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What makes Salt Lake City one of the greatest places in the country for runners

Recent study noted that Utah’s capital city and surrounding areas score high in multiple metrics, culminating in a lofty final rating

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Runners begin the decent into Emigration Canyon during the Deseret News Marathon Wednesday, July 24, 2002.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

Salt Lake City is one of the country’s best places to live if you are a runner, that is according to a recent study done by Lawn Love. The company, which specializes in lawn care, employing staffs throughout the United States, has also hired writers and a team focused solely on collecting metrics and analytics for various studies on a variety of topics, many of which are related to outdoors pursuits. 

Lawn Love’s runners study noted that Utah’s capital city and the surrounding areas score high in multiple metrics, culminating in a lofty final rating. Some of the city’s high-scoring categories include the second most “sports medicine recovery centers per 100,000 residents” as well as the third most “gyms/fitness centers per 100,000 residents.”

The city also came in fifth overall for its “number of running trails,” 11th for its “share of ‘moderately difficult’ and ‘hard’ running trails,” and 17th for its “number of running meetups.” 

Sharon Sullivan, managing editor for Lawn Love publications and a runner herself, has never been to Salt Lake City, but was impressed with her team’s findings. 

“I had no idea that there would be that many trails and that many different kinds of races,” she said about the city’s great running conditions. “I did a lot of research on some of the different races, and some of them are hardcore. They’re not just go out there and put on your sneakers and run on the pavement and do a 5K or 10K. A lot of this is pretty intense as far as the types of races; going over really rough terrain and rocks. It’s more hardcore than I thought.”

In the end, Sullivan and Lawn Love placed a trio of West Coast cities ahead of the Utah capital, with San Francisco in the top spot, Portland in second, and San Diego rounding out the top three. 

Some might feel Salt Lake City could have and should have been ranked higher.

“I have visited a lot of places in the world and I keep coming back to Utah,” former Olympic marathon runner and BYU star Jared Ward said. “I do think that some of that is because it’s a great place physically to train, but mostly, I love the people here. That’s what makes it home.”

The former Cougar and adjunct professor runs about 100 miles a week with hopes of returning to the Olympic Games in 2024. When asked if Salt Lake City is one of the best places to run in the United States he didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely. It’s a great training elevation so you’re not so high up that your body struggles to recover. But you’re high enough up that you’re better off when you go down to race at sea level. I think it provides a fertile, balanced training opportunity.”

Ward feels that Utah has great runners, having started the nonprofit Runners Elite Program to help aspiring runners in the state get the support and assistance they need. He continues to enjoy the many different opportunities to run in and around Salt Lake City, including the Deseret News 10K, which he has run since his high school days. 

Bob Wood, Ward’s agent and the former director for the Deseret News’ 24th of July races, is another prominent figure in Utah’s running scene, having run and coached track at the University of Utah before representing some of the best runners in the world as an agent — a job he’s held for the last 42 years.

Wood was not surprised by the high ranking.

“The kind of people that live here are fitness conscious, for the most part; as much or more than any other like city,” the former national chairman of men’s long-distance running for USA Track & Field said. “The mountains are great for running. Lots of trails; Jordan River Parkway; places you can run safely, which is becoming a bigger and bigger issue.”

“I just think the atmosphere in the city is great for (running). There’s a lot of good races. … It just goes back to the lifestyle of people in Utah. Running is kind of an addiction of sorts, but it’s a healthy one. So it enables people to do something here that they don’t have to worry is helping them, not hurting them.”

People like Wood and Ward have contributed to the rise in running in Salt Lake City and its surrounding areas. The development of trails, races and community support has also gone a long way in creating a healthy running environment.

Running has been engrained into the fabric of Salt Lake City. The focus on running has not gone unnoticed as it has received national recognition being one of the country’s greatest homes for runners.


Jared Ward competes in the Deseret News Classic 10K in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 24, 2015. Ward finished first in the 10K race.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News