Any runner knows there are few things more inspiring than exploring a new trail in a new city—the kind that begs you to dig deep and keep going. But not all cities are created equal—some have top-notch running clubs and scenic paths, others have killer competitive races and cool climates. Here’s a look (in no particular order) at our list of America’s 10 best cities for runners:
Chicago With its gorgeous 18-mile path along Lake Michigan and flat terrain, Chicago is perhaps the most runner-friendly city on the list. Visit during spring, summer and fall (trust us, you’ll want to avoid the lakefront come winter). There’s no shortage of competition here, either—different races are held on back-to-back days on weekends during prime running season. The social aspect is a big factor in the Windy City, too. Training clubs, local running stores (like Fleet Feet Sports) and the Chicago Area Runners Association (which has a stellar marathon training program) all take to the humming lakefront path for runs and often for beers afterward.
New York If the size of the New York Road Runners club is any indication, this city is big on running—60,000 members belong to the 50-year-old group. The annual marathon alone is legendary, as it spans all five boroughs and attracts around 45,000 participants (there’s a lottery to get in and some wait years to make the cut). While Central Park will always be a huge draw with its scenic six-mile loop, the city’s type-A athletes can also run along the West Side Highway and the East River. The club scene here is known for serving runners of all levels, from the young and the old to social racers and seven-minute milers.
Portland If jogging alongside Olympians and marathon champions is all the motivation you need, take a jaunt around Portland. Not only does the area serve as home base for renowned racers such as Kara and Adam Goucher, Shalane Flanagan and Dathan Ritzenhein, the headquarters for Nike and Adidas are also here. While downtown Portland has a decent path by the Willamette River, the real appeal is the slew of forest trails, park paths and routes just outside of the city center.
Boulder There’s just no sitting still in this active city north of Denver—it’s a hotbed for professional triathletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Though the terrain can vary from canyon roads and creek banks to flatlands and mountain trails, it has something others on this list don’t: a high altitude. After a few days of training at 5,400 feet above sea level, going for a run once you’re back home will feel a whole lot easier. (Hardcore runners can acclimate after a couple of days.) The BolderBOULDER 10K on Memorial Day is consistently one of the largest races in the country.
Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital has several very well-organized major races—Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, Army Ten Miler, Marine Corps Marathon—that make the most of this historic and beautiful city. But variety reigns supreme here: The District and its Maryland and Virginia surroundings have a diverse offering of parks and terrain you just won’t find anywhere else. The Mall’s path is historical, Rock Creek Park is hilly and wooded and Capital Crescent Trail is a multi-use (runners, bikers, rollerbladers) rail-trail that winds from Georgetown to Silver Spring in Maryland.
San Francisco Anyone looking to work up a serious sweat should hit the steep hills of San Francisco’s city streets. But if you’re not into strenuous inclines, you can still run across the Golden Gate Bridge, along Baker Beach, through Golden Gate Park or up the Lyons Street steps (another quad-quivering workout). Other high points include marquee races like the Zazzle Bay to Breakers (it’s a runners’ Mardi Gras), the Nike Women’s Marathon (it’s open to guys, too), and the cool, near-perfect year-round running weather.
Austin Everything may be bigger in Texas, yet Austin’s running community is as tight-knit as a small town’s. The result? Participation runs high with runners taking to the popular Town Lake trail (recently renamed the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail), a 10-mile trail in the heart of the city, as well as the nearby foothills. While the summer heat will test your physical and mental fortitude, it will also serve as an intense training tool that will propel you to your next personal record.
Minneapolis/St. Paul The 50 or so miles of trails that weave in and around the Twin Cities make up for the infamous icy winters. It’s not often you find cities that offer separate trails for runners and cyclists, but here you can stride at your own pace without the worry of a wayward biker weaving into your path. Training for a marathon? Practice your half around the 13.3 miles circling the beautiful Chain of Lakes just outside of downtown Minneapolis.
Boston When you talk running in this town, you talk about the annual Patriot’s Day marathon. It is, after all, the oldest marathon in America and one of the toughest to qualify for each year. But there’s more to running in Boston than racing from Hopkinton to Boylston Street—you can also jog the path along the idyllic Charles River or along the downtown Freedom Trail, which wanders past the city’s oldest and most historic landmarks.
Atlanta You might think the heat and humidity of Atlanta would turn-off would-be runners, but this town attracts them in droves (the challenging climate is just a condition to be mastered here). The Atlanta Track Club organizes the popular July 4 Peachtree Road Race, one of the country’s largest races, which starts at Lenox Square and travels down 10th Street for just over six miles. The city holds major races on holidays, including the annual turkey trot (a half marathon on Thanksgiving) and a Shamrock Rock’N Roll Road Race in March.
Photo courtesy of iStock/StephenFinn