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Lace Up for NYC’s Most Epic Urban Hike

By Matt Villano

Apr 26, 2017

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The beginning of the Great Saunter at Fraunces Tavern

Courtesy of Shorewalks

The beginning of the Great Saunter at Fraunces Tavern

It’s a longer haul than the city’s famous marathon.

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The New York City Marathon has nothing on the Great Saunter.

The former event, held the first weekend of every November, is a 26.2-mile run through all five boroughs of New York. The latter event, coming up May 6, is a 32-mile circumambulation (that means you walk the perimeter) of Manhattan Island. In one day. 

Festivities begin just after sunrise at Fraunces Tavern near South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. The gun sounds around 7:30 a.m., and walkers—“Saunterers,” as some like to call themselves—advance clockwise around the island, following a predetermined route along city streets and through more than 20 parks. 

The route follows Manhattan’s Waterfront Greenway, the path that surrounds the island. Specifically, from Fraunces Tavern, it stretches around Battery Park City, up the Hudson River and into Inwood Hill Park, then cuts around South Harlem, past the old Polo Grounds, and shoots down the East River to the finish.

There are two scheduled breaks along the way: one at Inwood and the other at Carl Schurz Park in Yorkville on the Upper East Side.

Although walkers advance at their own paces, it takes between 10 and 12 hours for most of the hikers to end up back at the starting point. Everyone who finishes receives a certificate of accomplishment. Then they sidle up to the bar. 

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The atmosphere during the trek is collegial, with participants mostly ignoring competition in the name of fun. More than half of the 1,400 participants are from the New York metropolitan area; the rest drive or fly in from all over the world. Some walkers dress in costumes and stay dressed up the whole time. Others bring along picnic meals. Still other Saunterers plan on stopping at bodegas or delis or even McDonald’s restaurants along the way.

(I know these details because I’ve done the Saunter, most recently with my father in 2001. But I’ve also read some great articles about the walk over the years.)

The Saunter is the brainchild of a nonprofit organization called Shorewalkers, which aims to protect parks around NYC. The group requires that registrants become members before they officially can participate in the event. The cost for both: $25 per person. 

Oh, and if you think a 32-mile walkabout sounds easy, think again. At a pace of 15-minute miles, the course would require more than 62,000 steps—roughly six times the suggested number of steps for an average person on a healthy day. As long as you bring (or buy) water, extra socks, and some patience, you’ll get there eventually.

>>Next: 9 Unique Races Around the World

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