Author Todd Aydelotte (far right) leads a group of runners who joined him on a 92-mile run connecting historic landmarks from poet Allen Ginsberg's lifetime. Armando Diaz

For the last five years, I’ve been designing solo, long-distance running experiences that trace the history of famous New Yorkers like Teddy Roosevelt, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and David Berkowitz.

After consuming huge amounts of history and training my mind, I set off on long journeys to explore and consider my own place in history, a strange interloper in running shoes. By running this way, I’m able to occupy my mind over long distances and create unique experiences.

Of the many off-the-grid runs I’ve designed, my most recent might just be the most audacious, blending a 92-mile run to top Allen Ginsberg and Beat Generation sites across two states, with an audio loop of Ginsberg’s poetry, mantras and songs.

“We were attracted by this idea as a terrific way to honor Allen’s legacy,” said Peter Hale of the Allen Ginsberg Estate. “He was many things, rolled into one. He was a poet, a social activist, a meditator, musician and Buddhist. He was always looking for ways to expand consciousness, and he would have loved the concept behind this run.”

Aydelotte (foreground) takes a photo of the group at Ginsberg's childhood home. Armando Diaz

Who Was Allen Ginsberg?

Born in 1926, Allen Ginsberg spent his youth growing up in New Jersey and eventually attended Columbia University in New York. Along with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, together the three of them formed what is known as the “Beat Generation,” or a literary subculture movement started by authors in the 1950s. This movement explored religion, culture, drugs, sex and more. Each of the authors went on to write influential pieces that impacted future generations, including On the Road and Naked Lunch. Ginsberg is best known for his poetry—more notably, his poem, “Howl.”

A Return to Howl

This past fall, I recruited some like-minded East Coast ultrarunners to join me on a second attempt at what is now called the “Howl UltraRun.” The group included Michael “Gagz” Gagliardi and Michael Koehler, two bearded, wizened souls who run to a higher vibe, Michelle Goldberg, an ultrarunning PhD psychologist and Eddie Gieda III, a meditating, animal-rights activist and front man for a punk band, as well as an inspirational run streaker.

As a team, we committed to the proper training, studying Ginsberg’s poetry, listening to his songs and mantras, gathering for Zoom calls and digesting the landmark book on his life and work, Dharma Lion. With the benefit of time and support from the Allen Ginsberg Estate and Ciele Athletics, we also expanded the audio loop by over 5 hours and asked Eddie Gieda if he would lead live meditations along the way.

The group gathers for a meditation at Greystone Park Psychiatric Center, a faciliity where Ginsberg's mother spent much of her life. Armando Diaz

Grave to Greystone

As fate would have it, the remnants of a hurricane were still being felt in Newark, New Jersey, as we gathered at the Gomel Chesed Cemetery late one afternoon in October, where we settled on a blanket in front of Allen’s grave to meditate. Eddie chanted the Durga Mantra, dispelling any negative energies and helping us tap Beat consciousness.

After a brief prayer, where we called on Allen’s spirit to join us on the journey, we set off through the streets of Newark, ultimately finding our way to the Ginsberg family’s first apartment.

While our spirits soared listening to Ginsberg’s performances with Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, we ran for much of the night through a steady rain as we listened to his reading of “Kaddish,” Ginsberg’s powerful poem charting his mother’s demise from mental illness—and the many years he spent visiting her at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Center, where we ran to that night.

“I had listened to Ginsberg reading “Kaddish” before, but on that night, I was struck by the way his words became intertwined with our movement, and the way that running elevated our minds. The resonating sound of Ginsberg's voice, his colorful and vivid descriptions, scattered thoughts and the timing of our footfalls—the energy that it all generated took ultrarunning to a deeper, psychic level that is hard for me to describe," said Goldberg. 

Strange Interludes

In my years running like this, our meditation at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Center at midnight, after 29 miles of running, ranks among the most surreal.

“The storm had cleared, stars had filled the sky and I saw deer in the trees nearby as we were laying down our meditation blanket under the giant Greystone sign,” said Gieda. “Everything was switched way on—there was a huge amount of energy moving—and I felt Allen’s mother was there with us. She was Bohemian, an outsider, and I don’t think she was too far off from any one of us.”

In one of the most powerful moments of this journey, Gieda chanted 108 repetitions of the Maha Mantra, the Hare Krishna mantra—a favorite of Allen Ginsberg—while we meditated on the tragic events that brought us there.

Sadly, both Gagz and Eddie had to drop from the run after reaching Greystone, with small injuries that amplified overnight.

For the next 6 hours, myself, Koehler and Michelle Goldberg would push on solo, running to a stew of Ginsberg poems, songs and mantras as we plunged into the night.

The Howl UltraRun began in Gomel Chesed Cemetery where Ginsberg is buried. Armando Diaz

The Great Falls at Dawn

Just as the sun was rising, at the 60-mile mark, we arrived at the Great Falls in Paterson, not far from where the Ginsberg family lived throughout much of the 1930s.

“Everything was just so raw, the power of the Earth, the roaring of the Passaic River as it crashed over the falls, the mist rising up all around us, the orange light of the sun at dawn. After hours of Beat poetry and live meditation, the whole experience was like dreaming while awake,” said Michael Koehler, who led the third guided meditation, urging us to give thanks for the people and places in our lives.

(L to R) Michael Koehler, Michelle Golderg and author Todd Aydelotte stand in front of the Great Falls. Armando Diaz

Into Beat Consciousness

In Manhattan, the Howl UltraRun crisscrossed the island, carrying us the last 15 miles as we visited over a dozen locations of key Ginsberg history, including the West End Bar, the long lost Columbia University watering hole beloved by the Beats, the apartment of Joan Adams and Edie Parker, where Ginsberg would meet Jack Kerouac and of course, the St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery, the site of many of the poet’s greatest readings and our finish line.

“When I crossed the finish line, a deep feeling of gratefulness consumed me,” said Koehler. “A gratefulness for my family, my life and the opportunity for sharing these miles, mantras and meditations with these incredible people. I felt like I was home, and that everything in my life had led up to this moment.”