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Runners are lucky. We don’t require special courts or lots of fancy equipment. We can get out, loop around, and log miles in nearly any location on the map. But we appreciate a few things: a temperate climate; abundant routes, tracks, and trails; a vibrant local running and racing scene; and maybe some good company. There are dozens of U.S. cities rich in these qualities (maybe you’re lucky enough to live in one!), and after we collected and analyzed a massive amount of data on the largest metropolises in the country, these 50 stood out.
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to pack your favorite running shoes, because the city by the bay landed at the top of our chart. Of course, if you left your home with only the flower in your hair and need a fresh pair of kicks, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for at one of the nine running stores within city limits. It’s true: San Francisco outranked its rivals in nearly all the running-friendly categories we measured, boasting 16 running clubs and 246 races in 2016. The city’s runners are putting in the work; per data from Strava alone, San Franciscans logged 12,554 runs per week for a total of 64,037 miles in 2015. With its signature fog, cool summers, and rolling terrain, getting out the door is painless. Plus there are landmarks like the Lyon Street Steps and Kezar Stadium, the public track that’s been a fixture in San Francisco running for more than 90 years. and there’s no end of routes to explore. From Lands End Coastal Trail, you can run about three miles to the famous Sutro Baths saltwater pools and more trails at Ocean Beach. End the route with a beer at the Park Chalet in Golden Gate Park. For great views of Alcatraz, run along the Embarcadero from Giants stadium to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. There, visit Hopper’s Hands—created by local ironworker Ken Hopper, who made the sign (and a second plaque with dog paws underneath) to give runners a place to touch before turning around.
“My family has been in San Francisco for five generations, so I’ve always had a strong sense of home, and it’s the perfect place to be a runner. Within the city, there are trails most people can access just by walking out their door. ¶ I started running in high school for the Sacred Heart Cathedral cross-country and track teams (that’s me on the right). We ran at Kezar Stadium and different routes around the city. I remember my first practice—a five-miler in Golden Gate Park. Ever since, I’ve loved running there. The two main drags—JFK and Martin Luther King—are amazing. But there are little trails, and I swear, after running there for more than 10 years, I’ll still find new, hidden connector routes. Running there makes you feel like you’re far away and in your own little world, but you’re still in the center of San Francisco. ¶ Of course, you can run other places, too. Years ago, I made up a 10-miler for my team. Start in the Pier 39 area, then run along the Marina Green, through Crissy Field, and over the Golden Gate Bridge down into Sausalito. After, you can grab dinner at my favorite sushi restaurant, Sushi Ran. Then hop on a ferry, take it back to Pier 39, and end the adventure there.”
Two brands devoted entirely to running, Brooks and Oiselle, call Seattle home. And there are elites, like Nick Symmonds and other members of the Brooks Beasts, who train here. But even for the mortal runner, it’s paradise, boasting 100 miles of trails and a climate that, while drizzly, is runnable year-round. With four running stores and 155 races on record in 2016, it’s clear this city is serious about running.
“With views of the Cascade range on the east, the Olympic Mountains on the west, and Puget sound, the best part about running in Seattle is the natural beauty.” –Claudia De La Vie, 31, environmental engineer
To locals, the standard Boston run is along the Charles River, an 18-mile trail with plenty of bridges to tailor the route to a specific distance. But there are other destinations, too, including runs that take you by Copley Square, or up Boylston Street past the Boston Marathon finish line. Each mile could bring you to a different historic destination, and runners who’ve traversed the city for years say their routes feel like scavenger hunts. in addition, 99.6 percent of the population has access to locations for physical activity, and 97 percent can walk to a park. Options for runs include the Emerald necklace—an 1,100acre chain of nine parks linked by paths and waterways, including a seven-mile trail from the Boston Common to franklin park; and Clemente field, with a 421-meter dirt track.
With 15 different running and track clubs, you can find a group perfect for you. Want a cold one after your long run? Meet up with the greater Boston Track Club for brews at Phoenix Landing in Cambridge. Or jump off the Charles River trail for drinks at Asgard Irish pub—where you’ll likely rub elbows with other local runners.
“When I moved to Boston in 1971, I lived right near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. That location really stunned me. Despite the fact that my college roommate, Amby Burfoot, had won the race in 1968, I had never seen it before. Back then, it was not on national TV. Now, of course, everyone can watch and see the finish broadcasted, but you can’t get a feel for it until you’re there. I think all the culture of Boston running comes from the marathon. If you run the course, you can see the Johnny Kelley statue, and soon there will be a statute of Roberta Gibb, the first woman to run it. Whenever I get on the marathon course, I feel nostalgic. There’s nothing like it. ¶ Despite having lived in the area for so long, I still haven’t been to some of the most famous sites. Running’s helped with that for sure; the only time I went to the Bunker Hill Monument was during the Freedom Trail Road Race in the late 1970s, when we—I was racing Alberto Salazar at the time—ran around it. Another time, when I was running with Joan Benoit Samuelson, we passed by this old cemetery. It turned out to be the Granary Burying Ground, where John Hancock and Paul Revere are buried. There are all sorts of historical connections, running or otherwise, that can pop out at you as you run the streets. ¶ Right now, my favorite route is along the Charles River. But years ago, when I was trying to win Boston, I used to live in Jamaica Plain, on the edge of the city, and I would run around Jamaica Pond. Back then was when I realized how great the fans are here. A lot of times, in other places, people who aren’t “active” or who don’t run don’t understand the historical aspects of this ancient sport. But I think since running has a 120-year-old history here, the Boston fans really get it. And they appreciate all their runners, from first to last.”
Runners in San Diego admit they’re a little spoiled. Low precipitation and a temperate climate means there’s rarely a day missed due to inclement weather. It’s clear most people take advantage of it; the city came in seventh for how often its population ran in the last year. That may be in part thanks to the large variety of routes and access to parks. From mountains to flat beaches, San Diego has every terrain. Climb the 6.5 mile trail up Fortuna Mountain, or run on the hard-packed sand on the La Jolla coastline. Balboa Park has 65 miles of trails of varying difficulty levels. There, you can run past the San Diego Zoo or go on a mission to find the historic Quince Street and Spruce Street suspension bridges, a run that will definitely prepare you for one of the city’s 170 annual races.
This year, the American College of Sports Medicine ranked our nation’s capital the fittest city in the country. With seemingly endless trails, five specialty running stores, and some truly unique clubs and races, it’s also a running hub. It’s fourth on our list for access to locations for physical activity and serves as the center of the National Capital Region’s 95 miles of trails. The C&O Canal towpath starts in DC, boasting 185 miles’ worth of trails, leading into Maryland, with occasional views of the Potomac. And there’s Rock Creek Park, which offers a quiet escape right in the middle of the city. But first, run the National Mall. Loop out to the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Kennedy Center for longer runs. Then meet up with the Washington Running Club for a good cup of joe and, according to them, the best sweet treat in DC at Baked & Wired.
This city has always been known to attract runners. There’s no denying the strong culture of clubs (there are 18 total) and races (116 this year). There’s also the natural beauty and its plethora of running routes. Take, for instance, Forest Park, the largest natural park inside an urban area in the United States, with 5,000 forested acres and 80 miles of trails. And given all the brunch spots and microbreweries in Portland, there’s no shortage of places to run to. The city is also home to Nike’s Oregon Project and is a stone’s throw away from Nike headquarters in Beaverton. Don’t be too surprised if you happen to see Olympian Shalane Flanagan whizzing by you—she calls Portland home. But you don’t have to be elite to train here. In fact, the parks department encourages people of all shapes, sizes, and ages to run by hosting the Portland Parks and Recreation 5k series from May through October, where kids and teens run free and adults pay only five bucks.
“Running is so ingrained in the Portland culture that you’ll be at the gas station talking to a stranger and find out they’ve run the Portland Marathon. Heck, they may have even won the Portland Marathon at some point.” –Ryan Heal, 37, digital assets director
Ask Twin Cities runners what makes running in Minneapolis special, and they’ll tell you it’s all about the trails. The city is home to the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a linked series of park areas that spans 50 miles in Minneapolis; runners are rarely forced to run the same route twice in a row. The Chain of Lakes is the Mill City’s most valued gem, with paths around Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake totaling 11.98 miles. And if the lakes aren’t enough, the Mississippi River is another body of water to guide you.
We found that 94 percent of the population in Minneapolis is within walking distance of a park, and city officials are embarking on a new public space called Downtown East Commons, which would turn a 4.2-acre site into a place for recreation. Beyond that, the city has taken a stand against food deserts, ranking eighth on our list of farmer’s markets per capita, with the Mill City Farmers market, right on the West River Parkway, a popular running location.
We know what you’re thinking: it’s too cold there to run in the winter. But Minneapolis runners have access to 24 indoor running facilities. And there are runners who suck it up and embrace the winter tundra with a sense of humor. For instance, many long runs begin and end at the enormous Minnehaha Bunny statue on the East Minnehaha Parkway. A favorite destination since its creation in 2002, some groups—like the ClubRun Minneapolis—have made special routes to reach the giant lagomorph. Rabbit enthusiasts are known to leave small offerings. Bring it a treat for luck to PR at your next event.
If you prefer pastries to bunnies, hook up with the Mill City Running Company, a shop and club with a penchant for all things doughnut.
“I’ve traveled the world racing, and I still have yet to find a place I like to run better than the Twin Cities area. I know people think that’s crazy, but it is absolutely beautiful here. I lived and trained in Minneapolis when I was competing as a pro. I went to Villanova, but I came back home. People ask me, ‘Why would you? It’s freezing here.’ Yeah, we do have cold weather, but we don’t have it for that long. And sure, we have snow. But the city clears our trails. It was an easy decision to return. ¶ I love being right in the middle of the city and still having a place to run, year-round, uninterrupted by street traffic on our trails. Right smack dab in the middle of downtown there are the most beautiful routes. And I love the community here. When you’re running every day, you get to know the faces of the other runners. We are all out there rooting for each other, waving, and saying hi. It’s huge that when I’m out and running, I hear other runners yell, ‘Get after it!’ to me. They know that’s my tagline, and it means so much. ¶ Extreme things happen in Minnesota. We have the winters. And then we have hot, humid summers. And that’s hard. So you need your training partners to be there with you. You need your group to get you out of bed at 6 a.m. We need other runners holding us accountable no matter if it’s 10 degrees below zero or if it’s 110 with 100 percent humidity, and that’s why the club scene here is so strong. ¶ For most people, when they think of running in Minneapolis, they think of the Chain of Lakes. But personally, I love running on River Road, along the Mississippi, which connects the Twin Cities. There are some offshoots and some destinations to run to from Minneapolis, some beautiful places that you learn about if you’re training here every day. ¶ I’m a Minnehaha Falls girl, so whenever anyone comes to visit me and wants to run, I lead them to a beautiful waterfall about two miles from my house. After we run, there’s this cute little place called Sea Salt Eatery—if you go there, get the fish tacos.”
Despite the gridlock, New Yorkers can escape to Central Park for six uninterrupted miles. And even longtime runners in the city discover new gems. Like, if you’re running long, go from Central Park, up the West Side Highway, until you reach the George Washington Bridge. Tucked underneath, you’ll find the little Red Lighthouse. But New York really makes our list because of the community; in a city where it’s easy to feel like a stranger, the running scene is tight. There are 82 RRCA- or USATF-sanctioned clubs, as well as an emerging population of nontraditional crews. There are other perks, too: like Juice Press’s #willrunforjuice campaign, where a pic posted with that hashtag earns you a free postrun beverage on Saturday mornings.
Omaha? Really? It’s true: The land of steak and corn is having a running renaissance. In 1989, the city began creating a system of interconnected trails. Today, there are 120 miles of trails throughout the city. The popular 7.5-miler around Lake Zorinsky offers a few hills—yes, that’s right, Omaha is not completely flat. There’s also the Big Papio Trail, which crosses through six parks and intersects with The Keystone, winding 15 miles along the Papillion Creek and the Missouri River. But there’s more to this Nebraskan hub than parkways—there’s also a solid network of hospitable runners. At the center of the community is the 500-member Omaha Running Club. Peak Performance Running store partners with Infusion Brewing Company to host weekly happy-hour runs during the summer months. Near-perfect attendance (if you show seven out of 12 weeks) earns you a happy-hour tech tee.
Yes, winter happens here, but with 300 days of sunshine, life in the Mile High City is pretty bright for runners. Combine that with 19 running clubs (six of which have the sole purpose of running to drink beer) and it’s easy to see why Denver is a favorite spot for runners. Some locals say it’s almost a requirement to run if you live here. Where to log miles is never a problem: start in Confluence Park and hop on the 40-mile multiuse Cherry Creek Trail. There, if you head southeast, you’ll run into Denver’s downtown. if you’re a Broncos fan, put the Colfax Marathon on your bucket list: Early in the race, you’ll enter Mile High Stadium, where you’ll see yourself on the Jumbotron.
“The mountains in Denver inspire—I ran my first marathon after moving here. Not to mention, there are as many watering holes in Denver as there are street corners, and several of them host weekly runs.” –Nick Lake, 25, sous chef
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