Coach’s Top 10 Global Running Venues – (As seen in the 2017 Nov/Dec issue of NER)
One of the benefits of coaching a group of full-time runners is the travel associated with accompanying athletes to competitions. From Europe to South America and Asia, and many places between, I have been fortunate to see and experience runs at many of the world’s top running venues. This month I am happy to share with New England Runner readers my Top 10 Running Venues from Around the World (and right here in the U.S.). Enjoy—I look forward to hearing about your top 10.
#10 – Hagley Park – Christchurch, New Zealand
While the late Arthur Lydiard’s notoriety as a coach was made on the North Island of New Zealand, the South Island is home to a myriad of the country’s top running venues, including Christchurch’s largest park. Hagley Park sits amidst central city Christchurch and possesses seemingly endless grass athletic fields as well as groomed walking and running trails. The eastern side of the park, which runs adjacent to the Avon River, possesses a 3-kilometer circular grass field and a similar 2-kilometer grass and dirt loop any harrier would pillage for. Additionally, Hagley is home to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens as well as multiple lakes, all with wide runable trails on its circumference.
#9 – Dyrehaven – Copenhagen, Denmark
Literally translated as “The Deer Park,” Dyrehaven in North Zealand (15-minute train ride north of central city Copenhagen) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former hunting grounds for Danish Royalty. This park is home to four lakes, multiple meandering streams and perfect running trails throughout the property. The Hermitage, the Danish King’s former hunting lodge in the park’s center, has three separate 1200m loops, formerly used for training hunting dogs. Many of Copenhagen’s runners will “train it” there for interval sessions and long runs. (Photo: Deer Park, photo by bastian.)
#8 – Sunny Hill Rd – North Tallahassee, FL
Twenty minutes north of Tallahassee on route 319, one of the most beautiful runs in this hemisphere is to be found. Less than a mile from the Georgia line, turn right on Sunny Hill Rd. and proceed approximately 2.2 miles to the New Hope Church on the left (be sure to check out the gravestones of freed slaves pre or post run). Begin your run east on Sunny Hill and for the next 12 miles you will experience fully canopied clay roads, all while passing 19th Century pre-Civil War plantations. This run will take you back in time.
#7 – Ohori Park – Fukuoka, Japan
Amid the bustle of Fukuoka (Kyushu Island’s most populous city) sits Ohori Park, an oasis of trails, pagodas and the adjacent Fukuoka Castle, providing one of the best runs you will experience. Ohori is a run of contrasts, with Shogun artifacts on display throughout the park while the modern city of Fukuoka is ever present. The Shori trail leaves Ohori Park and leads runners up Fukusaki Hill above the Castle, whereupon the views of Hakata Port, the ocean and the surrounding mountains are all clearly visible.
6 – Holyrood Park – Edinburgh, Scotland
It isn’t often I leave a run with 40 mph winds and sleet desperate to return, but that is exactly what happened in 2016 in Scotland. Holyrood Park is a runner’s dream. The ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel, built in the early 15th Century, overlook the park’s main fields and the “upper ridge trail” leads to Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the park. If you have ever seen the 1980s movie “Highlander” you already have a good feel for what Holyrood is like, with multiple lochs, open trails and an amazing view of the city of Edinburgh. The park is roughly a mile from Edinburgh Castle and is used each January for the B.U.P.A. XC running event known internationally. (Photo: the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel above World XC runners. Photo by FitzFoto/NERunner)
#5 Woody Mountain Rd – Flagstaff, AZ
Flagstaff has become one of the world’s top running destinations and for good reason. At 7,000 ft. of elevation with endless dirt trails and roads, “Flag” draws runners of all ages and abilities from around the world. Nowhere in Flagstaff can one experience more diverse beauty than on the 30+ mile long dirt road known as “Woody Mountain.” During a run at Woody Mountain you will experience rolling terrain on a perfectly even dirt road with open cattle ranges, ending at Mogollon Rim overlooking Sedona. This run is paradise.
#4 Parque Nacional de Tijuca – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
While in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games, I was in search of a unique running experience when the concierge at our hotel suggested joining me for a run at “Tijuca” just outside the city—30 minutes later Ernesto and I arrived at the entrance to the rainforest trails of Rio’s most spacious National Park. Tucked inside this forest—the largest urban rainforest globally—are numerous exotic species of sloths, lizards and monkeys (including the Sagui, known as the world’s smallest species of monkey) and more than 100-kilometers of trails. The trails in the forest are surprisingly runable, and with the exception of mandatory slow downs to view more than three dozen waterfalls, I had one of the best runs of my life.
#3 Phoenix Park – Dublin, Ireland
Phoenix Park was in the running for my top spot. Put simply this park is huge—the largest Public Park in Europe; it possesses everything a runner could ever want with open roads, trails, and gravel expanses of over 4K, all connected amid streams, ponds and the spectre of central Dublin in the background. Highlights include Aras an Uachtarain, the residence of Ireland’s President, as well as Deerfield, home to the US Ambassador to Ireland; both are within the park and are connected by numerous grass trails. I love running in Phoenix, both for the views as well as the sheer number of Irish of every age who run there each day.
#2 – Manhattan Waterfront Greenway – NYC
“Start spreading the news. I’m leaving today.” It may come as a surprise that a bike path in one of the world’s largest urban settings would be near the top of my list, but this network of bike paths in the Big Apple is nothing short of astounding, and the exception to the “all great running must be in rural settings” rule. Nearly 32-miles long, The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway is broken into The East River Greenway, The Harlem River Greenway & The Hudson River Greenway, the latter being the most heavily used Greenway in America. The Manhattan Greenway is a sea of humanity: all ages, all races, all fitness levels, all types of exercise, and all transpiring in one of the most passionate running cities on earth. Unless you are an ultra runner, try breaking the Greenway into 3-4 runs over a few days. These runs will give you a view into almost every Manhattan landmark and neighborhood.
#1 – Serra de Collserola Natural Park – Barcelona, Spain
Go figure that a 6-hour layover in Barcelona produced the most beautiful run of my life. This 10,000-hectare park has perfectly groomed running and walking trails along the ridgelines that overlook this unique European City. With a stunning backdrop of the Catalan Pre Coastal Range and, at the right time of year, snowcapped peaks, the runs within Serra de Coll (as locals call it) will make you want to do a long run regardless of your fitness. Inner park loops range between 3K and 35K.