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Central Park

Central Park, New York
I was joking with the members of the Terrigal Trotters track group this morning about how the session, which involved striding the straights and jogging the bends of the grass track, was the antidote to the "garbage" runs we do most of the time - the runs we generally do from home, around a regular course and at no specific place, just to maintain fitness.  My own run, following the track session, was truly garbage.  I started slow and finished no faster, coughing and hawking the whole way, and never feeling like a runner.  It's hard to believe, that four months ago, I was hopeful of being in sub-3 hour marathon shape about now.  I seem to be regressing rather than progressing.

Training in Central Park, New York
(courtesy, Robert Caplin for the New York Times)
Turning my mind to happier running times and more inspiring garbage runs, perhaps the best known garbage run in the world is around New York City's Central Park, a run I came to know and love over 16 years of business trips to New York, sometimes for extended periods.  There are other places to run in New York, principally along the Hudson and East River waterfronts, but none comes close to Central Park for interest and challenge.  I soon learned to book myself into hotels and apartments convenient to the Park if at all possible on trips to the Big Apple.  In the late 80s, the seedy Days Inn on W57th Street, a couple of blocks from the Park, was a frequent stopover.  It certainly established my budget-conscious credentials with my colleagues, and the rooms all reeked of cigarette smoke, but the clientele was often exotic and it was common to find the lobby full of ballet dancers from the collapsing Soviet Union (it was also close to the Lincoln Center) or nefarious-looking tanned and bejewelled foreign businessmen.  I also spent a lot of time at the mid-town Club Quarters, a business hotel ten blocks south of the park, and for a three-month period, had an apartment close to Times Square and the theatre district.  Of course, I didn't go and see a single show during that period.

Sharon running in Central Park, New York,
during our Christmas 2009 visit
Even the runs to and from Central Park in the early mornings along the broad and quiet 5th, 6th or 7th Avenues, dodging the hose spray from janitors cleaning the sidewalks beneath the towering skyscrapers, were a time to stretch out and appreciate life's blessings.  Once at Central Park, you would become one of an ever-increasing throng of runners joining the merry-go-round from surrounding streets and apartment blocks.  Most runners travelled anti-clockwise on the largely traffic-free loop road, but not all ran the big loop which took you right up to the edge of Harlem.  Some preferred flat laps of the reservoir which provided great views of the city skyline, while others had their own shorter loops utilising some of the cross-roads and paths.  I liked the full 10km lap around the outer road.  It incorporated some good hills, long straight stretches and plenty of greenery.  You could hear and occasionally glimpse the busy city traffic on the roads adjacent to the Park, but it was relatively peaceful inside the Park unless you strayed a little wide from the pedestrian lane and got shouted at by one of the cyclists who looped the Park at speed.  There were literally hundreds of runners circling the Park in the peak morning hours, and if you were feeling good, you always had somebody up ahead to catch and pass at impressive speed.

The runners exemplified New Yorkers and included some strange sights.  I remember one guy who always ran in shorts and bare-chested, even when the temperature was well below freezing (his chest was very red on those days), as well as a variety of incredibly well-muscled Atlases and Amazons.  Others always looked immaculate in the latest gear whilst a few looked like they had been sleeping in the Park before their run.

I never had a bad experience running in Central Park, though I do vividly remember one morning when I ran there at 4:00am because of an early flight out, and found myself the only runner there.  I could see shadowy figures in places by the side of the road in several places and ended up running down the very middle of the road, adrenalin pumping, ready to make a speedy escape in any direction if necessary.  Nothing happened.  I would love to still be able to run some laps of Central Park on a regular basis, but opportunities are few and far between these days.