Running in the inner city poses many challenges because of traffic, crowds, smog, stray dogs and other perils. I learned to deal with the problem in my former job where I traveled extensively for 20 years including four years in Europe. Unfortunately, we didn’t have smart phones or Google Maps in those days, so I would simply go to the front desk of my hotel and ask for a map or directions to the river. Many cities have recreation trails along their watercourses and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to run many of them; the Potomac, Mississippi, Danube, Rhine, Rio Grande and Colorado to name a few.
When we recently took a short trip to San Antonio, TX on our way to the Bandera 100K, I made sure to stay near the San Antonio River so I could safely run in the city. The Riverwalk is a gem in the 7th largest city in the US, but you need to stay away from the overcrowded restaurant section to be able to run. Save that part for afterwards when you will certainly be hungry for some Tex-Mex.
Many people have heard of the Alamo and the famous battle, but may not be aware that it was one of many Spanish missions along the San Antonio River. (On a side note: every good Texan takes their children to San Antone to “remember” the Alamo, so we paid a short visit with our four year old, Maddie.) Start your run at the Alamo for motivation and then find your way to the main section of the river and head south.
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park comprises four of the five missions (Alamo is the fifth) along the river so you can stop and visit each one as you run. I was only able to make it to one, the Mission Concepción, since I was tapering for my race in a few days. The pathway is concrete, but you are safe from traffic and will see many other people running, riding bikes or walking their dogs.
You will pass near the King William district, a historical neighborhood with many fine homes in case you want to take a side trip. This is also the home of a swinging jazz group known as the King William Jazz Collective so you will want to put their CD on your iPod before you run. The Blue Star Brewing Co. is on the right and has live jazz every Tuesday. San Antonio is an artsy town that offers more than just mariachi and tejano music.
Along the way you will see several large spillways and some smaller picturesque waterfalls. There are many river crossings either over tall suspension bridges or low concrete and stone viaducts. Bald Cypress trees line the banks of the river where you can see “knees” protruding up through the ground. They are thought to support the tree or possibly aerate the roots because the trees grow in water. No one really knows the purpose for sure though.
It’s hard to imagine that you could see any wildlife in the inner city, so I was surprised at the many different birds that I saw on my run. I saw five Neotropic Cormorants, a solid black waterbird that can dive several hundred feet underwater. They are one of the few bird species that doesn’t have waterproof feathers which helps them dive. That’s why you’ll often see them spreading their wings to dry them while sitting on a rock.
In addition to many ducks, I saw Great and Cattle Egrets and three Yellow-crowned Night Herons. I was able to get very close to them because they were hiding near the trail on a small island just on the other side of some tall grass. They were completely motionless believing no one could spot them since they blend in so well with the brown grass. One was mostly exposed though, and I was able to watch and photograph this beautiful bird with black and gold head and streaked plumage.
Continuing downriver you will pass under a wooden railroad trestle and then cross a road that leads to the Lone Star Brewery. You will soon reach the Mission Concepción on your left, but be sure to consult the park map or google maps for you may end up running past it. When I arrived at the mission the first thing I noticed was a hawk perched atop a wrought iron cross on the roof of the church. The building is several centuries old and the oldest unrestored church in America. It has a domed roof, several bell towers and buttresses on the sides.
I turned around here after visiting the site and noticed a bike sharing kiosk. The San Antonio B-Cycle program allows you to check out a bike for up to 30 minutes at a time ($10 per day). You can return it to a kiosk and grab another one to travel around the city. It appears that they have bike sharing kiosks all along the mission road, river path and inner city.
My run was about seven miles roundtrip, but the entire route to visit all four missions is around 10 miles oneway. Years ago I cycled the entire path and saw all the missions including an interesting aqueduct system that was used for irrigation and farming. With the bike sharing option, you can make your run as short or as long as you wish. Following my run, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery. Maddie especially enjoyed the Christmas lights and music by a strolling guitar duo not to mention the awesome selection of sweet confections in the bakery window. The San Antonio Riverwalk is a gem worth exploring if you visit the Alamo City.
See you on the trail.