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A Runner’s Guide to New York: The World Major Marathon Cities

Host of the world’s largest marathon, New York City boasts one of the most vibrant running cultures in the United States. Here's a guide to the best trails, parks, and routes to explore in all five of the city's boroughs ahead of the 50th anniversary of the NYC Marathon.

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This is an unprecedented autumn in the history of running. Over the course of seven weeks this fall, five of the six World Marathon Majors are being held. All eyes have focused on Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, and New York. In honor of this marathon-palooza, Great Runs is partnering with PodiumRunner on a series of running guides for each of these cities: A bit about their running culture, details on the best places to run, and marathon course highlights. 

New York: Sunday, November 7

Skyscrapers at the 6th avenue early in the morning, New York City, USA
(Photo: Getty Images)

Over the past few years, New York City has started to make a name for itself as one of the top American running cities, as it has established new urban green spaces and made improvements to its pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure. In Manhattan, running routes tend to include the iconic Central Park and dedicated paths along the rivers on the east and west sides of the island. The city’s extensive public transportation system helps to vastly expand access to some wonderful green spaces and waterside paths in the boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. 

Here are some of our favorite places to run in New York City, including some highlights in the boroughs and further afield. In fact, Great Runs has 150+ curated routes within 75 miles of Manhattan, as shown in this overview.

Manhattan

Bow Bridge and fall foliage with reflections in the lake during Sunset
Manhattan’s Central Park is an iconic place to run in NYC. (Photo: Getty Images)

Central Park

This is easily the most iconic New York City run. The two signature routes in this fabulous Olmsted-designed park are the 7-mile perimeter path alongside the loop roadway, or laps around the Reservoir’s 1.6-mile bridle path, which includes some beautiful skyline views! It’s also fun to explore the interior paths, which range from grand allėes bridle paths to more woodsy trails. 

Hudson River Greenway

The Hudson River provides some fantastic running via an ever-improving network of paths. You’ll encounter several unique sections, each with its own character and highlights, along the 11-mile path between Lower Manhattan and the George Washington Bridge (which, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can run over to connect with routes alongside New Jersey’s Palisades). Headed south from about 40th St., there are great views of the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty. One can also run around “the tip” to connect to the East Side Greenway. A highlight: Hudson River Park at sunset. 

East River Greenway

This is one you’ll want to do at sunrise! A waterfront esplanade along Manhattan’s east side, from Battery Park in the south to 125th Street in the north, with a ~1-mile gap near the United Nations in midtown. Note that while some sections are spectacular, others have a more industrial vibe. 

Two Bridges Route

Combine a run over the historic Brooklyn Bridge with paths on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides of the East River, using the Manhattan Bridge to make a ‘loop’. 

The Other Boroughs

Young woman running on waterfront, Roosevelt Island, New York City, USA
In Queens, Roosevelt Island is the marquee running location including beautiful water and skyline views. (Photo: Getty Images)

Outside of Manhattan, you’ll find terrific running options in the other four boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Most of these routes are easily accessible by transit.  

Brooklyn

Prospect Park, the running gem of Brooklyn, could be called a mini Central Park (also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). There’s also nice running on the East River and incorporating bridges headed over to Manhattan. And for a throwback, head over to Coney Island and run on the 2.5-mile boardwalk. 

Queens

The running highlight is Roosevelt Island, featuring fabulous water and skyline views from its 5K loop. If you’re craving a park run or a path along the waterfront, check out Astoria Park and Hunter’s Point. And check out a fun and scenic loop in the Flushing Meadows area, where you can run on paths past Citi Field, the National Tennis Center, World’s Fair site, and around Meadow Lake.

The Bronx

The iconic running venue in the Bronx is Van Cortlandt Park, famous for its trails and marked cross-country courses. Two hidden gems for running in the Bronx are the restored High Bridge leading to Highbridge Park, and Pelham Bay Park, with miles of paths, fields, and a beachside promenade. 

Staten Island

Worth the ferry ride for some terrific running options, including a 2,800-acre greenbelt, the Staten Island Boardwalk, and miles of trails in Silver Lake Park and Cloves Lake Park

If You Have Time For a Detour…

Great Runs has 150+ routes within 100 miles of Manhattan, as shown in this overview. Check out running guides to New Jersey (Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark), Long Island, the Hamptons, Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, and the Stamford/Greenwich area.

Runners in a marathon.
(: 101 Degrees West)

The Marathon Course

This is the 50th running of the New York Marathon. The course, which runs through all five boroughs and includes five bridge crossings, is mainly on roads that on an average day aren’t ideal for running. Cruising down the center of the streets on race day, however, there’s a lot to look at—from the unique character of the different neighborhoods to the millions of roaring spectators lining the route. Overall, it’s a fairly flat course—it only has an 800-foot elevation gain with a couple of challenging hills—but it isn’t fast, as the bridges and turns and buzz of the city steal your energy.

Starting on Staten Island, the first part of the course features the unique opportunity to run over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which is not generally accessible to pedestrians. Once in Brooklyn, it’s a straight shot for about 5 miles on 4th Ave., then through tony Williamsburg and Green Point. The halfway point is just over the Pulaski Bridge in Queens. This next couple of miles are particularly scenic, with iconic city views as runners pass through Hunters Point in Queens and then over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.

Dropping off the quiet of the bridge onto the roar of 1st Avenue is one of the great rushes of the marathon world—and often lures running into speeding up. You then head north along 1st Avenue for nearly five miles, crossing the Willis Ave. Bridge over the Harlem River into the Bronx. After a brief two-mile section in the Bronx, you’ll cross back over the Harlem River into Manhattan on the Madison Avenue Bridge. Next, it’s south for two miles through Harlem along 5th Ave., then skirting the eastern of Central Park. Entering the Park at East 90th St., the final two miles on the rolling park drive are an iconic scene, with flags, crowds, and leaves at peak color. After exiting the park for a brief stint along the southern edge, you reenter at Columbus Circle for the final thrilling meters before the finish line near Tavern on the Green.

(Photo: New York Road Runners)

About the Author

Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer of Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in destinations worldwide. He can be reached at mark.lowenstein@greatruns.com