NEW YORK / / Running in a major city can feel as if you're a character in a fast-paced video game. Weave around a slow walker on the narrow sidewalk. Sprint through the crosswalk before the light turns green. And if you don't dodge that incoming taxi, it could be game over.
Yet many cities are home to running tours, providing travelers with a way to maintain their exercise programs while working in a little fast-moving sightseeing.
During a recent trip to New York, I signed up with City Running Tours, which offers tours in New York; Washington; Chicago; San Diego; and Charleston, S.C. The tours range from about two miles to longer than 13 miles and can be done as an individual or in a group.
My choice was the Downtown Run, one of 12 routes offered in the Big Apple. The 6.6-mile run follows the Hudson River to the southern tip of Manhattan, turns up Broadway, crosses the Brooklyn Bridge, circles back over the Manhattan Bridge and finishes through Chinatown and Little Italy.
I was staying in Midtown off 51st Street and First Avenue. No worries. The company's guide meets you where you're staying, provides subway fare to the run's starting point and carries a backpack for your keys, wallet and a bottle of water.
For my run, company founder Michael Gazaleh and guide George Roach met me at my doorstep at 9 a.m., and we departed for the 15-minute train ride to the starting line. Gazaleh told me beforehand that I would set the pace, which sounded good to me as I only recently had returned to running after a broken ankle and foot.
Our run started a few blocks away from the water, just east of Battery Park. After a few minutes of crossing busy streets and the usual stop-and-go of New York sidewalks, we made it to the waterfront and the first surprise of the tour. As Gazaleh and Roach pointed out New Jersey on the other shore and where, if it weren't so hazy, the Statue of Liberty would be, all I could think of was that where we were running felt nothing like the bustle of a major city. It was a feeling I thought impossible to have outside of Central Park.
Down by the water, not only were there wide paths to run on, but there were green grass and shady trees and a cool breeze on an unusually warm October morning. This was an oasis in the concrete canyon and a discovery I never would have made on my own.
The first major stop along the tour was Castle Clinton, a fort built to defend Manhattan from the British during the War of 1812. And that's correct: We stopped for eight minutes to take in an interesting exhibit that explained the development of Lower Manhattan. If you're in need of a little longer breather, be sure to linger over every word of the display.
With legs rested and minds enriched, it was up toward Wall Street and back to the busy New York streets. Zipping through crowds of stock traders as they made their runs to the nearest hot-dog carts was an odd juxtaposition: they in their business suits, me in my gym shorts and T-shirt. I could tell from looks on a few of their faces that they would have traded places with me in a second.
After running past the famous Charging Bull sculpture by Arturo Di Modica in Bowling Green, it was on to the Canyon of Heroes, a landmark I didn't know by name but immediately recognized. This is the long, straight corridor on Broadway, just north of the financial district, in which New York holds its ticker-tape parades.
Along the sidewalk are memorial markers to each parade. It was telling to see how New York's attitude on parades has shifted. From the 1920s through the '60s, it seemed the city needed little excuse to celebrate, which it did -- everything from visiting heads of state and war heroes to major events such as the first moon landing. Today, the city reserves these parades mainly for major sports championships, the most recent celebrated by the World Series-winning Yankees in 2000. Still, as I ran the route, I imagined how exciting it must have been to see heroes in the flesh, long before the days of television and the Internet provided easy access.
After exiting the Canyon, it was time to weave over to the Brooklyn Bridge, the site on the run that Gazaleh says is his favorite and the one I most had been looking forward to. But a minute or so into our crossing of the 5,989-foot-long bridge, it became clear that a lot of other people also were excited to visit the landmark. The pedestrian path was packed for nearly the entire crossing.
If you stepped off the sidewalk to avoid a walker and faded too wide out of the footpath, you risked coming face to face with a cyclist. It was better to dodge the traffic within the lines.
Once across, a five-minute jog led us through a waterfront park in the unfortunately dubbed "Dumbo" (Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass) section before we hoofed back uphill to the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge and the second major surprise of the run.