I wasn’t going to run at all this week, but just in case I made an exception I brought my running gear. And, boy, am I glad I did because the run I had was definitely exceptional.
My company does beautifully at picking the perfect locations to host their semi-annual security conferences. This one was at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan, just down the block from Radio City Music Hall and a host of other major tourist attractions. I also could see the edge of Central Park and just knew I had to run there. But finding enough time to change out of my conference clothes and get there and back without notice would not be easy. These conferences are draining, and the days and evenings run long. We start well before 8 and go non-stop until around 6, when everyone goes back to their rooms to get ready for dinner with speakers, vendors or delegates. But this time, because I also was covering it as a reporter, I was let go at 3:30 to file my stories before we all met for dinner at 7.
So Wednesday afternoon, soon as the last keynote ended, I rushed for my room, changed into my shorts and T-shirt and running shoes and set out with my water bottle for the great greenway. I’d make up for the lost productivity by writing in the wee hours of the morning. Somehow, this covert operation took a full hour to execute and I remained a little on edge until I crossed into the cover of the park.
This Is Kinda Loopy
Surrounded by all those lush green trees and tourists, I just started running with no particular course or direction.
If the pathway went left, I did too. If it split, I went one way and then the other. If I saw a bridge, I made sure to run over it. If I saw a tunnel, I took it too. I stopped at several statues, including the sled dog one. “Balto,” I said aloud, smiling, and then picked up the tempo again. I was surprised at how summery it felt. It was in the low 70s and these trees had yet to turn color. Then I remembered an art director on the plane telling me the city had been unseasonably warm this fall.
As you can imagine, I kept coming back to the same spot, from different angles. There was a Chinese family sunning on a big flat rock that I passed three or four times. Based on their expressions, I’m sure if I understood Mandarin I would have overheard them saying on the last run-by, “That woman doesn’t know where she’s going.” But that wasn’t true: I did. I was going to have a great time.
By now, I’d taken in a lot of the park attractions and noticed it was 5 and I’d yet to see another runner. I started to wonder if people were even allowed to run inside the park, so I migrated to the perimeter and ambled along the official jogging path. Then I noticed several runners pass me, all running on the bike path and in the same direction as traffic. That’s one thing I noticed about New York, versus southern California. Where I live, there’s tension between runners/walkers and anyone on wheels. If you’re in the bike lane, and especially if you’re not facing traffic, you take your life into your own hands. Now, and especially the next day when I roamed the streets of Manhattan on my second sneak-away, I observed a mutual tolerance between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists that allows all three to maneuver the streets within the thinnest of margins.
Conscientious of being a tourist-runner, I moved to the roadway and soon noticed the ranks had thickened. I was constantly surrounded by people moving with me around and around a large loop. This was fun. I stopped only once for water at this beautiful reservoir.
On my third or fourth loop, I realized I needed to get back to the hotel and shower quickly to meet everyone in tome for dinner. So I headed out to what I thought was the same place I’d entered. But remember: I’d gone through a lot of tunnels that, upon reflection, were shortcuts under busy streets for other loops. I looked at my watch and felt a pang of panic. I started running one way, and realized I was on the East End. So I ran in the other direction, but the cross streets made no sense to me.
Eventually, I asked for directions, blowing my cover. And I made it just in time to shower and meet everyone at a restaurant near Carnegie Hall, where all evening the wine and food and conversations flowed. The next afternoon, I played it safe and just walked around town during an extra-long work break. That evening, I met up with my dear friends Holly and Jerry who live off Central Park West for a family dinner at Patsy’s Pizzeria just around the corner from them. Holly’s a marathoner too, and so we talked for hours about stuff only fellow runners could appreciate – salt intake, injury prevention, overheating, great marathon courses. She invited me to run with her group at 6 the next morning, and back at the hotel around 11 I set out my running stuff and set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. But, I mistook the staccato horn blasts outside my window at 3:30 in the morning for my alarm and turned it off, thus oversleeping my opportunity. While standing in line at Starbuck’s, desperate to shake sleep deprivation before rejoining the conference, I wondered where Holly’s running group was within the park at that very moment. I’d been to this same Starbucks six times in three days, and the size and strength of my caffeinated beverages had grown with each visit. So, even though I missed another great run, I would still relate. At least on this morning, we were both running around in circles.
[Painting of Central Park by Nancy Whitaker via Google. Photograph of reservoir by an unnamed Berlin photographer.]