Fun on Foot in America's Cities
by Warwick Ford
Published by Wyltan
380 pages, 2006
For a lot of us, real life change is a simple cruller -- or double hamburger or tofu dog or milkshake -- away. The daily stroll on a treadmill that never happens. The run around the block that gets put off. The thousands of crunches no one has time for. That is, we think about what we can do to change the way we look or feel or both -- especially with memories of holiday excess just a few weeks behind -- but most of the time, thought is the most energy it gets. It's something about resolve, I guess. And something about the way we've learned to apply it: which is to say faintly. Oddly, real life change can seem unappealing.
Enter Warwick Ford. Ford, together with his wife Nola, have -- perhaps almost inadvertently -- created the answer to a lot of people's fitness woes. Forget the treadmill. And -- if you're really good -- have that cruller if you feel like it. Just put on your walking shoes -- or crosstrainers if you prefer a pace more brisk -- and get out the door and have fun.
It's a fitness plan so simple it's stunning. So simple, in fact, it's disguised as a guide book. Follow the Fords' plan and it might even be possible to get fit without realizing it. Though Ford's book, Fun on Foot in America's Cities, is specific to 14 of the largest metro centers in the United States, the subtext here works no matter where in the States -- or the world -- you are. If you're visiting Atlanta, don't languish in your hotel room. If you're traveling through Dallas, there's buckets of fit fun waiting to be had. If you live in Chicago, New York, Seattle -- or one of 11 other cities -- prepare for a daily dose of active fun.
As Ford writes in his introduction: "On-foot exercise has some particular attractions: It is inexpensive; it can be done almost anywhere and on your own schedule; it can be done alone or with company; and there are many ways to make it motivating and fun."
Since this is a variation on what has been my personal mantra for the last couple of decades, Fun on Foot resonated with me instantly. No matter where I am, I'd almost always rather walk than ride. You just see things more clearly when you get there on your own steam, plus you never have to deal with parking.
All of that is fine when you're in your home city and you know your way around, but what about when traveling? On one level, the frequent traveler is precisely who Fun on Foot is tailored for. The person who, when plopped into, say, Philadelphia on a business trip, wants to know not only where to safely go for a run or walk, but what walk to take in order to see the best of the local attractions, what restaurants on the route will be worthwhile and even -- local terrain allowing -- where to get a decent pint. Fun on Foot deals with all those issues and more with a special emphasis of the Fun part.
Warwick came to the project out of his own need and his own experience. A former executive and high tech geek, Warwick had a job that demanded a lot of travel. A longtime fan of on foot exercise, Ford resolved to get out into the cities he was visiting. Eventually -- and with a lot of miles logged with Nola -- the book Fun on Foot grew out of that resolve.
While I love city guide books, there can be a sort of smug superiority in that type of production. Fun on Foot, on the other hand, is very accessible and friendly, as well as informative. In a very real way, Fun on Foot is a guide book, but it's also much more. A lot of typical guide book stuff is included -- where to eat, local highlights and can't miss attractions -- but, at the same time, there's this very serious core that sets the book apart. It's apparent that the plan is certainly for fun, but not only fun. Or maybe it's just the unspoken promise: if you indulge in all this fun, better health will be waiting for you. It's a promise that's hard to resist.
Ford, 57, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and winters in the Rockies in Colorado. Needless to say, when he's in either place, he's out having fun on foot as much as possible.
Linda L. Richards: Where did the journey that led to the publication of Fun on Foot begin for you?
Warwick Ford: Like many other people, one day in mid-life it suddenly dawned on me how critically important fitness was, if I really wanted the rest of my life to be pleasant and maybe even long. Gyms never appealed much to me but the outdoors did. Putting on a pair of runners and jogging somewhere was a concept that could work for me. However, my job at the time had me traveling endlessly and I found that, when on the road, the fitness-conscious part of my brain had a lot of difficulty convincing other parts of my brain to actually get the body out there.
I think the turning point in that struggle was one weekend when I was laying over in San Francisco. I convinced myself to run the eight miles from Fisherman's Wharf down the Bay, over the amazing Golden Gate, and on to Sausalito, where I had a sandwich, beer and memorable chat with the locals, then caught the ferry back to the city. It was such an enjoyable outing I said to myself: That's one route I'll never hesitate to run again if I get the chance.
What really clinched that thought was a subsequent weekend in San Francisco when my wife, Nola, was with me and I convinced her to run that route with me. Nola was actually having less success than me in motivating herself to get out running. However, her reaction at the end was exactly the same as mine.
I subsequently found that many places I visited, especially a lot of major cities, have running or jogging routes that are also naturally very motivating. However, you need to know a lot about those routes in advance, otherwise some part of your brain will spoil it all by unnecessarily cautioning you to can the whole idea.
Boil Fun on Foot right down for me, please. Share it with readers in a nutshell.
The book provides all the information necessary for people to find highly motivating and enjoyable on-foot exercise routes in 14 major U.S. cities. In each city, we analyze its general character as a good place to run, jog or walk. We look at weather and crime statistics. We then describe two to six routes of four-to-10 miles that satisfy a number of criteria that we use to declare the route as really motivating and enjoyable. Criteria include such aspects as comfort, attractions, convenience and a worthwhile destination to wind down. We give maps and directions for specific routes and also suggest variants of these routes and help readers find other routes they might like in these cities.
If there's one thing you really hope readers will take away from the book, what is it?
On-foot exercise in our cities can be enormously rewarding from a range of perspectives, fitness building being just one. Furthermore, when you know the best places to go, it can most definitely be a lot of fun.
What cities did you decide to include?
Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
How did you select this particular 14?
We took the list of the nation's largest cities and tried to pick those that would most likely be attractive to outdoor exercisers. We excluded some southern cities -- such as Miami, Tampa and Houston -- simply because they are too hot for too much of the year. Some cities, which are popular travel destinations and we knew had outdoor trail systems, were no-brainers: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco. We also found that Dallas and San Diego easily satisfied our criteria and, less obviously, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Indianapolis was such a pleasant surprise we couldn't leave it out. I've no doubt we have missed some worthy cities and routes, but we'll get to them another day.
Tell me if I've got this right: it seems to me that Fun on Foot is about a lot more than finding running routes in the cities you've included. It struck me that, to make your cut, a route had to offer an enjoyable run that included some of the local sights and even offered acceptable places to stop and relax. Am I right?
Yes. I've followed too many running guides that took me near depressed neighborhoods or through deadly dull environments. We wanted to nail down the really top routes that would motivate visitors as much as locals. All our routes satisfy criteria covering comfort and safety; historic, cultural, or aesthetic attractions; and convenience to the city heart without needing a vehicle. We also believe it's important for a route to have a motivating destination, at the very least an appropriate place to wind down for good food and a beverage afterwards.
I was amazed at the complexity of the routes included. And the detail. I don't think there's one city with less than two quite distinct routes plotted, and in most cases there are quite a few more. There are six included for New York City, for example; five for Minneapolis, Minnesota; Boston and a few others. And these aren't just routes: they're where to go, with maps, what you'll see, where to eat and so on. Thinking about the amount of research that must have been involved in preparing the book makes my head spin. How long did you work on it?
I've been researching this subject for at least six years, exploring and taking notes on every city I happened to find myself in. About three years ago, Nola also became enthused on this topic. Since then we have more systematically dedicated time to exploring cities on foot, talking to the locals and building up our information base. New York is by far the most challenging city. Living in Boston, we naturally found ourselves in New York frequently. Over many different trips, we've spent weeks on foot in New York, covering the routes that made the book and many that didn't. In other cities that we don't visit so often, we took the more organized approach of planned multi-day research trips.
Tell me a bit about your methodology.
As explained in the book's introduction, we have some city characteristics -- such as weather and crime statistics -- that frame each city's on-foot environment. Then, for each route, we demand certain standards in terms of comfort, attractions, convenience and destination. Nola and I check out each prospective route on foot ourselves, at least once and often more times. Regardless of time we have spent, we reject any route not meeting the criteria. We always spend time talking to locals and in several cities have good local friends who have helped enormously. One thing that makes me feel good is that my opinions are always sanity-checked -- and sometimes overridden -- by Nola's. I can promise that this is one book that takes into account the female's sensitivities as much as the male's.
It seems to me that this is a book that was born of a need. That is, there must have been a time when you were just running because you were there. Bookless. And at some point, you said: "Hey!"
Actually it's more that I was not running when I was in many places because I was unsure where to go and what to expect. The routes I did venture out on were often very uninspiring and I didn't feel inclined to repeat them. Suggestions from Web sites, hotel concierges and magazines were very patchy in their quality. I realized that a good book on outdoor exercise routes in U.S. cities would be a great asset. I discussed this idea with a wide range of people, spanning serious marathon runners in training, through recreational joggers, to people who just enjoy getting out for a good brisk walk. I received nothing but enthusiastic reactions, and I concluded that one book could provide value to all these classes of exercisers.
How long have you been a runner?
I always hesitate to call myself a runner since I am not very fast and have yet to complete anything like a marathon -- although that is on my list of future challenges. Whereas the term jogger is not so common these days, it probably better describes me. Anyway, I have been running or jogging regularly for around 12 years.
Do you always run when you're in a strange city?
Almost always, these days. I have become enthused with the benefits of finding the true soul of any place by traversing it on foot. Of course, you occasionally find yourself in an area where you prudently conclude you do not really want to find its true soul at all.
What's your favorite city for running?
I find different cities enjoyable for different reasons. San Francisco is my favorite for scenic beauty. Washington has the most interesting sights. San Diego has the best weather and the least violent crime. But I also find Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver and Seattle all very enjoyable places to get out on foot because of compelling mixes of pleasure factors.
How about internationally? Any city stand out?
Nola and I have jogged and walked quite a lot in Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand and some European cities. I would have to say that urban on-foot exercise is generally a much bigger activity in the U.S. and Canada than elsewhere. However, some cities outside North America stand out -- Munich, London and Melbourne in Australia come to mind.
Clearly, you don't have to run the routes you've outlined. Urban hikers would find Fun on Foot just as useful, I think.
Definitely. To my mind, the only differences between running, jogging, or walking the routes described are that if you go faster it will take up less time and you will gain a bit more in the fitness and weight-loss departments. However, walking these routes is still enormously beneficial and enjoyable. The distances of the routes are in the four-to-10 mile range -- never too long for a half-day walk or hike. I'm often surprised at how some people who don't consider themselves athletic say they couldn't walk four miles, let alone 10. But the truth is that anyone without a serious disability can complete any of the routes described in three to four hours and often a lot less.
How about people on bicycles? Or is that just a whole different deal?
Bicycles present special problems, especially if you're traveling. For example, you have to get one, ensure you don't lose it and sometimes cope with transporting it around. Furthermore, you'll find that many attractive places that are ideal for running or walking don't permit cycling or are just unsuitable for cycling. While some of our routes use bicycle paths, we don't limit our routes to paths suitable for cycling and, as a consequence, can often offer our on-foot readers a superior experience. While this book is not for cyclists, we have taken into account the needs of the middle ground -- inline skaters. We do our best to assess the extent to which each route is suitable for inline skating.
There were surprises for you in writing this book. For example, of the cities included, Atlanta, Georgia, is cited as having the highest percentage of violent crime. Yet, in Fun on Foot you state that 25 per cent of Atlantans "consider themselves to be runners or joggers," and in 2002 Runner's World magazine ranked Atlanta among their 10 best cities for running. So Atlanta as a running city? That feels as though it would have come as a surprise. What other things surprised you as you worked on the book?
Atlanta is a surprisingly complex case -- an enthusiastic local running community, some great running trails out of downtown, and a couple of good routes for those of us finding ourselves laid-over in downtown hotels. However, there is a real need for some upfront knowledge before venturing out, which is where I think this book can help.
In terms of city-specific surprises elsewhere, three immediately come to mind: First, the enormous advances in the on-foot trail system in New York over the past few years. New York on-foot is now much more than just Central Park. Second, the quality of today's Los Angeles public transit system. You actually can consider going car-less when visiting Los Angeles. Third, the enormous charm and on-foot appeal of what is arguably our most junior city covered: Indianapolis.
However, overall, the biggest surprise to me was the extent to which the people and the administrations in all the cities we covered are embracing the concept of urban on-foot exercise. We're clearly in the midst of a major lifestyle transition whereby on-foot exercise in our cities is becoming mainstream.
You don't ever lecture in Fun on Foot, but I catch a whisper of someone with something of a mission. Am I right?
I see too many unfit and overweight people who seem to face a barrier in starting to build fitness, lose weight and generally improve the quality of their lives. I don't think those barriers are real. Anyone can move straight through them, without the need to spend much money or employ gimmicks. One way is to start using your feet very actively wherever you happen to be, whether at home or away on travel. Maybe I can help people tear down their barriers.
How do you see people using Fun on Foot? Is it intended to be used by travelers, or people who want to know their own city better? And is it left at home or in the hotel room, or should it be brought on the run in a backpack?
Since we cover multiple cities, the book will be of most value to people who sometimes get to more than one of those cities. Frequent business travelers seem to be the most excited audience. However, we have also found readers in cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia. People who are very enthused by the coverage of their own cities, regardless of the travel aspect.
Anyone should read both the book's introduction and the applicable city chapter before venturing out. If you've done that, you don't need to carry the book with you. You can download and print a map and directions of any route from our Web site and slip that in your pocket. This service is currently free.
Do you see the Web site as an extension of the book? Is it adding another level to readability?
We don't want people to tear the map pages out of their books, so we distribute printable maps from the Web site. Also, we want to hear back from our readers so that we can take their criticisms and ideas into account in future revisions and future books.
Tell me about yourself. I know you're not a professional runner. Tell me about the part of your career that led you right here.
I started my career as an electronics and computer engineer and have a Ph.D. in that field. I've been a technology industry professional for about 30 years, culminating in an executive position in VeriSign, a major Silicon Valley corporation. I authored some technical books -- Computer Communications Security and Secure Electronic Commerce for Prentice-Hall PTR. I have always loved writing, travel and outdoors activities. Having semi-retired from the technology world, I now have the opportunity to focus my energies into the Fun on Foot book series, which embraces so many of my interests.
Your wife, Nola, is credited in the book -- and pictured with you on the cover. Tell me more about her input.
While I wrote the book myself, I always think of this as a "we" project. Nola and I have worked together on most of the book's research including, in particular, the on-foot explorations of all routes published or unpublished. I couldn't have done this without her. Her involvement is what gives me confidence that this work will appeal to the female as much as the male reader. I really feel that the two sexes often have quite different aspirations, inspirations and concerns when it comes to something like venturing outdoors in strange cities.
Are you a father?
Yes. We have two grown children, Terry and Louisa.
Are they runners, as well? (The family that runs together...)
Louisa is a keen runner and I run with her whenever I get the opportunity. In fact, Louisa also helped with some of the on-foot research for the book, joining us in several Boston, New York and Philadelphia outings. Terry is a keen hiker more so than a runner but, being a San Diego resident, he helped us a lot researching that part of the country.
In your bio, you describe yourself and Nola as "Australian-raised Canadian-American travel addicts." You just had to know I was going to ask what that means!
Well, both Nola and I were born and raised in Australia and we both have that travel addiction that is common to many Australians. We moved to Canada in the 1970s, lived in Toronto and Ottawa and became Canadian citizens. Then, about 10 years ago, we moved to Massachusetts and are now naturalized U.S. citizens. We have no plans to move anywhere else, but we travel around North America and internationally a great deal.
Fun on Foot seems absolutely complete -- 50 distinct routes in 14 cities or -- how did you put it? -- "the top 50 urban 4-10 mile routes in 14 major U.S. cities." I mean, that's a done deal. But it struck me that this might be the beginning of something. Fun on Foot in Europe, maybe? Or Fun on Foot in the Far East. Any hints about possible future fun?
Our intent is that this book be the first in a series of Fun on Foot books about various places. We are part way through the research for a book on Australia and New Zealand. We'd like to write one on Canada after that. There are also many other U.S. cities that warrant coverage in this type of book. As for other places, I doubt I would write those. More likely we'll be seeking other authors to write books to fill out the series at some stage. | January 2006
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.
You can visit Warwick Ford at the Fun on Foot Web site.