Sports in Central Park
Get out of the gym and enjoy running, cycling, yoga, skating and more in the great outdoors
Chugging through the streets of Manhattan (and its bevy of streetlights, vehicles and spaced-out pedestrians) can be a gamble. Luckily, the park offers ample room for you to worry more about your pace than about traffic. Clueless on where to start? City Running Tours (cityrunningtours.com) takes groups out on multiple routes throughout the park. There are also clubs like the New York Fliers (nyflyers.org), the Central Park Track Club (centralparktc.org) and the Reservoir Dogs (thereservoirdogs.com) that cater to different ability levels. If you’re planning on testing your mettle at the NYC Marathon (November 7), prep with others at the 18-mile ING New York City Marathon Tune-Up (Sept 19 at 7am; $10–$40; meet in the park at East Dr and 102nd St; nyrr.org). Less lengthy fall trots include the five-mile Poland Springs Marathon Kickoff (Oct 31 at 8:30am; $10–$40; meet at 9 E 89th St; nyrr.org) and the low-key Norwegian Festival Grete’s Great Gallop, Norway Run and Troll Stroll (Oct 2 at 8:15am; $10–$40; meet in the park at West Dr and 66th St; nyrr.org), where race length is determined by age.
Reaching a state of total relaxation as the city buzzes around you (and while sober, no less) is quite an experience. Locate your Zen at Central Park Yoga (Turtle Pond, midpark between 79th and 80th Sts, enter at Fifth Ave and 79th St; centralparkyoga.com; Tue 6:30pm, Sun 10am, through Sept 28; $10), where head instructor Lisa Langer leads a large group in vinyasa. Or try Open Air Yoga (Turtle Pond, midpark between 79th and 80th Sts, enter at Fifth Ave and 79th St; openairyoganyc.com; Mon, Wed 6:45pm; $12) with instructor Donna Klimkiewicz, who specializes in anusara. Strapped for cash? Free sessions from Yoga Fun in NYC go down every Sunday until the first week in October (meet at 100th St and Central Park West; 10:45am), while New York Yoga Club offers vinyasa flow starting at just $5 (meet at Sheep Meadow, enter at Central Park West and 67th St; www.yogaclub.us; Tues 6:30pm, Sat 11:15am; $5–$7). All classes are BYOM (bring your own mat). Make sure you consult Meetup (meetup.com) for other options.
We highly recommend biking the Loop at night, as the crowds thin out. Just don’t take too many off-the-beaten-path breaks, as the park can still be dangerous. Explore routes by joining clubs like the New York Cycle Club (nycc.org) or the Century Road Club Association (crca.net), which hosts members-only Central Park Series races in September and November. There are also open-to-the-public rides like the 60-mile Fernando Cuevas Benefit Ride (start at Central Park Boathouse, midpark between 71st and 78th Sts, enter at Fifth Ave and 72nd St; bikereg.com; Sept 18 at 8am; $15–$200) and the leisurely Moonlight Ride (start at Columbus Circle; times-up.org; First Friday of every month, 10pm; free).
Baseball and Softball
Joining a softball team (even as a last-minute sub for one game) is almost a rite of passage for a New Yorker. And playing in Central Park, with the buildings serving as a sunset backdrop, is pretty divine. There are too many leagues to mention here—and some storied rivalries, like the softball matches between New York journalists each year (Vanity Fair beating The New Yorker in late May was a lot of fun). Baseball and softball leagues typically run from April through the end of September at the Great Lawn, North Meadow or Heckscher Ballfields. Find applications at the Parks Department’s site (nycgovparks.org) and check in with Meetup pages (meetup.com) for both sports.
Starting around Halloween, attempt a double axel, or grab a partner for your best Frick and Frack routine, at either of the park’s ice skating rinks. Trump Wollman Rink (W 59th St at Sixth Ave; 212-439-6900, wollmanskatingrink.com; Oct 24–Apr 4; skate rental $5; adults weekdays $9.50, weekends $12.50; seniors weekdays $4.75, weekends $8.25; children weekdays $4.75, weekends $5) attracts tourists with its cinematic view, while the less swamped Trump Lasker Skating Rink (midpark between 106th and 108th Sts, enter at Central Park North at Malcolm X Blvd [Lenox Ave]; 212-534-7639, wollmanskatingrink.com; Oct 24–Mar 28; skate rental $5.50; adults $6.25) is divided into areas for skating and playing hockey.
Looking for a place to backhand that disc, brah? The park doesn’t host an official Ultimate Frisbee league this fall (many have since moved onto other pastures), but pickup games can be caught at the Great Hill or Sheep Meadow on weekends. Consult Meetup (meetup.com) for last-minute games—or start your own after nabbing a field-day kit from the North Meadow Recreational Center (free rental with ID deposit), which includes one of those famed circular flying thingies.
Softball’s gentler, goofier, more laid-back little cousin has steadily climbed in popularity over the years. It’s admittedly easier to find a game in less government-controlled city environs, but the park does host leagues on Heckscher Ballfields (West Side between 63rd and 65th Sts, enter at Central park West and 65th St). Register for a team over at NY Central (kickball.com/nycentral) or ZogSports (zogsports.org) and play the sport with the sweet satisfaction of knowing that you weren’t picked last.
There are three bouldering spots in the park. On the southern end, check out Cat Rock (midpark at 64th St, enter at Central Park West and 65th St) or Umpire Rock (midpark at 63rd St, enter at Central Park West and 65th St), which boasts the toughest climbing in the park and attracts the most crowds. Uptown, make use out of Worthless Boulder (midpark at 109th St, enter at 110th St and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd [Seventh Ave]). Check out climbnyc.com for more ideas and other city climbing spots.
Park roads offer several miles of smooth blading—and are free of cabs and heavy traffic on weekdays (10am–3pm, 7–10pm) and throughout the weekend, when the drives are closed. Just don’t go too fast, hotshot, as there’s a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. Roll en masse with Empire Skate Club, which throws the free open-to-all Tuesday Night Skate every week (for advanced skaters only), so long as it’s above freezing and paths are dry (meet at Blades Board and Skate, 156 W 72nd St between Ninth and Tenth Aves; empireskate.org; Tue 8pm; free).
From mid-September to mid-November, the park’s powers that be open up the Great Lawn North Fields and the North Meadow Fields for league play. You can try to get a pickup game going, but know that turf is solidly booked with kiddie and adult leagues. Check out the Parks Department website (nycgovparks.org) for athletic permits and applications, as well as free games via Meetup groups like NYC Coed Soccer (meetup.com).
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