  Finally I arrive.  I am standing outside THE Central Park, and you know what, it was pretty anticlimactic.  I mean you saw that coming right?  It was an overcast day with the threat of rain hanging in the air, at the peak of rush hour in the middle of summer.  I cannot remember a time that I was surrounded with so many other people.  I snapped a few pictures for good measure.

Once I entered the park I was afraid everyone would be able to tell I had no idea what I was doing.  I was also nervous because I had planned myself a tough little workout {that I didn’t exactly hit the mark on} and wasn’t sure how it was going to go on unfamiliar terrain.  Yes, I looked up an elevation chart, but honestly those things are so hard to read.  I’m a learn-by-doing type of person and numbers and lines on a chart don’t mean anything until I’ve experienced it.

So here I go, I’m running.  Do I run in the road?  Is this road for runners? It is.  But can I run in the middle or do I have to stay to the side? Oh that lane with a person painted on it that’s for me, but what about the lane with a bike.  There are no bikes around can I run in that space?  Oh and there are cars, taxis are flying by they probably aren’t watching out for me I should be careful.  I’m running through Central Park!  So cool it’s just like in the movies! Except harder.  I notice right away how many other runners are around me.  In my mind we belong to an unspoken secret club.  We are putting in the hours, the miles, the time to train, we are runners and we nod every so slightly at one another as we pass.  Sometimes I pass people, sometimes they pass me, all knowing that even as strangers we have something in common even if its just for a brief moment.  These runners are all so fast! And in shape.  And fast!

I stop more times than usual to just soak up the atmosphere, take a few photos, and before I know it my 2 mile warm up is over and it’s tempo time.  That part sucked so hard and I barely remember it, or what I saw as I was running.  At one point I pulled out my headphones and run with the thoughts in my head as background music instead.  I listen to my breathing better than way and its easier for me to stay calm.  The pain was short lived, I made it through 2 miles just below 8 minute pace, took a break to completely catch my breath, and headed back out for one more mile around 7:35 pace and spent the remaining mile cooling down and getting lost on the trails of the park.

You see I kept wanting to take some perfect iconic photos of all the well known views of Central Park.  Except I had no idea where I was or where they were so I wandered for a bit, got lost a bit, ended up on the opposite side of the park and finally decided to head home.

IMG_1421So I ran through Central Park.  It was, I will admit, a really memorable experience, not to mention challenging which I always appreciate.  Was it the best place I’ve ever run? Hard to say but probably no.  I am happy that I made time for it and I would do it again if I had the chance.

When I got home from New York on Wednesday night Ralph asked me if Central Park wasn’t my favorite place to run that what was?  Was it something local that I’ve run hundreds of times, or something far away that I’ve only done once.  I have a hard time coming up with an answer for that question and I’m not sure there even is one.  What makes a run good or bad for me isn’t always the location, sometimes I’m not even paying attention as I run.  Other times I am paying attention and it’s fun to see sights and run at the same time.  When I was living in San Francisco, running around that city was probably some of the best runs in terms of what I got to see.

Of all the places you’ve ever run, can you honestly stay that there is one best place?  

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jordan August 15, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Sara, I’m sorry you missed out on the Reservoir Running Track!
check out:

The Central Park Conservancy also has a running map you can download at:

Let me know next time you are in New York, hopefully when the weather isn’t so grey (!), and we will be sure to help you improve your experience in Central Park!

Sara August 15, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I actually did check out the Reservoir Running Track but part of it was closed and then I just ended up on the main road again. It was not a bad experience despite the weather!

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