The Best Way to Tour Brooklyn

My father was from the Bronx. My mother grew up in Queens. The Bronx, home to the New York Yankees, was certainly the “cooler” borough of the two. As a kid, I’m not sure I knew anyone from Brooklyn. Historically, the Irish settled in the Bronx and Queens. Can’t recall ever going to Brooklyn. Although, my father told stories about horrendous subway rides back from a day at Coney Island – after sustaining blistering sunburns on his fair Irish skin – back before the train cars were air-conditioned. He always said he’d take me to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone. He never did.

My late husband was from Brooklyn, and when we met in 1992, I realized that if you were born in Brooklyn, you would always be from Brooklyn, even if you moved to Queens when you were 7, and New Jersey during High School. Brooklyn is perhaps “the coolest” borough of them all. He had promised for over 20 years to take me to the “old neighborhood”– 13th Street in Park Slope – someday. He never did.

In the New York City Marathon, Brooklyn is the first borough you enter after passing over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from the start in Staten Island. Then it stays in Brooklyn for the next 11 miles passing through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Park Slope along Fourth Avenue for a about six miles; then continues through Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Runners are engulfed for miles in the sights and sounds of the diverse neighborhoods.

I ran this course twice. In 1997 and 2005. I can attest that there is no better way to see Brooklyn than on foot. To tour it as a runner – strong, determined, aware; living in the present moment, mind focused on the next step as you are energized by the cheers from the spectators – is absolutely magical.

This past weekend I went back for a 13.1 mile tour – the AirBNB Brooklyn Half. It started Thursday when I took a C Train from Manhattan to the first stop in Brooklyn. Walked over to Brooklyn Bridge Park where I had to pick up my packet. It was a warm night (understatement), so I decided to walk back to Manhattan over the bridge. New York City has been a part of my life since as long as I can remember. There are days when I take that for granted. Then there are times when I am overcome by the breathtaking views and an energy that gives life to dreams.

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Saturday morning my alarm went off at 3:45am. No that’s not a typo. The race started at 7:00, corrals closed at 6:40. I had a seat on a running club bus leaving the Park and Ride in Paramus at 5:00.  Everyone made it on time and the conversation was lively with excitement. We arrived in Park Slope a mile from the start corral at about 6:15. I jogged over as my warm-up and was in place with 3 minutes to spare. Then we wait.

I met a young woman originally from Poughkeepsie who was running her first Half Marathon. She realized I was about her parents age, “and they’d never be running a half marathon.” Our love of the sport and excitement about the journey ahead bridged the age-gap; we had a lot to talk about. The time passed quickly.  And then we were off. She disappeared into the crowd.

We started at the Brooklyn Museum and continue down Washington Avenue and then looped around onto Flatbush Avenue for an out and back around Grand Army Plaza passing by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I thought about 13th Street knowing “the old neighborhood” was not far from there.

Miles 3 through 7 were a hilly loop inside Prospect Park. After exiting the park we were directed toward Ocean Parkway where we would spend the next 6 miles (or 13 stops on the F Train!) passing through the neighborhoods of Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Brighton to reach Coney Island. The Cyclone came into view on Surf Avenue and I knew I wasn’t far from the finish line on the Boardwalk in front of the original Nathan’s Famous. I thought about my dad. I was grateful for a cool overcast day.

I finished somewhere in the first 3rd of over 27,000 runners. Not my best time, and not my worse. I was strong and determined. I did Brooklyn. My way. Proving once again that there is no better way to get out there and see a destination than running it’s streets and engaging with it’s people and supporting the community that hosts a race.

Of course, I’d like to go back and see the inside of the museum and stroll through the park and ride the Cyclone, but it would be very hard to do all that in two hours if you weren’t running. And you certainly wouldn’t get a medal!

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