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On a recent business trip to Berlin, I was thinking of the great American athlete Jesse Owens. That’s partly because Berlin was the site of Owens’ greatest triumph: winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games. But as I was enjoying a morning run through the beautiful Tiergarten, I also recalled something Owens said about my favorite pastime. He said, “I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”
While I am a far cry from Jesse Owens, I agree wholeheartedly and thought I would use this month’s column to discuss how complementary air travel and running — two of my greatest passions — can be.
I like to go for a run the first chance I get after landing in a new city, especially after a long-haul flight. Running clears my head and connects me to the places I visit better than anything else I know. I don’t need a guidebook or a lot of gear; I just lace up and go, and within minutes, I get a blast of a city’s history, its people, its tempo and its culture.
One of my favorite runs is the six-mile lap of New York’s Central Park (watch out for ?Heartbreak Hill on the north end!). I usually run early in the morning, and when in Chicago I love running along the lakeshore from downtown at sunrise, with the beauty of Lake Michigan on one side and the power of the Chicago skyline on the other. A run around the National Mall in Washington, D.C., never fails to inspire, and I like to run up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, pausing briefly to read the Gettysburg Address (less than 300 words, amazingly) before running back down.
I lived in London years ago, and most every morning, I would run through Hyde Park. When feeling ambitious, I would run from Hyde Park to Green Park to St. James, then down the embankment of the Thames into the city and back. Each run was a feast for the eyes as well as a history lesson. Madrid is another good running city, and my favorite run takes me through the city, past the Museo Nacional del Prado and up the hill to the quiet and lovely Retiro Park. In Beijing, my running shoes have transported me around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and a lap or two around the peaceful Imperial Palace in Tokyo is a nice contrast with the surrounding buzz of that dynamic city.
I realize, of course, that there isn’t always a world-famous landmark to run around, and setting out on a run in a city you don’t know well can be daunting. My suggestion, if you’re staying in a hotel, is to ask someone on the staff for a good route. Chances are, you’re not the first runner to ask. On a recent trip to São Paulo I was pointed to Ibirapuera Park, a runner’s green oasis in the booming center of Latin America’s largest city.
Races are also a great way to see a city and its people. My favorite is the New York Marathon, which begins on the Verrazano Bridge, passes through all five boroughs of the city and ends in Central Park. I also recommend the San Francisco half-marathon that starts in Golden Gate Park and weaves through the hills with scenic views of the city ending in the Embarcadero by the bay.
Part of running’s appeal to me is that, whether you’re training for your 20th marathon or making your first lap around the block, you are testing the limits of what you can do. It’s always a great feeling to run just a little bit faster or a little bit farther than you thought you could.
Like air travel, running connects you to the world; to the people and places on different continents. Of course, whether you’re traveling by air or by foot, the best journeys always end in the same place — home — and my favorite run in the world is the winding loop around a scenic lake back home in Dallas.
Wherever today’s journey is taking you, I want to thank you for making American Airlines a part of it. And if you’re a runner, run strong. Have a great trip!
Thomas W. Horton