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Running Through History

Residents of St. Louis’ Soulard neighborhood refer to it as “the island”. Everything you need is there and once you’ve visited it, you won’t want to leave. Many people feel that way about Soulard – including runners. The history, terrain, and liveliness of the neighborhood make running here an urban adventure.

Soulard, located a mile south of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, is the oldest farmers_market_arch-low-resresidential neighborhood in the city. Most of the neighborhood’s architecture was built in the mid-1800’s and is characterized by warm earth-toned brick buildings and sidewalks, ivy covered walls and wrought-iron fences.

It is also home to one of the world’s largest breweries, the oldest farmer’s market west of the Mississippi River, and the nation’s second largest Mardi Gras celebration. You are part of something unique when you run here.

Variety Adds Life
The terrain of Soulard varies greatly. Sidewalks and streets can be flat and smooth in one area and uneven, rough and hilly in others. There are the smooth, flat sections; subtle, gentle inclines; and steep, challenging hills. The pavement and sidewalks vary too. Some areas have smooth concrete sidewalks, others are made of numerous types of bricks that were laid in the 1800’s, while a few areas have no sidewalks at all. Sidewalks in some areas have been so overtaken by roots and vegetation that running on them could be described as “urban trail running.”

The variety of surfaces not only makes running here an adventure, but the terrain can also be good for leg muscles. Running on different types of surfaces and terrain forces runners to vary their strides. This variation strengthens more types of leg muscles and can help reduce injuries that can occur as a result of overusing the same muscles from running on similar surfaces and terrain repeatedly.

From Market to Brewery
A great way to experience the uniqueness of Soulard is to start at the historic Farmer’s Market and run a four mile loop through the neighborhood to the Anheuser-Busch brewery and back. Located at the corner of South 7th and Carroll Streets, the Soulard Farmer’s Market has been operating since 1776. Saturday shopping at the market is an institution for many St. Louisians. Where else can you shop for elk, rabbit or Cajun cuisine while drinking a beer or Bloody Mary?

On most Saturdays, the market takes on a festival like atmosphere with huge crowds packing the area, street musicians playing jazz and blues, and vendors trying to sell their goods by giving away samples and price haggling with customers.

From the market’s main entrance at 8th and Lafayette Streets, run south along 8th Street towards the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Along the way you’ll run on the neighborhood’s signature brick sidewalks, while passing beautiful historic homes and ornate churches.

purple_flowers-low-resAfter running about half a mile, you’ll come to the unofficial center of the neighborhood at Russell Street. More than thirty restaurants and bars are located in Soulard, with the majority of them being located near Russell Street. Neighborhood favorites include Joannie’s Pizza, which serves some of the best pizza in St. Louis; Hammerstone’s, features live music seven days a week; and McGurk’s Irish Pub, known for its traditional Irish food and music.

It’s one thing to take a leisurely stroll up Russell Street – it’s another to run it. With its steep incline stretching more than five blocks it is a tough obstacle to climb. For a taste of “urban trail running”, run up the street’s south sidewalk. Made up of more than five different types of brick designs and patterns, the sidewalk keeps runners’ attention focused on where they are stepping rather than on the challenge of getting up the steep hill.

Reaching the top of Russell Street and turning south on to 12th Street, the bright red neon Budweiser sign of the Anheuser-Busch brewery towers over the neighborhood’s skyline. Following 12th Street and making your way to the brewery, you’ll pass such neighborhood architectural icons as “the lion house” and “ripple row”.

Past the Anheuser-Busch visitors’ center, the strenuous run up Russell and 12th Streets pays off as the pavement slowly declines heading towards Arsenal Street and the heart of the Anheuser-Busch brewery complex. As you enter the brewery and pass the numerous Anheuser-Busch buildings, you feel as if you are entering a city within a city. Arsenal Street cuts through the center of the brewery, creating an urban cavern between the steep walls of the brewery’s tall buildings.eagle1-low-res

In addition to the brewery’s architecture and mystique, the people who work there make running through it a special experience. During the work week, you can expect to pass masses of Anheuser-Busch employees going to or from work at the brewery.

The downhill run along Arsenal Street marks the halfway point of this journey from the Farmer’s Market. As you reach the bottom of the hill, turning the corner at Arsenal and 7th Streets, and run back towards downtown, a spectacular view of the St. Louis skyline comes into sight. The view is incredible in the early morning hours as the city awakens, the street lights fade and the sun rises over the Mississippi River. The gradual decline of 7th Street and scenic view of the city make for a easy final stretch through the neighborhood.

Run the Streets

The local running community is taking notice of what Soulard has to offer. The neighborhood is traditionally part of the Go! St. Louis Marathon and Half Marathon every spring and hosts the “Race for a Child” 5K run each summer. In 2011 the “Run for Your Beads” 5K was added to the annual Soulard Mardi Gras celebration. The inaugural St. Louis Rock n’ Roll Marathon, being held on October 23, may also run through the neighborhood.

With its rich history, architecture and terrain, after running here, you will understand what makes Soulard so special. You too may not want leave “the island”.

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