This is a post about my 60 km run around the perimeter of Manhattan, NY on May 17th, 2016. I hope it’ll be useful and inspirational to anyone planning to run, walk or bike around the island for the first time.
Manhattan Perimeter: The How
Start time and place: 7:09 am from 1st Avenue and East 14th Street. I headed to East River Bike Way and ran the island clockwise. There was no particular reason for choosing to start where I did except that the area was close to where I stayed the previous night. Furthermore, next time I would probably run the route counter-clockwise just for fun.
Weather/conditions: Cloudy with a tender SW breeze, +18 c (i.e., perfect). I didn’t eat breakfast because I’m used to training carbohydrate-depleted but had coffee from the brand new 7/11 on Avenue A. I also found a penny by the entrance which I claimed as a lucky charm ; )
Total distance: 60 km / 37.5 mi (38.4 mi according to Strava). This included me popping over to the Bronx briefly and putting in some extra miles to make the total km’s covered a nice, round number. I’ve biked the perimeter before, and I believe it’s closer to 33 miles/ 53K.
Equipment: Long running pants, running top, Oakley Flak 2.0 shades, my lucky Marimekko bandana. Cell phone with an extra battery. Cash, MetroCard and credit cards. I also packed a long-sleeved shirt just in case (ended up wearing this after I was done with the run and was grabbing a subway ride home).
I used a Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS watch to track my journey. This particular model is currently the only watch that allows you to track swimming metrics (such as strokes, intervals, and pace) in open water, as well as measuring swimming distance in a lap pool. I bought it my upcoming Ironman training in mind. Edit: Polar V800 has this feature now as well.
My few things were packed in a Nathan women’s race vest. Main point: You don’t really need to over stress the packing because, in the case of any surprises, help, food, drinks and transportation are always a stone throw away in this city.
Nutrition: My small running bag was equipped with a 2 liter (70 oz) ‘Hydration Bladder’. This was enough liquid for the whole 7.5-hour’ish trip and there was even a little bit left when I finished. I had mixed in two small bottles of orange juice; normally I’d go with maple syrup, but I simply forgot to purchase it and resorted to OJ that I was able to grab from a kiosk at my nearest subway stop. However, it was not a hot day and it’s possible I consume less water than the average runner. I had two small packages of roasted & salted almonds, one small pack of trail mix, 2 Kind bars and 6 packs of all-natural Arctic Warrior Honey Energy Shots (I’ll dive into this in more detail later in the post).
Purpose: To go on a ‘date’ with my body to see how she handles a longer run, how much water and/energy I need to consume. I approached my run with curiosity and set an intention to run with a compassionate mind. It worked. I awoke the next day post-run with no trace of aches or pains and even felt I could have gone for another run right away. Pretty sweet.
I also wanted to simulate what an average day would look and feel like during my upcoming Sisu not Silence 1,500-miler in New Zealand (more about this too in the bonus section). During the adventure, I will occasionally lead events and deliver lectures after a full day of running. So to test how that goes, I scheduled and organized a Women of Sisu meetup in Williamsburg at 7 pm on the evening of my ultra.
What I perhaps should have brought: A fresh pair of socks to change into after the run. A set of wireless headphones : )
Ok, now let’s check the route (below is also a Strava summary of my stats).
As you can see from the altitude chart below, it’s a flat route. The two little spikes at mile 18 and 24 left no imprints whatsoever on my neocortex, so it was really nothing to write about in my sisu diaries.
Below you can see the full route as it was tracked by my Suunto Ambit3. The whole route is so very straightforward that you can pretty much just focus all your extra energy into enjoying the lovely views.
I began my run from the L train subway stop on 1st Avenue and 14th street. I ran through East Village and used the overpass on 6th Street to cross FDR and get to East River Bike Way. After reaching the shoreline, I headed south toward Battery Park along the very scenic and calm East River Bikeway.
After reaching the south tip, I continued my journey along the garden-y Battery Park City Esplanade. This portion is nice and you get to log some pretty smooth miles. The path meets the scenic and busy Hudson River Greenway right after the Tribeca Pointe. Here you want to be mindful that there are separate paths for bicyclists (who are many and they go fast) and runners. NOTE: If you are biking the perimeter, I believe you should turn to Hudson River Green Way already from Battery Place and Little West Street.
You follow Hudson River Greenway all the way until finally cutting inland after For Tryon Park in Inwood. This strip is 12 miles long and constitutes one-third of the run. Lots of things to see on the West side, but it was this gorgeous, abandoned old structure somewhere around Hudson Heights that compelled me to stop and pause for a photo.
I had decided to save my music, podcasts, and special treats for a moment of actual need. So it wasn’t until mile 15 or 16 where the Hudson River Greenway turns right at West 135th Street and I lost sight of the water for a moment that I switched on my Sisu not Silence ultra run playlist (It’s no joke, there are 100+ tracks with almost 8 hours of music in there. You’re welcome O_o) and I reached out for some Arctic Warrior Honey.
I was curious to test the 100% natural products to see whether they could work as carb supplements for the New Zealand ultra. I’ve pretty much given up on using sports/energy gels with processed sugars and try to keep my nutrition as natural as possible. A lovely friend told me about the Finnish Lapland-based company using only natural ingredients such a herbs, honey, and berries in their products. I emailed Tuija Kauppinen at Arctic Warriors and they sent me some samples to try out.
Verdict: Their products are pretty awesome. My tummy felt great and the shots gave me not a just a short term boost but rather a steady stream of energy, which is exactly what I need during a day-long run. What they have created (or actually what they’ve synthesized from its original makers, namely bees ♥ ) seems to fit my specific needs perfectly. One of the best things were that the shots tasted nice even during those later miles when the body normally might get a bit reluctant to take anything in. If you’re looking for an alternative to processed energy supplements, go check out the Energy, Endurance and Defence shots here.
Now back to the run.
Right after Fort Tryon Park in Inwood you cut inland. There’ll be downward stairs to your left (very easy to spot and they are clearly marked; if you’re on a bike you can just carry your bike down) that lead you under the Henry Hudson Parkway to Riverside Drive. This point is marked as ‘HHP’ on the map below. Here you just follow Seaman Avenue or Broadway all the way to 220th Street. I decided to cross Broadway Bridge and pop in for a half-way bio break and coffee at the Starbucks on 50 W 225th Street in the Bronx side. There are plenty of little cafes and delis around Inwood as well.
After a snapping proof of victory, it was time to head back.
…and ‘back’ is something to look forward to because there’s a lovely path with fluffy green trees that begins right at the end of 10th Avenue.
Truth be told, after you exit the forest-y section, the scenery is pretty bland; old bridges, concrete, no humans in sight. Not even those insane Manhattan squirrels. Starting at mile 22 I experienced what I can only describe as having ‘flat feet’. My feet aren’t actually flat but they just felt like a pair of old flippers.
Oh well. Time to eat more, put on the exquisite Trail Runner Nation Podcast), and remind myself of the ordinary magic of relentless forward movement. I also enjoyed listening to an episode of TED NPR Radio Hour that was appropriately called ‘To Endure‘ and hearing Dr. Brené Brown’s stellar interview at the Tim Ferriss podcast.
When you finally reach West 155th, you have to hit the city streets for a bit and zig zag your way down to East 120th Street. See below. No idea what’s going on with the red line… maybe it’s just my flippers.
I kept on flapping around on my tired feet for about 6 miles and finally, somewhere between the 135th and 130th Streets, I found my second wind. It was like an extra tank of fuel had been poured into my engine and I became alive again. ‘Sisu’ is no joke : )
At the end of East 120th and Paladino Avenue, there’s an overpass that takes you across FDR and back to the shore. You’ll continue south along Bobby Wagner Walk, which overlooks the Harlem River.
Below is my victorious second wind & sisu selfie. Yet another mini-barrier had been transformed into a frontier, and my body had again demonstrated her might and magnificence.
Running along the East side is a straightforward ride to us intrepid, lil’ endurance runners. However, below are some minor things to keep in mind.
The overpass on East 81st is currently under construction and you’ll have to loop to East End Drive at East 82nd Street. You can get back to the riverside at 78th Street. I did just this but in retrospect, it may have been nicer and simpler to continue along the very lovely York Avenue and Sutton Place. John Finley Walk around this area isn’t nearly as cute, quite the contrary. In any case, you have to loop back to the city and run e.g. on 1st Avenue from East 62nd to 37th Street. On 37th, there’s an underpass that gets you to East River Esplanade and you can enjoy the last miles along the shoreline.
So that’s all! Running the perimeter of Manhattan must be one of the loveliest and most straightforward city ultras in the world. I enjoyed the journey thoroughly and I hope you do too. Have fun and remember to smile as you stride! : )
Epilogue: The Why
Now that we got the how covered, I’ll tell you about the why. After all, when the going gets tough, it’s often our sense of purpose that keeps us going.
Some years ago my eyes were opened to the massive epidemic of interpersonal violence within our communities. WHO statistics propose that one-third of all women and girls and one-fourth of men and boys are exposed to intimate partner violence or family violence and abuse at some point in their lives.
This means we have hundreds of millions of women and men carrying the wounds of emotional and physical abuse on their bodies and inside their minds, not to mention that we have the same number of children each year being exposed to violence in their homes. Think about this for a moment: isn’t it crazy that in almost every city in the world there is a domestic violence shelter? What’s going on with our species?
I soon realized that I have two options: I can get lost in the endless rabbit hole of questions pertaining to the problem of unnecessary human suffering, or I can choose to do something about it.
I chose the latter option, and I chose to go all out.
Because the problem of interpersonal violence itself seems so complex, I decided to match my effort with something that is the hardest imaginable thing I could do: to run 0ver 50 marathons in 50 days and dedicate each step along the way to social impact.
It’s worth mentioning that not so long ago, the scariest thing for me was to speak about my personal experience of having to overcome and heal from intimate partner violence.
With my run, I want to inspire survivors to break the silence and secrecy around abuse, asking victims to reach out from their isolation and seek help, and to force us as a society to change the narrative around family violence from that of shame to one that is about empowerment and hope.
We must also advocate for cultures with zero tolerance to abuse of any kind and discuss where the abuse is coming from. Why is emotional abuse so prevalent inside our schools, workplaces, and even our intimate relationships? What are the structures that allow and perpetuate it? Are my own actions enabling or preventing it?
So, for the past few months, I have been logging hundreds of miles to transform myself into a mentally sound and physically strong long distance runner that can cover 1,500 miles across the length of New Zealand. If you’re curious why New Zealand, you can check out this post. For me, it’s important to make each step count and on the road to positive social change, every mile matters…
Less talk and more action is what will help us create opportunities that will change the world and empower people to become the (s)heroes of their own lives. The key word here is action, having good intentions is simply not enough. However, for action to truly take place, individuals, non-profits, and other organizations need funds.
Between lacing up and grabbing my pre-run coffee in East Village, I spent 5 seconds opening up the Charity Miles app and selecting Girls on the Run as my charity of the day (there are tens of social causes and organizations to choose from).
How Charity Miles works is that you simply move your gluteus maximus across time and space and thoughtful, socially conscious companies automatically match the miles you cover with a donation to a cause you care about. For example: My 38 miles were all sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Some of the other sponsors include Lifeway Foods, Timex, Kenneth Cole, Chobani, and Humana. It’s a no-brainer to have your Charity Miles on as you train or go about your daily chores. While you run, walk, bike, play, and flaneur around, you might as well help non-profits receive funding and be part of something good.
♥ Pro tip ♥ If you’d like to be an early adopter and join the first phase of the Sisu not Silence movement, download the Charity Miles app, and once you’re in there join team #SISUnotSilence. I created it for people who’d be proud to be part of a community that has zero tolerance for abuse and are total badasses in making social impact happen.
To conclude this long post, I’m now six months into my training and I have six months left before I begin the actual run. Here’s what I have already learned: We are capable of so much more than we think. Our biggest problem is usually not lack of resourcefulness, creativity or mental strength but simply giving too much attention to voices of doubt telling us what cannot do. We don’t know how strong we are until we explore those limits. Testing your limits too can (and should) be done with kindness and self-compassion, but that’s another post : )
So there you have it. Go outside, get on the road! May it be your neighborhood park, the perimeter of Manhattan or a distant country you wish to conquer, but go explore, move in harmony with your body and use your training to cultivate the better angels of your nature.
Equip yourself not only with the how but a deep sense of why, and there will be few things that are impossible.
W/sisu and joy, Emilia
You can join Sisu not Silence via the Charity Miles community (team #SISUnotSilence) or follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Lastly, if you are a survivor of domestic violence and would benefit from having a safe space to discuss your mind with a bunch of lovely peers (or to just share your story anonymously or vent), join our discussion group at Heimo (Finnish for ‘tribe’).