Central Park: A Runner’s Love Affair

Central Park, running, run NYC

Central Park in spring. Photo by Simona Dumitru.

If you’re like me, you probably have a favorite place to run. A place where you feel alive, refreshed and in love with the world. A place where you solve all your problems, feel free and unfettered, inspired and awed. A place where, dare I say it, running seems easy—no matter how hard the hills, hot the sun, or crowded the street.

For me, that place is Central Park. It’s my olly olly oxen free.

In April, Central Park is at its best—or at least I think so. The trees are dressed in blossoms—pink, white and purple canopies that line the roads and paths. Their fragrance is an added bonus—it’s like running through a bubble bath shop. Daffodils, tulips and crocuses spring from the dirt, and the weather. Oh, the weather. There’s nothing like a run on a 65-degree, sunny day with trees in bloom and that happy spring feeling in the air. As I run through the park, I’m constantly smiling at a little bird hopping around, a tree weighed down by its heavy blooms or a particularly lush patch of daffodils, so happy in their very yellowness.

The Conservatory Garden is especially enchanting with bowers of blooms and seemingly endless rows of flowers. The park is simply electric. It makes me want to literally hug some trees, spin around and throw my running visor in the air a la Mary Tyler Moore. I can hear “Love Is All Around” playing as my big city soundtrack.

Central Park is one of those rare things in life that somehow manages to be all things to all people. It’s a sanctuary and a meeting place, an artist’s dreamscape and a tourist destination. With 843 acres, 12.5 miles of roads and trails and 58 miles of pedestrian paths, there are endless combinations of runs.

Like pavement? Run the recreation lane of the 6-mile road that circles the park.

Prefer a softer dirt path? Run the 1.6-mile reservoir loop or the 4.25-mile bridle path.

Need a track? Try the quarter-mile loop on the Great Hill.

Want to run hills? Try Harlem Hill or Cat Hill—both killers for hill repeats.

Want to feel the buzz of the city? Run in the park’s lower half where many of the park’s 25 million annual visitors seem to congregate.

Want to get away from it all? Try the secluded hills of The Ramble.

Thirsty? Take a sip at one of the park’s 125 drinking fountains.

Need a rest? Sit on one of the 9,000 benches.

No matter what my mood, Central Park always seems to have something for me.

There are many other fantastic places to run in New York City—and I venture to them all from time to time. I like running toward the beckoning Statue of Liberty along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. The solitude of Riverside Park in upper Manhattan and the wilds of Prospect Park in Brooklyn are other lovely spots. The East River run on the Upper East and Lower East sides juxtaposes Queens, the river and the hustle and bustle of the FDR highway. The Queensboro Bridge pedestrian path gives runners a long hill to train. And the High Line park is beautiful on a quiet morning.

But Central Park is my gal Friday.

Runner’s World publishes a “Rave Run” every month—a photo essay of readers’ favorite places to run around the world. Rave Run’s are usually ridiculously beautiful, scenic landscapes that make me want to hop the next plane. But in reality, not all of us live next door to Maine’s Acadia National Park, California’s Redwood country or the Italian Dolomites in the Alps. Many of us have to settle for places more pedestrian, in both senses of the word. But your local go-to spot can be every bit as inspiring as the French countryside.

Central Park, with its tourists and trees, certainly is. It transcends the dirt and stench of the city, the crowds of pedestrians, the things that make city life challenging at times. Don’t get me wrong, I heart New York—I really heart New York. And the thing I heart most about it is Central Park.

Where is your favorite place to run?

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ web show about running. She has completed six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


04 2010

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    hi karla! thanks for this post! i recently moved to new york and so far my favorite spot is prospect park, and now i can’t wait for my first run in central!

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Prospect Park is gorgeous too. Hope you’re enjoying NYC!

  2. Kristi #

    Can’t wait to get there and run Central Park in the Fall! :)

  3. Karla Bruning

    That’s my second-favorite time of year for running Central Park!
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