Weaving past Boylston Street shoppers, my tour guide Wayne Levy dispenses historical trivia. “Did you know that the Boston Public Library opened in the mid-1800s as the first free, public city library in the US?” he says. “Did you know that Trinity Church is considered one of the 10 most significant buildings in the US by the American Institute of Architects?” No, I didn’t. We turn left toward the Public Garden and Levy mentions how Back Bay’s cross streets from Arlington to Hereford feature the names of British earldoms. I didn’t know that either.
Then, as we move toward the gold-domed Massachusetts State House, Levy poses questions you don’t typically hear on city tours. “How’s the pace?” he says. “How about a 4-mile route that follows part of the Freedom Trail, then crosses the Charles River for a view of the Boston skyline?” The nine-minutes-per-mile pace is slow, but perfect for easy conversation and sightseeing. The planned course provides a good mix of historical sites and scenery. And that was exactly what I wanted on my first running tour of Boston.
“A lot of visitors have an interest in learning about Boston,” said Levy, who owns RunBoston Tours and a 2:34 marathon personal best. “And with all the American history and running history, I think there’s no better place to do a running tour than Boston.”
With the Charles River, HarborWalk, Boston Marathon course, and famous sites clustered along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, the city offers runners plenty of options. And routes that stretch three to six miles can encompass a surprising amount of historical ground. My tour covered nearly four centuries and a dozen popular tourist sites from Copley Square to King’s Chapel Burying Ground to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Over 45 minutes that included a handful of short stops, I saw Boston from a new perspective, enjoying a welcome change of running scenery along the way. For a regular runner who struggles with sitting through bus and trolley tours, it was the ideal combination of workout, history lesson, and casual conversation.
Running tours let active travelers and Boston-area residents experience the city in a more intimate way. And visitors who have taken running tours say guides eliminate worries about safety and confusing streets and help them explore popular attractions and find off-the beaten-path places.
“I’m preparing for a marathon and the Boston Marathon is an iconic route that you want to do,” said Garbi Schmidt, a university professor from Copenhagen who ran the last nine miles of the famed course with Levy. “But if you don’t know the city, you might get lost. Wayne has run the marathon several times, so he knew the course and could tell me about the Boston Marathon experience. That’s the fun part.”
For me, the fun part was learning something new about places I typically hurry past without a second thought. It helped that Levy switched easily between fun facts and important history, all in tidbits easily dispensed and digested while on the move.
After stopping briefly at the State House, Levy and I head toward Park Street Station and pick up the Freedom Trail. As we run past the Omni Parker House, the original Boston Latin School site, and Benjamin Franklin statue, Levy continues his tour guide patter. He mentions that Malcolm X was a busboy at the Omni Parker House and that John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Kennedy at table 40 in the hotel’s restaurant. Levy points out the Beantown Pub across from the Granary Burying Ground and jokes that it’s the only pub in America where you can drink a Sam Adams and look at Sam Adams’s grave. A nearby group of guidebook-toting tourists lift their heads and laugh, then stare curiously at Levy and me as we run toward Cambridge Street and the Longfellow Bridge.
Given its place in US and running history, it should come as no surprise that three popular running tour companies call Boston home. In addition to RunBoston, visitors can go with City Running Tours and Freedom Trail Run, each with its own approach and personality.
RunBoston (www.runboston.org) gives customized tours for individuals and couples with hotel pickup. Customers choose when and where they want to go and how fast they want to run. Then, Levy pairs them with one of 12 guides. He always tries to accommodate personal interests such as the one woman with a fascination for burying grounds who wanted to linger at gravesites and another woman training for a marathon who wanted to keep up a particular pace throughout the tour. Prices for personalized tours range from $50 to $70 depending on the distance, with discounts offered for additional runners. The last nine miles of the Boston Marathon is one of RunBoston’s most popular tours, a close third behind runs along the Freedom Trail and Charles River. Continued...