Top Running Towns of the South

03/29/2011 - 10:37

By Pete Rea/ZAP Fitness
Rea, Peter.jpg_.jpgAmerica is blessed with some of the best towns for training in the world. From Eugene, OR, and Boston, MA, to Flagstaff, AZ, and Missoula, MT, our 50 States possess some of the most pristine running venues in the World. In the south we are equally as fortunate. From the Mississippi Delta to the Appalachian Mountains, Running Journal country is home to multiple running Meccas.

This article breaks down the top seven Running Towns of the South. Our crack team of researchers looked at more than 100 cities of all size and demographic in Running Journal’s 13 States and the District of Columbia and looked not only at training venues (quantity/quality of parks, tracks, trails etc) when ranking these municipalities, but factored access to running clubs for all ages and ability, quality of local running events, specialty running stores within the city, and overall social scene within the town. In short the below list is a compilation of towns “runner friendly” top to bottom.

#7 – Birmingham, AL. Birmingham broke onto the national running scene seven years ago as the host city for the 2004 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Since then the eyes of the running south have been centered on this runner friendly Alabama town. While visiting Birmingham be sure to run the Jemison Trail or take a more technical run at Oak Mountain Park. Trak Shak has multiple locations and an incredibly knowledgeable staff and Birmingham’s Vulcan 10K, which began in 1975, is one of the South’s premier fall 10Ks.

#6 – Knoxville, TN. Set on the edge of the Smokies, Knoxville has been a draw for road, track, and trail runners for almost 50 years. The Knoxville Track Club, founded in 1963, is one of the nation’s finest, putting on events for all age and ability year round. Running venues in Knoxville are plentiful for all surfaces. Check out the Knox Greenways Coalition for clues as to where to begin. Runner’s Market, one of the country’s top specialty stores, will put you in the right shoes/gear for whatever your type of event.

#5 – Greenville, SC. A relatively new player in the “top running cities” upper echelon, Greenville is rapidly becoming one of the emerging running towns in America. Each year the Grenville Track Club (one of the most established in the South) puts on more and more top quality events. The Reedy River Run 10K is rapidly becoming a top destination run on the Eastern Seaboard and venues for top running in and around Greenville are expanding each season (check out the new Swamp Rabbit trail from downtown to Traveler’s Rest and Tuxedo Lake 15 minutes north of town). Fleet Feet Greenville keeps runners from the area outfitted and professional runners from across the country are now using Greenville as a winter training base.

#4 – Morgantown, WV. Morgantown has been a draw for fans of our sport for more than a generation. With rolling hills abound and parks and trails too numerous to mention, it is no wonder that runners are relocating to Morgantown in droves (it is also no wonder the University of West Virginia’s women’s team in consistently one of the best in the NCAA). The West Virginia Flyers club has activities for all ages including a series of indoor and outdoor track meets for those who love the oval. Morgantown Running is undoubtedly one of the top running stores in the Southeast with an incredibly “hands-on” staff.

#3 – Charlottesville, VA – Perhaps the most scenic of the Running Journal top six, Charlottesville has it all. The Charlottesville Track Club is one of many local clubs designed to serve the needs of local runners of all abilities, and the social scene within these clubs is as tight knit as I have seen. The Ragged Mountain Running Shop (owned by former Marine Corps Marathon Champion and national high school two-mile record holder Cynthia Lorenzoni and her husband) is one of the most established and knowledgeable stores in the country. Many of the local runners begin runs from the store as well the nearby Charlottesville Running Company. There are more than four dozen quality running events each calendar year in the area highlighted by the Charlottesville Marathon & Half Marathon.

#2 – Tallahassee, FL – Tallahassee is a runner’s paradise. No city in the RJ top six even comes close to Tallahassee for training venues. This capital city boasts more than a dozen top notch grass parks and dirt road venues for soft training as well as the nearly 20-mile long St. Mark’s bike path for marked even runs as well. Local running store Capital City Runners, owned by Olympic distance runners Nate Brannen and Kevin Sullivan, is a fresh take on the traditional running store offering gait analysis and a no nonsense approach to improving your running. There are a half dozen tracks open to the public in Tallahassee and The Gulf Winds Track Club, one of the oldest in the country, puts on dozens of top quality events and professional runners from multiple continents now use Tallahassee as an annual retreat for track and road preparation.

#1 - Washington D.C. – Our nation’s capital wins the award as Running Journal’s top Running Town, after a lengthy battle with Tallahassee. The city has everything a beginning runner or a full-time pro could ever want. From the expansive Rock Creek Park, to the Sligo Creek Trai,l to the ever popular National Mall, Washington is blessed with training for every surface. There are more than a dozen running clubs for every type of runner in D.C. and running events such as the Cherry Blossom 10- Miler, the National Marathon, and the Marine Corps Marathon bring the masses from around the world. Additionally there are track, trail, and ultra events virtually year round -- something few cities can claim. There more than a dozen specialty running stores in and around the D.C. area to serve the running community and the social scene within the running community is unparalleled. Congrats to Washington D.C. – The 2011 Top Running Journal Running Town.

In other news………..
Some tidbits from running news around the south in the past six months
#1 – The Florida State Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country teams finished second at the NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.
#2 – Liberty University’s (VA) Samuel Chelanga won his second consecutive NCAA Division I individual Cross-Country title.
#3 – Michael Crouch of Queen’s University (Charlotte) won the NCAA Division II Title
#5 – Alissa McKaig (Blowing Rock, NC) and Ed Moran (Williamsburg, VA) qualified for the World Cross-Country Team by virtue of their top six finishes at the Feb. 5 USATF Cross-Country Championships. Both will compete at the IAAF World Cross-Country championships on March 20 in Punta Umbria, Spain
#6 – Bobby Mack, Stephen Furst (Raleigh, NC), David Jankowski (Blowing Rock, NC) and Ed Moran (Williamsburg, VA)- competed on the B.U.P.A. US Cross-Country Team in Edinburgh, Scotland.
#7 - Washington D.C.’s David Nightingale finished third at the USATF Club Cross-Country Championships (Charlotte, NC) in December.
#8 – Cole Atkins (Blowing Rock, NC) had the fastest American road 8K in 2010 (23:18) at the Richmond 8K in November.
#9 – Allison Grace-Morgan (Lexington, KY) finished 2010 with the fastest road four-miler by an American in 2010 (21:01).
ZAP Fitness is a Reebok and NY Road Runners Sponsored non-profit facility which supports post collegiate distance runners in Blowing Rock, NC. ZAP puts on adult running camps during the summer and is available for retreats all year. The facility has a state of the art weight room, exercise science lab for testing and a 24 bed lodge. Coaches at the facility include two-time Olympic Trials Qualifier Zika Rea as well as head coach Pete Rea. For more information go to or call 828-295-6198

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