Running Reigns in the Great Northwest
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Running Reigns in the Great Northwest

Running Reigns in the Great Northwest

by Diana Babb

'The bluest skies you've ever seen' are not only in Seattle but also throughout the entire Northwest-along with 'hills the greenest green.' From the Emerald City down to the City of Roses, from the jagged coast to the Gold Rush Country of Idaho, running in the Northwest reigns-despite the rain. Sure it gets misty and the drizzle can be relentless at times, but, hey, that's part of the beauty of the region. And believe it or not, there is a sunny side. Eastern Washington and Idaho boast a drier climate-often hot summers and mild winters. All in all, the region offers the traveling runner a smorgasbord of terrain and weather. So if you're heading to the Great Northwest, here's a quick rundown on the local running scene of a few of the most popular destinations.

Escape to the Emerald City
Summer in Seattle is, simply put, spectacular. The days are long and temperatures are in the 70s and 80s. The city's parks and running trails are bustling with activity. No matter what part of the city you choose to stay, there's great running just outside your door.

Downtown running can be hilly, but the sights, sounds and smells can't be beat. As you head down to the waterfront don't miss a peek at the infamous Pike Place Market. Watch out for flying fish!

For a downtown fun run, start at Waterfront Park, run north along Alaskan Way and hook up with a 1.25-mile grassy strip at Myrtle Edwards Park (about 4.5-miles up and back). For a longer, more challenging jaunt, turn onto Elliott Avenue at the foot of the park, run past Pier 91 and over the Magnolia Bridge up to the bluffs. You'll be huffing and puffing, but the view of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier and Puget Sound will be worth it. And if this is your day for long, slow distance, stay north on Magnolia Boulevard until you reach Discovery Park, a favorite for trail runners-534 acres with more than seven miles of trails. There's also a 15-station fitness path.

About 10 minutes north of downtown at Aurora Avenue North and N.E. 65th Street, lies Green Lake, often referred to as Seattle's "Grand Central Station of Running."

While running around the 2.8-mile inner paved path, you'll pass the Aqua Theater and Duck Island. The perimeter loop (a dirt path) is 3.1 miles (5K) and adding a loop around the Playfield Area at Lower Woodland Park (next to the zoo) will make it about four miles. After your run, check out one of a number of restaurants nearby for refueling or a java jolt.

For a long running path with mile markers, take the 27-mile long Burke-Gilman Trail.

While there are several places to access the trail, a good starting point is Gas Works Park (on the north shore of Lake Union) where you can take in a stunning view of the Seattle skyline.

Other popular Seattle-area running spots:
West Seattle: For some beachside running, Alki Beach has a 2.5-mile paved path that runs along a wide stretch of sandy beach.

Seward Park: Just southeast of downtown on Lake Washington, there's a 2.5-mile loop around the park or you can cruise north along Lake Washington Boulevard for a gorgeous lakeside run with a view of Mercer Island (part of the Seattle Marathon course).

The University of Washington Arboretum: Across the Lake Washington Ship Canal from the university in the Montlake area, this route is for the true nature buff.

Running in Rose City
Flanked between the Columbia River and the Willamette River, the Portland area has no shortage of waterfront running. Downtown is situated right alongside the Willamette, which makes for a long easy stretch of running (parts of which are on the Portland Marathon course).

Start at the south end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park (near the Hawthorne Bridge) and head south along the river to Willamette Park (about 3.25 miles) or go north on Front Avenue to the Port of Portland and beyond. Or turn west on Burnside Street toward Washington Park where you can pick up the 26-mile long Wildwood Trail. Going south through the park you'll run by the Rose Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, Hoyt Arboretum, the Washington Park Zoo and the Forestry Center. If you head north on the trail as it crosses Burnside Street, you'll run up a steep three-quarter mile hill to Pittock Mansion (a great rest stop!) and then into Forest Park-the largest park within city limits in the country. It's a mecca for distance runners and offers trails more than 50 miles long, including the Leif Erickson Trail, which is marked every quarter-mile.

If it's your day for speedwork, Duniway Park. The all-weather track is made from ground-up shoe outsoles. There's a drinking fountain nearby and even a large digital clock to time your laps. For a cooldown, jog through the park down S.W. Terwilliger Boulevard. If you're really feeling spunky, go all the way to George H. Hines Park for a seven-mile out-and-back route, part of which is on a wooded, paved bike path.

Any of these running routes will top the scale in scenery. But if you really want a top-of-the-city view, why not head to the highest point in Portland? Just southwest of downtown is Council Crest Peak at 1,070 feet. A popular run is the Fairmount Boulevard loop. The three-and-a-half-mile loop meanders over gentle hills, through sweeping vistas and by homes out of architectural magazines. At about the three-mile point, look for the Marquam Trail, a half-mile of switchbacks that take you to the top of Council Crest Peak. Once there, you'll feel on top of the world. But save some energy for the trek back down.

Other top-notch running spots outside the downtown area include:

Laurelhurst Park: Take the Burnside Bridge east across the river to SE 39th Avenue. The park has several paved trails that loop around a duck pond.

Mt. Tabor Park: Southeast of Laurelhurst, this 200-acre park actually has a 535-foot inactive volcano where you can run up, down and around it on varied terrain.

Tyron Creek State Park: About five miles south of downtown, the park boasts 14 miles of trails lined with fir, cedar and maple trees, along with a stream spanned by seven bridges.

A Sneak Peek at Spokane
Home to the infamous Lilac Bloomsday Run, Spokane is also the hometown of running legend Don Kardong, who founded the race. Kardong was an Olympian in the marathon and finished fourth in the 1976 Games in Montreal with a PR of 2:11:16. Many credit Kardong for playing a huge role in making running in the Northwest, and perhaps the nation, what it is today. In fact the growth of running is reflected in the numbers at Bloomsday: About a thousand participated in the inaugural run in 1977 and in 1996 it reached its all-time high of 61,298 runners.

Since hosting the 1974 World's Fair, Spokane has enjoyed a renewed interest in its downtown area. Riverfront Park is the main center of attraction with a conglomerate of restaurants, hotels, shops and entertainment venues. Alongside the park and the Spokane River is the 37-mile-long Centennial Trail, a paved path running from Nine Mile Falls to the Idaho State line. Running along the path proves therapeutic as well as invigorating as you take in the surrounding beauty and move to the rhythmic flow of the river.

While in Spokane, be sure to check out nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho-about 20 miles east on I-90. The lakeside resort town is host to the Coeur d'Alene Marathon, the U.S.A.Triathlon Age-Group Championships and, most recently, Ironman USA Coeur d'Alene.

The Boise River Greenbelt
An often forgotten area of the Northwest, Boise, Idaho (the state's capital) is known for the "outdoorsiness" of its people. Two major events that take place annually have done wonders to promote health and fitness throughout the entire community-the Idaho Women's Fitness Celebration (a 5K race and fitness festival) and the Idaho Women's Challenge (a week of bike racing). Boise is also a college town, home to Boise State University.

Like the other Northwest cities we've highlighted, downtown Boise also boasts a wonderful riverfront with the Boise River Greenbelt running through it. This 22.5-mile bike path extends to both sides of the river and goes through several parks, a golf course and even a natural habitat area.

Be sure to spend some time strolling downtown. There are a number of historic buildings, quaint street-side cafes and unique shops that will put you in sensory overload.

Northwest Bound
So if you're planning your next vacation, don't let what you hear about the weather in the Northwest scare you away. Seattle is not synonymous with rain and it's not always pouring in Portland. The region is a mecca of outdoor adventure-cycling, kayaking, hiking, river rafting, skiing-and, of course, running. The region boasts some of the greatest trails in the nation, and they're waiting for you. But pack a rain jacket...just in case.

Note from the Author
Before moving to San Diego, I was an RAC member living in Walla Walla, Washington. It had its share of small-town races, but to really satisfy my craving for racing, I had to do a lot of traveling. And I mean A LOT. I hit the road and headed all over the Northwest-miles and miles in my car and in my running shoes. Along with fellow runners, I ran many of the races mentioned here. Some favorites include the Seattle Half Marathon, being on a relay team for Hood to Coast, Bloomsday in Spokane, the Coeur d'Alene Half Marathon in Idaho and many others. I saw parts of the Northwest only runners can see. For me, there's no doubt, "Running reigns in the Northwest."
Diana Babb
Lifetime RAC member since 1994, VIP member since 2002

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