By Sarah Sekula, Published on espnw.com
SAVANNAH, Georgia — The sun just came up in Forsyth Park, and it’s prime time for a run through historic Savannah. To my left, an intense game of Ultimate Frisbee. To my right, a labradoodle trotting alongside its owner. Straight ahead: A fountain attracts a photo-happy tourist. Don’t be fooled, though. This is no ordinary outing. It’s a sightrunning tour — part guided excursion, part social activity and part exercise.
So it makes sense that my tour guide, Steve Prudhomme, owner of Seeing Savannah on the Run, is a 25-year running veteran and marathoner. After quick hellos, we pick up the pace and make a beeline for Chippewa Square, in the heart of the city, as Prudhomme sprinkles in a dose of history and pop culture.
“This is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, if not the world,” he says.
I wholeheartedly agree as we pass historic mansions, an exquisite church and the spot where the park bench scene in “Forrest Gump” was filmed. I’m so wrapped up in the dreaminess of the 100-year-old oak tree canopies, cobblestone streets and iron walkways, I don’t even notice the calories I’m burning. In other words, it’s a creative way to switch up your workout routine and get to know a city at the same time.
Our pace is about a 10-minute mile, probably because I turn my head at every boutique and stare down every adorable dog lounging outside of every cafe. I make a mental note to picnic on the neon-green grass at Madison Square later just to soak in the atmosphere (think puffy clouds and bluebird skies).
Best part is: This trend has really taken off, so you can zero in on a tour that fits your running swagger. Take Off ‘N Running Tours, for example, where guests run down L.A.’s Rodeo Drive for some serious window-shopping. Or RunBoston, where you can conquer the last nine miles of the Boston Marathon.
“You have a unique chance to run with a local guide who shows you the sights, but also introduces runners to the local culture, politics and happily dishes out tips on where to eat or what to do,” says Lena Andersson, CEO and cofounder of Go! Running Tours, which operates tours in 37 international cities.
Even hotels have gotten in on the action. Running concierges at the Westin offer guided discovery treks. (Hint: If you forgot to pack running essentials, for $5 you can rent New Balance kicks or apparel.) Likewise, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., the general manager runs with guests to must-see locales like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Your reward? A gluten-free superfood muffin and a swig of Green Goddess juice made of basil, mint, kale and honeydew.
“Running tours are a treat I give myself when traveling on business,” says Kathy Rehwaldt, a runner from Minneapolis. “They feed my interest and fitness at any given time. Even though I have traveled to New York City for more than 20 years, I have seen more of the city and learned more of the history through my runs.”
Not in tip-top shape? No worries. Some tours have several guides to accommodate different paces. Others are private, personalized tours so you can take extra breaks if you’d like.
“We run with every type of runner,” says Michael Gazaleh, president and CEO of City Running Tours, which offers tours in cities nationwide. “Competitive runners, recreational runners, beginner runners, families of runners, fitness freaks and just everyday active people. A lot of clients are training for a race, so we have led tours anywhere from two miles to 26 miles.”
“We recently had a runner who was visiting from Australia and wanted to run the major marathons but was not going to be in New York City during marathon time,” he adds. “So we took her on the marathon route, with the exception of the Verrazano Bridge.”
On this particular day, I opted for a more casual tour in Savannah, less than five miles. The result: I fell head over heels for this sweet Southern hideaway, and my next running tour is already booked.
Sarah Sekula is a Florida-based freelance journalist and video host who covers adventure travel, health, wellness and fitness.