Every summer I look forward to the three Saturdays in August when the city closes Park Avenue down past Union Square all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Pedestrians and bikers get to rule the streets, and the atmosphere is like a giant block party meets healthy street fair. It’s not just for athletes, either -- whether you walk, Rollerblade or just like to people-watch, there’s something for everyone.
This year, I incorporated Summer Streets into my long runs, and they were a welcome change of scenery from Central Park and the West Side Highway. Running through city streets is almost like running a big race: there is so much excitement happening all around, and I love taking it all in.
Starting my run early, around 7 or 8 a.m., allows me some time to have the road to myself before they’re packed with cyclists and pedestrians of all kinds. I like to start at 72nd and Park and work my way downtown with a nice gradual decline along the five-mile route. While it’s too early in my run to stop at the first uptown rest stop, I note what the water stations look like for future reference. They look like long troughs with four-water fountain faucets, and they're incredibly urban in the most charming way. It's quiet now, but later there will be salsa classes, music and even a guacamole-making demonstration by Chipotle.
I continue to head down as the Metlife Building and the back of Grand Central Terminal loom in the distance. At this point, I decide that the Midtown water station is a good place to refill my water bottle; I even discover a special spout designed just for water bottles. I wish these water stations were permanent!
Running around Grand Central is one of my very favorite parts of running through Summer Streets. You get to follow Park Avenue under and around Grand Central on a route usually designated solely for cars.
The next stretch goes quickly -- I pass Union Square, and before I know it, I am at Astor Place where Crunch is hosting a full schedule of workout classes, including my beloved Masala Bhangra. I am stopped at a stop sign, so I take a quick lap through the Health and Fitness Zone and check out the new art display in Astor Place, consisting of brightly colored plastic strands wrapped around the lamppost like pipe cleaners.
After I get the green sign from the traffic attendant, I head down Lafayette, which is really starting to fill up with people. At the SoHo rest stop and Adventure Zone, a yoga class is in full swing.
Finally I hit the Foley Square rest stop and I immediately spot sand castles being built in the middle of the city street! I have to find out more about this, and as I look around, I find out this station has a wide variety of art-based programming in addition to yoga and a Learn to Ride workshop. I could definitely use a lesson in urban biking!
I then cross the Brooklyn Bridge, which offers a break from the stop-and-go signs along Summer Streets. The street may be blocked off north to south, but east-west traffic still has to get by periodically.
On my way back uptown, the streets are filled: Cyclists, families and rollers bladers are everywhere, and staying in the run-walk lane is essential. I stop and take a GU handout from a person along my way up, and when I finally finish my run at 35th Street, I stop and take in my favorite view of all, the front of Grand Central Station in all its Beaux Arts glory.
Summer Streets takes outdoors activities and reinvents them for the urban setting. The streets are transformed into a five-mile expo, where you can stop to learn about new products and fitness options, take part in art, music and fitness classes, enter giveaways and grab some freebies, and simply learn more about the local organizations that make New York City so great.
There's still one weekend left to catch all the action, and there are a few things you won't want to miss:
5 Must-See Stops of Summer Streets 2011
- Free Rentals at Uptown Rest Stop
In addition to the guacamole making demonstrations and dance classes I mentioned earlier, this stop offers free Rollerblade and bike rentals.
- Health and Fitness Zone at Astor Place
If you’re not a runner but want to get some exercise, this stop offers five free Crunch-hosted exercises class -- all for free. It’s a great way to try the gym on for size or just have fun mixing up your workout routine.
- Intro to Hiking New York at the Soho Stage Stop
I am a big hiker, but when I moved to New York, it took me a long time to figure out where to hike and how to get there, the REI Outdoor School hosts a workshop covering the basics of hiking for city dwellers.
- Sandboxes at the Foley Rest Stop
If getting to play in the sand in the middle of Manhattan wasn’t fun enough, you can get some tips from a master sand sculptor. This stop also has the final water station, which you’ll need after five miles.
If you haven’t had a chance to experience all the outdoor yoga in NYC yet, both the Soho and Foley rest stops offer yoga classes between 8:15am-10am, but check the schedule for exact times.
Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.