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Pounding the Pavements for Pleasure

Hudson River Run

There are days when you’re on a business trip or vacation and running on a treadmill won’t cut it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Baltimore or the Bahamas, you just have to get out and pound the pavement or the beach. If you’re staying in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan, however, this presents a problem. With so little green space, where can you go to jog an easy five without worrying about getting run over?

Michael Gazaleh, President and CEO of NYC Run, has a solution: embrace the streets. His company offers personalized, guided running tours of the city. Simply tell Gazaleh how fast and far you want to run and what you’d like to see, and he’ll devise a route to suit your needs at any time of the day or year, adapting to the changing seasons.

The germination of NYC Run began at a gym owned by personal trainers where Gazaleh rents space and practices as a chiropractor. A client asked for a companion escort to join him while jogging in Manhattan and Gazaleh was volunteered for the task. This first job sold him on the idea of forming a running service, which he publicized with an ad on Craigslist and through a website dedicated to NYC Run.

Out-of-towners begin their day at their hotels where Gazaleh or one of his other guides calls for them and accompanies them by subway to the starting point. They are given short safety tips to help avoid the dangers of running in Manhattan’s streets. Guides run or jog along with clients as they navigate Gotham's streets, paths, and parks. Each route is designed to minimize traffic, but this is New York; if you choose to run in one of Manhattan’s beautiful neighborhoods, you will pause frequently at cross-streets and red lights. These brief respites are welcome as they provide a much needed chance to catch your breath and an opportunity to observe the city bustle of which you are not yet a part. Dodging brisk walkers on their way to work and leashed dogs out for a constitutional with their owners is a challenge.

NYC Run is also a tour company so along the route you’ll learn important facts about New York’s past and present. No matter where you choose to jog, "There is so much history in the entire city that it makes it a very interesting place to run," the CEO explains. Gazaleh enjoys running through Lower Manhattan because it was settled by Dutch farmers in 1624 and now serves as the financial capital of the world. This fascinating transformation plays out sublimely in the neighborhood’s buildings.

Bridge Run

Beginning at the corner where Lafayette and Houston Streets meet, this author, three companions--a university professor visiting from the Southwest, a recent Ivy League grad, another writer--and Gazaleh who talks, points, and runs all at the same time, head north for a 5.5-mile run through the streets of Greenwich Village. (Full disclosure: I enjoyed the tour so much that I'm training to become a guide.) Renowned citywide for both its quaint nature and confusing streets, we wound our way through the early morning hysteria for an hour. Along the way we sighted landmarks: Pfaff's, a speakeasy, where writers and drinking men gathered during Prohibition, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a locked sweatshop where 148 seamstresses died during a 1911 fire. Other highlights included running near New York’s famous speakeasy, Chumley’s, frequented by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and a slow jog by the House of Death, where 22 residents have met their makers. A plaque on the building notes that Mark Twain lived here. Neighborhood lore says that the writer's ghost still haunts the premises.

Seeing such a large chunk of the city at one time provides a unique perspective of Manhattan. The journey was bolstered by Gazaleh’s seemingly endless knowledge of trivia and minutia, but never dominated by him. He encouraged conversation and participants were free to add their own input to the group’s collective knowledge. One of our group compared the experience of running in her home town with that of the big city. Another shared a restaurant recommendation. Most runners engage in the sport solo or in pairs, which made our quintet a curiosity.

Although runners are free to pick and choose their destinations, NYC Run offers suggestions of predetermined routes. Gazaleh’s two favorites are the Bridge Run and the Hudson River Run. The first of these trips winds through the Financial District and over the Brooklyn Bridge before returning to the island via the Manhattan Bridge. On this circuit, runners see the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall, the location of George Washington’s first inauguration ceremony and jog alongside Hudson River with its beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Attractions along the Hudson River run that goes to the northern tip of the island include Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which features a home plate-shaped plaque dedicated to the New York Highlanders, the team that became the Yankees. This run also enters Fort Tryon Park, which Gazaleh enjoys because the son of Central Park architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, planned the landscaping and because it "gets you off the streets."

Whether you’re a business traveler seeking a quick pick-me up before your morning meeting or a tourist trying to get out of the Plaza’s grip, NYC Run provides exercise while allowing you to get to know a small part of the huge metropolis that was voted the third best city to run in by Runner’s World magazine. The price, $50 for the first 6 miles and $4 for each additional one, includes a t-shirt and discounts at local running stores. It’s exciting enough to make running on a treadmill look bleak indeed.

In July, 2007 running tours began in Chicago and Washington, DC.


--Noah Davis

Fall 2006