Running Away From Home: Central Park (NYC)

Running Away from Home is a series of posts where the Reluctant Runner recounts and recommends an exceptional run location he’s experienced while traveling. In most cases, these locales are already popular running spots that have been written about dozens of times. Think of these as “reboots” of similar articles you’ve already read. 

If nothing else, this blog is a good place to go if you’re a fan of writers who make observations that are readily apparent to anyone with a pulse. Some of my more obvious conclusions include, but are not limited to, early morning runs suck, chocolate milk is delicious, and maybe I shouldn’t drink six beers during a race.

I’d like to take this opportunity to add one more: Running in Central Park is good.

Strike that. It’s amazing.

While traveling around the east coast in June, I had the pleasure of introducing my wife to New York City. As part of her initiation, I took her for a morning run in Central Park. Though I have visited the Park many times, I’ve only jogged through it once back in November. The temperatures were quite frigid that day, so my eagerness for a leisurely few miles in the world’s best urban park was not entirely altruistic.

Sheep Meadow -- where green space and skyscrapers collide.
Sheep Meadow — where green space and skyscrapers collide.

We ventured out on a quiet (by New York standards) Sunday morning and entered Central Park at Columbus Circle. We basically wandered through leisurely, our plan being to run slowly and stop whenever we saw something worth stopping for.

Needless to say there was plenty of stopping.

For some stretches we ran on the road, where clearly marked lanes give bikers, walkers and runners plenty of space and the promise of not getting lost. Other times we meandered along trails, stopping to take in some of the park’s most notably assets, like Sheep Meadow,  the Mall, and Literary Walk.

Literary Walk -- Come for the American Elms, stay for the statues of dead writers.
Literary Walk — come for the American Elms, stay for the statues of dead writers.

As we continued our journey, we both noticed how clean the Park was, especially compared to the rest of NYC. We later learned that it is operated and maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit that also provides 75% of the Park’s annual budget. Over the last 35 years, this organization has taken a crime-ridden, dilapidated urban afterthought, and restored its magnificence, returning it to its rightful place as the best part of the City.

We eventually made our way toward Bethesda Fountain and the Lake, where we were treated to a little morning music. Under the Terrace, a man with a piano and a vocalist belted out soulful songs, giving us a quintessential Central Park moment while also providing a soundtrack for a small part of our run. From there, we swung by Belvedere Castle and the Great Lawn before turning around.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to partake in the most famous running space in New York, the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, though we did visit it later that week in a non-running capacity. We’ve already vowed to run a lap the next time we’re anywhere near Manhattan.

The Reservoir -- I promise we'll run around you next time, old friend.
The Reservoir — I promise we’ll run around you next time, old friend.

Running in Central Park is so awesome even famous people do it! On our way back toward Columbus Circle, my wife and I saw actor Hank Azaria as he jogged through the park. He and I sort of made eye contact, in all likelihood because he noticed me looking at him as I was trying to figure out, “Is that Hank Azaria?”

Finish it off with a New York City bagel that I picked up on the way back to the rental apartment and you have a one of a kind experience every runner should undertake at least once. I can’t promise you an encounter with a cast member of The Simpsons, but I can promise you it’s still totally worth it.

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