May 21, 2011 – The “Four Jacks” Run
When it comes to trails, there are several different varieties, and at this point I feel safe in saying that I’ve run them all. But the “trail” that I ran today was what you’d call the urban variety, as I followed a charted course through two city boroughs in pursuit of New York’s version of the jack rabbit. The ‘jack rabbit’ in this particular case was not an animal, but rather, the multisport shoe and clothing retailer called JackRabbit Sports.
The idea for this run was hatched two evenings earlier at a gathering of NYC runner/bloggers at – you guessed it – JackRabbit Sports on the Upper West Side of Manhattan The event was sponsored by Steve Lastoe and his web company NYCRUNS, and hosted/co-sponsored by JackRabbit. Lee Silverman, the friendly and hard-working owner of the JackRabbit chain was in attendance, and the event was in part to celebrate the opening of this new store location 6 days ago. The evening itinerary included a tour of the store, a group run, and then pizza, beer and running conversation afterward. During the course of the running talk, it was suggested that a good idea for a future run (albeit a more ambitious one than we did tonight) would be to run to each of the four JackRabbit Sports locations. With 2011 being my foray into the world of ultras, and always looking for an interesting long run, I decided that this run idea needed to become a reality sooner rather than later. 🙂
And so, as I relaxed last night in front of my laptop, I charted the course that would take me from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, out to Brooklyn and back, and then to three JackRabbit locations on New York’s ‘big island.’
I got a late start to the run, not even making it out the door until a little past 9:30am. But the weather was perfect, and I had no other plans for the day, so in my mind was the notion that I should simply go slow and enjoy the day. I began at 72nd St and 1st Avenue and spent the first couple of miles running south on 1st. Along the way, I passed the United Nations World Headquarters, located at 44th St, a very impressive building, even in its simplistic design. At 34th St, I veered left and was able to pick up the East River greenway, a recreational path for bikes, runners, walkers, roller bladders and the like. From this point all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge, the path consists of a variety of surfaces including cement, macadam, cobblestone, and even a few patches of hard-packed dirt. Given the gorgeous weather, the East side path was crowded with runners, and the navigation was somewhat of a challenge in places. But upon arriving downtown, I looped around on some back streets, passed City Hall, and made my way onto the ped path of the Brooklyn Bridge.
If I had thought the crowds were bad before, the bridge traffic was five times as bad! Because of the crowding (mostly with tourists, walking), coupled with the fact that obeying the pedestrian/bike lanes was imperative lest you potentially be run over by a cyclist, I really had to slow up the pace here. But that was no matter, because this was the first hill in today’s run. For almost a half a mile, the bridge span rises graciously higher and higher above the East River, treating you to spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn.
After cresting the bridge, the going became much easier, as the crowds thinned and bikes were no longer coming toward me at 20-25mph. On the Brooklyn side, the bridge approach terminates at Tillary Street, and as I crossed Tillary onto what was now Adams Street, I felt as though I was finally getting close to stop #1. 🙂 I followed Adams until it became Boerum Place, then a few blocks later, turned right and went one block over to Court St. Turning left onto Court, I would now go about a dozen blocks through the area of Brooklyn known as Cobble Hill. Cobble Hill is a quiet and quaint district, not upscale, yet not dirty and run-down either. It was pleasing to traverse the streets and see folks out doing their Saturday morning shopping or conversing over coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafes here.
Upon reaching Carroll Street, I turned left, and was in the home stretch of the run to Jack Rabbit’s lone Brooklyn store, on 7th Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood known as Park Slope. Two small tasks remained, the first being the crossing of the Gowanus Canal, a narrow body of water that inhabits the area, and then a run up the “slope” for which Park Slope is undoubtedly named. The hill was a somewhat steep but reasonably short climb from 4th Avenue to 6th Avenue, and wasn’t all that bad, to tell the truth. And before I knew it I was standing on 7th Avenue and staring at the JackRabbit store only half a block away.
But imagine my disappointment to arrive at the store only to find it closed! 😦 Yes, that’s right, the store had delayed its opening this morning due to the Brooklyn Half Marathon. And so, after stopping only to take a couple of pictures of the storefront and drink from one of my Fuel Belt bottles, I did an about-face and headed back toward the Brooklyn Bridge. I took a different route going back, crossing westbound on President Street, then turning right and going north on 4th Avenue. Most local runners know that 4th Avenue is famously one of the longest and most raucous streets of the New York City Marathon route. I remembered running here two and a half years ago with my friend Herbie, and stopping at Union St to give a holler out to my friend Mike G. who was playing with his band along the route.
Today, by comparison, the avenue was placid, with only a smattering of pedestrians out and about, and very little in the way of auto traffic. As I neared Pacific Street, I decided I would turn left and avoid some of the Atlantic Avenue pedestrian traffic as I made my way back toward Boerum Place. I saw a few folks near the subway station here with their Brooklyn Half Marathon race bibs on, and quietly wondered to myself how they had done. A right on Hoyt Street and a quick left onto Atlantic Avenue had me almost back to Boerum Place, and in a matter of minutes I was at Tillary and beginning the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge once again.
Crossing the bridge this time, I noted that there was a lot more foot traffic than there had been an hour or so before, and so it made the going even slower than my first crossing. But that was fine, as it allowed me an opportunity to stop and take a couple of pictures, something I hadn’t really done here since the mid-1990’s. Once I was “over the hump” and back onto the isle of Manhattan, there was a sense of minor accomplishment in knowing that all that was left now was the three-store swing here and I’d be done with the tour.
I traversed Centre Street northward to Foley Square, then edged left and followed Lafayette Street all the way into the Village (that’s Greenwich Village to you non-New Yorkers). But along the way I had to stop at Canal Street in Chinatown to wait for a traffic light. As I stood there huffing and puffing (and sweating), I heard a voice “Uh, Mihstur?” and swiftly turned around. “Do you know where, there is, uh, a Chais baunk?” It was a tall young woman, dressed in summer clothes, and as best as I could guess, a French national. I had to confess to her that there was probably one in the neighborhood somewhere, but that I honestly didn’t know where, sorry. Oh well, I’m sure she figured it out. Anyway, that had been my first conversation with anyone since leaving the apartment almost two and a half hours earlier, and it was strange in that I hadn’t noticed how hot it was until now. But the conversation and the way the woman was dressed made me think “Hey, it’s summer!” and the heat began to become a factor.
But no matter, as moments later I was at Astor Place, and just a few minutes away from the Union Square JackRabbit store, where I knew I’d be able to step inside and get some cool air on my neck. 😉 In my haste, I dashed in and out of the store without taking a picture of the storefront. But, I did have a quick nice chat with a sales associate there, a lady named Randi. I asked her if I could take her picture, and after she reciprocated by taking one of me, I was out the door, back onto 14th Street and headed west toward the Hudson River Greenway.
As I neared 10th Avenue I had a nice view of the High Line above the street. For those who don’t know, the High Line is somewhat of an urban trail on New York City’s west side, built on an old elevated train track. It presently extends for about 10 blocks, from the meat packing district northward to about 20th St. Plans are in the works to double the length of this linear park, beginning sometime in June.
I crossed 10th Avenue, turned right, and tucked myself quietly into the heavy stream of runner and cyclist traffic on the Hudson River Greenway. I followed this route for almost 60 blocks, first passing Chelsea Piers and all the goings on there, then the Jacob Javitz Center, and further up, the U.S.S. Intrepid museum at 44th St. As I reached 59th St the pathway split between bicycles and pedestrians. I followed the bike path, as this gave me a temporary break from the sun beneath the West Side Highway.
Upon arriving at the southernmost end of Riverside Park, I plodded up the steep hill (my last appreciable one) from the riverfront to 72nd St. Two and a half blocks later I reached the brand new JackRabbit store on the Upper West Side, the same store I had met with other folks and run from the other night. Owner Lee Silverman was not in the store this time, but I did have a chance to say hello to Robert, the store manager, and he smiled as I told him the story behind my appearance here at the store this afternoon.
I was beginning to tire now, as I’d been a little too aggressive about my pace in this sun and high humidity. And so, as I stepped back out onto 72nd Street and made my way toward Central Park, I checked up my pace to something a little more manageable for the final three miles.
I ran through the park on the 72nd St transverse, and as I did, I saw a number of men and women runners who were dressed from the waist up as British bobbies. I took it that they were running in some kind of event, and probably for a cause, but being somewhat new to Central Park running, I wasn’t sure what event, or what cause. It was fun to see them, but I have to say that not many of them looked like regular runners, with some beer bellies spilling out over the waistbands of their running shorts.
Reaching the other side of the park, I turned left on 5th Avenue and ran for 5 or 6 blocks past some of the most expensive real estate in all of New York City. At 75th St, I ran past the building that I am told Barbara Walters lives in. Several blocks later, I turned onto 79th St, crossed Madison Avenue, then Park Avenue, and reaching Lexington Ave, made the last turn toward the Upper East Side JackRabbit store at 85th and Lex.
Inside, the place was buzzing with customers. The store manager Mary greeted me, asked me how my run was, and of course this prompted me to tell her the story. As she stared at my now salt-stained UnderArmour heat gear shirt, I noted the 2010 Boston Marathon shirt she was wearing and asked her how her race went last year. “Not that great” she confessed, and as I was about to make my way to the door and head for home, she graciously asked me if I needed any nutrition, or water or anything. I declined, thanked her, and off I went.
The last 15 blocks from the store to the apartment on 72nd St were essentially anticlimactic. Because you see, although I was not yet home, I was already done, having completed the first ever “Four Jacks” run. Without getting into a whole post-mortem about it, I’ll simply say that as long runs go, this one – although a bit challenging in today’s humidity – was most enjoyable, and will warrant doing again, next time with a group!