There Is Beauty Everywhere

Beauty can be found on any run, including those through urban areas.

By on August 5, 2022 | Comments

AJW's TaproomIf your social media feed is anything like mine, by this time of year you’ve seen enough stunning mountain vistas and cool race day videos to last a lifetime. Let’s face it, long-distance trail running takes us to some of the most beautiful places in the world. The ideas and images that are inspired by long remote routes, traversed on foot, through stunningly beautiful natural landscapes, are what have brought so many of us into the sport, and what motivates us to keep going.

But in the midst of all that, the vast majority of us live in cities, large urban or suburban places that allow us to make ends meet but don’t exactly inspire the senses. Sure, there are the lucky few who can walk out their doors each and every day and find themselves in the midst of nature’s grandeur; but for the rest of us, and by that I mean most of us, the daily grind and the impact of real life mean that many of our daily runs take place in nondescript places, far from expansive mountain views, with no camera crews and few places for quiet respite.

However, in the midst of those nondescript daily runs, there is beauty to be found.

Chicago architecture

Chicago, Illinois, architecture on a sunny day. All photos: Andy Jones-Wilkins

I was reminded of this earlier this week when my wife, Shelly, and I stopped over at my brother’s house on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, on our way out to our new home in Arizona. It was a typically hot and sultry early August morning when I stepped off my brother’s doorstep to take a gentle hour-long run through the city. As I rounded the first corner I was struck, almost immediately, by the early morning light glinting off the windows of the adjacent apartment buildings. Chicago, long known for its unique and inspiring architecture, captured my attention in the first half mile of my run. I knew then I was in for a treat — as long as I paid attention.

Turning left onto busy Howard Street, the thoroughfare that would take me to my turnaround point on the shores of Lake Michigan, I began to take notice of the colorful murals, which adorned every underpass and several brick facades. The murals were colorful, gritty, political, and beautiful. On each successive block en route to the lake, I found myself pausing longer to take in the colors and the textures of these paintings — created to make a point, for sure, but also to brighten up an otherwise everyday place.

Grafitti under a bridge - Chicago

Colorful graffiti on an underpass in Chicago, Illinois.

Then, as if on cue, I crossed a busy parkway and hit Lake Michigan. In the midst of the nation’s third-largest city, on one of the year’s hottest and most humid days, the shimmering blue waters of the lake and the cool winds coming off it that give the city its nickname, overwhelmed my senses. And I dare say, caused me to pick up my pace a bit. Something about the juxtaposition of the seemingly chaotic city behind me and the serene lake in front of me gave me pause — and gave me hope.

Chicago tree art

Art on a tree in Chicago.

I turned around and headed for home. Now buffeted along by the cooling breeze coming off the lake and warmed up after 40 or so minutes on the run, I focused more on my footfalls, my breathing, and the moment. Rounding the final corner before getting back to my brother’s house, a large green expanse stretched out to my left. It caught my eye and I slowed down to take a look. It was a massive urban garden, well-tended and filled with tomatoes, lettuce, and some of the biggest sunflowers I had ever seen. It may not have been a summit view from the high mountains of Colorado — but on this day, at this time, it was enough to inspire me to lace ’em up and get out there again tomorrow. And that, to me, is what it’s all about.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, Illinois. One of America’s oldest craft breweries — they opened in 1988 — these guys have been at it for a while. On my recent trip to Chicago, I was able to sample several of their beers and the one that caught my fancy was Neon Beer Hug IPA. A blend of New England and West Coast, if that’s even possible, Neon Beer Hug is one of the most unique IPAs I’ve ever had and well worth your time the next time you find yourself in the Windy City.

Call for Comments

  • Leave a comment to tell us about your urban or suburban running.
  • What beauty do you find on your everyday run from home or work?
  • How do you stay inspired and committed to your running when on your normal routes which you repeat again and again?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.