The last few years, it seems I get the running doldrums when the hot days of mid-summer arrive. This time I did something about it. I attended a running retreat at Lake Thomas in the sparsely populated northeast corner of Washington.
Running parks, modeled after dog parks in which dog owners pay to allow their pets to run free and unleashed, have opened recently in Atlanta, Eugene and Spokane. Like the dogs pictured below, runners experience camaraderie, friendship, and a chance to group up and sprint wildly.
At first glance, paying a fee to run seems silly. Why pay when you can go almost anywhere and run for free? Surprisingly, running parks offer amenities that are attracting many runners, which has led to plans for more across the country.
Running parks charge according to how long you run. In my hometown of Spokane, a half hour is $10 with each additional half hour costing $5.
What do you get for your money? Miles of well-maintained trails in a beautiful setting. Many electronic signs showing your pace and elapsed time. Park personnel stationed throughout the grounds who clap and cheer you on.
Because research has shown that running performance is improved by being in a good mood, a hired, professional comedian belts out hilarious one-liners in the warm-up area.
Three times daily, bulls are released onto the trails. In scenes similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, runners get an intense speed workout as they avoid being trampled or gored. To prevent serious injuries, foam sheaths cover the bulls’ horns and hooves.
At regular intervals, prizes are shot high into the air by a “prize cannon”. A parachute deploys, and as the prize drifts with the wind, runners race to snag the prize.
After the workout, runners exit the grounds to the sound of inspirational, I-got-it-done music punctuated by pre-recorded phrases such as You ran so fast today! Your workout was fantastic! and What you did today was amazing! This leaves customers feeling so good about themselves they can’t help giving each other back slaps, high fives, and chest bumps.