mundane adventures in running
Just ran alongside a river in eastern Europe
Instead of ’round the lake at Flushing Park
So says Homeboy Sandman, in his rather lovely song Not Really. I can’t speak from the vantage of humblebrag hiphop stardom, but I think the run alongside a river in Eastern Europe is different to the run ‘round the lake at Flushing Park, or to my usual jaunts around Brockwell Park, up and down the Thames, on the Capital Ring.
Running travels better than wine, cheese, or handmade clothes bought in Morocco. Running works anywhere you go. I’m privileged to have travelled a lot for work and for pleasure, and have been blessed to run across capitals, countries and continents. Running is the most amazing way to quickly explore places. It’s especially wonderful when you don’t have much time, when you’re working in a city, with a busy schedule, perhaps only there for a couple of days. The frowzy, jet lagged, over fed, over caffeinated and exhausted business exec can really benefit from busting their lungs and hitting the streets.
Running lets you take in the sites, but to soak up some of the back streets and the atmosphere as well. if you do it with jet lag, you can find a different take on the city: pounding the pavement late night in Frankfurt, getting propositioned by hookers round the station to running early and watching the sun rise across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge. It lets you see the mundane, the bin men, the clean up, the slow accumulation of rush hour traffic in an unfamiliar environment. it lets you be truly foreign, and to dance through other people’s everyday lives with a weird privilege: seeing things hidden from more ponderous conventional tourists.
I was in New York last week. I’m still recovering from a busy week of work, and the no-relax return to my delightful children. I am pleased to say I got a few good runs in.
As I sat down to write this, I assumed I was going to dwell on an incredible and exhausting loop I did from Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge, up 2nd Avenue, across to Central Park for a Marathon Man loop round the reservoir, along the Hudson, through Tribeca and back over the Brooklyn Bridge. That run was all big sites: the new World trade centre, a few glimpses of the Empire State building and the Chrysler Building, bridges and parks. Even the statue of Liberty. I got to cover a huge amount of the city, and see a lot of cool stuff in just under three hours. This is truly an amazing way to see a city.
But, it wasn’t the most interesting run I did. I’m more attracted to the stuff which is boring yet foreign, the stuff which is workaday to the people who live there: a mix of dull and alluringly foreign.
The most interesting run was through Brooklyn. I started in the scorching heat through Prospect Park with the other runners and cyclists, professional dog walkers starting their day, European minded road cyclists inspired by the Tour, rough sleepers waking up, rubbing their eyes and dozing off again. Then over to Green Wood, past crazy 6 lane highways and flyovers. Round Brooklyn’s biggest cemetery, dodging morning commuters, fat men running for buses, me asphyxiated by freshly applied perfume of immaculately dressed old women. I crossed Gowanus under the expressway for impenetrable project buildings and the sleazy mafia film set suburbs of Carol Gardens. Finally the gentrifying wastes of Red Hook, the glimpse of Manhattan through derelict industrial sites, rusting bridges, across storage facilities and thrift stores, and back to my hotel.
Running, you feel part of it but not part of it. Navigating the streets, avoiding people, dodging lampposts, you are forced to interact, to go with the flow of the place, to involve and immerse. At the same time you don’t have to dwell, you don’t stay long enough to get bored or to attract attention, you fly through your surroundings. You are there, but in the fleetest, lightest way. It’s the quickest way to be a tourist without being too removed, to observe from a point of involvement, to break through the surface to a deeper and different understanding of a place. More tourists should run.
Oh, and incomplete stats and map, here.