Best Cities for Runners – 2018 Edition

Nearly 17 million people competed in 30,400 road races in the US in 2016, according to data from Running USA. But for Americans who are truly passionate about their daily walk, not all cities are equal. Some cities are better for outdoor joggers. While others are better for those who value access to competitive races. Below, we look at these and other factors to rank the best cities for runners.

We looked at data for 100 US cities across eight factors. Specifically, we looked at data on race counts per 10,000 residents, walkability, safety, housing costs as a percentage of income, gyms per 10,000 residents, percent The city is covered by parkland and the percentage of residents who have access to the park. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we get it from and how we put it together.

This is SmartAsset’s second annual study of the best cities for runners. Read the 2017 study here.

Main discovery

  • The US Southwest is car territory – Cities in the Southwest states like Arizona and Nevada were ranked last in this study. In total, the cities in those two states make up 5 of the 10 worst cities for runners. These cities tend to have little parkland and not a lot of pedestrian traffic.
  • Trade-off between commuting and housing costs – In general, the most walkable cities tend to be more expensive. Cities like Boston, San Francisco and Washington DC are all in the top 10 most walkable but also come with high housing costs.

1. Arlington, VA

Arlington, Virginia came out on top. Anyone who lives and runs in Arlington is probably aware of the large number of races in the city. According to our data, no city in the study had more races relative to population size than Arlington.

And if road racing isn’t your speed, there are plenty of other ways to run in this city. It has the top 10 for the number of gyms per 10,000 residents and the percentage of residents who have access to the park.

2. Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis has the top 15 in six of the eight metrics, so no matter what kind of run you like, the city should have something for you. The city’s best scores are pedestrian mortality and the percentage of residents who have access to the park. It ranks second and fourth in those metrics, respectively.

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Of course, winters in Minneapolis can be harsh, so getting outdoors can be tough for most of the year. Luckily, the city also scores 10 for the number of gyms per 10,000 residents, meaning those looking to stay fit on the treadmill during the cold months can do so.

3. (tie) Madison, WI

After Minneapolis is another Midwestern city, Madison, Wisconsin. In Madison, nearly 9% of the workforce goes to work. That said, this is a good city for those who like to travel on two legs. It also opens the door to jogging to work.

According to our data, Madison also had the second-highest number of gyms per 10,000 residents in the study.

3. (tie) San Francisco, CA

According to our data, San Francisco was the third most pedestrianized city in the study. Many workers take advantage of this and choose to walk to work. Altogether, about 11% of San Francisco workers commute by foot.

Another bonus for runners in San Francisco is access to nature. According to our data, no other city’s residents have so many parkland rights. That means most runners will be able to skip the crowded sidewalk and run in the park. And if all those SF hills weren’t challenging enough, San Francisco had the 11th most races per 10,000 residents in the study.

5. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington is a very walkable (or runable!) city with plenty of amenities for runners. Most residents here have access to parks that can be great places for a run. But if you’re a runner who doesn’t enjoy running outdoors, Seattle has the sixth most number of gyms per 10,000 residents.

You can also scratch an itch when competing in Seattle. We estimate that the city has the 19th most races compared to its population. The most popular is probably the Seattle Marathon, which has been listed by Runner’s World magazine as one of the top 20 American marathons.

6. Pittsburgh, PA

In Pittsburgh, our data shows that a large percentage of people choose to walk to work. In total, we estimate that 10% of the workforce goes to work. The city also has you covered if you’re an indoor cardio runner. Pittsburgh has about 1.54 gyms per 10,000 residents, the 11th most in our study.

The only thing missing from Pittsburgh’s running portfolio is the lack of parkland. Only 10% of Steel City is covered by the park, the second lowest score in the top 10.

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7. Washington, DC

The nation’s capital is a great place for runners who want plenty of access to races, parks, and a walkable city. According to our data, Washington, DC has the ninth-highest walking scores and eighth-most races per 10,000 residents. Twenty-two percent of the city is covered by parks, and 96% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

But the city is expensive and doesn’t score top marks for pedestrian safety. Washington, DC ranks 58th in housing costs as a percentage of income and 67th in pedestrian mortality.

8. Saint Paul, MN

The eastern half of the Twin Cities takes eighth place. The city is not walkable like some of the other cities in our top 10, which hurts its overall score. However, the vast majority of St. Paul has access to the park.

St. Paul also had 13th races per 10,000 residents in our study, which is good news for runners who like to push themselves.

9. Boston, USA

Boston’s campaign profile looks a lot like Washington, DC. Boston is one of the most walkable cities with many parks. Of course, Boston also hosts one of the most famous marathons in the country, the Boston Marathon.

10. Denver, CO

Denver takes the last spot in our top 10. This city is probably the best place for those who like to get the best score at the gym. We estimate Denver has the fifth most number of gyms per 10,000 residents. The city also ranks in the top 25 for walking scores, percentage of residents walking to work and racing per 10,000 residents.

Data and Methodology

To rank the best cities for runners, we looked at data from 100 cities. Specifically, we looked at data for the following eight metrics:

  • Walking point. This is a measure of the overall walkability of the city. Data comes from Walkscore.com.
  • Percentage of the workforce that walks to work. Data taken from the 2016 Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Pedestrian mortality rate. This is the number of pedestrians killed in car accidents per 100,000 inhabitants. The data comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is for 2015 and is measured at the state level.
  • Gymnasium per 10,000 residents. This is the number of gyms per 10,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2015 County Business Survey.
  • Races over 10,000 inhabitants. Races including all 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, marathons and ultra-marathons take place in the city. The race data comes from runningintheusa.com and the population data comes from the 2016 Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of city is parkland. This is the adjusted total city area divided by the total parkland area in acres. The data comes from the Trust for Public Land.
  • Percentage of residents who live a 10-minute walk from the park. The data comes from the Trust for Public Land.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. This is the average annual housing cost divided by the median household income. It was included as a measure of affordability. Data taken from the 2016 Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
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We ranked each city by each metric, giving each metric equal weight. Then we find the average rating of each city. Using this average rating, we created our final score. The city with the best average rating received a score of 100. The city with the worst average rating received a score of 0.

Tips for getting the best mortgage rate

  • Pay a larger upfront payment. Depending on the type of home loan you plan to get, lenders may accept much less than the standard 20% down payment. However, if you put down less than 20%, you may have to pay for private mortgage insurance, which is not ideal. If you can afford to take 20% off, you may qualify for a better rate.
  • Get your credit in order. There are a variety of factors that lenders will use to determine your mortgage rate, but one of the most important is your credit score. If your credit score is poor, you may want to improve it before taking out a mortgage. The difference between 5% and 4% mortgage rates can mean tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Find out how long you want to pay off your mortgage. Typically, most homebuyers pay 15 or 30 years in installments. The benefit of a 15-year mortgage is that you’ll own your home faster and you’ll pay less interest over the life of the loan. On the other hand, a 30-year mortgage means you’ll pay less each month on your mortgage.

Questions about our research? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Image credit: © iStock.com/pixelfit

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