Monday, July 25, 2011

Running the Windy City

I love Chicago. I could not possibly love it more. The first time I visited I asked my husband why we don't live there. I have continued to ask this question each time I visit, and I'm still not entirely sure why we haven't uprooted our lives to move there. 

The John Hancock Building in Chicago. Note the green space!

 In Michigan we often hear that Michigan's college grads are flocking to Chicago in droves - and it's true. Research shows that millennials (young people between the ages of roughly 25-35) move to someplace cool and THEN look for a job. Chicago's concentration of Michigan college grads shows this to be true. This idea sounds so romantic - take off, wait tables somewhere, look for a job while living in the coolest city ever. It's less romantic when you're 32 and married with a great job, a mortgage and a gaggle of pets. But hey - a girl can dream.

Lake Michigan waterfront with downtown Chicago in the background

 I visited Chicago for work last week and continued my love affair with the city. We stayed at The Wit on State Street right by the L and next to tons of shopping and restaurants. We arrived (via Amtrak to Union Station) on Thursday afternoon, and even during the week the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians. 

A view of downtown Chicago taken from the Hancock Building

 On Friday morning we decided to take a quick 30 minute run before preparing for our morning meetings. From the hotel we ran a lovely course down State Street up to and through Millennium Park. This park is in the heart of the city and is lauded as a "new kind of town square". It offers tons of amenities and public art. It's the perfect place for a morning run.

Taken from pedestrian walkway over Lake Shore Drive

We continued on across Lake Shore Drive and along the lake shore for a mile or so. Lake Michigan provides amazing scenery on a hot summer morning. We almost forgot how humid it was. Almost. The trail along the lake was crowded with other runners and bikers.  After crossing back over Lake Shore Drive we ran through Grant Park and back toward the hotel. Although it was a short jaunt it provided a prime example of why Chicago is an amazing city for cityphiles and runners alike.

Navy Pier and the lake
 I love lots of things about living in Michigan, and I doubt we'll be putting the house on the market and moving west any time soon. It's nice to know though that Chicago is so close (about a 4 hour drive) for shopping, running, and just soaking in everything that is great about the Windy City.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The economics of place and running

It's ironic - one would think summer to be the best time to get out and go for a run. I'm here to tell you - that is just not the case. When the humidity hovers at 85 percent at 6 a.m., you can never have a good run. Why do you think most marathons are in the spring and fall? It's way easier to run a race once it's cooler. I, maybe stupidly, am running a half marathon in about 2½ weeks. I don't feel entirely prepared, but hey, it's only 13.1 miles, right? (I keep telling myself that hoping it seems less daunting.)

So while my runs have been more sluggish and I've been a little less focused, I've been doing a lot of reading this summer on both cities and running.  I'm STILL trying to figure out what race to do in the fall. At this point I'm leaning toward the Monster Dash in Chicago in October and then running the Austin Half Marathon in February.

I lived in Texas for a few years and spent a lot of time in Austin. It's a fantastic city with such a great energy.  It has a great live music scene, a vibrant and walkable downtown, lots to do and see...not to mention the best beef brisket you'll ever have. 

This got me thinking about what makes great cities great.  There's a new blog out there about the economics of place and how creation of places where people want to live, work and play is really an economic argument. As a runner I consider place in choosing races - I want to visit and run in a cool city.

Sure, if I'm running a 5k I'll pick something easy and convenient. But if I'm looking for a longer race, I research race routes and cities to pick the coolest city for us to visit and spend a weekend. And sometimes we get lucky and fall in love with an unexpected new place (Knoxville, Tennessee, for example.)

The economics of place is about creating places to live, work and play.  Organizing a great race falls right into this argument - if you have a great race, people will flock to your city to run a race there (Chicago and New York are perfect examples.) I can't wait to go to Austin again. In the time it took to write this, I believe I've made up my mind. Austin 2012! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Running on vacation - be adventurous!

I often hear people either they don't want to exercise while they are on vacation, or that I am crazy for running when I am out of town. I have found vacation runs to be among my favorite. There's nothing quite like the freedom of going to a new city, lacing up my running shoes and exploring. 

Last summer we did a road trip in the western U.S. to Montana. There was nothing quite like going for an early run in Des Moines, Iowa. Another of my favorite places to run is while visiting my parents in Morgantown, West Virginia. I wasn't a runner when I was in college there, so I enjoy exploring campus through the eyes of a runner. (For the record - it's hilly).

Jumping for joy in front of Iowa's state capitol in Des Moines

My husband and I are avid college football fans, and during a college football road trip to State College, PA last year I went for an early run on Penn State's campus. It was over Thanksgiving week, and there was nobody out. I felt like I had the entire town to myself. It's the best feeling.

At the Lion Shrine in State College, PA

Ultimately I want to do a race in every state, but just getting out to run everywhere we travel is such an adventure. I don't often map out a route or know entirely where I'm going, but it's a freeing feeling to just take off and figure it out.

A few years ago while staying at a Westin Hotel in Denver, I found out a cool thing - Westin has Runner's World maps for 3 and 5 mile loops at many of its hotels. They are handy little laminated cards that you can stick in your shorts pocket. Very cool.

So during your summer vacation pack your running shoes. I'm planning to run on the beach in Riviera Maya and the Freedom Trail in Boston this summer. Running clothes don't take up that much room...pack yours!