I have often talked about running when I'm away from home and out of town. Some of my most memorable runs, in fact, have been not just in exotic locales but in cities where I happened to be for business.
An article in the Wall Street Journal (see below) discusses the pleasure and revelations one experiences when taking runs away from home in other cities throughout the world. I'm not sure I agree with the author that New York City's reservoir is the best "city run" of them all, but he's not too far off.
What You Learn By Running in Roppongi
Racing through a sleeping city is to know its essence.
By John B. Quinn
Those who travel a lot for business (and then hop back on a plane for R&R) take their obsessions with them. As it happens, running is a passion of mine. I do it all over the world.
Can't sleep? Hit the streets. Jet lag? Chase the endorphins. Brain lock? Race distraction to the finish line. And there may be no better way to see a city. Perceptions are at sidewalk level. The pace is adjustable. The degree of difficulty is illuminating. To whiz through a sleeping city is to know its essence.
In Milan I did laps of the Duomo at 4 a.m., the only witnesses incredulous drunks unsteadily perched on the curbs. I ran through the deserted streets of Paris from the Ile Saint-Louis across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower (where I saw two middle-aged lovers in flagrante delicto on a stone bench) and back past Notre Dame to my hotel. I remember nocturnal circuits of the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus in Rome, and the colonnaded piazza in front of St. Peter's without a soul in sight. The beauty was arresting and mine alone.
Some cities are better for running than others. My first run in Tokyo was in the early morning through Roppongi, the ripe detritus of the night's revels littering the sidewalks. The run around the Imperial Palace was tedious with no view of the building. India has been disappointing. In Delhi one has to dodge the monkeys that infest the government buildings area. In Agra, the sidewalks are often used as lavatories.
Frankfurt is as dull as its reputation, Dublin not much better (although it's fun to follow the peregrinations of Leopold Bloom, marked on the sidewalk with quotations from "Ulysses"). Beirut is, sadly, boringly reconstructed from its bomb-ravaged past (only the corniche is picturesque). The traffic alone makes Cairo impossible. Poor runs often reflect some underlying nature of the locale: jejune decadence, the weight of poverty, civic indifference, the ravages of conflict, inadequate infrastructure.
On the other hand, delightful experiences abound, sometimes in unexpected places. An exultant run at dawn up to Mars Hill and the Acropolis in Athens; elderly Koreans doing a version of tai chi on a hilltop in Seoul; couples waltzing to music piped from loudspeakers in the French concession of Singapore. Lisbon has great hill runs with views of the Tagus River. With its monuments, Berlin tells the history of the 20th century. Istanbul offers everything a runner could want: hills, vistas, water and an unfamiliar skyline marked out by minarets and the 16th-century domes of the
Then there are the real runners' cities. It never ceases to amaze me how many runners one sees in London—pale, unathletic looking people pounding the pavement on both sides of the Thames and through the streets of the City. In famously hilly San Francisco, it's hard to beat a run along the Embarcadero, past the piers and the Presidio and across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Headlands. Run the Mall in Washington, D.C., and stop for inspiration at the Vietnam, Lincoln and Korean War memorials and now the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. One is never alone on these tracks.
The best, the most glorious city run in the world is the reservoir in New York's Central Park. Water to your left, park and buildings on your right—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Dakota, Central Park South, and the wonderful concluding straightaway to the reservoir pump house. It never fails to lift the spirits.
Often on my runs I feel like a canary in a coal mine. The accessibility of a city to a lone stranger chasing solace through its byways is a measure of civic character. It is the physical city in a basic interaction with a single human being.
It only makes sense: If a city can delight a solitary running man, odds are it has something great to offer the striving masses who live there. It's certainly something to think about the next time someone petitions the local council meeting to add some jogging paths.
Mr. Quinn is founder and managing partner of the international business litigation
law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.