As you'll know from my recent Brooklyn Bridge love-fest, I'm all for the Manhattan bound long run these days. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Summer Streets. I'm not just talking about the sunny NYC sidewalks here, but the totally brilliant initiative brought to the people of New York City by the touchy, feely, let's get greeny NYC Dept Of Transportation.
For 3 consecutive Saturdays in August, a route connecting Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park is closed to traffic, allowing runners, cyclists and walkers to take over the street and run, bike or stroll their way through New York City. The route, starting at my beloved bridge, takes in Lafayette Street, 4th Avenue and then a long stretch of Park Avenue, before it hangs a left off Park Avenue to end at the 72nd street entrance to Central Park.
With an 8 mile long run on my schedule for last weekend, it seemed the stars had aligned to provide me with both a route and a reason so I made a plan to run from my home, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, up to Central Park, taking the Summer Streets route through the Manhattan stretch. Mindful of the amount of time my running can keep me away from my family, I arranged with my husband to meet him and the kids at Central Park. That way we could have breakfast in the park, play with the kids and a have a walk back down the Summer Streets route. Perfect!
I set off around 7.45am, as I wanted to beat both the crowds and the heat, although in reality, neither of them turned out to be a problem. With LCD Soundsystem as my soundtrack, I arrived at Brooklyn Bridge within around half an hour (my training plan called for a 10.30 pace the whole way). That's where I hit the first wave of runners, who clearly had the same idea as me, although they were running en masse in the opposite direction. The bridge was literally full to capacity with group runners, and I had a few near misses with cyclists when I was forced into the cycling lane by the sheer volume of people.
Once I hit Manhattan soil, I made a sharp right and quickly spotted the start of the Summer Streets route.
I happily abandoned the pavement and began my journey along the middle of the road. Within a couple of minutes, I arrived at the first 'rest stop' at Foley Street. Whilst I had no intention of needing or taking a rest stop, I had to take the opportunity of getting picture of these guys for you. Cool, eh?
Just as I turned back onto the road to continue running, I saw a familiar face running towards me. It was my new running friend, Majo, who I met through Twitter and have been running with for the last couple of weeks. She was on a group run with Prospect Park Track Club (who I'm itching to join), so once we had got over the surprise of bumping into each other, I continued with Majo and her team mates, following the rest of her club further north up Lafayette St.
Majo is fantastic to run with. We pace really well together, and the conversation flows beautifully, so the miles just seemed to fly by.
We continued north, and by now my pace was pretty much set to automatic, which just feels really wonderful - it's that point in a run when you feel you could just keep going forever. We passed Soho, Union Square and its buzzing farmer's market, then onward up Park Avenue. Crossing 34th St I caught a glimpse of Macy's to my left, a shop I'm no stranger to, although I usually get there by subway! We pressed on, all the time aware of how beautifully quiet and peaceful our run was, the only sounds I heard were those of feet hitting pavement, or bikes wooshing past, of talking and breathing and laughing. I can't recall hearing the sound of traffic at all, although I'm sure I must have.
The next big landmark was the approach to Grand Central Station, usually a traffic hotspot, but today empty but for us lucky few.
The route took us around the perimeter of the building, bringing us downward through a tunnel to emerge again on Park Ave.
At this point, I said goodbye to Majo, who, having started her run at a different spot to me, had clocked her 8 miles. I carried on running with her team mates, until they also took their leave in search of a pit stop.
Left to my own devices and with around half a mile to go, I stopped to make a little video, to give you all an idea of just how quiet Park Avenue was that day:
I completed my 8th mile before the end of the course, but feeling good decided to run on to the end as there was only a half mile or so to go until the finish. And here I am, job done!
Then there was just the small matter of finding Paul and the kids, who it turned out were only a block or two away. Poppie was so excited by the whole thing that she even had a little run along 72nd street with me, along the last part of the course. Definitely the highlight of the day for me - I felt like my heart would burst with pride.
The last Summer Streets is this Saturday between 7am and 1pm. It's a totally unique and peaceful way to see the city, and I'd absolutely recommend it to runners and non-runners alike. So, whether you have a long run planned, or just fancy a family outing with the kids (I saw tons of families with their children in strollers, or on bikes or scooters) make the most of the Department Of Transport's generosity and go and enjoy yourself!