Hip & Healthy: Revamp Your Running Routine

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Running can be a wonderful in its simplicity. But sometimes simplicity and monotony can become one and the same.

For the two years I lived in my last apartment, I did the same four-mile out-and-back run to a nearby sculpture park. I knew every crack and pothole in the pavement; I could anticipate the stoplight and speed up as needed; my body prepared for the ever so slight incline in the path automatically. This routine jog never bothered me -- but it didn’t inspire me either. 

There is nothing wrong with the beaten path, but I have always found that the anticipation of a new running route to test and to try and to conquer keeps me excited about the sport.  When I set out on a route I planned and mapped out for the first time, I feel extra motivated by the challenge of forging new territory. I find it victorious to finish a new course for the first time.

Sure, you have your Central Park Loops and your West Side Highway, but I’ve found there are plenty of other places to put your body to the test and change up the scenery.  Here are a few places I like to go to change up my routine and challenge my body to adapt to new terrain:

1. Hit the Bridges

Being a city with an island, we have lots of bridges. It’s possible to pack five into one run alone! If you’re training for a race, bridges will not only expose you to the elements (mainly wind) but they will also help you get some hill work under your belt.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The Brooklyn Bridge (1.1 mile). I like to go early in the morning before it’s packed.
  • The Williamsburg Bridge (1.2 mile). Its hills provide a formidable challenge, but it’s far less congested than many other bridges.
  • The 59th Street Bridge (About 1.5 mile across). As I prepare for the NYC Marathon, the 59th Street Bridge will be great practice for the much-feared mile 15!  It may be long, but I enjoy the views and the moral support of having a few fellow runners by my side.

2. Head for the Trails

I admit the loops in Central Park are about as ingrained in my memory as the metro map. But every so often I veer off the road and hit some of the dirt paths in the wooded areas of the park.  You’ll have to slow your pace and watch out for roots and other bits of nature in the semi-cleared trails, but you’ll be rewarded with many scenic surprises — not to mention that you can officially call yourself a trail runner. As a general precaution, I save these days for when I have some time on my hands -- navigation is not always straight forward!

A few good spots to get a refreshing dose of nature include:

  • The North Woods (Distance varies). This section of the park is found in the Northwest section of the park between 101st and 110th streets. The trails wind through a heavily wooded path that truly take you out of the urban surroundings. I love that there is a surprise around almost every turn, whether it be an animal or a waterfall.
  • The Ramble (Distance varies). This path can be found just north of the Central Park Boathouse. It’s a maze through the woods, and finding your way through the trails is an adventure in itself. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, it’s also uphill and you really have to watch your footing.  But I always find my efforts are rewarded at the end of the path when Belvedere Castle appears before me.

3. Island Hop

Why not exchange one island for another? I have found that Manhattan’s island neighbors provide a fun way to sneak in a run and explore another part of the city.

  • Roosevelt Island (4-mile loop). This little island is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking about Manhattan geography, but it is a great place for an off-the-beaten path jog. A path takes you all the way around the perimeter of the island giving you sweeping views of Manhattan and Queens. It’s accessible by bridge from the Queens side or you can take a quick ride on the famed Roosevelt Island Tram from 59th Street and Second Avenue.
  • Governor’s Island (2.2 miles). While you will have to spend some time on the free ferry to get there, Governor’s Island is becoming a popular destination for weekend runners and bikers due its car-free running routes. The wide path around the outside island is very easy to navigate, and the interesting views and activity happening around the island make it easy to do a few loops without getting bored of the scenery.

Whenever I need a little extra motivation to run, I look for a way to mix up my routine, whether it be speed, location or distance. Having a challenge set in place before hand makes completing my work out all the more rewarding. The familiar can be comforting (I'm now on the sixth edition of the same model of running shoes I wore during my first years of running!), but I am not afraid to try something new and break out of my comfort zone when it comes to terrain.

Where do you like to run in New York City?


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.

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