They say that running is one of the easiest ways to learn about a new city. But in a city as large as New York, where do you start? Apparently this question is a common one, and New York Road Runners (NYRR) answered the call with its Running History Tour. I managed to snag a (free) ticket and joined them this morning!
I've run in Central Park once before in my life. Because I had zero idea where I was going, I just did a quick out and back, and went back to my hotel. Central Park sits on 843 acres of land in the heart of New York City, and it features restaurants, a zoo, playgrounds, and, for the use of millions, running trails. The tour started off at NYRR's new Run Center, where there are free lockers, charging stations, and a ton of other different amenities. This place makes it super convenient to run after work, on the weekends, or whenever.
Coach Stuart was our tour guide, and he started off by showing us a quick map of where we'd be running. He said we were going just under 5 miles at around a 10:00 pace, with stops along the way to see some of the Park's most famous sites.
We walked through Columbus Circle and made it to the entrance to Central Park.
And we're off! By the way, 10:00 is a nice and easy pace...until you hit the hills.
Our first stop took us to The Mall, which includes Literary Walk. The Walk features statues of writers, including Robert Burns and Fitz-Greene Halleck. There was a little festival of some sort going on, so we saw lots of people (like always) and food trucks.
Bethesda Terrace was next. This spot overlooks The Lake and the Bethesda Fountain, which was used in Angels in America, and also Elf (I had to point that out).
If you're a frequent runner in Central Park, then you've hit Cat Hill before. Stuart said this is a super popular spot for runners hitting hill repeats, but most people don't know the name. The statue was made by the same guy who created the lion statues at the main branch of the New York Public Library!
A few steps up ahead (once we crossed the hill) is Cleopatra's Needle. Oddly enough, this statue is completely unrelated to Queen Cleopatra, as it had already existed for more than 1,000 years when she was born. It was gifted to us by Egypt, and is more than 3,500 years(!!) old.
One reason I was really excited for the tour is because I don't know where anything in Central Park is. I knew there were things like the Reservoir and the Fred Lebow statue, but I had no idea where to find them. The tour took us past both of these, and we started with the Lebow statue. Stuart told us how each year during the NYC Marathon, they move him to the finish line so that he can "time" the runners as they cross. The marathon has always been my dream race, so it was awesome to finally see the statue in person.
One of the most identifiable spots in Central Park is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Stuart told us how Mrs. Kennedy used to run along it, but you'd never know unless you knew it was her because she was so tiny. It used to be the city's main water supply, but now it's just beautiful views and a great place to run. The track around it measures just over 1.5 miles, so it looks like a good spot for speed work!
Before we entered Strawberry Fields, Stuart told us the importance of the area to New York. The spot sits close to the Dakota, where John Lennon lived, and where Yoko Ono still lives today. He explained how Fred Lebow realized that gunshots could still be heard in the area, and he wanted to be respectful to Yoko. So, he changed all starting lines for NYRR races to feature an airhorn instead of the typical gunshot. Strawberry Fields includes the famous Imagine mural, plus benches where you can sit and reflect. There was a street musician playing "Imagine," and some of us joined in to sing along with him.
The tour ended near Columbus Circle, which is where it started. But, before we made it there, we had one final stop - Tavern on the Green, also known as the marathon finish line. Stuart and the other tour guides answered some questions about the world's most famous race for us, and we all had a little extra motivation when we ran by the area.
The NYRR Running History Tours are a great way to learn a little more about the city's most popular running area. Even if you've been running in Central Park for years, there's plenty to learn. And if you're new to the area like me, they're a great way to discover a new running route. Check out NYRR to learn when the next tours are being held!