NYC Bound: A Mostly Straight Run Down Broadway

It's 13 miles from the top of Broadway to the bottom. Oh, and if you're wondering, it's definitely possible to get lost along the way.

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See the one cutting diagonally across? That's Broadway. Pretty confusing, right?     Photo: Mario Savoia/Shutterstock

According to New York City Internet lore (read: things I found on Wikipedia), the route that would become Broadway first appeared on the island of Manhattan in 1642, but it wouldn't take its current form until nearly 250 years later on February 14, 1899. Fast forward another 100 and some odd years, and you would find two hearty souls running down the length of it on a cold, windy, very-much-about-to-rain late morning in March. The plan—to travel from the top of the island at 215th Street to the bottom at Bowling Green—seemed like a good idea, in theory, the night before. In practice, it was, too—although boy, it got a little dicey when we lost the street.

ON TUESDAY NIGHT, IT took Bill Bradley less than 10 minutes to reply in the affirmative to my email (subject: "Really short notice, and also ridiculous") asking if he wanted to run down Broadway with me 16 hours later. He was in, forecast for strong winds, rain, and possible snow be damned. We planned to meet at 10:30 a.m. the next morning for the 13-mile run down one of the country's most crammed streets—come hell or high water. I checked the weather report one more time before going to sleep. Smart money was on high water.

The 9:42 a.m. Wednesday morning A train from Jay Street­–Metrotech that arrived at 9:44 a.m. was half filled with straggling commuters focused on their iPhones and earbuds, their tablets and Talk of the Town columns. A placard advertisement above their oblivious heads suggested I go "From Bronx to bronzed," featured two happy, bronzed stand-up paddleboarders, and listed a website for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. They seemed happy-ish. No one else on the train did. I was wearing shorts, wool socks, my least water-absorbent long-sleeve shirt, and a black running skull cap. We all looked ridiculous in our ways, commuting toward something. I took my phone out and started reading.

Fifty minutes later at the Dyckman stop, the A train stopped for a reason that was possibly known to the conductor but not shared with any of his dwindling passengers. After five minutes of waiting, I decided to get out and walk the seven blocks north, but I ran into Bradley in the station. He had the same idea. We shook hands, then made the executive decision to start the run from 200th.

After a quick check of the phone for orienteering purposes—eat your heart out, Dutch explorer David de Vries who first mentioned the road that would become Broadway in a journal entry more than 350 years earlier—we set out on our journey. It was not raining, but the 41 degrees felt like 31, thanks to the 25mph wind out of the ENE, which happened to be perfectly aimed to push us toward our destination 230 or so blocks away. You win some, you lose some. We fell into an easy jog, shooting for nine-minute miles or so.

Almost immediately, we hit a long, gradual uphill. In fact, the first 100 or so blocks are one long set of rolling peaks and valleys, the type of topography that makes you realize you would have to think long and hard about where to put your defenses if you were a Revolutionary War general defending the city. This is less relevant now that the streets are lined with bodegas and not cannons, but it's still kind of a pain in the ass, and it makes for difficult pacing, something with which I struggle even on flat surfaces. I kept unwittingly pushing the pace, which wasn't fair. Bradley, who is training for a half marathon, had done a track workout the previous night because he's nuts. His legs were sore. On the other hand, I had eaten some very excellent thai ribs and watched a Celtics game. My legs felt fine. We went 7:53, 7:43, 8:09, and 8:11 for miles two through six. My bad. Sorry Bill. I blame the wind.

I thought the constant presence of the numbered street signs would get tedious, little 1/20th mile markers from hell, but I mostly forgot about them and was surprised by how rapidly they had decreased when I did look up to check where we were. Columbia University came and went. At some point, it started drizzling, but nothing more. (Brick Tamland, wrong again.) We kept going, running and talking like two guys out for a long training run. Which, of course, is exactly what we were doing. We just happened to be running through the center of Manhattan in the middle of a workday. There were fewer people out than I expected—in this regard, the weather probably helped—but we had to stop once every 10 or 15 blocks to wait for the light to change and dodge some understandably unsuspecting shoppers. But otherwise, the expedition was going well.

Then, we got lost.

“WE’RE ON 8TH AVENUE,” my running partner noticed as we crossed 47th Street.

You might think that following a major road would be a simple task, but Broadway cuts through Manhattan in strange ways. It intersects with avenues in massive, uncrossable intersections, then continues off at an acute angle. There are cars and people and chaos, and sometimes you lose your way.

Fifteen blocks earlier in Columbus Circle, we had paused so Bradley could take a picture and I could stand and awkwardly whisper a few notes into my phone. After a brief respite, we continued south, not realizing that we were on the wrong street. Luckily, it was a quick fix. Broadway was a few hundred feet to our left, just west of 7th Avenue. A detour down 47th and we were back on track, just in time for Times Square.

When I conceived of the Broadway Run idea, Times Square was one of my concerns. All the people, all the insanity, all the men trying to sell Bus Tours of Manhattan. But it was actually one of the most pleasant parts of the journey because there were no cars. In 2009, New York City banned vehicles on Broadway between 47th and 42nd—also, in Herald Square between 35th and 33rd—and it's lovely for a runner. You have dodge your fair share of tourists, but you do that everywhere.

Pushing on, we avoided a near fight at 28th Street, then hit Union Square—8.95 miles—around the 80-minute mark. A teenage skate rat hanging out by the subway station entrance serenaded us with the Rocky theme song. I was tempted to raise my arms as I ran down a nearby four-stair staircase. I did not; I wouldn't want to look weird. Further south, the clueless NYU students walked in lazy, remarkably un-straight lines as they focused on their phones. We avoided them by zigging into the street, then zagging back to the sidewalk. The first uphill in what seemed like forever arrived between 6th and Houston. We were getting close.

In Soho, a woman in a bright shirt with a logo I couldn't make out handed me a bottle of a drink she was being paid to hock. I was too tired and powerless to resist. 989 On-Demand promises nine vitamins, 84 ionic minerals, and five electrolytes. One releases this magical formula by twisting the cap, at which point a cloud of red kiwi strawberry flavor mixes into the clear water. This task proved rather difficult to accomplish while running, but I managed. After 11 miles, watching the mixture was equal parts gross and fascinating.

We reached the Financial District and decided to end the run at the Wall Street bull, just north of Broadway's inevitable conclusion. We went into tourist mode and took a picture of the iconic statue. In total, the run covered 11.35 miles and took 1:44:19. I opened the 989 and took a sip. It was sweet, perhaps too sweet. It wasn't terrible, but I'm not sure I'd drink it again.

Noah Davis (@noahedavis) is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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