The Roving Runner: Governors Island

July 19, 2009 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Governors Island offers expansive vistas and changing views.I’m lucky. I do most of my runs along the Hudson River or in Central Park. But sometimes I want variety. I want to explore new neighborhoods beyond my Greenwich Village apartment building and boldly run where I haven’t run before.
I’ve been running for 25 years, since junior high school, and regularly schedule long runs each weekend. As a walk-on miler on the track team at the University of Florida, I remember how my coach used to drive us 15 miles away from campus, drop us off and make us run home. We were roving runners, winding our way back through unknown neighborhoods and streets, explorers as much as athletes.

Now I’m hoping to recapture some of that adventure. This weekend I’m taking a Metrocard, my keys and $10, and getting on the subway to somewhere. Anywhere. And then I’m going to run. Hopefully I’ll discover some new places, great sights and exciting runs that I can share with you each week.

I was inspired, too, by a run last weekend, when I was mulling whether to run in Brooklyn or Queens and friends invited me to Governors Island. Committed to my long run, I planned to decline. But then it occurred to me: Why not run on Governors Island?

As reported in the Weekend Arts section of The New York Times, a rapidly rising number of people are finding Governors Island to be a paradise for bicyclists, children, urban explorers and art lovers. But how is it for runners? I was going to find out.

I took the No. 1 train to South Ferry, the last stop, and walked next door to the Battery Maritime Building, in time for a noon ferry (it leaves on the hour and returns on the half hour). The ride is free, scenic and just half a mile long.

On disembarking, I grew a little concerned that the large crowds on the dock would prevent me from running. But they thinned out quickly, and within a few minutes I was running.

Running around Governors Island is kind of like running on a 2.2-mile track that’s shaped like an ice-cream cone. The path on the perimeter has been expanded this summer and is now a contiguous lap around the entire island. (For a detailed map, click here.)

The ferry had dropped me off at the top of the cone, and I ran with the water to my right. I was treated to spectacular views across the water with angles that shifted with each stride. First it was the downtown Manhattan skyline, then the Jersey city skyline.

As I made my way around the island I passed Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. The statue is exactly a mile away from Governors Island — not close enough to see the tourists milling about, but a remarkable view nonetheless. Always in sight are the big orange Staten Island ferries that come and go.

With so much scenery packed into my run, it’s hard to believe I had only run about a mile. Now I was at the island’s southern tip, which has been equipped with speakers by the Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, who is known for using a capella recordings of popular music to change listeners’ perceptions of their surroundings. An eerie recording of “By My Side” from the musical “Godspell” wafted from speakers.

“Where are you going?” the song goes. “Where are you going? Can you take me with you?”

Five miles in the distance is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which for 37,000 runners on the first day of November will be known simply as Mile 1.

My brisk run continued around the base of the “cone” and up along the opposite side of the island. I came upon a fascinating and close-up view of the Red Hook container terminal, just a quarter mile across the Buttermilk Channel. The towering red shipping cranes reminded me of creatures from a Star Wars movie.

Soon, I passed the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, which from my vantage point seemed to blend into one structure with four towers.

Before I knew it, I had finished one 2.2 mile lap, running past the ferry landing and the newly-opened Water Taxi Beach. I kept going. This might have been my runner’s-high moment because I was giddy about what I had just seen. But it wasn’t just me. Everyone I passed, the picnickers, the bicyclists, (oddly I didn’t see any other runners) all seemed to be having a good time. There is a good vibe on that island.

On lap 2, I focused more on my left, the island’s interior, which reveals the island’s past as a military and Coast Guard installation. I passed Castle Williams, which was built in the early 1800’s to defend the city. Although much of Governors Island is closed to the public, this part (essentially the ice cream scoop on top of the cone) is open. A badminton tournament had just started on the tree-covered Colonels’ Row, and I could have sworn I was on a college campus. I ran through an archway and into a quad where people were playing miniature golf on a course designed by artists.

I returned to the esplanade and resumed my second lap around the island. Near the end I turned in once more and saw open green spaces and what used to be officers’ homes. I grabbed a sweet tea at Water Taxi Beach and watched kids playing in the sand with skyscrapers as the backdrop. I caught the 1:30 ferry back to Manhattan.

Two laps around Governors Island totals 4.4 miles, but with my ventures onto side streets I probably ran between 6 and 7 miles that day. All told, I ran for about an hour, but at a much slower pace than usual because of all the gawking I was doing.

On the ride back I wondered where would I do my next run, and would anything be able to top this?
By Brian Fidelman
New York Times


Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Manhattan, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , , .

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