The 12 Best Cities for the Ultimate Urban Run
Last Updated: Dec 11, 2016
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One of the best things about running is that you can do it pretty much anywhere. But that doesn’t mean you want to run in just any old place. So we asked Paula Boone, a member of the 50 States Marathon Club, and Amby Burfoot, a lifelong distance runner and writer at large for Runner’s World, for their picks for the best U.S. cities for running. Whether you want to interact with wildlife, run to the soundtrack of flowing water, see glaciers or tour historic monuments, these are places where you’ll want to lace up.
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“My new favorite running city is Boise,” Burfoot says. While that may seem like an odd choice, the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt runs right along the burbling water and is lined by trees to help keep the sun’s glare off of you. After your run, what’s better than an ice-cold brew? You can check out one of the pubs along the greenbelt or explore the Boise Ale Trail.
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The only problem with running the National Mall is that there are so many monuments and so many potential routes to take that it can be a bit overwhelming to map out your route. (What a problem to have!) You could always sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon, which goes by the Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and more. The marathon is called The People’s Marathon because it’s the largest in the world that doesn’t offer prize money. But everyone gets cheered on by soldiers yelling, “You go, ma’am!” (or sir), Boone says.
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Portland’s not just weird (as its unofficial slogan boasts), it’s also a bit obsessed with running, with more than 200 races within 25 miles of the city in 2016 alone. If no official runs appeal, join the free Nike+ Run Club for one of their three weekly runs or go out on your own. Burfoot recommends the bike trails along the Willamette River downtown or, if you want to get away from it all, the 60 miles of trails in Forest Park.
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This northern city may be quite the trek for those of us in the lower 48, but the travel is well worth your chance to see a glacier up close. “There is a trail from near the airport up to the glaciers,” Boone says. “The whole way up, you see this glacier in front of you. You can’t beat that.” You can also run the Frank Maier Marathon to quality for Boston, which may be a good test of your abilities -- the Alaska race is said to be just as difficult.
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SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
“For an Easterner like me, Santa Monica is fun and exciting,” Burfoot says. “I get to see the breadth of West Coast characters that are different and amusing.” Jog along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail (aka the Strand) for the best people-watching opportunities. Start in Venice for a tour of colorful street vendors selling artwork and other wares for trade. Head north until you hit Muscle Beach, where you’ll see fit locals practicing slacklining and Olympic ring acrobatics.
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ESTES PARK, COLORADO
With an average elevation of 7,785 feet above sea level, the Estes Park Marathon is the highest paved marathon in the U.S. So expect to huff and puff as you take in all the wildlife. One year Boone’s husband even had an elk run right at him — and, fortunately, past him and into the pond near the hill toward the finish. If you’re brave enough, stay at the Stanley Hotel, which inspired “The Shining.” (“The Shining” author Stephen King also wrote “The Running Man.” Coincidence?)
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK
The Big Apple is host of the world’s largest marathon (pictured), with more than 50,000 people crossing the finish line in Central Park every year. And while the park’s six-mile loop is a runner favorite every day of the year, Burfoot prefers running along either side of Manhattan. “In Central Park, I’m never quite sure where and when cars are going or not. The riversides are nicer because you’re not fighting traffic so much,” he says. Plus, you can take in the Statue of Liberty from the southern tip of the island.
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“We do the Kona Marathon every year,” Boone says. “You’re in Hawaii: What more can you say?” Every run there is gorgeous. Follow the new marathon path (which changed in 2015) around Waikoloa Beach Resort, or try a portion of the Ironman course by the crashing waves on Ali’i Drive. Be sure to pick up a “Run Big” T-shirt from Big Island Running Company, the Big Island’s first and only specialty running store.
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Rocky Balboa’s famous training route was 30.16 miles long, according to a viral 2013 post on Phillymag.com. About 150 fans even re-created the run later that year. If 30 miles sounds like a bit much, you can sign up for the Rocky Run, which has a 10-miler and a 5K. Complete both within the pacing requirements to get an Italian Stallion Challenge finisher medal. Taking your own route? Be sure to run up the steps of the Art Museum and snap a photo with the statue of Balboa.
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Boone recommends the Yakima River Canyon Marathon for multiple reasons. “You’re running right along the river in the canyon and up through the mountains. I’ve watched trains going through the canyon and fisherman and eagles teaching their young to fish in the river,” she says. Plus, after a “pretty good” uphill, it finishes going downhill. Race director Lenore Dolphin gives everyone a hug after they cross the finish line, Boone says.
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CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS
Grab five friends and head to the Lone Star state for the Beach to Bay Relay Marathon, the largest relay marathon in the U.S. Started in 1976 by the Corpus Christi Roadrunner Club, the race now attracts more than 2,000 teams annually. You might run along the beach on South Padre Island, beside the bay water or through part of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Or go solo for the Harbor Half Marathon and run past the U.S.S. Lexington aircraft carrier (pictured).
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No list of must-run places is complete without Beantown. Burfoot likes running along the Charles River, where you can map out a route of almost any distance, thanks to all the bridges. “It’s very easy to design your own course and run the mileage you’re interested in,” he says. Be sure to also jog through Copley Square to see the famous “tortoise and hare” statue. The statue is a tribute to the marathon participants of all ages, shapes and sizes.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What is your favorite city to run in, and what is your favorite route in that city? Where is your favorite place to run in the city where you live? Share your suggestions in the comments!
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