It's the question of any number of event owners and rights-holders who work with road and trail races: What are the best U.S. cities to run in?
While every runner probably has an opinion on this, finding objective data points and creating a ranking based on a variety of factors is what consumer health care marketplace group Vitals does annually. The latest Vitals Index rankings for best running cities, released just last week, were based on quality ratings and access to sports medicine physicians and orthopedic surgeons. The index also considered the number of full and half marathons hosted by cities, the number of participants for the largest race and the number of runs per person.
So what’s the verdict? Orlando came out in the top spot, with 1:2,590 sports specialists per capita, 41.4 runs per person, seven full and half marathons, and 65,523 participants in the city’s largest race. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were San Diego, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, Birmingham, Charlotte and Atlanta.
Running’s popularity would appear to be increasing. According to Vitals, more than 18.75 million people completed a running event in 2014, according to data from Running USA. This number is more than double the 8.5 million people who finished a race in 2000. In fact, running was the fitness frontrunner in nearly every state in the U.S., based on MapMyFitness data compiled by The Wall Street Journal. Race organizers have branched out to attract participants beyond the pool of serious runners, and less strenuous “fun runs” have become the norm in many American cities and towns, particularly when linked to charity fund raising events. Fitness apps and wearable devices that help runners plan their runs and share the info on social media may also be a factor today.
Orlando’s position at the top of the running cities index may be related to its status as the host city for the world’s most famous mouse.
“Orlando not only has an impressive number of sports medicine specialists who practice there, but it also hosts the Walt Disney Marathon which drew 65,523 runners last year – the largest race in the nation,” wrote Vitals. “San Diego hosts much smaller races, but holds 11 full or half marathons per year, plus several other shorter-distance events.”
Interestingly, many cities known for their prestigious marathons such as like Boston, Chicago and New York, failed to qualify for the top ten spots on the index. These cities host fewer long-distance runs and tended to have fewer sports specialists per capita. Harsh winters – something few of the cities in the top 10 experience – may also be a factor.
The proximity to sports specialists plays a bigger role in the top running cities than people might think. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has estimated that 70 percent of runners will suffer a running related injury. According to Vitals, this means that living in a city with access to sports medicine professionals is crucial to becoming and remaining a healthy runner.