Lure of Urban Running
by Molly Lori
You may know runners who go to a special place to train before a big race. They may be attracted to the location by climate, altitude, a change of pace or a specific training partner. But you don't always have to travel far to find a special place. Okay, the climate and altitude are fixed, but the challenge and the variety involved in city running are unbeatable. Most urban runners love where they are and feel a certain call to run the streets. There are a number of undeniable reasons for this allure:
Your Own Discovery Channel
Ever feel like an explorer when you are running? Have you come across something you've never seen before, like an historical monument, old church, hidden staircase or an intriguing alley? Running is the perfect discovery vehicle. You can spot new or interesting restaurants, cafes, bookstores or venues. In a way, you are a reporter who can get the dirt on new business openings and closings; you are a social planner, able to suggest new places to go for entertainment. You have your finger on the pulse of the real estate market, watching as new "for sale" signs are posted. Urban running allows you to experience parts of the city that you normally wouldn't see in a car. Being a runner is especially rewarding in a new city, whether you are visiting or if you have just moved to the area. Your training runs can become sightseeing adventures. "When I travel to new cities on business, I ask the hotel clerk if he or she has a route map for runners," says Ron Nelson, an urban runner based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I plan out a run so that I can get a preview of what the city has to offer. I may run downtown via an ethnic neighborhood or head straight to the Renaissance area of the city. After this 'sampling' run, I'll know where I want to spend my time in the city."
Go Public or Transport Yourself
Many urban runners rave about being able to take a bus or train to get to unique running destinations. Katy Hollbacher, member and webmaster of the Oakland-based adidas Transports Women's Racing Team, reports, "In the Bay Area, there are so many amazing trails and parks you can access using the bus or by driving a short distance." You can take the bus 10 miles out and run home without looping back or you can just run until you're beat and take the bus home from that point. Be sure to allow enough time, though, because you are at the mercy of someone else's schedule. You can also be your own transportation. Some runners report that they use their own foot power to run errands. Go on a run to pick up your car at the shop or to drop your key off at the babysitter's house - very convenient and eco-friendly.
In a city, you constantly see new sites, even on the same running routes. If you are bored with a particular route, instead of tuning out, try focusing on the people and events around you. On a run downtown, you can see lively street musicians, the newest skateboard moves and the latest protest signs while hearing animated cell-phone conversations. You'll probably end up laughing and increasing the level of endorphins in your system. The variety and newness of city running make even the short-attention-span runner happy. You never run out of things to see, because the landscape is always changing. Mara Guillemette, former collegiate runner from Chicago, says, "Not only do I love the variety of the terrain in San Francisco, but I also love the mental stimulation that comes from running through the City."
Are You Up for the Challenge?
Let's face it, to be a good runner, you have to challenge yourself and add some workouts to your training schedule. The good news is that a city presents a boatload of innovative ways to work hard without getting bored.
The Wackier Stuff
Tracks are easy to come by in a city. Most high schools, college campuses and major parks have something to offer. Tracks are an easy place to get in some fixed distance repeats. On a standard-size track, you can judge your improvement by recording your epeat times in a training log. Try running ladders, sprints, drills and time trials.
- Hill and Park Repeats
Hills and grass are two winning locations for doing repeats. Find a moderately steep hill and decide how many times you want to sprint up it. Build speed gradually so that you're at your maximum speed toward the top. Jog back down slowly for recovery between sprints. For a park workout, find a grassy area and plan out a loop for your repeat. Time your repeats and your rest, keeping your rest period consistent.
- Tempo Runs
Tempo runs are a key workout to get you ready for any distance race. Cities typically have a runner-friendly area where you can run with very few traffic interruptions. Find a relatively flat stretch and maintain a pace that is faster than your training-run pace for 2-4 miles.
Despite the confusing name, which is Swedish for "speed play," fartleks are a simple, ideal city workout. You can do a fartlek in a more crowded area, since you will be varying your pace. You need a stopwatch for timing your speed intervals. Try running for one minute fast, rest one minute, then go two minutes fast, rest, and then three minutes fast, and rest. Repeat this series as many times as you can.
Running fast and hard needn't be devoid of fun. The city offers some wonderful, natural obstacle course terrain. For a killer workout, make a boot camp for yourself. Plan a route that allows you to run a few stair repeats, a few hills and some sprints, then mix up these bursts with push-ups, dips, sit-ups, squats, lunges and jumping jacks. You will go home exhausted and sore, but proud. Another wacky workout involves going downtown during rush hour. This downtown workout calls for you to be light on your toes and ready to go in any direction. Start your run in the heart of the city. Run to an intersection and go in the direction of the walk signal. Follow that street until you come to another intersection. Again, take the first walk signal. The objective of the downtown run is to cross where you can, sprint when you can, and have no destination in mind. Be sure to watch out for people, stay on the sidewalk and try not to stop running. Have fun!
If you are having trouble motivating yourself for speed work, dry those tears. Seek out some instant inspiration and motivation. In a city, finding people to run with is as easy as getting stuck in a traffic jam. Check in the back of your regional running magazine for local groups; try the internet, work, word of mouth, and road races - they're all good places to recruit a running partner. "This area offers a multitude of fun and competitive runners to train with and there is always a choice of nearby events when you're ready to race," says Hollbacher. Find someone who can meet you on a consistent basis. Being accountable to a training partner will get you out of bed in the morning and can give you the motivation to do speed work. Try to find a group or person interested in doing a road race or an event in the future - you'll stick with it longer when there is a goal.
Cross Train Away
There is no shortage of fitness centers in an urban area, and it's good to have one at your disposal in case that nagging injury flares up. You can turn to cross training for comfort and stay on track with your fitness goals. Weights should be a part of every runner's fitness routine. If you don't have weights at home, consider joining a gym. Most offer low-impact activities like yoga, Pilates and swimming. It might be nice to mix it up once in awhile to give yourself a mental and physical break.
Putting It All Together
To sum it up, the city has fewer excuses and more opportunities. There is more fun to be had and plenty of variety, so you won't get into a rut. There is much to see and discover. So the next time you hear of a runner going to some exotic destination to train, smile to yourself and be thankful for all the challenges waiting for you outside your front door. Keep reading for a sample week of training that incorporates city runs and workouts - and keeps them exciting.
A sample training week in San Francisco
Tempo Workout along The Embarcadero
15 minute warm-up, stretch
2-3 miles at 7:00 minute pace
15 minute cool down
30 minutes of weights
35-minute eye candy run along Market Street
Fartlek, or Downtown Run South of Market
15 minute warm-up, stretch
Total fartlek time: 20 minutes
15 minute cool-down
30 minutes of weights
45 minutes of yoga
40-minute discovery run through Pacific Heights and The Presidio
Long Run of 10 Miles
Bus to Golden Gate Park, run through Park and end at home.
Walk or day off.
Note: Be sure to give your body a rest from the pavement at least twice a week. If you can run repeats in a park, do so, or try your long runs on trails. Take a day off and enjoy what's around you. Drink plenty of water, eat and sleep well, and GO URBAN.