Go outside on almost any day in Albuquerque and you’ll see long-legged athletes in moisture-wicking togs and running shoes, speeding along Central Avenue sidewalks, through the Rio Grand Nature Center or Balloon Fiesta Park, or over trails and up hills in the Elena Gallegos Grant, at the foot of the Sandía Mountains. While you’re apt to see runners of every stripe in all sorts of places across New Mexico—zipping through the Plaza in Santa Fe, chugging up crimson mesas around Gallup, and winding beneath snow-topped mountains in Taos—Albuquerque is running central.
It’s not just local residents who are clicking off the miles in the city. For world-class runners, Albuquerque’s benefits are no longer a secret. Elite athletes frequently pop in and out of the city to train for major competitions, including the 2012 Olympic Games, in London.
During the winter of 2012, as she has for the last decade, Paula Radcliffe, England’s grande dame of long runs, spent a month in Albuquerque in preparation for the women’s marathon in London. The 38-year-old holds the women’s world record for the 26.3-mile race and has twice won the New York City Marathon.
An Olympic medal is the one jewel missing from Radcliffe’s crown, and from Mo Farah’s, who also hails from Great Britain, by way of Somalia. Earlier in 2012, Farah lived for a month or so in Albuquerque; the middle-distance star was often seen gliding along Tramway Boulevard with his training partner, American Galen Rupp. If all goes as planned, the two also will be in London.
So why Albuquerque? Why not San Diego? Or Seattle? Or Sarasota?
“Climate, elevation, and easy access,” says Joe Franklin, who in the last five years, as the University of New Mexico’s head track and field coach, has developed several fine runners and brought international prominence to UNM’s track and cross-country programs. “Summers are warm, but there is very little humidity.” The airport’s proximity and easy access to the rest of the city are also pluses.
“The most important thing is the weather,” says Mbarak Hussein, considered the godfather of running in New Mexico. At 47, the Kenyan still competes professionally, and has resided in Albuquerque for 20 years. In fact, he lives in the city year-round, when not attending races, and became an American citizen in 2004. He has run 34 marathons and has a personal record of 2:08.
When Hussein graduated from college in Lubbock, Texas, in 1992, he headed for Flagstaff, Arizona, another runners’ destination. “I like Flagstaff, but it is very cold. The winter is too much there,” he says. Hussein found the mild winters and friendly, supportive atmosphere of Albuquerque to be an irresistible draw. “These days, I am seeing more people from Boulder coming down here during the winter.”
Albuquerque also has an embarrassment of riches in its varied terrain. “We have great flats by the river,” says Hussein. “We have running tracks and we have foothills. I love the foothills in the Sandías best. You are never going to get lost there. And Placitas is good, too.” The undulating hills in the community just north of Albuquerque remind him of Kapsabet, his home village. He also likes Tramway Boulevard, which skirts the western base of the Sandías. Tramway’s parallel paved bike path offers 10 miles or so of quiet beauty and gentle straightaways.
Ibrahim Hussein ran oval track events at the University of New Mexico. After he graduated, in 1984, he jumped right into the marathon world and became a star. He was the first African to win the Boston Marathon, a feat he achieved three times. He also won the New York and Honolulu marathons. He kept an apartment in Albuquerque and, like Mbarak, put in a lot of miles along Tramway Boulevard. Ibrahim Hussein eventually returned to his home in Kenya, where he is a national hero and a coach.
Moroccans, Tunisians, Somalians, Japanese, Romanians, Poles, and Ethiopians have followed the Husseins and checked into Albuquerque for various periods during their careers. The promising Kenyan Everlyne Lagat (younger sister of Bernard Lagat, twice a 1500 meter medalist) lives in Albuquerque and can be seen coursing its streets.
Lauded by both Runner’s World and Running Times magazines as one of the top running cities in the country, Albuquerque is not just busy, every four years, when the Summer Olympics approach. Albuquerque boasts almost a dozen running clubs, including two groups whose members run barefoot, and one only for Christian joggers.
Travelers to Albuquerque frequently pack running shoes. Businessmen and women who stay at one of the downtown hotels can be seen heading off at dawn to jog the Bosque Bike Trail: 16 miles of paved multi-use trails uninterrupted by
roadways. Those lodging in the midtown area take advantage of a nifty trail that loops around the Jerry Cline Tennis Complex and an adjoining park—or they might take a quick drive east to Tramway and the foothills.
A nuclear engineer who lives in Clinton, Tennessee, Ken Sirois regularly visits Albuquerque to consult at Sandia National Labs—and to run with his wife, Shirley, who often accompanies him. “The city is really accommodating,” says Ken. The Siroises hooked up with the Albuquerque Road Runners, a club with members with a wide range of abilities. “It’s really an open group,” says Ken. “They treat newcomers like old friends.”
Susie Rand-Weimer, 41, makes periodic trips to Albuquerque from her home, in Roswell, to do consulting for the developmentally disabled. Whenever that happens, she brings along her running shoes and clothes, iPod, and Garmin GPS watch.
Rand-Weimer is a fan of Tramway Boulevard. “I love the peacefulness of it, with the mountain on my shoulder.” She laughs. “For sure I don’t get that [while working] back in Albuquerque.”
The virtues of running in Albuquerque are so great that the most unlikely people can get hooked by the city. Three years ago, John Blewis, a Fort Myers, Florida, businessman, weighed 240 pounds. He was 35 years old and in miserable shape. On a trip to Albuquerque to visit family members, he decided to run—to lose weight. He keeps returning to the city (“I love the Bosque Trail when the balloons are out”) and now weighs 185 pounds.
Mary Kirsling, a nurse for 30 years at the University of New Mexico Hospital,
took up running when she was 65. That was 25 years ago—and she’s still at it. She and her daughter Colleen, 61, both compete in the National Senior Olympics.
For Kirsling, running in New Mexico is like an elixir. “It’s so nice to go out in the fresh air and beautiful scenery. Why, when you do that, you just forget your problems.” ✜
Toby Smith is a writer as well as a longtime runner. He’s participated in races across New Mexico, Romania, and South Korea.
Duke City Tracks and Trails: Where to Run on Dirt, Sand, Grass, Pavement, and Track
Obviously, there are great places to run all over the state of New Mexico, but if you find yourself in Albuquerque for a day or weekend and can’t sit still, here are some highly recommended spots to hit your stride.
More than 40,000 acres here are designated city open space, wilderness, and national forest. The trail possibilities are limitless. Most of the trail access is from Tramway Boulevard, and the most popular trailhead is the Elena Gallegos Open Space. There’s also the lung-searing, nine-mile run to the top of Sandía Crest on La Luz Trail. On the weekends in warm weather, it teems with trail runners.
Paseo del Bosque Trail
This great acclimatization trail (if you’re visiting from sea level) is 16 miles long, paved, relatively flat, and runs along the Rio Grande. It’s a celebrated trail for cyclists, dog walkers, and runners alike, so don’t be surprised if you run into a little congestion.
Eldorado High School
11300 Montgomery Boulevard NE, E. of Juan Tabo Boulevard. Though visitors frequent the high-tech rubberized track, Eagles athletic director Michael Huston suggests obtaining a facility-use form from the Albuquerque Public Schools: (505) 880-5100.
One of the most favored running sites close to the geographic center of the city is the 3.3-mile perimeter of Albuquerque Academy, a private junior high and high school near the corner of Wyoming and Academy NE. The surface of the Academy run ranges from grass to packed dirt to sand to pavement The terrain is varied but not hugely challenging. Après-run, a Starbucks and a Whole Foods are within cooling-off distance.
University of New Mexico Golf Course
Start at UNM Law School and head N. along Hole 6 toward Indian School Rd NE. Shady in spots, but watch out for elm roots.
Great Friends of University of New Mexico Track Stadium
One of the finest track stadiums in the Southwest, with a 400-meter track that boasts an all-weather encapsulated surface called Versaturf. The track has eight racing lanes, including a removable water-jump for steeplechasers. Runners need to obtain permission from UNM head coach Joe Franklin before using the track: (505) 925-5735.
North Diversion Channel
The sun-baked straightaway offers good views, but parking can be tricky during the week. The trail runs 8.4 miles from the UNM campus to Baloon Fiesta Park.