I started running during my freshman year of college out in eastern Washington. The landscape is hilly desert and farm country, dotted by a few small towns like Walla Walla, where I attend school. From our campus, I can run a couple miles in each direction, which was fine when I started, but as soon as I craved longer, more challenging runs, the edges of the town felt constricting. Sure there were a couple trails that extended past the last farmhouse, but mostly I felt like I was running in circles—same routes, same backdrops, few people.
Coming home to Minneapolis for my first winter break was thus a wonderful revelation. Suddenly I had the space to run miles in any direction—past kids at recess, dogs in the park, and downtown workers on their lunch-breaks. I’ve heard plenty of people complain about the traffic lights and busy sidewalks that can interrupt a city run (and I’ll confess I have yet to jog in Manhattan), but I would argue that these are small obstacles compared with the immense joy of witnessing the luster of city life at high speed.
There is also safety in the frequent passersby one encounters in a city. While I would never run in my deserted small town at night (for fear that if something happened to me, no one would be around to help), I spent many hot summer evenings jogging through Washington DC when I lived there last year. As Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, security comes from the presence of people at all times of day. My neighborhood in DC had churches, grocery stores, parks, houses, restaurants and bars so it was filled with people from early Sunday morning to the heart of Saturday night. In this way, I never felt alone.
Besides regular jogs in the places where I live, running is also my favorite way to get to know a new city. Once I’ve dropped my suitcase, there’s nothing better than taking a jaunt down unfamiliar streets. Before I became a runner I struggled with geography, but (aided by Google Maps) I’ve found that running in a new place situates me. I can wake up the morning after a run and point out landmarks and street names—guiding my travel companions who have only just confronted this new place.
My passion for running is a valuable complement to my passion for cities. Crisscrossing an urban landscape in my running shoes familiarizes me with the people and places that fill that space and in turn, the constant activity of the city offers safety.
Do you run/bike/walk in your city? What do you like about it?