One foot in front of the other — that’s our motto as my girlfriends and I chug toward the half-marathon finish line in Nashville.

None of us cares about our race times. For us, half-marathons are a 13.1-mile social gathering — and a way to see a new city on foot.

Every year, we make a pilgrimage to a new city and meet up with our friend Catharine Crane, an attorney who relocated from Minnesota to Alabama two years ago.

These trips motivate us to stay in shape during the year and alleviate the guilt over eating things like Nashville’s fabled hot chicken smothered in sausage gravy over a biscuit for breakfast.

But what I like most is that a charted racecourse takes us through less touristy parts of a city, and at a faster pace.

“I think that building was in the Ray Charles movie,” Crane said, as we jogged past the historic strip of studios on Music Row, giving us a momentary reprieve from the ache in our legs.

We’re not the only ones who take “runcations,” trips that combine exploring a destination with distance running. According to a survey by Running USA, a trade organization for running events and businesses, 74 percent of runners plan to travel overnight for a race in the next 12 months. “We’re in this really unique juncture within the sport,” said Scott Bush, the group’s director of communications. “It’s no longer just about being able to accomplish the race distance, but an experience that is different, too.”

That’s led more race event organizers to partner with local businesses to offer travel incentives such as entertainment options and city tours.

Destination Races’ Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half-Marathon, which rolls through farmlands, vineyards and wineries and finishes with a post-race Wine & Music Festival, sold out in 17 minutes in 2016.

Stephen Byrnes, of Orono, traveled with his competitive running team to South Africa, where they ran a 100-kilometer race, to celebrate a team member’s 50th birthday. The group added another popular dimension: They raised more than $25,000 for World Vision.

“Running is such a great sport, and to be able to share the excitement of it with your friends while visiting new places and learning about new people — that’s all part of it for us,” said Byrnes, 46.

Other runners connect to a cause first, and then travel for it. That was true for Genevieve Genis Schaffer, a 40-year-old Minneapolis social worker, who ran her first marathon in New York City this past November. Her team of 12 women, formed to honor friends and family members who died of cancer, raised more than $66,000 for cancer research. “It gave every step meaning,” she said, still touched by the estimated 1 million rousing spectators whose cheers helped push her, along with nearly 50,000 others, to the finish line.

Minnesotan Steve Hibbs started a specialty travel company called Marathon Adventures in 2008 after what he said was a disappointing marathon tour experience in Antarctica. Now he runs races before he offers them through his company so he can explain the challenges of the course with the runners he serves.

He’s run 204 marathons, in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and each of the seven continents. His eight adventure packages range from $1,200 per person for Berlin to $13,995 for the Triple 7 Quest — seven marathons on seven continents in seven days — excluding airfare.

As for my friends and me, we’re already planning next year’s fun run. “Charleston? Savannah?” asked Stacey Hammer, 47, adding to our bucket list of stimulating cultural scenes.


Jennifer Jeanne Patterson lives in Edina and is the author of “52 Fights.” Find her at