by Bob Murdock
Just like runners, each of the New England states has its own distinct personality. From mountains to rocky coasts to large vibrant cities, you'll find it here. The northeast also offers runners the beauty and challenges of all four seasons: fall with its colorful foliage of yellows, reds and browns, spring and its rebirth, the warmth of summer sun and the serenity of making the first footsteps in the newly fallen snow of winter.
The Hub of New England
Boston has one of the strongest running communities in the United States attracting corporate partners to sponsor world-class races, including the prestigious Boston Marathon, and a bevy of local events. In fact, the Boston Marathon is not just a race but a vital part of the fabric of the city and region. The dense population of colleges also enhances the vitality of the city.
One of the busiest running spots in town is the paved 20-mile path along the Charles River. Stretching the length of the city, you're never far from the path. There are over 10 bridges so that you can make a loop that matches how far you want to run. It's a great place to people watch, plus the Cambridge side of the River has some of the best views of the Boston skyline including the Golden Dome (real gold leaf) of the State House. The flat path follows the meandering river so that you're actually running into the wind regardless of which direction you go! Primarily a running path, you don't need to worry about being run over by bikes or in-line skaters.
The highlight of Boston city running is the "Emerald Necklace," a six-mile-long network of parks and parkways developed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s. Two of the parks within the "Necklace" offer runners an off-road experience. The 265-acre Arnold Arboretum includes woodchip, dirt and grass trails and two-miles of car-free paved roads for hill workouts. About a mile down the road is the 500-acre Franklin Park, which hosted the 1992 World Cross Country Championships. Test your strength up Bear Cage Hill and in the back-woods trails. The Boston Athletic Association Half-Marathon celebrates Olmsted's jewel plus loops inside Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
Commonwealth Avenue is one of the most popular training spots for marathoners. It's a perfect spot to get ready for the third Monday in April (Patriot's Day and the running of the Boston Marathon). Many people park near Boston College and run an out-and-back on the marathon course.
The Quintessential Queen City
Consistently voted as one of America's most livable cities, Burlington, Vermont, is located on the shores of Lake Champlain. Even though it is the largest city in Vermont, with a population of about 40,000, it is not a large, overwhelming city. It's easy to escape and find great trails. Also, the people of Vermont tend to be laid-back, friendly and outdoors-oriented.
The most popular spot for running is the Burlington Bike Path. Formerly part of the Central Vermont Railway, this Rails-to-Trails project was completed in the late 1980s. Rails-to-Trails is a national organization that converts old railway tracks to running and bike paths. The 7.5-mile paved path runs from downtown to the mouth of the Winooski River. Along the trail, you'll get great views of the city and the Adirondack Mountains, plus you'll pass sandy beaches and run through lush forests. It's not just a trail but a connector of small parks along the shoreline.
The KeyBank Vermont City Marathon incorporates these bike paths into its route. The marathon, held in late May, attracts about 3,500 individuals and 600 teams to what has been called "one of the top 10 most scenic marathons in the country."
The bike trails end at the Winooski River, but runners don't have to stop there. For just a dollar, the Winooski Bike River ferry (which runs June through October) will connect you to the Causeway Park trail located in Colchester just north of the Winooski. This 3.2-mile trail is unique as it runs ON Lake Champlain-not along but ON the Lake and into Canadian territory. Be aware that there is no shade and it can be windy.
Traveling south along the Lake, you can pick up the 10-mile long South Burlington Bike Path, highlighted by Red Rocks Park. This hilly 100-acre park hosts many of the area's high school cross-country meets. There are groomed wide dirt paths and its 70-foot cliffs showcase excellent views of Shelburne Bay.
The Parks of Providence
The Providence, Rhode Island, business district has been transformed through the addition of Waterplace Park and the 1.5-mile Riverwalk. These landmarks and the State Capitol Building are featured in September's Downtown 5K, the USA Men's Championship.
The traffic near the parks can be fierce, so most runners tend to meet on Blackstone Boulevard located a few blocks from Brown University in East Providence. The Boulevard is wide and quiet with a 1.7-mile black cinder path located on the middle island of the road.
Also in East Providence is the East Bay Bike Path that travels nearly 15 miles on paved surfaces south along the Providence River and Narragansett Bay through Barrington, Warren and Bristol before ending near Colt State Park. Colt State Park is often referred to as the 'gem' of the State Parks System. The entire western border of the park is an open vista onto Narragansett Bay.
The 625-acre Lincoln Woods State Park features 10 miles of trails but most runners tend to run the 2.5-mile road loop around Olney Pond. Rhode Island resident Don Fredriksen trains here because "it has a combination of hills and flat sections that makes it perfect for doing speed workouts that make you a faster and stronger runner." Traffic in the loop is one-way, making it easier for runners to share the road with cars.
The Heart of Hartford
Known as the "Insurance Capital of the World," Hartford, Connecticut, has a variety of options for visitors who want to explore the city on foot. No knowledge of actuarial tables is needed.
Bushnell Park is a small but scenic park located in the center of downtown adjacent to the State Capitol Building. The perimeter of America's first public park may only be 1.25 miles, but it is the meeting spot of many weekday runs. A loop of the park's interior landmarks, including the Spanish American War Memorial, will give you about three miles.
The Connecticut River divides the city in two. Along both sides of the Connecticut River is the "Riverfront Recaptured" project. There are now more than eight miles of paths and walkways, public parks and recreational facilities. Runners can traverse the river via the 18-foot wide promenade along the Founders Bridge from Downtown Hartford to East Hartford's Riverfront Park. Returning via the Charter Oak Bridge, the loop is about four miles. It's a great way to escape the hustle of the city and get close to nature.
Located about five miles from downtown, off of Route 44, is the West Hartford Reservoir #6. This is the running staple of the community. A slightly rolling 3.5 plus-mile dirt path circles the lake and offers great city views. Many people come here to run the 600-foot climb up Talcott Mountain. Make sure to stop at the top and enjoy the view of the Farmington River Valley.
Meandering Through Manchester and Portsmouth
With 12 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline and home to Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England, there is something for every runner in New Hampshire.
Manchester, with a population of over 100,000, is the largest city in Northern New England. Downtown's Singer Family Park features a new one-mile paved trail in the historic Mill District along the scenic Merrimack River. This new trail connects several southern neighborhoods with the Heritage Trail. Derryfield Park, a mile from downtown, offers commanding views of the city skyline and Mt. Uncanoonuc. Although it is small with only a few miles of trails, it's a popular spot largely because of the views.
If you're looking at Mt. Uncanoonuc, why not run it? Located six miles west of Manchester, it's "a playground for area mountain runners," according to Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team Manager Richard Bolt. The Uncanoonuc rises over 1,000 feet from the surrounding valley floor and has several steep and rocky trails leading to the summit. For runners training for the Mt. Washington Road Race (one 7.6-mile hill with an average grade of 11.5 percent), the auto road up to the summit of South Uncanoonuc Mountain is the perfect "mini-me."
Three miles east of downtown is Lake Massabesic where you can find a series of dirt trails. Also, along the north edge of the lake is the Rockingham Recreation Trail, a 56-mile gravel rail trail connecting Manchester to the seacoast region. Other area parks include the 5,500-acre Pawtuckaway State Park and Clark Pond, which "include over eight miles of purposely built twisty and rocky single track trails to challenge the advanced trail runner," says Bolt.
New Castle is the smallest town in New Hampshire at less than one square mile. For a tour of this quaint coastal town, start in Portsmouth, run along the gently rolling coastline on Route 1B and past the recently restored and reopened historic 1874 resort, Wentworth by the Sea. Take a right on to Sagamore Hill Road, right on Middle to Congress and you're back downtown.
The Ports of Portland
Dubbed "Jewel of the Sea" by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, Maine, is without question the vibrant artistic capital of Maine. This city with a young heart still has strong ties to the sea. Per the Portland Downtown District, "Portland stands as one of the few working waterfronts left in the United States, acting as New England's second largest fishing port." But are there good running trails?
Actually, there is a great series of trails that start within a mile of the city center. Many of the paths offer a paved surface next to a crushed stone path. Almost all of the trails are located adjacent to the waterfront so not only are you able to take in the sights of the city, you can also breathe in the salt air.
One of the oldest and most popular trails in Portland is the 3.5-mile loop around Back Cove that offers a good view of the city's skyline. The Back Cove path connects via Tukey's Bridge to the East Prom Trail. Heading south, this 2.1-mile trail built on the old railway system offers great views of Casco Bay. Continuing on, the East Prom Trail joins Portland's Old Port and the sidewalk along Commercial Street. Through a busy waterfront area the trail connects to the 5.2-mile Harborwalk Trail and across the Casco Bay Bridge to Thomas Knight Park, South Portland's waterfront market area, South Portland Greenbelt Walkway and Bug Light Park. About a mile from Bug Light Park is Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed landmarks in Maine. If you enjoy the view, come back for the Beach to Beacon 10K, organized by Maine native and Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Although Acadia National Park is not located anywhere near Portland, it merits a mention when discussing running in Maine. The oldest national park on the east coast, Acadia features 45 miles of wide crushed stone carriage roads, originally designed for horse and buggies, not to mention 120 miles of hiking trails. The carriage paths are well maintained and the footing is good. There are also countless loops, some of which include challenging hills.
A Vacation for All Seasons
New England is a great place for a running vacation for anyone. There is something for everyone including coastal towns, quaint New England villages with town greens, covered bridges, rolling countryside and mountains. The fall foliage season is the favorite of many of the residents but others thrive in the summer heat. And if you visit in the winter, you can always go back to many of the same trails that you ran in the summer with your cross-country skis.
Bob Murdock is a sports columnist for MetroSports Boston and writes about the running community in New England. He started running when he was 16 and was the Connecticut State Champion in the two-mile in 1978. He went on to run a 2:17:45 marathon PR, placing 21st at the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. He currently runs for the Boston Athletic Association.
Northeast Running Resources:
Green Mountain Athletic Association
Hartford (CT) Track Club
Marathon Sports (Boston)
Maine Track Club
New England Runner Magazine
New England Trail Running
USA Track & Field - New England
Vermont Sports Today