This is the 15th in a series of posts about New York – a re-post of an essay I wrote about four years ago. The original post is reprinted here with no editing.

When I used to live in Tribeca, non-New Yorkers would ask me “Oh, you run?  I bet you love running in Central Park!”  Back then it would irk me, even though their geographic ignorance was not their fault.

“No,” I’d say sweetly, “I prefer to run along the Hudson.”  Which was, and is still a fact, even now living only a few blocks off the Park and running it frequently; racing it most weekends.

New York, as you probably know or have surmised, is ferociously neighbourhoody, not merely in the borough-to-borough sense.  Each neighbourhood has a distinct personality, evolved and evolving over time.  Nothing is static: growth, rot, gentrification, construction — all constants.

One other thing that remains constant, and perhaps is a neighbourhood in and of itself is Central Park.

Central Park has not always existed.  It is, by historical standards, a relatively recent phenomenon.  New York traces its founding to 1624.  It wasn’t until 1844 that American poet William Cullen Bryant began to romanticise the need for a public park in New York City.  Perhaps Bryan’s words were not so much “publicity,” rather a reflection of public sentiment — by then New Yorkers had resorted to using cemeteries as public parks because there were so few green spaces left in the growing city.  In 1857, the City approved the development of a 700 acre public park, and in 1858, Frederic Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux were selected to design the space.

In 1873, Central Park (originally dubbed “the Greensward Project”) was completed.  For the first 60 years of the Park’s existence, largely due to the City’s demographics and politics, there was little interest in using the Park for its intended purpose.  But in 1934, newly-elected Republican Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia tasked Robert Moses with cleaning up the park — an effort that was, all things considered, a success.

Throughout the 20th century, the Park was not immune from the upheaval that City experienced.  The Park was opened to events in the 1960s — drawing crowds; protests; concerts — but the City lacked the expertise, budget, and general wearwithall to manage the impact.  Despite being named an historical landmark in 1963, the Park fell into serious disrepair once again, which continued throughout the late 1970s.

In 1980, the Park informally came into the managerial hands of the Central Park Conservancy — a public-private partnership that formalised their management agreement over the park in 1998 and manages the Park to this day.  (And does a fantastic job!).  The Central Park Conservancy began restoring the Park in the early 1980s, and today, the Park is the most visited urban park in the country.

Perhaps I am not alone in saying my feelings on the Park change with the seasons.

In the Winter, the Park is a tundra — the Reservoir frozen over; the surface crackled and full of mystery like an ancient skin.  The horse-drawn carriages ferry blanketed passengers like it’s something romantic, and I suppose it is in a way.  But the dirt and grime and smell of horse-shit and other people who have used those blankets make the idea very unromantic to me.

Spring has rolled directly into Summer in Manhattan the last few years but during the few Spring days, one can practically see the cartoon steam lines rising out of moist lawns.  The Spring growth brings itchy eyes and pollenshowers from every tree.  Then comes Summer with its lazy picnics and sunsoaked Saturdays with sangria secreted in under cover of Gatorade jugs.  We play games of catch until we’re too dizzy from the wine.  But beware the young couples necking; petting; going through the rituals of love behind boulders, trees.  Every Summer seems a Summer of Love — sweet, gentle love — but only until Dusk.  Because everyone knows that after dark, the Park is still the Park.

In the Fall, the Park is magical: the trees are a canopy of fire!  I used to — don’t laugh — have my hair done at the salon at Bergdorf’s and sometimes I felt like asking the stylist for silence so I could drink in the view.  (That salon was another life; is another post.)  Walking in the Park under the Autumn trees may be life’s greatest pleasure — the heady, sneezy smell of maples, elms; the peaty smell of dying grass.

November brings my favourite day of the year — Marathon Sunday.  There is no more welcome or glorious sight than Central Park on that day.  The air is crisp; the leaves are fireworks of celebration; my fellow New Yorkers are screaming my name and carrying me to the finish.  Even in the late afternoon shade, as the sun sinks into the Hudson on the other side of town, the Park glows golden that day.

Central Park, like all of New York, is glamourous, dangerous, ever changing.  It is a place where the robber barons and beggars mingle with ease.  It is perhaps not where all New Yorkers feel at home — even the most seasoned City-dwellers among us — but it is a place that is uniquely our own.

Sources: Central Park Conservancy; NYC.gov; Wikipedia: Central Park

This is the fifth in a series of posts about New York.

I frequently wax poetic about marathoning. In particular, about running the NYC Marathon.

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But there are few things in this world more glorious; more amazing; more exhilarating and exhausting…

Than this:

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I wondered, after hip surgery and multiple injuries, if I would ever feel that way again.  If I would ever run through Central Park on the first Sunday in November again; if I’d ever cross another finish line with anything more than disappointment. I can run, sure, but will I ever improve?

And then…a few weeks ago…eee and I ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon. I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I finished in the fastest time I’ve run since I injured myself in 2013.

I sped up through the chute, and ran across the line, and for the first time in years, I burst into happy tears at the end of a race.

I am not sure that I will ever run on that first Sunday ever again. But at least I know, again, that I can run.

Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, or join us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

Energy | What gave you energy this year?  What took away your energy?

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Six weeks on crutches.

Four months in rehab.

Stitches; scars; setbacks.

I tried to be a trooper, because the injury was so much more painful than the surgery was. But this whole experience rattled me a whole heck of a lot. I was a Highly Motivated Patient. I was Energised For Recovery, but I was quickly…spent. If you’ve ever been through recovery from a bad sports injury, you know exactly what I mean.

I go out and run now, and I work out, but I still worry if I will ever be A Runner again.

Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, orjoin us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

Do Over Hindsight is the one thing we never benefit from in the present.  Is there one moment you wish that you could do-over?

I ran a really shitty marathon in Big Sur in April. It was a Bucket List Race — one of those races you sign up for because you just have to run it.  I was badly injured and Big Sur was and is a tough marathon regardless of whether one is injured or not (basically, 26.2 miles of Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast).  I was also inexplicably sick to my stomach throughout the course, maybe because of the pain of my shredded hip; maybe because I knew it could be my last marathon, and I was struggling to cope with that.

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I enjoyed it, immensely.

But if I could do it over?

I’d take more time. I’d enjoy it even more than I did.

It still might be my last marathon. So I wouldn’t be so maudlin about the whole affair. I wouldn’t go back to Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur trying to chase down the things that I missed; the life that I had had there years ago.

I would go to celebrate the race for itself.IMG_3120

No one is ever going to take away the fact that I’ve run 14 marathons — but I guess I didn’t know that when I was facing down the Big Sur start. At the time, I felt like if I wasn’t actively racing, even just plodding at a terribly slow place with one working hip, that meant that I was no longer a runner; no longer a Marathoner. It felt like I would have to give up a part of my identity that had been so hard-fought, and hard-won, and fiercely guarded.

Running has been one of those things that does not come naturally to me, but that I do for myself. Because it’s not easy, it’s more rewarding.

If I’d known, before I crossed the Bixby Bridge, that I would still be a marathoner after Big Sur, I would’ve had a happier heart on the day of what might be my last marathon start. So while I like to live my life with no regrets; no longing; no desire for do-overs, I wouldn’t mind a second chance at those hills with a lighter step.

California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home

 – Joni Mitchell, California

I ran the Big Sur International Marathon last weekend.  This was significant for a whole lot of reasons, all of which require me to tell the back story of Daily Angst, and my once-upon-a-time life on California’s central coast, and how I got into Marathons in the first place.

I’ve been writing Daily Angst for ten years in October, and started writing it on this site five years ago this year. At the time I started writing here, I was still in private practice and working very closely with a client in Carmel, California helping to close down a business.

At the time, I was young, new divorcee who literally did not know a single divorced person.  I think my parents had one, chronically divorced manchild friend who had a collection of wives, and a collection of Porsches, but that was basically my only example of How To Do This.

So there I was.  In Carmel.  Alone, but for a rag-tag bunch of executives from the client, and a marathon training plan for my first marathon, and the occasional middle-of-the-night phone call to Asia or from my insane then-boss.

I had started running marathons in the first place for two reasons: 1) because I had made a list in the end of the nineties of fifty things I had wanted to do in ten years, and I was coming to the end of the time limit in which to do them, and the only thing that remained from that list was “run the NYC Marathon,” and 2) my ex-husband used to say he was “allergic to exercise” and truly resented when I would go out and run — in fact, I recently found some old writing where I recounted that he’d held off proposing to me until I’d agreed not to train for a marathon — ever.

(I don’t think I’ve ever told people that before.)

Running, in my mind, was freedom.  Probably the first self-care type-thing I did upon leaving Andrew was investigate options on how to obtain a marathon entry.

So my  life in Carmel was a lot of late-night whisky, and chocolate cake, and running on country and coastal roads.  And I survived; I made friends; I thrived.  Then I went home and began again.

And life went on.

Late last year, when someone tweeted the date of registration for the Big Sur Marathon, I knew that I would sign up.  My marathon days are getting small — partly because of motivation; partly because of my health.  I have been running injured for a few races now — I tore the cartilage in my hip about a year ago, and it’s not improving.  I’ll probably have to have surgery and the recovery is long and painful.

So it seemed right, and good, that Big Sur might be my final marathon — at least for a while.  It also made sense to end things where I began things, and the Big Sur marathon begins in Big Sur and runs north up Highway 1 into Carmel.

eee and I flew to San Francisco last Friday, and drove down to Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur last Saturday to pick up our race numbers then spend the day relaxing on the coast.  We arrived at the hotel I had once shuttered, which had re-opened in the late Autumn.

This is where I ran away to when I got divorced, I laughed.

It’s a nice place to get divorced, she said approvingly.

It was a strange and familiar homecoming.

Here is the pool, and here is the parking lot, and here are the pathways I walked with friends.  Here is the fireplace we sat by that one night after that dinner with Maria Shriver, before we knew her own marriage was hanging by a thread, and where that weird lounge singer and his lawyer friend offered to fly us down to Esalen post-haste.

Don’t you remember?

It was so much tension, and so romantic, and such a wild adventure!

But there was no time to reminisce — we had to grab dinner then go to bed, since the buses left for the start at 3am.

So.  I ran.  It had been nearly five years, but I was there to run.

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One of the great thrills of the Big Sur marathon is crossing the Bixby Bridge, because not only are the sweeping views simply to die for, but there is also a tuxedo’d man seated at a grand piano on the bridge’s northern side.  People remember what he was playing when they crossed.

When I ran my first marathon — NYC 2009 — by some magic, when I crossed the 59th Street Bridge, my iPod queued up the 59th Street Bridge Song.

And when I ran Big Sur, as I crossed the Bixby Bridge, the piano player struck up Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Sometimes, things just work.

The run was hard, and the run was long and slow, but I finished it.  I met old friends at the end.  I went back to the places I had been before and I made it through them with new and wonderful memories; possibilities.

What I am saying is, going back to the places that hurt is not always equal to “being stuck” or “dwelling in the past.”  Sometimes, it’s the most glorious and triumphant way of moving forward.

I ran a half-marathon in Middletown, CT on Sunday.  It was crisp, and clear, and a mile or so into my race, a grizzled, Forrest Gump-like runner fell into step with me and ran with me for nine miles.  His name was Carl, and he had a profound beard, and was…nuts.

One thing I love about running is that wherever you go in the world, it’s a community.

I was using the race as the springboard for my Last Long Run before the Big Sur Marathon, so I ran a few miles before and a few miles afterward to reach the Magical 20.

I keep saying that Big Sur is likely to be my last marathon, and I’m not sure why.  Like Forrest Gump, there was a point in my life where I felt like I had to run, and now I’m reaching the point where I don’t have that feeling any more, and I feel like I should stop.  As to why Big Sur, well, I trained for my first marathon in that part of the country, and I tend to run to that part of the world to clear my head.  There’s something special and sacred about the craggy coast.

So I ran on Sunday in CT.

Then I drove back to Norwalk to spend some time with Katka and Matthew, before heading back into the City.  Made dinner plans on the Westside with Rebex.

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And I walked to dinner along Fifth Avenue, so grateful for the day, and the sunshine, and good friends, and the promise of spring.

I was running a few minutes late to dinner and so Rebex texted me and said, Do you want me to order you a drink?

Sure. What are you having?

Coconut margi, blended, no salt.

Perfect.

And I arrived in Midtown West as the sun was setting over the Hudson, to a coconut margarita and a good friend, and I thought: Does it get any better than this?

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I landed in London yesterday morning, immensely grateful to be out of New York.

In case I have not made it abundantly clear, I hate the cold.  And when you hate the cold, 10C feels like summer compared to consistently sub-freezing temperatures and piles of dirty, frozen snow.

(Why do you cite temperature in Celsius? someone asked me recently, with a weird scowl on her face, as if she was calling me out for Trying Too Hard)

(Because in January alone, I was in five different countries, and if the weather reports in the places I travel are to mean anything at all to me, I should probably be fluent in how that news is delivered? I replied, trying to sound Not Annoyed, but my voice clearly rose into a question mark at the end, daring her to challenge my logic.)

(Why do Americans think other Americans are being snobbish when they do things that aren’t obviously American? As if speaking in unfamiliar units of distance or temperature is pretentious or somehow treasonous, when in reality, it’s a measure of self-preservation.)

(Anyway.)

It is a fairly well-documented fact that emergency room admissions for interpersonal violence increase on the hottest nights of the year.  The weather has the opposite effect on me.  The colder it gets, the more hostile I get.  The heat lulls me into a dreamy, drowsy, happy state.  The humidity makes me a little cranky, but I am still docile.  I can’t really describe why the cold does to me what it does, but it shakes me at my core; makes me feel as if I will snap.

I am so tired of New York right now.  I am tired of winter.  I am tired of the dirty, frozen snow, and the brackish, icy ponds of street-slush that appear ankle-deep but are really more of a mid-calf situation.  I am exhausted of the landlords who don’t shovel, and the salt-shortage, and the New Mayor who is trying to start some sort of class war by not plowing uptown — particularly the streets around Mayor Mike’s brownstone.

London was a welcome change, tube strike notwithstanding.

So I landed at Heathrow, and I napped, and then I went for a Long Run in the Park in the Afternoon-into-Evening.

There are few greater joys in the dead of winter than running in a place where the grass is still green — even if that greenness is only the difference of 10 degrees Celsius above freezing.  And there are few things lovelier than the late afternoon sunlight in Hyde Park, as the sun dips behind Kensington Palace.

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I ran for miles and miles.

Generally, I am a big believer in the idea that one cannot/should not run away from one’s problems, and that one must sit through the suck.

But sometimes, it’s not just distance one needs from one’s problems; sometimes, it’s perspective.  Occasionally, perspective is one of temperature.  Sometimes, a girl just needs to thaw out a little before she can be or do or see any good.