What are the Best Running Routes in America?

Guest Blogger Eric Jorgensen

The Devil’s Backbone fits its title, and I, for one, am in love.

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The foot trail runs alongside the tall rocks that gave this area its name

For miles past the entrance and warning sign is red dirt covered with wind-tamped prairie grass and the occasional yucca plant. The dirt and grass climb a boulder-laden hill until it butts against the mohawk rock formations that give this devil its backbone, and its name. The valley and hills of the Backbone are 5,620 feet above sea level and rest at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. You can almost hear Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson’s rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky playing in the wind. Cutting up and down the hills is a trail that at some points is so heavily covered in rocks you either have to climb or turn around. For a hundred-yard strip, the trail appears to be growing scales. It is menacing and looks like a place Dante had to cross to reach the Inferno. But this is a runner’s heaven.

The Devil’s Backbone is easily the coolest named and one of themost intimidating trails I’ve seen, which I loved about it. It bolted into my pantheon of favorite places to run and inspired my new mission: To find San Francisco Marathon runners’ favorite places to train, and if possible, I will join you at them.

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The trail grew scales for a stretch.

This bites at me, but I actually didn’t run the Devil’s Backbone, which is near Loveland, Colo. Rather, I hiked it with my brother and my grandparents. My grandpa is a genius geologist with a Forrest Gump-like resume. He looked around the Devil’s Backbone, and then proceeded to tell my brother and me exactly how it formed and how many millions of years it took to take its present form. It was like watching Mozart compose music. My grandpa’s wicked smaht. I like the trail more because of this.

There are two other places I enjoy running more than anywhere else. One is Griffith Park in Los Angeles. There are several dirt trails, but my favorite is probably its most used: East Observatory Trail. It’s only 1.5 miles long, but it is steep, winding, overlooks much of Los Angeles, and ends at Griffith Observatory—the most underrated place to take a date in L.A.

This trail is also the only place I have used my sad and rudimentary French speaking skills, which I neglected to fully grasp in college. A French family was making their way down the hill as I was heading up. I heard the dad yelling at the kids in French while the mom walked ahead of them looking like she needed a drink in the worst way. I smiled and sarcastically said, “Good afternoon.” The mom looked a bit shocked, and then laughed. She said, “Good afternoon to you, too.” I kept running and tried to bid them adieu, but I think I said, “Your day good of Lion King.” Whatever—I tried.

My other favorite running spot is the University of Kansas’ hilly campus (I like to run hills, if you couldn’t tell). I’m probably biased, seeing how it is my alma mater, but I’ve been to several college campuses. Thus far it is the prettiest I’ve seen, especially in spring, and is well suited to SF Marathon training.

I asked the other ambassadors what their favorite running spots around the country were. Here’s a list of a few places they recommended:

Chris K.: Forest Park in Portland, Ore.

Jerry A.: Town Lake in Austin, Texas; and Sligo Creek Trail in Silver Spring, Md.

Charlie J.: Lake Tahoe; and Truckee River Path in Reno, Nev.

Christine T.: Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles; and The Strand in Marina Del Ray, Calif.

Courtney A.: Golden Gate Park in San Francisco; and Marin Headlands in Sausalito, Calif.

Emily F.: Umstead National Park in Raleigh, N.C.; C&O Canal in western Maryland; and The Loop in Central Park in New York City

Ryan N.: Presidio Trails in San Francisco

Nancy C.: The Norwottuck Rail Trail in Belchertown and Northampton, Mass.

Daniela V.: Red Rocks Trails in Morrison, Colo. and the service roads that run between Idaho Springs, Colo., and Georgetown, Colo.

Let’s keep the list going. Where are you favorite spots? Where should SF Marathoner’s in your part of the country go to train? Post your places in the comments below, and time and geography allowing, maybe myself, another ambassador or another SF Marathoner will join you.

Bio: Eric Jorgensen is a magazine editor and blogger from the Kansas City metro area who spends large chunks of time in Los Angeles. He once had a Coca-Cola commercial made about him for being one of the craziest college basketball fans in the country, which he still is (Rock Chalk). He has run a road race in full hipster garb, and has yet to drown during a triathlon. His first marathon was the 2011 San Francisco Marathon, which he live-Tweeted. If you’re interested in training with Eric, have any SF Marathon questions, or like friending random people on Facebook, add him on Facebook. He also Tweets,  so there’s that.

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