San Diego is easily in my top 10 cities in which to run. (Photo by Clay Lomneth)
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to 45 states, all of which I have been able to run in at least once. While I have not been able to run in every city — yet — I’ve put enough mileage in to get a good feeling of what cities are accommodating for runners and which ones are lacking.
Of course, some of my travels were to big cities while other trips took me to more rural areas. The cities represented on this list are among the nation’s largest so that the comparisons are fair. In time, I may do another list of smaller, lesser known places that stand out as good places to run.
Experienced runners may find some notable omissions from this list. For this exercise, the states of Alaska, Washington, South Dakota, New Hampshire and Vermont were not included since I have not visited there. I have not had the pleasure of running in Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., and others that generally are mentioned on such lists.
Here are my top 10 cities to take in a run:
1. New York City: The greatest city in the world is also the best city to take in a run. While the city streets don’t lend themselves to runners once commuters start rolling in, early morning runs throughout the city are magical. With easy access to Central Park, runners can escape the hustle and bustle in nature. And once your run concludes, there are plenty of juice bars and coffee shops in the urban jungle to rehydrate or recaffeinate.
Must-run race: The New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world, is held the first Sunday in November.
2. Washington, D.C.: I absolutely love running through the Memorial Mall in our nation’s capital. Before the government workers, tourists and others flood the sidewalks, the run to the Lincoln Memorial is a perfect way to start the day. Don’t bother trying to run there between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. during tourist season because it is just too crowded. There are paved trails around D.C. but they take some effort to get to, depending on where you are starting.
Must-run race: The Marine Corps Marathon, the nation’s fourth largest, held on the final Sunday in October.
3. San Diego: running on roads. Running on beaches. Running in the mountains. San Diego offers all of these options within a fairy short distance. And, thanks to San Diego’s amazingly consistent weather, there is no need to constantly check the weather app on your phone. Temperatures will usually be in the 50s or 60s early in the day, rise into the 70s and then retreat.
Must-run race: For road runners, the Rock N’ Roll San Diego Marathon, the original race in the popular running series. For ultra runners, the San Diego 100, held in June, is one to add to their bucket lists.
4. Indianapolis: Of all the cities in this list, I have run Indy the most frequently. After all my workplace is in downtown, about a quarter-mile from the Canal Walk. While the Indy Canal Walk does not compare with San Antonio’s Riverwalk, it offers runners, bikers, walkers and others a wider path than the more famous one in Texas. From Indy’s you can also get to downtown or head out for a quieter workout. Best of all, the wider walkway and fewer tourists make runs — even during prime times — more pleasant for those wanting to move at a decent pace.
Must-do race: The Indianapolis Monumental marathon and half marathon, held the first Saturday in November, is a flat and fast course. The Indy Monumental was my first 26.2-mile race and I have done it six times overall.
5. Denver: Like San Diego, Denver offers a mix of quality areas to run on roads and in the mountains. I am taking a liberty on “Denver” as surrounding communities offer runners and other outdoor enthusiasts a lot of options. I have visited Denver and the surrounding area many times — and can’t wait to go back — and have always enjoyed running, even in the elevation.
Must-do race: Bolder Boulder, held on Memorial Day Weekend, is an annual 10K race in Colorado, 30 miles from Denver. This year’s race featured more than 54,000 runners, walkers, and wheelchair racers, making it the second largest 10K race in the U.S. and the fifth largest road race worldwide.
6. San Antonio: The famed Riverwalk is a great place to kick start your day with a weaving run along the river. There are plenty of options for leaving the Riverwalk and heading to downtown or elsewhere. Like other cities, when the tourists come out, it does become challenging to get in a quality run.
Must-do race: Rock ‘N’ Roll San Antonio Marathon, held in early December, is a great way to take in Alamo City.
7. Minneapolis: In downtown, the sidewalks are noticeably wider than in other metro areas — giving runners plenty of room to maneuver around pedestrians. And access to trails is better than one might think. Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a linked series of park areas spanning 50 miles, gives runners plenty of options and beauty in Minneapolis.
Must-run race: Twin Cities Marathon, held in early October, is usually held in ideal weather conditions for a fall marathon.
8. Salt Lake City: Trails or roads in Utah’s capital? Both. Near the Salt Lake Capitol Building, a paved one-way road (providing safety for runners) leads to a single-track trail with some elevation gain. Elsewhere, Salt Lake’s downtown provides probably the best major city workout I have ever experienced with sharp climbs and descents.
Must-do race: Just outside of Salt Lake, the Wasatch Mountains call for ultra runners. The Wasatch 100 is one of the most storied ultras in the nation, earning the nickname “100 miles of heaven and hell.” For those looking for a shorter distance, the Salt Lake City Marathon offers the 26.2-mile distance, as well as a half marathon, 10K, 10K skate, bike tour, 5K and kids run — literally something for everyone.
9. Boston: Of course, Boston stands out in the running community for its famous race. And while a run throughout the city will allow runners to soak in some history and check out cool architecture, there are sections where running is difficult, if not nearly impossible, virtually any time of day. Pick your spots carefully.
Must-do race: Of course, the Boston Marathon. Held on the third Monday in April, Patriot’s Day.
10. Memphis: Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, Memphis has decent roads on which to run. But the city made this list because of a sprawling trail, Shelby Farms, located about 10 miles from downtown. There are more than 40 miles and numerous trails for runners, bikers, walkers and others. The park itself is easy to find, the trails are large enough to literally get lost in.
Must-do race: The St. Jude Marathon is held in December.
Honorable mentions: Honolulu, Columbia, S.C., Baltimore and Phoenix.