What's It all About?

Last July, Susan, my running partner, and I discovered a great brunch restaurant in the Inwood section of Manhattan: . I carefully checked maps and Googled this and that and determined that this is the northernmost eating establishment in Manhatten — it's at 218th Street and Indian Road. Well, if it was that, why not lay out a long run to this place and try to come up with mileage adding up to 20 miles. So I did.

And because this was not a purely intellectual exercise, I actually ran a variation of the ultimate route twice: early in December I ran a 14 miler, mostly through parks (see ) and late in the month I ran a 20 miler with a big stretch on city streets (see ). In both runs I did 3 portions: 1) ran up to Cenral Park; 2) ran around the park by a variable amount and 3) ran from the park up to the northern tip of Manhattan. The variability comes from how much you do in the park. If you just pass through the park, you end up with 14 miles. If, in addition, you do a whole park loop, you end up with 20 miles. And you can obviously do something in between.

Here's the outline of what I did with a few more details (mileage is approximate):

I started on East 20th Street where I live and I entered to Park at the Engineers' Gate. If you live somewhere else (as I expect you do), just figure the distance to the Engineers' Gate from where you live and adjust accordingly. For example, if you live on 72nd and Riverside Drive, it's 2 miles to the Engineers' Gate so add 3 miles somewhere along the way (e,g. add 2 Reservoirs, or run up to the Sailors and Soldiers Monument and back).

So I'll assume you can get to Central Park, and do what ever loops or side trips it takes to get to the north end of the park. Then you have 7 miles to go and you will probably be covering new ground. Here are a couple of maps:

Map: Central Park to the Tip via Streets Map: Central Park to the Tip via Parks

Parks vs. Streets? Sounds like a no-brainer!

Normally, if you asked me if I would prefer to run from point A to point B traversing a series of parks versus runing between the same two point along some city streets, I would say, "Are you kidding? Parks, of course!"

But wait: look at the two maps: the streets route (the map on the left) is shorter by about a mile and has one gradual up slope all the way to Fort Tryon Park. Not only is the parks route (the map on the right) longer — although we make up the difference — but there are numerous ups and downs. It's clearly more tiring. I have done both routes and although the parks route is my normal preference, when I did my 20 miler in late December I took to the streets route and for my 14 miler I took the parks route. Bottom line: do what you want, they're both nice routes, especially on a Saturday morning when there is little street traffic.

The Streets

From the north end of Central Park, at the Lenox Avenue (aka Malcolm X Boulevard) exit, get onto St. Nicholas Avenue. This starts across from the park and goes diagonally up to the left of Lenox. This is long avenue which, under a couple of names, goes all the way up to the north end of Manhattan. It's actually the old "Kings Bridge Road". At 168th Streets you merge into Broadway and follow that to the GWB bus terminal (178th Street). Then you leave the Kings Bridge Road and zig one block left (to the west) to Fort Washington Avenue. For this zig, we usually cut through the bus terminal for a pit stop. Now follow Fort Washington to it's end and you will be at the entrance to Fort Tryon Park.

The map to the left shows it all (click on the map to bring up the on-line Google Map version), but a few details are worth mentioning: when we ran it there was little street traffic, a big plus since I don't usually like to run so many miles on city streets; the route is almost all gradually up hill till we got to Fort Tryon Park; and lastly, it helped greatly to have such nice running companions — sorry, you'll have to supply those yourself.

The elevation profile is instructive: it really is one long hill, but it's never too steep. Good for your training too. Incidently, those two bumps from around mile 4 to mile 4½ are the co-highpoints of Manhattan. If you're interested in high points, read . And carful examination of the map will show we actually ran THROUGH the GWB bus station, A good place for a pit stop (plus I cheated and took the escalator! ).

The Escarpment Parks

The route through the parks can be seen on the map at the right. Although I mentioned it's about a mile longer, I actually took a short cut along the east side of Inwood Hill Park (the northernmost park), so that on that day the difference was only around ¼ mile. One thing the elevation profile clearly shows is how upsy and downsy this route is compared with the streets route. Your muscles will know the difference — both on the day you run and the next morning!

I call the series of parks, starting at the north end of Central Park and following up through Morningside, St. Nicholas, Jackie Robinson, High Bridge, Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill, the "Escarpment Parks" since they follow a line of steep ridges up through northern Manhattan. You can see on the map that the parks align themselves along the Manhattan street grid and all involve steep ridge lines. Click on the map to bring up an on-line Google Map version (produced using the USATF route application). You can also get a detailed description in the report I wrote a few years ago, (just don't go all the way to Wave Hill ).

Simply put, head up through Central Park, down through the Conservatory Garden and around the Lake and out the northwest entrance. From there head west on 110th Street a block and head up through Mornigside Park to the north end at 123rd Steet and Morningside Avenue. Then head up Morningside Avenue 4 blocks to 127th and hang a right and then a left on St. Nicholas Terrace where you will arrive at the south end of St. Nicholas Park. The bathroom is a few blocks north in a playground. Head all the way up through St. Nicholas staying on the westernmost path (along the top of the hill). Finally at the north end, go down the stairs and exit at 141st Street and St. Nicholas Ave. It wouldn't hurt to look at the map to follow this description (use the on-line map and zoom in).

Now head down (east) on 141st St. one block to Edgecombe. If you zoom in on the map you'll see I missed Edgecombe. No big deal — in any case head up to 145th Street and you'll get to Jackie Robinson Park. Make sure you're at the entrance at the top of the hill, not the bottom (like I was). The simplest way to traverse this park is just to stay on Edgecombe along the west side of the park all the way to 155th Street. I actually went down into the park about half way up and followed an old abandoned path. At 155th Street, head left up the hill and make sure you go past the road heading down the hill to the Harlem Rive Drive, and cross 155th St. to the Park. You should be on Edgecombe (again) heading north up a hill, with a triangular park on the other side and housing beyond. This is High Bridge Park, my favorite.

I like to head througth this park on the Old Croton Aqueduct (aka the OCA), starting at 158th Street, but you could also just stay on Edgecombe, but I strongly recommend the OCA. When you finally get to the end point of the OCA at the Manhattan end of High Bridge (yes, there is an actual bridge, unfortunately fenced off), head up the stairs, check out the tower, and get onto Amsterdam Avenue (yes, Amsterdam, the longest Avenue on the Manhattan street grid, extends all the way up here). Go up Amsterdam, cross all the highways and finally take a right on Laurel Hill Terrace. At this point I normally go down into the park and follow the park roads another half mile north, but this time I stayed on Laurel Hill.

When I finally got back to Amsterdam, I took a short cut. Instead of following the park all the way up, being cold and hungry, I crossed over on 190th Street and headed west. Then I took two "secret" underground shortcuts: The subway elevator & tunnel at the 191st St. #1 Train station (west side of St. Nicholas just north of 190th) and the tunnel & elevator at the 190th St. A Train station (west side of Bennet Avenue north of 192nd St). Check the map carfully if you go this way. The later tunnel (the Bennet Avenue A-train station) takes you to an elevator which puts you right at the entrance to Fort Tryon park.

The tunnels are free, safe, well lighted, have lots of traffic, and they save you some very steep ups and downhills. Don't believe that? Just check the elevation profile above and look at that steep sided valley at mile 5½. That's where you would have to run down from High Bridge Tower to Broadway and then up again to get to Fort Tryon Park. In fact you couldn't possibly run up to that park even if you wanted to — it's a sheer rocky cliff, see ! And it's very cool to traverse these old pieces of New York City infrastructure, all but unknown outside this neighborhood. Besides, how many long runs have you done which incluude two tunnels and two elevators? And according to the long run gods, these tunnels/elevators count!

The Final Stretch

Fear not, you are in the final stretch. When you get to the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. Go north through the park staying on the westernmost path and circle around the Cloisters and take the steep winding path down to Riverside Drive and then down another block to Dyckman Street.

Cross Dyckman and for the short cut (paired with the parks route) follow Payson, Seaman, 214th St. and Indian Road — skirting around the eastern edge of Inwood Hill Park (see map) — to the Indian Road Café, our destination.

For the long route (paired with the streets route) go west on Dyckman all the way to the Hudson River and enter Inwood Hill Park after going under the three bridges. Follow the path north on the right of the playing fields till you get to the pedestrian bridge. Cross over the tracks and follow the walkway all the way around under the Henry Hudson Bridge. Stay to the left at every fork. When you come out of the woods, pass the memorial rock ("Shorakkopoch Rock", where Peter Minuet stole purchased Manhattan from the Indians, for which, see ) and head around and to the left all the way out to the street. Cross the street and you're there.

Indian Road Café

For both the 14 miler and the 20 miler, I walked into the place very close to my mileage and time goals. Both Susan and I enjoyed a scrumptious brunch. The place has a great menu of brunch food, plus wines, beers, coffees, etc. etc. And just what is that I'm eating in that photo? It's Baked Stuffed French Toast with Maple Whipped Cream Cheese, Chocolate Chips, Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Cherries and Currants. An astounding dish. I'll be back soon, wanna come? You won't get lost with me.

Perfect snow — almost

The day before the 20 miler, I read this blog on the NY Times web site: , a lovely and clever essay on what makes a "perfect" snow storm in the city: enough snow but not too much, cold but not too cold, etc. In the blogger's words, "blankets the landscape without burying it, beautifies but does not burden, transforms and cocoons without paralyzing or even particularly inconveniencing". Well, when we left the Café and walked the several blocks to the subway, the falling snow seemed just that. It gave that quiet sense that new snow gives. Then down into the subway we went to wend our way home. About 45 minutes later I climbed the stairs out of the subway in my home neighborhood. Oops ... cold rain and sleet! The spell had been broken. No longer the perfect snow, but just another yucky winter day in the city.

Oh well, at least we finished our run and finished our brunch before reality intruded. Happy New Year and Happy Running everyone!