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New York City

By Frank da Cruz - Middle Riverside Park extends from 96th to 120th Street, so a round trip is 2.4 miles (in fact it continues north to the 125th Street highway off-ramp, but there is not much of a path, and at the northern extreme you will find yourself on the West Side Highway off-ramp). You can run inside the park or along the sidewalk overlooking the park. The sidewalk route includes a big hill from 96th Street to 103rd Street, and another from 115th to 120th, whereas inside the park is perfectly flat if you stay on the main level, and has some gentle hills if you take the "high road" along the stone retaining wall. Park entrances are at 120th, 116th, 115th, 108th, 103rd, 98th, and 97th Street (116th and 97th have ramps with no stairs). There is a "secret path" through the woods between 116th and 120th Streets; see if you can find it (careful, tricky footing). The centerpiece of the middle park is the Mall, 101st to 110th Street, tree-lined, almost exactly half a mile long and perfectly straight and flat, paralleling the operational Amtrak train tunnels, somewhat reminiscent of the Jardin des Tuileries but without the statuary, another good place for beginners. The middle park also has a lower tier, where the baseball fields are (and some volleyball courts, basketball courts, a miniature soccer field, etc.), and a path you can take that runs along the highway behind the athletic fields (to reach it, take the stairs down just north of the Mall at 112th Street). Throughout Riverside Park, you will find footpaths created by generations of runners. Some people prefer them but you must be constantly alert for puddles, rocks, holes, exposed tree roots, protruding metal pipes, etc. Staying on the smooth pavement lets you ignore all that and enjoy the scenery. As of Spring 2004, many of these footpaths have been blocked off and reseeded. Meanwhile, many of the asphalt-covered paths have been improved and are now good for running, such as the one from 110th to 116th Street along the retaining wall overlooking the skateboard playground, which used to be crumbling and full of potholes.

Runners who live in the Columbia University area of Manhattan, New York City (Morningside Heights and West Harlem) are fortunate to have Riverside Park, Central Park, and Morningside Park nearby. The parks and the Hudson riverfront are in better condition now than at any time in the last one hundred years, especially since 2000 with the inauguration of the Greenway. The site Upper Manhattan Running describes some obvious and not-so-obvious runs that start in the Columbia area, but it is also useful for anybody who lives on the west side anywhere between midtown and Washington Heights or Inwood.

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