When it comes to running in unfamiliar territory, I, like Blanche DuBois, "have always depended on the kindness of strangers." With mixed results. Asking a desk clerk or taxi driver where to run is taking a chance. Often, faced with a freeway on one side and a shopping mall on the other, I simply circle the motel parking lot until I drop from dizziness. And more than once I have changed into running clothes only to sit nervously in my room, too shy to approach the desk clerk in shiny yellow shorts.
But help has arrived. For $1, Kinney Running Trails (P.O. Box 5006, New York, N.Y. 10022) offers "The Great American Running Trails" pamphlets, which tell where to run in more than a dozen cities. Each brochure covers a single city, offering routes that can accommodate a variety of distances, and each is illustrated with clearly drawn maps.
These are safe and scenic trails where there will be other runners, and a stranger is not likely to get lost miles from his lodgings. Writers who know their cities well, and run in them regularly, have provided descriptions that are informative and engaging.
Joe Hyams, a Hollywood screenwriter, tells where to run in Greater Los Angeles. His 17-mile route meanders along the Pacific Ocean to Marina del Rey. The Minneapolis brochure claims that city is so fitness-conscious that it plows the running paths after snowstorms. In Philadelphia, a seven-mile run leads one past Rodin's The Thinker and a Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a giant clothespin. "No, you are not suffering from oxygen debt," the writer, Joel Henning, assures you.
The kit also features a guide providing advice particular to each city. Suggestions range from motherly (carry an I.D.) to practical (bring waffle-soled shoes to Portland, where the paths can get muddy) to cautionary (watch out for sunburn in Denver).
On most maps, distances are precisely measured ("exactly 3.92 miles"), and comfort stations are noted, as are locations where runners gather.
Some of the maps are better than others. The route in Phoenix is only three-quarters of a mile long—hardly worth warming up for. While Phoenix and its minitrail are included in the series, Boston, New Orleans and Atlanta, oddly, are not. "Running Trails" won't get you through the hotel lobby in yellow shorts, but it's nice to know that once you're outside, the scenery may feature a Rodin instead of a parking lot.