Run, Don't Walk
Friday, August 27, 2010; 12:20 PM
Early on Sunday morning, the streets of Memphis were desolate as my running group jogged to the Lorraine Motel.
I was too busy catching my breath and tying my shoelaces to notice the place until our guide, John Lintner, pointed it out. On April 4, 1968, in that building across the lawn, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while standing on the balcony outside Room 306, John informed us. I caught my breath again - this time in awe.
We had the infamous sight all to ourselves, and we lingered for a few minutes to absorb it. The former motel now houses the National Civil Rights Museum. A vintage white Cadillac and Dodge Royal similar to the ones King was to use that evening were parked just where the actual ones had stood. A wreath marked the spot where the great civil rights leader was standing when he was fatally wounded. Amazing.
We resumed running for another 15 minutes as John pointed out landmarks along the way (the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis's oldest eating establishment, for one).
"And here," he said as we arrived at our next stop, "is the mighty Mississippi."
We were on the Mississippi River bluffs. To our right was the Interstate 40 bridge to Arkansas, the "New Bridge," with its spectacular arch. To our left was the I-55 bridge, the "Old Bridge," looking dilapidated enough to live up to its nickname. And right in front of us was the massive river that has inspired many a song and story. Its waters glinting in the morning light, it offered a spectacular view. And to think that I might have missed this moment.
I could easily have spent the morning on a treadmill at my hotel. That's what I used to do for exercise whenever I traveled. But a couple of years ago, I realized what I was missing. Why waste my time in a hotel gym when I could run outdoors and see the city I was in?
Sightseeing on the run - call it sightrunning or sightjogging - has become a popular way for travelers to tour a city while staying in shape. Ask any hotel desk clerk where to run, and chances are, he or she will have a map ready to hand you. (When I stayed at the new Fairmont in Boston, it even supplied joggers with bottled water and towels.) Some hotels, such as the Palomar in Chicago and several Westins, have running concierges who take guests out for a jog around town. And the James Chicago Hotel recently partnered with City Running Tours to offer guests 4 1/4-mile guided runs.
"It's a unique way to see the city," said Michael Gazaleh, founder of City Running Tours, which also operates in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Washington and Charleston, S.C. "There are roads we can get to that bus tours can't, and longer distances we can do that walking tours can't."
Founded in 2005, City Running Tours led 400 people on 200 runs last year. Similar companies have sprung up in such cities as Seattle and in several countries. Most take you past historic landmarks or let you customize a tour. Some also cater to niche markets. Off 'N Running Tours in Los Angeles, for instance, has a "Running From the Paparazzi" tour through Beverly Hills and Hollywood for people who want to spot celebrities. (A recent group was obsessed with "Beverly Hills, 90210." Jason Priestly, where are you?)
My own love of sightrunning was born about three years ago, when I was traveling frequently with an avid runner. Running became a given wherever we went, from the Northeast to the Middle East.
We'd run eight miles through Manhattan's Central Park - from Midtown, around the reservoir, up through Harlem. We'd run six miles along the Corniche in Beirut, passing a spectacular mosque, the statue of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri and the city's most upscale shopping area. We'd run five miles around Oyster Bay, Long Island, from the fishing piers to Teddy Roosevelt's summer White House.