What Makes a Good Running City?

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

Paul and I never travel without our running shoes. Often the first thing we do when we arrive in a new place is put our shoes on and head out for a run. Reading this article in Forbes listing America’s best cities for running (Atlanta, Austin, Boulder, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Washington D.C. ) got me thinking about what I look for, as a runner, in a new city. Here’s my list:

Sidewalks: Broad, uncrowded sidewalks (or pavements as I call them) or cycle routes are key in cities. Running on roads present too big a risk. I’ve run in cities like Jakarta and Bangalore where the sidewalks are an obtacle course of vendors, or animals or both, and potholes.  Manhattan’s sidewalks are often clogged up with pedestrians: avoid streets with lots of shops like 5th Avenue (Park Avenue is best) or take to the East River Greenway or Hudson River Greenway.

Lots of races take place in Central Park throughout the year.

Green Spaces: A large park is a big draw for me. New York’s Central Park gets high marks for both size, views and accessibility. It’s the centerpiece of New York’s running scene. Other cities with good running parks include London where I’ve run in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park and Vancouver’s Stanley Park. But the best city for green spaces has to be Boulder with its 144 miles of trails. Combine that with altitude and you’re guaranteed a good, if somewhat tough, workout. (Check out our recent post. Boulder With the Boys, for  photos of off-road running in North Boulder.)

Routes: Interesting and scenic running routes can be a great way to savor a new city. A loop of the Mall covers the historic highlights of Washington D.C. from the Lincoln Memorial, National Monument and Reflecting Pool, to the Capitol building. Competitive runners can take in these sights on  the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.  Other cities that appear high on my list are Prague (for its classic architecture) Sydney (for its iconic Opera House, Harbour Bridge and harbor), and Hong Kong (for its breathtaking skyline, best viewed from Victoria Peak)

The view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong is worth the hilly run to get there.

Paul being blown about on a run in Boston in April 2011.

Climate: I’m not a cold weather runner. I prefer warmer temperatures and as little wind as possible. Boston and Chicago (which are on the Forbes list) are often too blustery or cold for me. Paul, on the other hand, complains about the energy sapping humidity of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, although there are some good running routes in both cities. (He’ll be in both places soon so look out for posts about his former running haunts.)

Bodies of Water: I like water so cities with canals, lakes, rivers, sea-fronts are more likely to get my vote.  Paths around West Lake in Hanoi and along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh allow for enjoyable runs in not so runner-friendly cities.  And in my home country, Singapore, running through the Esplanade Park reveals views of the Singapore River set against the ever-changing Singapore cityscape.

The Singapore skyline with its mix of old and new buildings.

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