Manhattan at dusk – Andy Yu
Welcome to this very special edition of this week’s running. For those that didn’t know, Lis and I spent the best part of a week on holiday in New York where I sampled the local running trails, shops and races.
Warning, this entry is incredibly long (I’m sorry!) so I hope you’ve got a coffee and a snack to hand.
The format of this entry will cover all the gubbins I encountered as a runner and will hopefully be of benefit to any runners that find themselves in New York.
Where photos are my own or Lis’, they are duly credited.
Central Park and the Outer Drive
Cental Park is pretty damn big…
We’ve all seen Central Park in the movies but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer size and scale of the city’s largest piece of green space. Spanning from 5th Avenue to 8th Avenue and 59th Street to 110th Street, it covers over 840 acres making it perfect for runners looking to cover a few miles and more.
My first morning in New York, I decided to tackle the popular 6 mile outer drive loop. Our hotel (the Excelsior) was located conveniently in the Upper West Side on 81st Street and 8th Avenue, which is only a 2-minute walk to one of the many entrances to Central Park.
Upon entering the park at 7:30am, I saw runners everywhere. There were plodders, joggers, speedsters, the young, the old and everything in between. Running is huge in New York and seemed to be taken very seriously. It was also NYC Marathon week, so there was a large influx of visiting runners from out of town, taking in the wonders of Central Park.
I opted to run the clockwise loop of the outer drive after reccying a small anti-clockwise portion of it the previous evening with Lis. In total, the outer drive covers over 6 miles and consists of two lanes for cars (the park is car-free at certain times of the day and at weekends), one bicycle lane and one lane for pedestrians with markings to indicate traffic direction. Most runners were running against me, with few going in my direction or overtaking.
I’d set my Garmin to a leisurely 8:30 minute mile pace, not wanting to thrash myself before an entire week’s worth of sightseeing. The weather was hard to gauge properly; I wore my technical fit Nike t-shirt and shorts but there was definitely a nip in the air so I hoped I’d warm-up soon enough. Everybody else around me looked like they were dressed for an Arctic expedition with hats, gloves and running tights all on display. This was all despite brilliantly blue skies and the sun making an appearance.
Central Park is surprisingly undulating with many twists and turns on the outer drive and many of the smaller internal paths. The design is actually quite ingenious because I soon forgot I was running in a huge urban park, with only occasional glimpses of the city’s skyscrapers peaking out from behind the surrounding trees to remind me I was in the Big Apple.
The outer drive took me past such sights in the park like Cleopatra’s Needle, the backside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.
Towards the end of my run, the outer drive took me through the 25 and 26-mile markers for the NYC Marathon coming up on the Sunday. There were banners all over the park to remind everybody that the largest marathon in the world was making a long awaited homecoming after the race was cancelled in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy.
I wrapped up my run after dipping under the NYC Marathon finish line. Stadium style seating had been set up along with various tents and gazebos for the race.
I absolutely adored my outer drive tour of Central Park. New Yorkers should count themselves lucky that they have such a great locale for running; I’m positively green with envy that I’ll have to make do with my northern Birmingham canal route for marathon training.
Take a look at my Garmin data for the run here.
The Central Park Reservoir
The reservoir is actually only a small part of Central Park!
The next day, I opted to cover a different part of Central Park. During my 6-mile outer drive route, I’d noticed the reservoir which has also been featured in countless movies. The reservoir (or to give it its full name, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir) has a completely flat path surrounding it, offering a softer dirt track terrain.
Remember what I said about the odd weather in New York? After the chill in the air of the previous day, I wore my London Marathon jacket only to end up roasting early on. My advice for what to wear whilst running in New York would be to at least wear t-shirts and shorts outside unless temperatures are in single digits.
I decided to cover an anti-clockwise loop of the reservoir, though I was entirely unaware of the distance. I made a mental note of my surroundings at the start of the loop and hoped that I’d be able to recall everything at the end…
Runners actually outnumbered everybody else in the park at certain times of the day!
The reservoir offered stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, particularly from the north facing the south. It was another popular location for runners, though everybody seemed to be doing their own thing rather than following any strict traffic direction rules.
Every few hundred metres or so, there were stone buildings with water fountains making the park extremely runner friendly, especially for those training for longer distances and not wishing to carry multiple bottles of water.
I thought I returned to my point of entry and so I left the reservoir. Central Park is not particularly well sign posted, which I found strange for such a large park; I went with my gut and followed a path to what I thought was 8th Avenue only for it to be 5th Avenue! Looking back at my Garmin data, I’d actually overshot my entry point by a few hundred metres and had wandered over to the eastern side of Central Park…
Unsure of what to do, I chose to continue up 5th Avenue and then make a left past the Metropolitan Museum of Art on to one of the traffic tunnels underneath Central Park which would take me on to 8th Avenue eventually. This detour actually added almost an extra 1.5 miles to what was only meant to be a short run that morning!
Take a look at my comical route here via Garmin Connect.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge is popular with runners and a part of the NYC Marathon route
A fellow runner from a forum I belong to had recommended an out and back run over the Brooklyn Bridge if I had time. Strangely, none of the open-top bus tours that Lis and I went on actually went over the Brooklyn Bridge, so we both felt it necessary to cover the sight by foot.
We caught the Subway to China Town after a botched line change attempt at an earlier station. From here, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge with a very scary visit to a public toilet for me; I think I’d have rather peed against a wall and risked paying the fine rather than visit that toilet again!
Brooklyn Bridge in the morning – Lis Morgan
There’s a wooden boardwalk path that goes over the Brooklyn Bridge for both cyclists and pedestrians. Being one of my shorter runs in New York (the bridge is only a little over a mile in length), I opted to cover the Brooklyn Bridge at a faster pace.
There were already plenty of runners and cyclists out and about, taking in the great views of the city. Both Lis and I noticed one lady with a very unusual running gait where her legs swung outwards and then returned in front of her before the next movement.
The bridge began with a steady incline and levelled off with a short, flat section in the middle only to then become a descent into Brooklyn. I did my turnaround and ran back towards Manhattan, passing by all the traffic that had just literally seen me running into Brooklyn.
Andy Yu running over Brooklyn Bridge – Lis Morgan
I really enjoyed running over the Brooklyn Bridge; it offered a unique experience that I’ve yet to have anywhere here in the UK and am unlikely to unless I make it back out to San Francisco and run over the longer Golden Gate Bridge.
Take a look at my Brooklyn Bridge run data here.
Running Shops in New York
Running is big business in New York with sports shops everywhere.
Super Runners Shop near, Times Square – Andy Yu
The Super Runner’s Shop can be found just outside of Times Square. It reminded me a lot of Sweat Shop and Runners’ Need over here in the UK, having no particular brand bias.
Depending on the brand and what you buy, the savings can be huge or miniscule. Nike is my brand of choice and despite being an American company, some of the items were ludicrously priced such as their Race Day shorts which can be had here for between £20 and £25; over there, the RRP was $52 and with 9% sales tax and after $-£ conversion came to over £35! Shoes were much better priced where I saved approximately £20 after conversion.
Nike Town, perfect for a Nike whore like me
Nike Town has a flagship store just off 5th Avenue, near Apple’s flagship store. Boasting several floors of merchandise, they had two entire levels dedicated to running. The ground floor is their seasonal display area, with everything geared towards the NYC Marathon coming up. They even had some Nike branded NYC Marathon stuff despite them not being the official kit supplier (more on this later in the NYC Marathon Expo section).
I bought myself a new pair of Nike Flyknit Racers given the discount. I was also tempted by a pair of Nike Wildhorse trail shoes, anticipating another bad winter here in the UK but ultimately chose not to, fearful that I’d have no room in my suitcase to bring them back. The guy that served me tried to peddle one of their Nike NYC Marathon vests; it was even the right shade of yellow but I told him I only buy memorabilia for races I’ve actually participated in and also only wear memorabilia after I’ve run in the race. Who knows what kind of bad karma you’re jinxing yourself with if you wear the stuff before the race?
Nike were also debuting their Flash Pack series of running products, all designed to light up like Christmas trees when hit by light, particularly from car headlights. The Total Flash Jacket (a jacket made entirely of reflective material) was notably absent so when I quizzed a staff member about it, she went off to find out where they were only to tell me that their new running specific store elsewhere in the city had launched them that day! Cue Lis and I making a beeline to 3rd Avenue…
Nike’s running store on 3rd Avenue – Andy Yu
The Nike Running Store on 3rd Avenue had just opened that day. I’m unsure whether this was a marketing ploy to capture all the captive NYC Marathon runners in the city or just coincidence; if it was a marketing ploy, they hadn’t advertised it well!
The place reminded me of the Nike Running Store in Covent Garden, stocking mainly run related merchandise and the occasional piece of casual wear.
Vintage Nike shoes, anyone? – Andy Yu
We were greeted by Chad, a really camp but really friendly chap that was in love with all things British. We spent ages talking to him; he was a huge fan of classic British sitcoms and cheesy British pop groups from the 90s and early 00s. Chad was one of the nicest and most genuine folks Lis and I had met on our trip where most New Yorkers seemed cold and self-obsessed.
They did indeed have the Total Flash Jacket in stock but for a whopping $500 RRP. After tax and conversion, it came to approximately £335, marginally cheaper than what it will be available in the UK for. I love Nike and my running but even this was too rich for my blood and I had to put it back on the shelf. I did however opt for a pair of Nike arm warmers – perfect for those cold Parkrun mornings where a vest is too little but a t-shirt is too much.
The NYC Marathon Expo
The NYC Marathon Expo – Andy Yu
Lis and I had entered the NYRR Race to the Finish Line 5k and had to collect our bibs from the NYC Marathon Expo. Held at the Jacob Javitts Convention Centre, it’s a damn sight easier to get to than the ExCeL for the London Marathon!
After security and a thorough bag search (expect this everywhere in New York), we headed into the expo. My bib was yellow (yay!) and had placed me amongst the 6 minute pace group whereas Lis’ bib was brown and had her in the 10 minute pace group. We also received long sleeve tech shirts as part of our entry fee; not bad for $25 or £15; US citizens had to pay $50 for the same 5k race!
Dash to the Finish Line 5k bib – Andy Yu
The NYC Marathon Expo was enormous compared to the London Marathon Expo. London had a lot of empty space devoted to the main stage whereas in New York, almost every nook and cranny of the hall had something going on in it.
Asics was the main sponsor and kit supplier for the marathon and had pride of place as you first entered. They had everything a runner would need for the race, all branded with the ING New York City Marathon logo. They also had some decent prices for shoes like many race expos and were flying off the shelves like hotcakes.
All of the other major (and minor) running wear manufacturers were also present except for Nike; whether they weren’t invited or chose not to go (I’m almost certain they’ve attended in the past from what I can see online) is up the air. Anyway, all of the manufacturers had their own line of limited edition NYC Marathon merchandise despite not being the official kit supplier. New Balance had a generic New York inspired running t-shirt I was tempted by since I had run in New York, just not in the marathon; I ultimately declined since it went against my own running merchandise principles!
Garmin had debuted their Forerunner 220 and 620 GPS watches at the expo and it was nice to finally see them in the flesh after reading much about them courtesy of DC Rainmaker’s site (check his site out if you’re planning to buy a GPS watch, past, present or new). The watch faces are huge compared to their older offerings and present their 3rd phase in what is now a very crowded and competitive arena where Garmin was once the only player. The prices were decent too after conversion with the FR 220 coming in at £190ish and the FR 620 at £290ish.
Many local running clubs were also present, hoping to hook in new members.
Premium running bling from Disney – Andy Yu
Races of different sizes and calibre were also in attendance, including small local events all the way to large-scale races such as the Berlin and Dublin Marathon. Also present was runDisney, the team behind such events like the Walt Disney World Marathon. I love running and Disney and I would love to attend just one of the events in the future, so I spent some serious time admiring the different race medals they had on display. Admission prices for their events aren’t cheap, so it’s nice to see they don’t skimp on the quality (or size) of their medals. They even had the highly coveted Goofy and Dopey medals on display; to receive the Goofy medal, you have to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and the Walt Disney World Marathon one day after another (!) and to receive the Dopey medal, you have to run the Walt Disney World 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon consecutively over 4 days (!!!). I reckon I could do the 5k, 10k and Half Marathon without much difficulty but to do all four, even at a casual pace would be too much for me I think.
Ever wondered about the Dos and Don’ts of running? – Andy Yu
I also spent a lot of time at the Runners’ World stand, where I bought the comical yet factual Runner’s Rule Book. The Runners’ World magazine features various entries from the book from time to time and I too will look to end my blog posts with an entry from the book (fully credited to the author, of course). I also bought a US copy of the Runners’ World magazine, which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading (unlike the UK version that is heavily beginner focussed). The US copy feels like a lighter version of Running Times – my number one running magazine which can be had on import from WHSmiths for a shade under £4 here in the UK.
Whilst sat down for a break at the expo, Lis and I got talking to a New York native that was due to run the marathon on Sunday. Aptly named Sandie (she finished in 7 hours and 49 minutes), she had the misfortune of being ready to run last year but had to defer her place until this year and pay again to enter the race. I really felt for her, where she embarked on the New York Road Runners’ (the club that organise the marathon) 9 races qualification criteria to get a place for the NYC Marathon. I think I’d be inconsolable if the same thing had happened to me and even though I think I’d most likely enter a last minute marathon elsewhere, knowing that I’d have to wait an entire year and pay to race again would be an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Sandie was another of the few lovely New Yorkers we encountered on our trip and we wished her all the best for her race.
Everything’s bigger in NYC, including marathon launch ceremonies – Andy Yu
Later that night, we wandered through Central Park and caught the fireworks that were part of the official NYC Marathon opening ceremony. Everything’s bigger and brasher in the USA after all and possibly goes someway to explain the expensive race entry fee!
The NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5k
On race morning, Lis wasn’t feeling so good so I headed out to the 5k start line alone. She agreed to take a leisurely walk to the finish area to later meet back at the hotel.
Grand Central during rush hour – Andy Yu
I took the Subway to Grand Central Station and made the rest of the journey on foot, treating it as a warm-up. Even in the early hours of the morning, it proved difficult to run on the New York streets (take a look at my warm-up data for an idea) with stop start lights and traffic to contend with.
One of the few races in New York to go through Mid Town
The start line for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5k was located next to the United Nations building and the course was one of the few races to take runners through Mid Town New York and would also utilise the final mile of the NYC Marathon route in Central Park.
There were thousands of runners all over the place. I had originally estimated only 3,000 or so participants but after checking the results, 8178 runners actually crossed the finish line – that’s more than some half marathons I’ve completed in the past!
I wasn’t feeling top of the pops for the race. I was tired from all the sightseeing and I hadn’t been sleeping well due to not adjusting to the time difference. I also felt sluggish from all the food I’d been eating and had also had a few alcoholic bevvies whilst in New York.
I decided to do a few quick strides to wake my heavy legs up and to also pass the time. I spotted elite Olympian Evan Jager during my warm-up along with a Brit from Chester Triathlon Club. Runners from all over the world were well represented, particularly France and Germany.
The atmosphere for what was only a simple 5k was electric. They had a bubbly compere that virtually spoke without taking a single breath to host the morning’s activities.
The next paragraph is me ranting, so I apologise beforehand but it’s a topic that really pisses me off with racing…
They herded us into the start pens and it was here that I started to panic. Looking around me, there seemed to be an awful lot of runners that didn’t look fast. Now whilst I appreciate that you can’t judge a book by its cover, I also know the pain and effort its required for me to become a sub-20 5k runner and judging by my most recent finish times, I don’t think I qualify anymore. I was in the yellow pen, the third one back from the start line and one of the three smallest pens but I was surrounded by runners in hoodies, runners draped in their country’s flag etc. It was 20 degrees Celsius that morning but I even saw a rather chubby woman in my start pen wearing a running jacket, tights, a hat and gloves; I don’t want to offend anybody but there was no chance in hell she was going to be anywhere near 20 minutes! I think what many runners had neglected to factor in when they registered for the race was that they would also be running the NYC Marathon the next day so would be taking it easy – what they should have done was register with their target time rather than entering their 5k PB time! Adding insult to injury, the compere and her mic began chatting to a 9 year old kid in one of the start pens before me…
As is tradition at a lot of US sporting events, somebody sang the national anthem so I stood silently and soaked it all in. A group of rather loud French runners in front of me were completely oblivious to what was going on around them so I shot them a dirty look and asked them to be quiet; they obliged for maybe 30 seconds before carrying on with their own personal conversations.
Two of the elite women – Lis Morgan
The race started off with the elite women including Shelane Flannigan, followed minutes later by the elite men and the masses. The compere began to shout out to different nations she could recognise; just before I crossed the start line, I shouted out “England” to her and she cheered this out into her mic which received a small roar from my fellow Brits in the crowd behind me.
I started my Garmin as crossed the line, with a target time of 19:45 in tow. Within the first 100m, there were people walking! I had to continue to dodge and weave for the first 800m or so, occasionally running on the pavement to find a clearing for myself.
Stepping on to 6th Avenue, I finally managed to settle into my rhythm at 6:20 mile pace, just a little faster than target pace. I latched on to two other faster guys and stayed with them for the next mile before I lost them on around 50th Street. I recognised a Canadian runner from the same pen as me, dressed entirely in brilliant blue ahead so I began to reel her in. I managed to catch up to her upon entering Central Park.
Central Park proved to be my undoing, where my pace nose dived into 6:33 per mile so I knew sub-20 was off the cards unless I could somehow pick up the pace. The undulations were too much for my lactic acid filled legs and I began to do my choo-choo train impression again. Everybody else around me was also slowing down so I ran out of runners to tag on to despite a decently crowded field unlike at Parkrun.
Wish I could say I’m blurry because I was running really fast… – Lis Morgan
The last few hundred metres of the NYC Marathon are steadily uphill which meant the same for this 5k race. The incline, whilst not dramatic in isolation, was steeper than that at Cannon Hill so my finishing kick was next to useless. I spotted Lis in the crowd and waved before giving it one last shot to finish with at least a half decent time.
I crossed the line and was panting heavily after my fastest effort in weeks. My finish time? A miserly 20:13. Despite this, I managed to finish in the top 2.2% (181 out of 8178), my best ever percentage. Of course, the finish position is skewed because many of the runners would have been taking it easy ahead of the next day’s marathon. My runBritain handicap for this race is also skewed, giving the event a 2.0 difficulty rating and giving me a -0.1 result for my 11th best ever handicap performance.
The goodie bag was basic, with just a bottle of water, an apple and a packet of salted mini pretzels in exchange for the effort. After being herded down the finish funnel, I was now ages away from where Lis was in Central Park so I headed straight back to the hotel, warming down along the way.
Conclusions about running in New York
New York is a fantastic city, runner or not, but it offers that something extra if you enjoy pounding the pavement. If you’re going to be visiting the Big Apple, do yourself a favour and make sure you pack your running shoes.
As a runner, there are plenty of places to explore on foot and it gives you an excuse to over indulge since you’re still burning off the calories.
There are also loads of races on each weekend and plenty of local running clubs to tap into if you like to try running with others that actually know where they’re going.
Thank you for reading and as promised I’m going to close with one of entries from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:
Impatience is the runner’s single biggest bugbear. This is true for just about every aspect of running. Whether you’re talking about training (trying to do too much too soon), racing (going out too fast), shoes (buying the first pair you see), or even nutrition (opting for a Pop-Tart over a bowl of steel-cut oats), expediency almost always leads to the poorer choice. So take a deep breath. Consider your options. Make smart choices.
Patience pays off.