It’s hard to beat the fall in New England. I was born and raised there. College got me to Virginia and Cheryl kept me here. No regrets. Best decision of my life. I consider my life – my family and my community – an enormous blessing.
Richmond is a great place to live and it’s a great place to run. As much as I love Richmond, I often say there’s only two things in Richmond that I’ve never learned to enjoy – July and August. This became even more pronounced when I started running a few years ago, particularly as I trained for a marathon with long runs in those summer months. Not surprisingly, then, I really enjoy running in the cool mornings of autumn in the north. And while New York’s Central Park in not New England, it’s not far off.
These realities returned to me quickly as I headed down Fifth Avenue at 6:00 a.m. yesterday. And it wasn’t just the low humidity, blue skies, and nippy early morning air (51 degrees – my favorite temperature for a run) that made this time most pleasant, but the enormous contrast to running in Virginia just two weeks earlier made the time absolutely glorious. (As my niece and I headed for the shuttle parking at 6:00 a.m. at the Virginia Beach (Rock ‘n’ Roll) 1/2 marathon, my car thermostat said it was 78 degrees – and the humidity hovered well above that. It was enough to ruin my enthusiasm.) Recalling those conditions and that mental state, made my return to running in the “park” rather joyous.
If you’re a runner and you haven’t run in Central Park, I have to recommend that you put an autumn run there on your runner “bucket list.” (See http://www.runlist.wordpress.com – “The Run List”). With over 840 acres of lakes, fields, gardens, ponds, trees, hills, roads, and paths, the park offers just about every type of run (recall that from 1970 to 1975 the NYC marathon was run completely in the park, and in 2007 the Olympic trails for the marathon were also confined to the park). And, it seems like at least a couple of times every month the NYRR holds a 5K or 10K or similar race in Central Park.
My usual run when I get to run in the Park is an early morning circuit on the Park Drive (East Drive and West Drive), which is closed to vehicular traffic from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. It’s a fairly busy place, even at 6:00 a.m. Walkers, bicyclists, joggers with strollers, and runners at every pace possible. It seems as though more people (and all bicyclists) move counterclockwise, so I’ve joined the activity heading that way as well. I usually enter the Park near The Plaza hotel and run north. Being careful to avoid the cyclists (and a variety of mini pelotons), as a runner (or walker) you move to the inside lanes.
The terrain rolls modestly as you pass behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art on your right and then The Reservoir (technically, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir) on your left as you “squeeze through the Reservoir and 5th Avenue on the far east side of the Park. The run continues north by ball fields and the conservatory gardens and then heads downhill towards Harlem and the north edge of the Park. The Drive almost leads out of the park at 110th Street (and the halfway point for this run), but turns left and up the toughest hill faced. Now heading south runners pass between the Reservoir and the western boundary of the Park, getting closest around 90th Street, gently dropping and then remains relatively flat with some gentle slopes. The lake comes into view on the left as Strawberry Fields is right. The road then rolls to Tavern on the Green (through bankruptcy and apparently and hopefully preparing a facelift and a reopening). Down a slope towards Columbus Circle, a left along Central Park South and we return to the southeast corner near The Plaza.
This loop measures out at an almost perfect 6.2 miles. With warmup and cool down back to your hotel, you are usually good for a nice 7-mile outing and yesterday it bordered on the perfect! My time? My pace? I don’t know. I left my Garmin in the room. Like I said, almost perfect – I just enjoyed being out in the beautiful, cool morning welcoming the coming of autumn and my favorite time of the year to go for a run.