Needless to say, I was curious.
After pouring over my options in NYC, (a comprehensive list by date can be found here) the one that jumped out at me was the "Morningside Heights" tour. I am a history buff and teach Intercultual Communication at the University of Central Florida, I thought there might be something for me to learn here.
This tour however is paired with runs through the majestic trails of Central Park, the hustle of Wall Street and the iconic images of time square: something for every runner tailored to their personal interests. For those not fulfilled by any of their many options, individually customized tours (length, pace, and location) are an option as well.
After booking my run I was contacted by a city tours representative. He provided me with detailed information: meeting location, my guides name, subway and bus info to get to the starting point, what to bring with me what to expect on the tour; even direct contact information should I get lost or be running late.
I can honestly say there was no question I could come up with that they did not proactively answer.
The morning of the run I was sluggish. A late evening at Fuerzabruta the night before (well worth the lost sleep!) combined with an early morning bus ride to drop my daughter off at Laguardia Airport had me feeling drained. I arrived early at the corner of 110th and Central Park West (easy to get to as the instructions had promised) and consumed a liter of water, available at the very handy BP station at that intersection.
Sitting on a park bench I realized that I haven't spent any time in this corner of Central Park.... I began to wander and become energized as I watched local running groups gathering around, including one from the Leukemia Lymphoma Societies "team in training", bringing on a nostalgic feeling - I had run with them in 2005 for my very first race in Dublin, Ireland.
Soon I spotted my guide, a friendly young woman named Jill, who was early, and positioned in the promised location with a city tours t-shirt providing clear identification. She greeted me with a warm smile and spotting my almost empty water bottle commented on the heat, and told me she had another bottle for me tucked in her camelback. She offered to carry anything I needed to give her (wallet, keys, etc) and while I had nothing to give I loved that this was an option availabile!
Any doubt about this run I held due to my sleepiness faded completely within our first steps. The promise of her knowledge was confirmed as she informed me the hillyness of this area is due to the activity caused by the fault line which runs under 125th street... (I was unaware)... While still contemplating this she was talking about the original settlement of Harlem and the only road leading to this area, later renamed broadway. We went past the oldest church in New York, and I felt as if I was standing outside Notre Dame in Paris. As I caught my breath and took a few pictures she explained the reasons for the change in architecture and the significance of the sculptures outside in the courtyard.
Each stop during our five mile run awakened a deeper curiosity in me to further explore his part of New York: Grants Tomb, The Apollo Theare, Columbia University... All beautiful and historic sites everyone should see and know about. Her knowledge at each was significant and impressive.
There are certainly other ways one could explore these sites, on foot with a downloaded guide, or on an air conditioned hop on hop off bus tour. There are however major advantages to the City Tours experience.
The weaving in and out of neighborhoods was efficient and deliberate. No stopping to question my direction or wondering what order I should explore in. The tour was tempered to my pace: both in the speed of the run (yes, I walked some hills) and the time spent at the stops (I lingered outside a few to take in the importance of these places in our nations history).
The experience was personal, on this day it was just the guide and myself. There were two others scheduled but they had been provided a different leader as one of them was bringing a five year old girl and wanted to walk much of the tour. I was astonished that this was actually accommodated so wonderfully for them, and told me more about the goal of his small company: to provide a memorable experience for everyone regardless of their pace or age.
In addition to these major stops, another advantage of this tour is that we visited places I would have walked past unaware without her guidance: Astor street with its unusual gardens and architecture, the steps in Harlem where a historic photograph was taken in the 50s with jazz greats, the clubs that were opened to allow them to play together without penalty, the hotels that not only allowed minority artists to stay at a time when so many turned them away- but celebrated them and their talents with warm and welcome arms.
Even the quirky stops such as Collier Brothers Park fascinated me and reminded me how much I have to learn about this great city.
Later this week I travel to DC, I plan to do another run there. I would look for a guided run with city tours in any city I visit where they were offered. For less than the price of many cab rides my eyes were opened to the history pressed into the pavement on which we all walk and run each day.
If you are visiting one of these cities, please consider a run with them, you will not be dissapointed!