Bloody jet lag. I was tossing and turning in the hotel bed, and I ended up checking the time. 5 o’clock. Damn it. What to do? New York was still dark. I stood up and decided to prepare myself a coffee. I gulped down a few cereals – I had fallen asleep shortly after 6pm yesterday, and I was famished. I started thinking. What I badly needed was a run. Not a fast run, just a run to live and breathe New York. There was no two ways about it. I needed to go. The day was slowly starting, and the light was peeking through at the top and the bottom of the curtains. Mechanically, I started to put on my running gear. Me being me, I was a bit scared. I have always had second thoughts before starting a run. Especially in the morning. Today was no exception. This wasn’t any run: I was in new York! Was Central Park safe? What if I got lost? I squeezed 20$ in my pocket. And what if it was too warm? Or too cold? Would I need my sunglasses? I tried to shut up my inner voices. Come on, let’s jog in central Park today.
I shouldn’t have worried. Our hotel was on 8th Avenue, close to Time Square, and I started running. Jogging in New York was nothing short of incredible. If, like me, you think that the first 10 to 15 minutes of a run are excruciating, then you totally need to go to New York. You run along a block, and then you stop to cross the road. You have no choice but to wait a few seconds to recover, and you can begin to run again. Somehow it made the much-dreaded start of my run a lot easier. It was 6 o’clock and New York was already in full swing, with cohorts of tourists already walking the pavement. The various smells of the city surprised me: there was a smell of warm bins first, quickly followed by a smell of bleach. Yes, bleach. Yellow taxis were waving at me, trying to convince me that I needed a ride. Of course I didn’t. I reached Columbus Circus in no time, and quickly saw that all of New York was already walking, running or cycling in Central Park. I started to run clockwise. The buildings had vanished, I was in a forest. I had gone from urban jungle to a completely different world, full of grass and trees, and everything had happened in the space of a few seconds. It was like science fiction. There were already plenty of runners of all shapes and ages. I quickly learned that, in New York, you don’t look at each other. You don’t greet each other. You just run. You run and let run. And it was impossible to get lost, because there is a dedicated lane for runners. I just had to follow the flow. I was never alone for more than 5 seconds. Oh, and like in my good old home country (France), you ran on the right. Yep, we were not in London any more…
I also found out that Central Park was way more hilly than Hyde Park. But on the bright side, after going uphill, which I had always found a bit hard, I could go downhill and let everything loose. I loved it! I saw young dads running quite fast with a stroller (how did they do it?) I saw a one-legged runner. It looked like the latest fashion was to run with your knees strapped or taped. I didn’t understand what it was all about. Maybe I was lucky never to have had a running injury (I lost a few toenails, if you must know). And what was it with people running with contention socks? What had I missed? Did it help? That said, whatever your way of running, nobody batted an eyelid. It was all feeling completely natural. I couldn’t help thinking that running was still one of the great equaliser of our society. I reached the Jackie Onassis reservoir and toyed with the idea of cutting my run short, and going back after a lap around the reservoir. I decided against it, and continued towards Harlem. That was dedication, right? Me being me, I had printed a map of Central Park for runners. I didn’t need it, but it reassured me. Today, I was the tourist runner. Nobody else had a map.
Did you know that Harlem was on top of a hill? Well, you do now. I ended up following a young blonde woman whose pace was similar to mine. I started to notice water fountains along the way, and there were policemen at least every 10 minutes or so. In short, I felt completely safe. It was almost 7 o’clock, and more and more runners were starting their jog. Some were even speaking French.
I didn’t walk. I ran back to the hotel and stopped at the McDonald’s on the ground floor for a much-needed breakfast. I checked my phone. I had almost run 13k in a little over 1 hour. That was quite fast for what was supposed to be a recovery run right after landing in New York the day before. Maybe New York was a fast paced city, and I had indeed lived and breathed it through my jog today. In short, if you can, go for a run in Central Park. It’s free, and there is nothing better to capture the essence of the city. Right, now off to the Guggenheim!