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The pandemic has thrown us out of our regular routines — that’s for sure. The time we’ve spent in our houses instead of in our regular places of work, as well as all the other curveballs we’ve had to endure, has forced a new perspective on a lot of aspects of the lives we used to live.
A recent New York Times article titled, “Welcome to the YOLO Economy” looked at how employees are not only taking advantage of working remotely, but some are changing careers completely. They’re leaving the corporate life and the metropolitan addresses that come with them and up and moving to small towns with high rankings in day-to-day quality of life.
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If you fall into one of these camps, either having the luxury to work remotely from anywhere in the county, or are just looking (and able) to relocate yourself, why not shop for your next hometown with the filter of your number one pastime: Running. Where in the country has a fantastic running community, the types of terrain you want right out your front door, and multitudes of like-minded individuals (read: potential running partners)? Here are some ideas that might send you to rental or real estate searching websites.
1. If You Want Running Lore in Spades… Eugene, Oregon
Elevation: 403 feet
Median home value: $398,682**
Median age: 34.7
Demographics: 83.26% White; 4.46% Asian; 6.23% two or more races; 3.31% Other; 1.56% Black or African American; .92% Native American; .26% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander***
Eugene is hard to beat when it comes to running culture — it’s everywhere you turn. “Track Town U.S.A.,” as it’s known, is the birthplace of Nike, the home of historic Hayward Field, and the stomping grounds of past and present legendary runners, including Steve Prefontaine. The town celebrates its running heritage, from 43 vintage Nike shoes on display on the walls of The Graduate Hotel, to the bombardment of running posters at Tracktown Pizza. Streetlights often bear flags of local running races and other running-related themes. In Eugene, there’s no shortage of inspiration to lace up.
Local elites and Olympians in town for events at Hayward Field run the same routes as mortal, everyday runners. Favorite paths include miles of soft, wood-chipped paths like the 4-mile Pre’s Trail, the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System along the Willamette River, to singletrack routes over bridges through old-growth forests on the south side of town. Numerous bike paths and running trails are meticulously maintained by the city. Then there’s the world-class track facility at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, which hosts the U.S. Olympic Track Trials, among other events.
Eugene sits between the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers and is a two-hour drive south of Portland and a 75-minute drive to the Oregon Coast.
Weather: Yes, it rains quite a bit in Eugene (this is Oregon, after all), with an average of 47 inches per year compared to a U.S. average of 38 inches. However, a high of 82℉ mid-July and a winter low of 34℉, plus plenty of cool, overcast days makes for fairly ideal running weather.
Local plug: “There are very few places in the world where the general knowledge of the members of the community understands and appreciates long-distance running. It’s a small town with a big running heritage,” says Bob Coll, co-owner of Eugene Running Company.
“When I first moved here in 1993 with my wife Laura, who was a professional runner at the time, we took an apartment right across from Pre’s Trail. I headed out on the soft bark, with the sun coming through the trees… the lights came on after dusk and I thought, ‘This is runner’s heaven.’”
2. If You Want A Small Town with Big Running Vibes… Boone, North Carolina
Elevation: 3,333 feet
Median home value: $353,000
Median Age: 21.2
Demographics: 93.45% White; 2.46% Black or African American; 1.34% two or more races; 1.25% Asian; .9% Other; .55% Native American; .04% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the towns of Boone and nearby Blowing Rock (population 1,163) serve as a somewhat tucked-away running mecca on the eastern seaboard. A number of races take advantage of the scenic, mountainous terrain of the area, including the Blue Ridge Conservancy 5K and High Country Triple Crown — a series of three races culminating in October’s High Country Half Marathon — and The Bear Race, a rugged 5-mile ascent that kicks off the area’s Highland Games Festival. (Fun fact: The course of “The Bear” runs a section of road run by Forrest Gump in the movie). The Grandfather Mountain Marathon and a track and field meet are also part of the Highland Games, and the New River Marathon and Half Marathon take place in the town of Todd, a short drive from both Boone and Blowing Rock.
Boone is home to Zap Endurance, a training center for post-collegiate elites that also holds resident running vacations for adults. Zap’s team of seven Olympic hopefuls, as well as Boone and Blowing Rock’s regular running community, can be spotted logging miles on the picturesque dirt carriage roads of the Moses Cone Memorial Park and around its two small lakes. Conveniently, the routes around Bass Lake and Trail Lake are 1500 meters and 2K, respectively. Other popular running locales include the 3.1-mile Boone Greenway, Watauga River road, and for the rugged, both the Mountains-to-Sea and Appalachian Trails can be accessed with a short drive. An 8-mile Middlefork Greenway is under construction and will soon connect Boone to Blowing Rock.
Weather: With a summer high of 79℉, Boone and Blowing Rock serve as a mountain escape for nearby Charlotte and Raleigh residents. Boone receives an average of 35 inches of snow per year, which has locals getting out on cross country skis.
Local love: “Before the pandemic and hopefully after, the East Boone Running Club met up at the Moonshine Brewery every Thursday, and our Zap Endurance runners would show up to group runs, give training tips, and join for a beer,” says Ryan Warrenburg, Zap Endurance’s Facilities Director and one of its coaches. “Historic downtown Boone has a neat vibe, with mom-and-pop shops and locally owned restaurants and bars, and Blowing Rock is more of a quaint resort town. One of the things I like personally is that Appalachian State University being here means more cultural offerings than a town this size would normally have. Plus, if you like being outdoors, this is a really great place to be.”
3. If you want a picturesque, runner-friendly Midwestern town… Stillwater, Minnesota
Elevation: 696 feet
Median home value: $366,491
Median age: 41.4
Demographics: 91.8% White; 2.62% Black or African American; 2.29% Other; 1.71% White (Hispanic); .649% Asian
Just a 30-minute drive from the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota and just across from the Wisconsin border is the quaint, riverfront town of Stillwater. The town, which dates back to 1848 as the birthplace of Minnesota, is located on the National St. Croix Riverway and National St. Croix Scenic Byway, and its many paved and dirt running paths serve up views of the picturesque river valley. Five running races — the Stillwater Half Marathon, Lift Bridge Road Race, St. Croix Crossing Half Marathon, Gopher to Badger Half Marathon, and Stillwater Boom Site Log Run (many on hold due to the pandemic) — are put on by Run Stillwater and celebrate the local running scene.
The town has many running groups, including the St. Croix Valley Runners and Team World Vision. Popular routes include Brown’s Creek State Trail, a 5.9-mile route that connects the Gateway State Trail to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The new (as of Spring 2020) 4.7-mile St. Croix Loop Trail gives recreationalists five miles of car-free path between the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge to the new St. Croix Crossing Bridge. A half-mile section climbs at an 8-percent grade, providing an optimal opportunity for in-town hill repeats. Another popular route is running up the town’s historic Main Street and continuing on to highway 95 that leads into the country, offering river views and rolling hills along the way. Trail runners frequent William Obrien State Park and Afton State Parks.
Weather: While temperatures max out around 85℉, and summers — and summer days — are long, winter can be downright burly; this is Minnesota, after all. Still, Minnesotans are hearty, and runners head out in all conditions.
Local Love: “The reason I moved to Stillwater was because of running!” says local real estate agent and runner, Carrie Killian. “I was living in Arizona but ran the Stillwater Marathon in ’09. I fell in love with the architecture, the views from the river, how nice the people were… I’ve now lived here for eight years. Stillwater is so close to the cities, but you can also get out easily and be in cow country, with beautiful views and rolling hills.”
4. If you want to see and train like elites…Flagstaff, Arizona
Elevation: 6,909 feet
Median sold home price: $469,543
Median Age: 25.2
Demographics: 73.4% White, 18.4% Hispanic or Latino, 1.9% Black or African American, 11.7% Native American, 1.9% Asian, .2% Pacific Islander, 7.3% Other, 3.6% two or more races.
Sitting at almost 7,000 feet in elevation, Flagstaff has become a running mecca for its high-altitude training benefits, scenic routes on both roads and trails, and thriving running community. Multiple running groups, including the professional team of Hoka Northern Arizona Elite (“NAZ Elite”) — comprised of Aliphine Tuliamuk, Stephanie Bruce, Scott Fauble and more — can be spotted training around town. Other groups, like Team Run Flagstaff, the Northern Arizona Trail Runners, and the Flagstaff Ultra Running Club, the specialty running shop of Run Flagstaff, and events put on my Aravaipa Running and others add to the vibrant running scene in this beautiful town.
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Runners frequent the mostly paved Flagstaff Urban Trail System (“FUTS”), with its 56 miles of shared use, non-motorized pathways winding through town and surrounding natural areas and with 75 additional miles of pathways in the works. Other popular running routes include the wide-shouldered Lake Mary Road that borders the scenic lake as it heads out of town, the rolling dirt of Woody Mountain Road, Schultz Creek’s singletrack, and the Buffalo Park’s 2-mile urban loop.
Flagstaff is also just 90 minutes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, within an hour’s drive of Sedona, and a 5-hour drive to Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Range.
Weather: Because of the altitude, summer temps rarely exceed 90℉. Winter sees an average snowfall of 108.8 inches, with spring wildflowers and fall’s changing colors rounding out the year.
Local love: “Flagstaff created my standard for what a town should be like that I want to live in,” says Amber Wilson, local runner who’s lived in Flagstaff off-and-on for seven years and is a member of Team Run Flagstaff. “We have such good trail systems in and around town, the elevation is great for training, and the running community is pretty tight knit. Even if you don’t know every single person, it’s just a supportive community.
The welcoming running community here is contagious. People take care of the trails — I don’t see a lot of wrappers or other trash. It’s great to live somewhere people take care of the land we run on.”
5. If you want singletrack for days… Boise, Idaho
Elevation: 2,730 feet
Median sold home price: $465,406
Median age: 36.6
Diversity: 89% white, 7.1% Hispanic or Latino, .7% Native American, 3.2% Asian, .2% Pacific Islander, 3% Other
There’s a reason the greater area of Boise is called “Treasure Valley;” it was dubbed such to reflect the area’s natural resources and opportunities. Ask any trail runner who calls Boise home: opportunities for epic running on those natural resources abound.
Unique to Boise, an organization called Ridge to Rivers maintains almost 200 miles of trails originating in town and winding through the area’s hills. Hopping on a singletrack trail right from downtown, particularly on the north end of town, makes access from a populated area hard to beat. And Bogus Basin, Boise’s ski area, sits a few thousand feet in elevation above downtown Boise, with trails connecting the two. Trails down low are mostly smooth, buffed-out singletrack lined with sagebrush, while the higher in elevation you run, the more trees and other flora you’ll enter… and the less people you’ll see.
Multiple specialty running stores, namely Bandana Running, The Pulse Running and Fitness, and Shu’s Running Company serve as hubs for trail runners in town. A thriving Facebook group — The Boise Trail Runners — keeps area runners connected. Races in the area take advantage of the runable trails, from the Dirty Dog Marathon and Half Marathon, to 50Ks and 50 Milers.
Weather: Being high desert, Boise can get pretty hot and dry in the summer, topping out with averages in the 90s. The average snowfall is 18 inches per year, with the national average being 28 inches.
Local Love: “I can’t imagine a better place,” says Joelle Vaught, who’s lived in Boise 25 years and competed in numerous ultramarathons. “You can run as far as you want and never hit the same trail twice. And you don’t have to drive anywhere, especially if you live anywhere in the northeast, north or northwest. And since all our trails head from the valley upward, you’re a pretty good climber if you live here. If you go for a 7-mile run, you’ll always climb over 1,000 or 1,500 feet. If you go for a longer run, you’ll easily get in 4,000 feet of climbing.
I also love how the majority of our trails are leash-free. It’s great for running with dogs.”
*Population and demographics taken from Worldpopulationreview.com
**Median home price data taken from Zillow.com
***Demographics taken from Datausa.io