About 10 years ago, Michael Gazaleh was working as a chiropractor at a small gym in New York City when a customer called with a somewhat unusual request: He was planning a trip to the city and wanted someone from the gym to go on a run with him.
Gazaleh was the only runner in the gym who could match the man’s pace, so he volunteered. When he learned it was the man’s first trip to the city, Gazaleh planned a run that showed off some of his favorite sights.
“Something clicked,” he recalls now. “I thought, this may be something that may get some traction.”
It seems he was right. Ten years later, Gazaleh is the CEO of City Running Tours, a company that takes tourists on sightseeing runs, or “sightrunning.” They operate in 16 cities and have between four and eight running guides at each location.
For $60, a running guide will take you on a personalized run of up to three miles, plus $5 for each additional mile.
“You can completely customize the run based on what you want, what day, time, distance and sites you want to see,” Gazaleh says. “We’ll meet you where you’re staying, run at your pace, provide water, take photos and give you souvenirs at the end. It’s designed for the tourist who’s coming to town, someone who’s training for a race, or a business traveler trying to fit a run in his schedule. We’ve done everything from 2 miles to 26 miles.”
If $60 sounds like a hefty price for a run, then Gazaleh says a sightrunning tour is probably not for you.
“It’s always good to learn a city through someone who knows the city,” he says. “If someone is just looking to go on a run, they can go on their hotel treadmill.”
There are also sightrunning options abroad. In 2013, running tour companies in Barcelona and Copenhagen merged to form Go! Running Tours, an international sightrunning company. They hooked up with other tour companies and now offer running tours in 70 cities around the world.
“Many of our running guests are only in town for a few days or a long weekend and would like to get the most out of their stay, and they see their exercise as a social matter when on holiday,” says CEO Lena Andersson. “They would like to see the local city in the company of a local runner and also they want to have a fun experience.”
Go! Running Tours prices vary by country, including £46 ($70.50) for a customized tour in London or €20 ($23) in Kiev.
Both Go! and City Running Tours also offer group runs for less. Those are at set times and locations, and take larger groups on set routes. City Running Tours offers group runs for $30 to $40 that take runners everywhere from Central Park to the Golden Gate Bridge (though not on the same run).
Runners who want to hit the pavement with locals but avoid the cost can also find a local running group. These groups, which are sometimes organized by running shoe stores or on websites like Meetup.com, may not plan their runs around sightseeing, but they will let travelers run safely and without getting lost.
Gazaleh says his sightrunning guides can provide even more valuable information that extends beyond the run, such as where to eat and what other sights to see.
“A lot of our clients say their run was the best part of the trip, because our guides provide history, culture and also personal recommendations of what to do while in town,” he says.
Andersson, the Go! CEO who also leads tours in Copenhagen, says the runners she guides are interested in the sights, but also take advantage of spending time with a local by asking about politics, daily life and other things they might not learn on a standard sightseeing tour.
“They have a chance to understand the local culture and they can either choose to see all the must sees of a city, or, like many of our guests, choose the not so famous sights,” she says. “Many of the runners would also simply like to see the everyday life of a city and not so much the big sights. This would be very difficult to do on your own.”
It certainly beats the hotel treadmill.