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Seaside or cities, hill or dale, all fun runs

Marathoner Bill Rodgers writes on best places to run in the region that remains his weather-beaten favorite

By Bill Rodgers and Elise Rodgers
Globe Correspondents / April 19, 2009
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I was prepared to write a testament to the glories of running in New England, but as I faced the dual challenges of an unrelenting winter and its effects on an aging body, I reflected on my older daughter's recent comment: "We must be insane to live here!" I admit that after 46 years of running through the daily, and sometimes hourly, surprises that New England weather presents, I wonder why I don't just retire and go jogging in Florida. The truth is that despite the challenges of traffic, climate, and terrain, for a runner, New England is the place to be. I've had the good fortune to train and compete in every inhabitable continent over the years and for me, there's no place that compares to this for great running. Most of the 125,000-plus miles I've run were in New England. So here's a list of some of my favorite places to run, to see the incredible beauty of the place we call home, and to create memories we can reflect on when time and the weather finally win.

FARM POND LOOP, SHERBORN I lived in this town for about 23 years and have logged many miles on its rolling roads. The lanes are beautiful and shady with scenery ranging from fields to farms to forests. In any season the area is so varied and interesting it helps make the long miles of training more enjoyable. We call my favorite course the Farm Pond Loop. Park in the center of town and head east on Route 16 for about a mile until you reach Lake Street. The road then winds through the woods and farms with beautiful views of Farm Pond. Circling the pond and back to town is a 9-to-10-mile run. Friends from Arizona once described this course as "a religious experience." I would agree.

BOSTON COMMON I started running when I was 15 and one of my favorite experiences then was to run around my neighborhood of Newington, Conn., in December with my brother and my friends and look at all the Christmas lights and decorations. It was this memory that inspired the Bill Rodgers Jingle Bell Run years ago. The intent was to look at the holiday lights, especially in the Common, have some fun, and maybe raise money for a good cause. We started with a few friends. In a few short years, our numbers grew into the many hundreds, but the joyful spirit remained. I still love to run around the Common and see the lights of the city, the greenery, the swan boats. I don't know the exact distance around the park, but I do know it is perfect for an easy and uplifting scenic run.

NEW HAMPSHIRE SEACOAST Until recently, I didn't even know New Hampshire had a seacoast. In 18 beautiful miles between Massachusetts and Maine, it provides not only fantastic ocean views and breezes, winding uncrowded paths and walkways, but also a few public "pit stop" places (in summer anyway), an invaluable asset for a long run. You can park at either end of this course: Odiorne Point State Park in Rye on the northern end or North Hampton State Beach to the south. Little Boars Head in North Hampton has sweeping views across the Atlantic out to the Isles of Shoals as you ascend the high cliff walkway above the ocean. You can run any distance out and back on the 18-mile stretch and soak in the beauty with the ocean air.

MOUNT WASHINGTON HOTEL/BRETTON WOODS, N.H. This list would be lacking if it did not include some of the fantastic trails in the region. One of my favorite things about New England is its abundance of nature. A stunning example of this is the Mount Washington area, where the trees seem to go on forever. I have had the pleasure of running some of these trails, one that began at the very back door of the Mount Washington Hotel and wound its way into the expansive greenery of the mountainside. The trail features a rushing river, high stone cliffs, and quiet moss-covered vales. My brother, Charlie, used to call it "The Lord of the Rings" run, which seemed appropriate. You can make your loop as long or short as you like - just don't get lost.

LAKE CHAMPLAIN, VT. I was first introduced to this area in the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon and it's been a favorite of mine since. The course starts in Battery Park in Burlington. It's a beautiful route, with views of both the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York. Lake Champlain is also quite a sight, especially in the summer when people come out in droves to relax, walk, and run along its edge. You can go as far as you like, even to Canada if you're feeling ambitious.

OCEAN AVENUE, NEWPORT, R.I. I've made several visits to Newport and I always follow some version of the Ocean State Marathon course, which starts going south along Bellevue Avenue. This is an interesting course, not only because of the nearness of the ocean but also because of the rows of mansions lining the street. From there I take Ocean Avenue along the coast, which is wonderful in the summer because it supplies a steady, cool breeze. Keep going past Brenton Point State Park onto Castle Hill Avenue and finally, Harrison Avenue, which will bring you back to Bellevue for a solid 9 1/2-mile loop of very enjoyable running. This might seem like a lengthier jog, but the terrain here is so flat and smooth it's a real pleasure.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK/BAR HARBOR, MAINE Running camps are a great way to explore new training territory and that's how I discovered this awesome place. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park contain 127 miles of trails with 57 miles of gravel roads originally designed for horse-drawn carriages. This affords a great off-road experience without the usual sprained ankles that often come with the rockier hiking trails. If you're anything like me though, you'll want to bring some friends with a good sense of direction or a really good GPS system. It's not quite as beautiful when you're lost.

BUSHNELL PARK, CONN. Running is one of the best ways to explore any city. You get a feel for the layout, the people, the architecture, and the culture of the place. In Hartford, where I was born, there is a jewel of a park within sight of Mark Twain's mansion, where my great-grandfather worked as his gardener. I rediscovered this connection through my association with the Hartford Marathon, which begins at Bushnell Park (and is now the ING Hartford Marathon). A few times around the 1.27-mile loop provides a pleasant little training run.

JAMAICA POND/THE EMERALD NECKLACE Hardly a day went by in the '70s and '80s when I did not run some variation of this course. My training partners and I would start at my old store at Cleveland Circle, wind our way through the Chestnut Hill neighborhoods and the Greenway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted until we reached Jamaica Pond. The 1.7-mile loop around the pond carries a never-ending stream of walkers, runners, and others enjoying the day.

CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE My experience here began with an invitation from Joan Benoit Samuelson to run the Beach to Beacon 10K (now the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K). It's a great road race with a fantastic course that I enjoy running in training as well. The route begins near Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth and moves toward Fort Williams before finishing at the Portland Head Light. The rolling course varies from oceanfront to shaded neighborhoods to the spectacular lighthouse on the bluff. It's only too bad that the training runs don't end the same way as the race itself: with a big New England clambake.

Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston Marathon in 1975, '78, '79, and '80, and his daughter Elise can be reached at brrc@earthlink.net.