The Fittest American Cities for Runners

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Fitness, Healthy Living
on September 17, 2012
A list of the healthiest cities for runners.

The great thing about running is it can be done anywhere—sidewalk, street, trail or treadmill—just lace up your sneaks and go. But which U.S. cities are the most runner-friendly? We went to the pros: Jenny Hadfield, running coach and author of Running for Mortals, and Sarah Bowen Shea, co-author of Train Like a Mother, for their favorite cities to hit the ground running.

San Francisco, Calif.

“San Francisco offers the best mix of city paths, roads and wilderness trails with the bonus of great running weather year-round,” Hadfield says. And when it comes to cross training, you name it, they’ve got it, Bowen Shea adds. “… from kite boarding on the Bay to surfing on the Pacific to mountain biking in Marin County.”

Don’t-miss races: Bay to Breakers features floats, crazy costumes, even runners in the nude. And The Dipsea, a 7.4 miler, begins across the bay in Mill Valley and ends at Stinson Beach.

Local links: San Francisco Roadrunners Club, Dolphin South End Runners

RELATED: 9 Ways to Avoid Common Running Injuries

Chicago, Ill.

“Chicago has a big-city feel with a small town welcome,” Hadfield says. “The 18-mile lakefront path is home to thousands of runners, cyclists and skaters every day. It is well-marked and pancake-flat, bordering Lake Michigan’s sandy beaches under the shade of sky-scrapers.”

Don’t-miss races: Take a tour through Chi-town’s lively neighborhoods in the fast and flat Chicago Marathon. Or shake off winter’s chill in the Shamrock Shuffle 8K.

Local Links: Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago Area Runners Association

Washington, D.C.

“Washington, D.C., is known for its variety of running options, including historic routes (a flat run on the National Mall anyone?), a vast array of parks like Rock Creek, and long runs (the Washington & Old Dominion Trail),” Hadfield says. The city’s active triathlon community is a great way for runners to spread their race wings, says Bowen Shea.

Can’t-miss races: Run along the Mall and past the Capitol in the Marine Corps Marathon. The Army Ten-Miler, the third largest 10-mile race in the world, starts and finishes at the Pentagon.

Local LinksDC Road Runners Club

Anchorage, Alaska

“Anchorage is off-the-beaten-path and has spectacular scenery and something for everyone, from newbie to seasoned trail runner,” Hadfield says. “Start with a run on the 10-mile coastal trail, a paved, relatively flat path with striking scenes of Denali and the occasional moose siting.”

Can’t-miss races: Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon is held on the summer solstice and features breathtaking wilderness views. Big Wild Life Runs features a marathon, half marathon, and 5K.

Local Links: Anchorage Running Club, Skinny Raven Sports

Austin, Texas

“Austin is known for its clean air, eclectic atmosphere, and the 10-mile Town Lake Trail through downtown, where the largest urban bat colony in North American sets up camp (at the Congress Avenue Bridge just off the trail), from March to April, sure to make you run fast!” Hadfield says.

Can’t-miss races: Run to music in the Austin Marathon, which features nearly 40 local bands along its scenic course. The Statesman Capitol 10,000 is the largest 10K in Texas and snakes along the Colorado River.

Local Links: Austin Runners, RunTex

Portland, Oregon

“Portland is home to Forest Park, which features seemingly endless miles of shaded, packed dirt trails,” says Bowen Shea, who calls the city home. “The moderate temperature means we can run outdoors year round.” Bowen Shea recommends the 11-mile Leif Erikson Trail and the single-track Wildwood Trail.

Can’t-miss races: The Shamrock Run includes a 15-, 8-, 5-, and 1-K option and finishes at a beer garden. The Foot Traffic Flat Marathon and Half Marathon takes place on an island just north of Portland on July 4th and features a flat course through beautiful farmland.

Local Links: Portland Fit, Foot Traffic

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

“Minneapolis-St. Paul is so gorgeous, with tons of running trails right in the city,” Bowen Shea says. “It really couldn’t be easier to plot out a run that’s anywhere from 3 to 26.2 miles and never need to double back,” says local runner JoAnnVerweij. And the fitness doesn’t stop when the temperatures drop. “When the white stuff flies, folks just switch to cross-country skis and snowshoes, but most keep running.” Bowen Shea says.

Can’t-miss races: The Twin Cities Marathon begins in downtown Minneapolis and winds around four lakes and both sides of the Mississippi River, ending at the state capitol in St. Paul. Kick of a new year with the Polar Dash, with 5k, 10k, and half marathon distance options.

Local Links: Run n Fun