Written By Anne Riley
Hey there! I’m Anne and I blog about carb loading (oh right, and marathon training) over at rileduprunner.wordpress.com. When I first signed on to represent the great city of New York in a Sept. 11 post, I thought this would be a good way to celebrate Manhattan on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, thank the people I love most for being so instrumental in my life, donate to a worthy cause and hopefully learn a bit about myself in the process.
What did I end up learning about myself, you ask? Mostly that I can’t spell the word “thank,” as evidenced by these two failed attempts to make my signs for today’s run. Ah well. Third time’s a charm, right?
A Baltimore native, I’ve lived in New York for four years now and – unless some Monegasque prince sweeps me off my feet and demands I relocate to his cliff-side castle – I don’t expect to ever leave. Sure, it’s bustling and expensive and in uncomfortably close proximity to Jersey, but NYC is also nonstop and thriving and so surprisingly human that I simply can’t imagine hanging my hat anywhere else. Oh right, except Monaco. Any day now, your highness.
Unlike some of the other athletes featured on this site, I’m a fairly new addition to the running community. An infrequent jogger and talented excuse-maker throughout most of my first 25 years, I found myself on New Year’s Day 2011 frustrated, self-conscious and 30 pounds overweight. Knowing I needed to make a real honest-to-god change, I allowed myself to be talked into registering for the Broad Street Run, a May 10-miler through the heart of Philadelphia. I didn’t want to let down my friends or myself (and I was secretly hungry for a cheesesteak), so I manned up, pushed my way through five months of training and crossed the finish line 10 minutes faster than I’d expected with an ear-to-ear grin. As my favorite 1994 fictional film character Forrest Gump said, “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”
My runs have taken me all sorts of places these last 20 months, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Eiffel Tower to more pancake houses than I can remember. But with the vast majority of my miles logged within one 843-acre green space in Manhattan, it only seemed right to take you today to my No. 1 sanctuary: Central Park.
Central Park is a runner’s dream, complete with functioning water fountains, clean public restrooms and all the people watching you could ever wish for. Also good NYC running routes: down the West Side Highway or up the East River Promenade. Or both, which is what I did Saturday on my 18-mile long run. (Hence, the brevity of today’s – quite literal – jaunt in the park.)
My route today took me through the 90th St. entrance, or the Engineers’ Gate as the locals call it, with a first stop at the eastern shore of the reservoir. One of my favorite New York City views – and the header of my own blog – I always think this scene captures the juxtaposition of urbanity and nature that Central Park so perfectly reflects.
I know Steve suggested bringing along a friend to snap photos of each appreciation pit-stop, but I opted to go it alone today, relying instead on the magnanimity of strangers at each destination. New Yorkers sometimes get a bad rap for being unfriendly, but in my experience, we’re actually quite lovely – so long as you’re not walking four-abreast through a major pedestrian causeway at a snail’s pace. I love this city and the well-intentioned strangers I seem to meet at every turn, from the straphangers who give up their coveted subway seats to the bartender who served me free drinks last night to the park-goers who snapped photos of me today without pocketing my iPhone and making a run for it. So thanks, New York. You’ve been good to me, and I’m excited to see what you have up your sleeve next.
My second stop took me to Belvedere Castle, a nature observatory around 79th St. where they record the city’s weather. (Yes, I ran the loop clockwise to get there and yes, I know I committed a major NYC running faux pas in doing so. But my legs were too tired to go the long way around! See, I may have gotten in shape, but my excuse-making skills are as sharp as they ever were.)
I stopped here to thank a group of people who have been momentously important in my life: my friends. I’d toyed with the idea of thanking each person individually, but I didn’t know how to hand-select which ones would earn shout outs. The one who drove from Maryland to New York the day after a particularly hard breakup just to take me out for a double cheeseburger? The one who smuggled a silly stuffed animal all the way to Santiago, Chile, simply to make me laugh? The one who lets me crawl into her bed at 3 a.m. when I’m having a hard time and need someone to talk with? (Spoiler alert: that one’s my roommate.) There was no way I could choose which friends to highlight here, so I opted not to name names, but you know who you are and you know how much your friendship means to me.
I continued south down Cat Hill, which is one of the worst inclines in the park – unless you’re illegally traversing the loop backwards, in which case, it’s super easy. I darted west at the boathouse and paused in front of the lake to thank two more pillars in my life: my sister and my brother.
I’m sure we squabbled with the best of them throughout much of the 80s and 90s, but the two of them are now two of my closest friends in the world, which makes Christmas mornings kind of awesome. Whether they’re lending me their puppy for a weekend away or racking up long-distance phone bills just to hear my latest sob story, they’re always there for me. Except when there’s only one Christmas morning scone left. I mean, filial love can only go so far.
I’d hoped to take you to some other park landmarks, like Strawberry Fields or the Sheep’s Meadow or the Central Park Zoo, but the Sunday afternoon crowds were spectacular, so I zoomed past the Bethesda Fountain on 72nd St. and opted to make my way north along the west side instead. For my final – though perhaps most important – thank you, I stopped on the Great Lawn, a favorite picnic spot of plenty of New Yorkers, including this one.
The lighting was terrible, so in case you can’t read it, this shout out is for my parents. I pride myself in being an independent, self-sufficient 20-something New Yorker, but the second I need my mom or dad, they’re there for me in a heartbeat. Case in point: my dad drove to Philadelphia the morning of my very first race because he didn’t want to miss my excitement at the finish line; likewise, my mom bused her way to and from New York for a few short hours one Sunday this spring when I was feeling down and needed a mother’s love. I adore them both equally, although my dad is taking me out to Brooklyn’s best steakhouse on Tuesday, so the scales may soon tip in his favor. Just kidding. Kind of.
At this point, my legs felt like lead (note to self: stretch after your next long run, although – let’s be honest here – I clearly won’t), so I made my way back to the East Side, pausing only to salivate in front of Shake Shack, the city’s very best burger joint. I know marathoners can’t actually eat anything they want, but after burning 2,000+ calories on a Saturday morning long run, there’s nothing I want more in this world than a double ShackBurger. Packing 52 whopping grams of protein, it’s an athlete’s dream. (Or so I’m telling myself).
Speaking of marathons, I’m training for mine – the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. – simply for the self-fulfillment, health benefits and sense of pride I’ll achieve in finishing it. But my friend Lindsay is preparing for her 26.2-mile race with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, which has raised more than $1.2 billion to fund cancer research. She’s already reached her fundraising goal, but the more money that goes to this worthy cause, the better. Check out her Team in Training page here and follow my lead in donating if the spirit moves you: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyc12/lgilbert
Well I guess that’s all, folks. Thank you for allowing me to take you on a virtual tour of Central Park. If any fellow Good-Runners find themselves in Gotham City and in need of a running buddy, you know where to find me. (At the burger place.)
Anne Riley is a New York City transplant with no plans to ever leave. Raised in Baltimore and educated in Maine, Anne now lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.