I’m not really sure how I became a runner. My coach used to make us run during tennis practices and I never remembered liking it too much. But then I started to enjoy it. The way it cleared my mind and presented a challenge. Each time, I wanted to run farther than the time before.
I joined the cross country team during my senior year of high school, and that’s when I really got into it. Soon after running my first half marathon in Phoenix, I was already dealing with an over use injury to my knee, but I wasn’t about to quit. In May of 2009, at 18 years old, I ran my first full marathon in San Diego. And I fell in love.
I fell in love with the rush of pushing myself to the max.
I fell in love with adrenaline of crossing the finish line after 5 grueling hours in the sun and hills.
I fell in love with the positive energy – from other runners and from spectators.
And I also fell in love with a totally new and exciting kind of travel – seeing the city from a more intimate perspective, as a runner.
8 years and 3 more full marathons later, I’m still in love.
I’ve run more than 15 half marathons throughout the past 8 years, but none of them have given me that same feeling of accomplishment and excitement as completing a full. However, I’ve enjoyed halfs as a wonderful way to see a city in a new way. After my first half in Phoenix, I’ve run halfs in New Orleans, Lafayette, Atlanta, Madrid, Szeged, and Bratislava. I plan to run many, many more.
But this post is about the long runs, the mentally and physically exhausting ones. The ones with the huge payoff at the end. The ones that justify a huge feast of local foods, wines, and sweets to celebrate and recover. I have run 4 full marathons in 4 different cities. And I treasure my memories from each one. Here are the cities I’ve run and why they are awesome race destinations.
#1) San Diego – like all of the cities on this list, San Diego is a must visit regardless if you are a runner or not. The city is on the water, and runners will enjoy many beautiful vistas of the sea during the run. The city is also a challenging one to run in because of the many hills on the course. San Diego was a fantastic race because of the sunshine, sea views, rewarding challenge, and fabulous seafood post run. I planned out several of my future vacation home condos and mansions near the sea along the course in San Diego.
#2) New Orleans – the main reason to race in New Orleans is the post race party! Runners wearing their medals take to Bourbon Street and drink away their muscle soreness. But during the race it’s also a party! Jazz bands, high school bands, and DJ’s line the course and keep the energy level high. Plus, you get to run on St. Charles Avenue, one of the most beautiful streets in the world. You also have a short section in the French Quarter, the Garden District, out towards the lakefront, then a fantastic finish in City Park. The pretty scenery, musical encouragement, and post race celebration put every runner into a good mood.
#3) Rome – the most epic course I’ve run by far. The course starts and finishes near the Coliseum and ancient Roman forum. Runners go past St. Peter’s and Vatican City, along the Tiber River, past ancient Roman aqueducts, near Piazza Navona and the historic center and our further into residential neighborhoods. After running in Rome, I had another injury due to running on the uneven cobblestones, but participating in this race was entirely worth it. Running past so many interesting historical monuments makes the time fly by so fast. This race was also the most touristic, I felt like I had done 5 hours of sightseeing in addition to my run.
#4) Milan – this course is also scenic, but there is a long drag in the suburbs which is very challenging to stay mentally and physically focused during. The race starts in the city center and soon runners race down Milano’s famous shopping streets before they are crowded with shoppers. A few turns later, after speeding past the world famous opera house, runners race past the Duomo with hundreds of enthusiastic tourists cheering them on. Waving and cheering locals line the balconies of old apartment buildings in the city center with high ceilings and imposing facades. Towards the end, runners cross through Sempione Park just behind the Sforza Castle. And you finish in time for aperitivo, the Milanese afternoon tradition which involves buying one drink at a bar and gaining access to a buffet of tasty snacks including slices of pizza, pastas, grilled veggies, risottos, and fresh fruit.
I would run any one of these races again without hesitation. Each city was awesome to race in for different reasons and each one offered different highlights. Even if you’re not interested in a half or a full marathon, running a 5 or a 10k as a part of your travel experience can be a great way to get to know the city in a new way. Plus, you’ll burn some calories from indulging in all of the tasty local foods.
Want to plan a destination race vacation? I’d love to help you organize the logistics for an amazing trip! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Facebook to discuss your trip planning specifics.