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A Tempo Run in Central Park

Where: Central Park, New York City
When: July 27, 2011

Central Park

A tempo run in the New York City – this is not to be missed, and there is no better place to get ‘er done than Central Park. If you are planning a visit to the Big Apple, be sure to bring your running gear with you. You won’t regret it.

Park Drive loops and meanders through Central Park and is the most popular running route. The road travels one way counter-clockwise and is provided with both walking and bicycle reserved lanes. Depending on the day and time, the road may or may not be open to traffic. If you are thinking this sounds a lot like Toronto’s High Park, but bigger, you would be right.

One loop of Park Drive comes up as 9.75 km on my Garmin. Yes, the Garmin does work in Central Park; it is likely the only place it will work properly in Manhattan. The best access to the park is at the south west corner, off Columbus Circle. There you have several choices of subway lines, depending on where you are coming from. It is also an easy spot to get back to. I personally use the Time Warner Building (with triangular shaped glass) as my landmark.

I have a very good sense of direction. However, that sense is quickly lost on Park Drive. The road loops and meanders and runs large half circles. You may quickly lose track of which side of the park you are on. It is very important to take a good look at your entry point, and set a land mark to memory before you set off. However, it is fairly easy to stay on the main road, as the bike lane will always lead you in the right direction. Except for tourists, the local bikers have long since given up using the bike lane. There are simply too many runners using it better, and that is where I ran too. The bikers don’t mind, so long as you stay off the main road allowance.

Now for the fun! If you think New York City’s rat race stops at the gates to the park, think again. There will likely be several hundred people running the main route at any given time, and many are determined not to be passed. It is so easy to get caught up in the competition. The terrain is challenging, rolling up and down, passing many landmarks such as the reservoir, rocky outcroppings (one complete with bronze mountain lion), the lake, hockey rink, swimming pool, boathouse and the Harlem Meer.

Given the relative flatness of the remainder of Manhattan, the rolling hills and climbs in the park may surprise you. My favourite part arrives at the swimming pool located at the north side of the park, about 5k into the run if you started from the southwest corner. It is marked by a nice hill into and out of a ravine, then an upward grade which ends in a stiff 500 m long climb along and under rocky outcroppings. A wonderful test of the cardio system. The road then rolls up and down the rest of the way back to the starting point, with a nice downhill blaster for the final km. In the end, this is about as difficult a 10k run as you can make for yourself in downtown Toronto.

Now, an aside on “J-Running”. North to south, the blocks in Manhattan are extremely short. Every intersection has a stop light. If you are planning on running to the park, be prepared for a battle of wits. The run – if you can call it that – will be nip and tuck between millions of pedestrians, bikes, taxis, buses, and those lights. I often gave up on the sidewalks and used the bus lanes, ducking for refuge on the sidewalk as needed. Before long, you will be taking lights like a typical New Yorker, red for pedestrians seaming to mean nothing more than “have a look before you go”. If you start from around 40th street, J-running to the park will take you about 12 to 15 minutes, and close to 20 minutes if you stop for all the lights.


Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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