A blog by runners. For runners.

16 mile run around Manhattan's Greenway

This weekend we were visiting family in New York and, since the marathon isn't going to run itself, we had to fit in a 16 mile run. My initial thought was to look around Central Park on WalkJogRun but for that kind of distance I only found some multi-lap routes. Since I'm not as familiar with the path network either I figured there was a good chance we might miss a turn and finish short.
There was one 16 mile route that mentioned a “Greenway” so I googled it and found out that New York City recently created a semi-complete 23 mile course tracing around the outside of Manhattan. The semi-complete parts are where the route joins traffic on the North and East of the route.
We were staying at the Marriott on the Upper East-side at 48th and Lexington so when we woke up at 5.30am to prepare it was a relief to find the deli across the street was open selling oatmeal and toasted bagels with peanut butter. One bagel, a Starbucks coffee and one call of nature later we were all set to run.

Lower East Side

Traffic was really light at 6.30am as we started South from the hotel and turned left (East) at 38th Street. After Lexington Ave we hit third, second and first before cutting under the FDR highway in search of the Greenway per the city provided map. A sign directed us to the path but we quickly ran into trouble with just water and no path. A quick scan around and we noticed we had missed the second sign and joined a rugged path heading South with the river on our left. At this point we were about 2 miles into our run.
Another couple of twists and turns later and we appeared to run into the courtyard of a waterfront condo so it appears we missed another sign, but we quickly found our way back under the highway again and picked the trail back up. At this point it is worth pointing out that it's not the best scenery under the highway with trash and a route on rough concrete with an occasional diversion through a paved park.
A little further south, beyond the Williamsburg Bridge, it gets much better with more parks and turns into quiet city gardens, still with the litter though. Around mile 6 we reached the Manhattan Bridge and began to enjoy the scenery much more. A city art project sits on the riverside in the form of huge scaffolding fountains cascading water into the Hudson and it's a really impressive sight. We're in Chinatown so the path, at 7.30am, is now full of senior Chinese men and women performing some form of dynamic stretching in unison.
Unlike the earlier part of the run, there are more people exercising down here so it feels more comfortable than before. Past the first bridge we hit the Brooklyn Bridge in all its stone majesty and pass a Greenway sign confirming this. The Greenway signs have been fairly frequent so far but they could do with a few more, carefully placed at each point where the path veers off from the current direction. Another thing worth noting is that there are a few water stops we've passed along the way, mostly tucked away in the little garden areas so it's worth taking the diversions if you see them.

Lower Manhattan

As we run a little further down the path, we see a pink ferry shipping passengers over to Governors Island and a huge cruise ship heading into port. By the time we reach the seaport the cruise ship Norwegian spirit has docked beside the path and we duck around the administrative buildings. It's at this point I notice the large black monolithic buildings and construction boards on our right and realize we're running past ground zero. It's an immensely overwhelming experience and was something we hadn't anticipated seeing so we both run on stunned into silence.
Next was Battery Park where the sight I'd been looking forward to comes into view – the Statue of Liberty illuminated by the morning sun standing tall on our left side. As a recent immigrant from the UK it's a symbol of my life in the US and a proud moment when I think of the years of paperwork it took to earn the right to call America my home. There are plenty of water fountains and open pedestrian areas as you jog through Battery Park where the Staten Island ferry passengers wait to board and a few timely restrooms if you need to take another break…
The path turns a little further North beyond the park, passing between some of the buildings of lower Manhattan as we veer away from the water for a while. The path at this point is split into two paths, one for runners or walkers and another for inline skaters and cyclists but it's clear most runners prefer the carefully leveled, clearly marked tarmac of the cycle path and so do we. The run/walk path is less smooth with a more rugged terrain but in its favor, you'll find fountains hidden along it as it loops around public gardens back to the river again.
When you hit the river past the buildings of lower Manhattan you hit Chelsea Piers, a large entertainment facility with bowling, bars and what looks like a lot of fun. The path on this side of Manhattan is significantly more pleasant and cleaner than the west side and lots more people out enjoying the path. It's around 8am as we pass the piers and continue towards the Upper West Side passing boats and docks along the way.
On the other side of the river we can see New Jersey and as we look right into Manhattan we get a much better view of the skyline than we did from under the highway. The Empire State building stands like a guardian towering over the buildings in it's midst. We keep heading north to around 51st street and cut across the highway at a traffic light in search of Central Park. A few blocks in we realize we cut over too soon and find our way up Ninth Avenue with the help of a local.

Central Park

We hit Central Park around mile 12 at the South-West corner and make our way through the park up the left side before we spot the arrows on the path pointing the opposite way. It seems it's a one way system so we turn around and follow it back around to go with the flow. The path swoops counter-clockwise around the South side of the park and back up the East side. A group of perky runners just starting a group run plod behind us chatting loudly about their breakfast and their preparation for the long run but we're both starting to hit empty stomachs and tired legs so the constant chatter starts to annoy us. A little further the path splits with one way continuing up through the park and the other looping back around to the West side and, since we only have 3 miles to do in the park we make our turn home and run back to the South, losing our chatty friends in the process.
We follow the path back around the same loop until we hit a right hand turn out of the park with an apparent downhill slope. As we exit onto Fifth Avenue we head South past the early morning shoppers and the Apple store in our smelly running gear. After a few blocks we cut east to Madison Avenue to avoid waiting at the lights and continue south towards our hotel. As we close on 48th Street it's clear we're not quite going to hit 16 miles so we continue for another few blocks to 42nd Street and cut over again but my estimate is off so when we hit Lexington ready to head North for the remaining blocks to the hotel we're already done according to my Garmin so we call it. We walk steadily the rest of the way, stopping at a pharmacy to buy Aleve for aching knees, milk for my post run fix and then stagger through the lobby to the elevators.

Cool Down

Overall, it's been a great run for me and the stretching in the room helps ease the stiffness in my legs while I watch the wrap-up of the Olympics on sports center. Seventy five percent of the run was stunning and a welcome change to the old familiar training route up and down the lakefront in Chicago for the last 3 years.
It's stressful to find and plan a route in a city you don't know and harder still when that run is with someone who is running 16 miles for the first time ever but the reward was well worth it. So much so, that when we run our 18 miler in two weeks in Boston, we've decided to change our game plan to allow us to run from Brookline into Cambridge and enjoy some of the sights of Boston instead of plodding around the suburbs.