There are different breeds of runners who find their motivations in different places. Running with friends or running solo. With headphones or without. Running to lose weight and stay in shape. Running to compete.
Those who are deep into this activity often cite the aesthetics of running. The increased heart rate. The challenge of pushing your mind and your body to new heights. The sense of accomplishment.
Aesthetics can also be found in your surroundings. That’s why trail running has become so big in runners’ circles as you get to enjoy your sport in the surroundings of nature. I get that in a major way.
But what do you do when you can’t just step outside every day into some natural wonderland? What if you step outside and all you see is an urban jungle?
It’s here I argue that while the aesthetics are different, the results can be the same. It’s inside the folds of the city that you can find your urban trail.
Now I’m not talking about getting on the Internet and looking for urban trails designed by city planners. These are great and badly needed. Anything to get people outside and moving is definitely worthy of taxpayer dollars. But what I’m talking about it something totally different.
I’ve often used running as a method to explore a place. It can be a neighborhood, a state park, or a wilderness area. And it can also be a city.
The beauty of exploring a city is that the lay of the land, so to speak, can vary so widely. The variety of sights is actually surprising.
I love my parks and my trail runs. But the core of my training occurs on city streets. And let me tell you, it’s not drudgery. It’s fascinating.
In a single run, I can pass by gleaming office towers and spectacular art-deco architecture. I’ll keep heading east, then north and find myself in the heart of Tulsa’s Blue Dome District, passing by a number of hip restaurants and bars, and all the people who frequent them.
As the journey continues, there’s the ballpark, a relatively new and attractive venue for my city’s minor-league baseball team. Not long after, I turn west, and sometimes I’ll strike a path through Reconciliation Park, a three-acre memorial to the hundreds of people who were killed and thousands more traumatized in the race riots that occurred in that very spot nearly a century ago. It’s a beautiful space and a great reminder of how awful people can be to each other.
Once leaving the park, I trot past new buildings under construction in the Brady District, a once rundown part of town that is seeing a renaissance of sorts as apartments, galleries, clubs and restaurants open up. One street in particular sports a coffee house that’s been there since the bad old days of Brady. They serve a great cup of joe, and the people who frequent it remind me of a scene from “Portlandia,” and I mean that in the best of possible terms (quirky is good in my book). I’m reminded that each chai latte I’ve consumed there might not have happened had I not explored this part of the city during my many runs.
As I continue west, then north, I go past two of Oklahoma’s most famous concert halls – the Brady Theater (a century old tank of a building affectionately called “The Old Lady on Brady”) and Cain’s Ballroom. How big is Cain’s? Let’s just say that everyone who is anyone in Oklahoma plays there, including bigger bands like the Flaming Lips. Cain’s was cool back in the day when this part of town was better known as a hangout for hookers and winos, back before it became hip.
Toward the end of my run I hit skid row. That lonely stretch of Denver Avenue heading back toward the high rises is home to two homeless shelters, industrial businesses and the county jail. Sidewalks along this street are traversed by any number and type of people who have fallen on some pretty hard times. A lot of people would find this sketchy, but the truth is I think some of the lawyers and business sharks atop those skyscrapers are scarier than the quiet and unassuming down-and-outers shuffling along this street.
Under the railroad tracks I go, then uphill past the gleaming BOK Center, a gorgeous arena that hosts basketball games, hockey games and concerts. Then I turn into my home stretch, past the central bus station, two courthouses and then into the heart of downtown again.
I end this little jaunt tired and yet refreshed, both physically and mentally. In the near future, there are other streets on which I could turn, new people to see, more places to inspect.
My streets lack the natural beauty of other places I love, but make no mistake. My streets are my trail.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088