Best (and worst) Running Cities – or an opinionated editorial by MtnSlamGrass

Posted on September 6, 2012

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I would SAY I love to run but that would be a lie. It’s more of a love-hate relationship. Some days it’s easy. Some days I’d rather go the dentist for an anesthetic-free root canal. That said, I do challenge myself and look for interesting places or trails to run (think slow jog) when I’m on the road. I hadn’t really thought of making a “top 10” list or anything until last night. It was NOT one of my most pleasant experiences and I was set to list Washington DC as the WORST runner friendly town. And that was factoring in the fact that I haven’t run in Fargo, ND in January or Vegas in July. IT was pretty much a given that DC was the worst running town ever (I’ll explain later why it went from worst to at least the bottom of towns I HAVE run in so there IS room for improvement). But first, the list!

  1. NYC! – Mostly because of Central Park. And it doesn’t matter where you are in NYC since you can get to Central Park quickly on almost any of the subways. My favorite time to run is in the Fall and early Winter. The weather is mild, not too cold, not too hot. I find I can do an easy run and with the lower temps not feel too sweaty and feel like I can run forever. Also, running in Central Park in the evening. Cabs and cars are routed around so you have the park to yourself (or yourself and bicyclists, other joggers and numerous horse-drawn carriages)
  2. Boulder, CO – It’s difficult for me to rate Boulder number 2. It is my “hometown” and there ARE numerous jogging paths that are easily accessible. It’s just so hard to compete with NYC and Central Park. But like I said, there are miles and miles of paths and all can easily be reached by car. And if that weren’t enough, the surfaces, vistas and options are equally numerous: concrete, asphalt, dirt/gravel, flat, gently climbing, steep climbs. Try a run on one of the trails in December or January with snow on the ground (don’t worry, the parks dept. seems to clear the trails of snow faster than the city and state get the roads clear). My one caution is to avoid going out during one of Boulder’s infamous wind storms. Other than that, Boulder is A+ running!
  3. Seattle – What can I say. It’s very similar to Boulder. Plenty of jogging paths. Easy parking. Pleasant climate. Check out the Sammamish River trail.
  4. Columbus, OH – Yes, Columbus! Believe it or not, Columbus is a hotbed of jogging trails. Most of these are railway beds that have been converted to bike and jogging trails. This means that they have no more than a 3% grade. Check out the Lower Scioto Trail.
  5. Jacksonville, Fl – Not only is there a beautiful trail along the St. John’s River there is also Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail. It’s 14.5 miles end-to-end and most of it is in the shade of towering Ponderosa pine trees.
  6. Arlington, TX – As far as runner friendly, I would have to say no. But, River Legacy Park is the exception. Over 9 miles of trails take the runner along the Trinity River. And TREES!!!. I can’t stress how much trees make a difference.
  7. Birmingham, AL – Yes, this city beats out DC as well. Most notable is the Veterans Memorial Park Trail System. It has an official 10K sanctioned trail run course with some good elevation changes. And what could be more fun than jogging past a giant statue of the Roman god Vulcan! (see the Vulcan Trail on traillink.com)
  8. Washington, DC – This city was originally going to be all time bottom. It started out because I was looking for the Anacostia River Walk Trail. According to Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Traillink.com website, Anacostia Riverwalk boasted more than 12 miles of trail along the Anacostia River. First step (and frustration #1) was finding the trail head and a parking space. I was told numerous times “you can’t park here”. It seemed as if I was going to have to park miles away from the trail. After 3 attempts, I finally found a lot. Problem? The lot charged $6/hour. And that seems to be the problem with a lot of trails in DC: no nearby lots and/or pay $$$ to park. Another problem with the Anacostia River Trail was that it’s not “continuous”. There are several breaks that require walking along some dangerous (in my opinion) streets. Or that you have to drive between them. I was looking forward to a nice 5K job but the section I had found (and paid $6/hour to park) was just a little over a mile in length and didn’t connect to any the rest. So after all the frustration of finding a parking space, finding out the trail wasn’t quite what it was built up as was a huge let-down. But tonight, my attitude changed somewhat for the better. It turns out my hotel was only 3 blocks from the National Mall. I decided to walk from the Courtyard, down 9th street then picked up the trail by the Smithsonian. From there I headed west towards the Washington Monument and the WWII Memorial. There’s a small hill as you cross 15th and head up to the Washington Monument, then back downhill to the WWII Memorial. No prob. But then it’s back uphill from the WWII Memorial to the obelisk. As I was nearing the top on the return trip, an oncoming jogger made their way towards me, gave me a big “high-five” and said “Way to go!” I was stunned! But at that point my whole attitude changed. Here I was in the nation’s capitol, incredible monuments, museums and the Capitol Building all around me. I was a little bummed by the number of street crossings but still, tonight’s experience at least elevated DC to a point where it’s would be hard to say DC is the least runner friendly town.
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