New Yorkers are always on the run. Bankers rush from Wall Street to Midtown; harried shoppers tear through the narrow streets of NoLita and SoHo. Travelers may find it hard to keep up with the pace — unless they bring their running shoes and join the race.
City Running Tours has guided joggers through the Big Apple's hectic streets for five years. Clients traveling solo, in pairs or in groups can book a personalized tour. A guide will meet you at your hotel lobby, subway stop or nearest landmark, then run at your pace for the distance you choose. He'll also carry your water and explain the history of each neighborhood you run through.
My guide, Karl Pawlowicz, met me at my Upper West Side subway stop on a brisk Saturday morning. I had booked a five-mile tour of downtown Manhattan, an area with a tangle of streets that didn't seem designed for running.
Pawlowicz proved me wrong as we hopped the subway to the Broadway/Lafayette stop, then effortlessly glided past the giant billboards of SoHo's northeast corner. A hard right off East Houston Street took us south on Mulberry Street, past NoLita's Young Designers Market and into Little Italy. The red-and-green bunting strung between its buildings gave the street a warm holiday atmosphere. By the time we crossed Canal Street into Chinatown, I'd entered my fourth neighborhood in 20 minutes.
"The neighborhoods are such a great distraction," Pawlowicz said. "Running in the city keeps you interested from block to block."
From tiny Bayard and Pell streets, we wove our way around the Financial District and then northeast to Henry Street and the Lower East Side. Running parkour-style around delivery vans, boxes of produce and bikes chained to scaffolding, Pawlowicz described the layout of Manhattan from a runner's perspective.
Though just 13 miles long and 2 miles wide, the city offers more than 90 miles of running paths. Favorite routes, he said, include Central Park's four- and six-mile loops and its Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir track. Riverside Park along the Hudson River, Battery Park and its views of the Statue of Liberty, and East River Park are linked by the city's Waterfront Greenway — 32 miles of pedestrian and cycling paths around Manhattan. Except for breaks at the Harlem River and the East Side between 23rd and 63rd streets, which require runners and cyclists to rejoin the roads, you can circumnavigate the island on dedicated pedestrian paths.
On Orchard Street, I slowed for the first time to check out an eclectic row of boutiques and accessory shops. In 1900 the block was the most populated place on Earth with more than 2,000 people crammed into two acres of dilapidated tenements. The narrow six-story brick buildings are still there but now host businesses such as the retro fashion store-cum-gallery Pilgrim and Moo Shoes, which sells vegan-friendly footwear. The area's celebrated nightlife had long since gone to bed, but as we passed the popular Stanton Social restaurant, Pawlowicz did have some advice for how to spend an afternoon.
"Go for a run, then go for the mimosa brunch at the Essex, shop until you're hungry again and then go for pickles," he said as we passed the much-regaled Katz's Delicatessen on Houston Street. The deli is famous for Sally's outburst in "When Harry Met Sally …," but Pawlowicz said it "does good pickles" too, a testament to the neighborhood's Eastern European roots.
With energy flagging, we made a welcome left turn off the windy East River Park into the East Village at 10th Street. We jogged through tranquil Tompkins Square Park, surrounded by chic speakeasies such as Cienfuegos on East 6th Street. A little more than an hour after we'd started, we headed south to the Broadway/Lafayette subway station, a little less than six miles gone in a flash.
Even without a guide, running solo in New York is easy. It's hard to get lost on the numbered streets above 14th Street, and downtown there are several major transverse roads, such as Houston and 14th Street, that can help runners get their bearings.
Joggers flock to Central Park after work so you'll have company on its main roads until early evening.
To orient yourself inside the park, note the numbers on streetlights that indicate the nearest cross street. Wherever you go, it's wise to bring taxi fare and a Metro card with you. This year, City Running Tours also started scheduling weekend group runs. These five-mile tours of Williamsburg, with a brief stop at the Brooklyn Brewery, Governors Island and other New York neighborhoods, are designed for local runners as well as visitors who want to keep up their training while in town.
Even locals get a buzz out of a run in the Big Apple, Gabrielle Rubinstein said of her social running group, Team Joe, when I joined them one Sunday. This two-time marathoner and part-owner of Joe Coffee fits in about four miles before or after work most days.
"My favorite route from my home in Brooklyn Heights is over the Brooklyn Bridge, through Tribeca and SoHo to my Greenwich Village shop," she said.
"It makes me feel like an urban superhero, owning the streets."