Brooklyn is for runners

I lived in Brooklyn when I started running in my mid-twenties. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was spoiled.

I never really enjoyed running for its own sake. I did it because my then-girlfriend (now-wife) was a serious runner, and because I wanted to continue to eat and drink as I pleased without risking my girlish figure. I managed to tolerate running thanks only to my Brooklyn backdrop. Over the course of about five years, I ran some 5,000 miles on Brooklyn’s streets. It was my way of learning the grid. From Williamsburg, I got to know Greenpoint, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights; from Park Slope, it was Windsor Terrace and Kensington and Sunset Park and Bay Ridge; from Carroll Gardens, it was Red Hook and DUMBO and the waterfront. I have a decent mental map of maybe a third of Brooklyn’s seventy square miles, thanks to these here legs.

So I came to think of myself as an “urban runner”. Pounding the pavement was my way of getting to know my surroundings, and soaking up the city was my way of coping with running.

Then I moved to Queens, and everything changed. I’m not talking about Whitestone or Hollis or Rockaway or some other deep-Queens neighborhood. I lived in Ridgewood, about five blocks from the border with Brooklyn. But it was a totally different world. The car-to-pedestrian ratio was out of whack, which resulted in a totally different relationship between drivers and non-drivers. Instead of grumbling deference, I came to expect outright hostility from cars. I can’t count the number of times a driver sped up – or ran a stop sign – to beat me through an intersection. I even got hit once (albeit slowly), even after having made eye contact with the driver.

To make matters worse, Queens (or at least my portion of it) was boring. The semi-suburban neighborhoods bleed together in my mind: Glendale, Elmhurst, Woodside, Maspeth, Middle Village, Forest Park, Woodhaven. I know Queens is a (ethnically, linguistically, culinarily…) diverse place, but I could take or leave the bafflingly numbered streets/avenues/lanes/courts and single-family houses.

I moved to Manhattan a few months ago, where I hoped to recapture my love of urban running. It hasn’t gone well. Too many cars, too many people, too many stoplights, too much street construction. Dodging walkers on the sidewalk isn’t fun for me, and it isn’t fun for the people being dodged. Central Park is very nice, but I’m bored with it already.

In retrospect, Brooklyn is the perfect balance for the urban runner. It’s dense enough to be interesting. Neighboring neighborhoods contrast sharply with each other. Cars – at least in the northern and eastern parts of the borough – are few enough (and deferent enough) to make it safe to share the streets. I miss it.

If you are a runner living in Brooklyn, fight the urge to stick to the well-trodden paths. I too love Prospect Park, and the Belt Parkway Promenade, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. But you should be out on the streets, because there’s no better place to run.

6 thoughts on “Brooklyn is for runners

      1. Mike

        LOL, you want route ideas? It’s been a while since I lived there and I don’t know what you tried already. God forbid I suggest what you tried already so instead why don’t you retrace some of the (safer) scenes from Marathon Man?

        1. Boone Gorges Post author

          Ha ha. My main point is that I don’t really want to have routes. In Brooklyn, I could generally just pick a direction to run in, and I could meander in that direction as long as I felt like it, then wander back home. Running was a great way to explore pretty much every neighborhood. Manhattan, in contrast, has too much pedestrian and car traffic in most neighborhoods to do any relaxed sort of running. Sidewalks and roads are just too jammed. I’ve had some good runs to date in Harlem and especially East Harlem, but anywhere south of that, it’s a struggle just to cross town without fighting pedestrians and/or waiting at lights. I just have to learn to reconcile myself to park-heavy running, I guess….

  1. James Chevalier

    I’ve always wondered how NYC runners did it … It seems like it’d be impossible to run with all the cars & other people. You probably can’t run with headphones, huh?

    I’m a street runner, too, and I got the idea of trying to run every street in my city (a much easier feat than in NYC) … There was no good way to track my progress, so I had to build a site to do it:

    After running 5,000 miles in Brooklyn – I wonder what kind of street coverage that is. You said you’ve got about a third of it in your mental map; maybe you ran them all.

  2. Boone Gorges Post author

    James – Thanks for stopping by. CityStrides looks pretty cool!

    No idea about my street coverage. I never set out with that kind of goal. This guy tried for a while and says he got about half of them. It’s a big job: some 1,700 miles of streets, and many of the routes would take a good hour on public transit to reach. In terms of general neighborhood coverage, I’ve crisscrossed at least half of Brooklyn, but I’ve never been systematic to cover every block (even in my well-trodden neighborhoods).

    You probably can’t run with headphones, huh?

    Not a great idea on the streets, nope πŸ™‚ But who’d want to? The sounds of the city are as fun as the sights.


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