Sunburn, sunstroke, dehydration — the hazards of running in the sun are many. That’s why, when I plan my runs, I’m always thinking “shade.” The payoff, though, isn’t just avoiding the sun, it’s also about what you’re getting. First, the trees, those miracle-working friends who give us oxygen and calm our busy minds. Second, a chance to relax and breathe peacefully (doesn’t breathing just feel easier in the shade?). Third, wildlife. Encounters with animals in cities are rare enough to be memorable and common enough to be a legit possibility. Our cities are alive with animals if you look in the right places. Most runners, trying to or not, manage to do exactly that.
For the past several years, my most reliable shaded run has been in the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River. The dense green trees lining the river’s banks provide a partial respite from the sun (if not the Midwest humidity) and create a veritable wildlife corridor right through the two cities. Once, running in the street, I was joined by a buck that popped out of an alley and ran parallel me on the sidewalk for a full city block before disappearing into the foliage. Bald eagles are common in the tree line as they patrol the bluffs. Another time, down along the shoreline, I had a stare-off with an impossibly dinosaur-like common snapping turtle, the largest turtle in the region.
The base of my Twin Cities run is a 3.5-mile loop, following a paved path on either side of the river between the Franklin Avenue Bridge and the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge. But what most endears this run to me is the opportunity for variation. Coming down the banks are a network of paths, some leading all the way down to water’s edge, some dipping briefly into the wooded areas before returning to the main path. My favorite spot is a beach on the Minneapolis side of the river not too far north of Lake Street, where I would sometimes remove my shoes, feel the dust-fine sand between my toes, and wade into the river.