I know—running isn’t for everyone. Especially as the Indiana winter temperatures continue for the next few weeks. If I didn’t lose you by the title, then you must already be a runner, or you have dreams of giving up your couch and becoming more active one day. Either way, I have news for you. You don’t have to be good at running to do it. And you’ll find a whole big world out there that you had no idea existed.

I fell in love with Indy by running Indy. I moved here a little over a year ago without knowing much about the city and with an income that didn’t allow much for entertainment expenses (welcome to the life of a graduate student.) Yet I wanted to see it— this new place I called home. Having my heart set on running in the Monumental Half Marathon, I turned my training runs into adventures around the city.

I quickly found that you can learn a lot about a city on your feet. Indy is accessible, and by that, I mean it’s easy to navigate and has most of what a “big city” can offer in ways that don’t feel nearly as overwhelming. When you run Indy, everything slows down around you, and you pick up on the city’s nooks and crannies (and everything big packed in between.) It has flavor in both its food offerings and its diverse cultural neighborhoods. It thrives off of Hoosier values and is a place where residents are proud to brag about their city and their state. It welcomes innovation, economic development, local shops, artistic expression, culinary and drink expertise, and hole-in-the-wall diners that stand up to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. It has sports venues both big and small, edgy architecture, historic preservation, street music—you name it. There is something strikingly personal about Indy as a second-tier city (particularly from a street perspective) that makes one feel simultaneously at home with their loved ones yet part of something much, much larger. You can feel this atmosphere in the streets as you run and explore new territory.

Running Indy illustrates the diverse neighborhoods in and around downtown. Within minutes of the Monon Trail connecting you to E. 10th St., you will find yourself on the Cultural Trail. There you’ll be immersed in development of the Bottleworks District, a seven-year and $300 million project that is truly reflective of Indy’s unstoppable growth. Rest here to notice the Art Deco design of the former Coca Cola Bottling Plant and the gold “Coca Cola” faceplates. As you continue running, you’ll find yourself juxtaposed between historic Indianapolis landmarks and contemporary art installations like the DigIndy Art Project, which transformed 20 manhole covers along the Cultural Trail into works of art. Stand near the intersection of E. Market St. and N. Alabama St. and gaze at some of the oldest sites in Indianapolis like Monument Circle and City Market. With one 180 degree turn you’ll appreciate some of the newest buildings in the city. Stop to consider what people walking the circle in the Nineteenth Century may have seen and heard around them versus what you see and hear now.  Also be sure to wander the acre of green space behind the newly constructed Cummins building where you can read about their sustainable building practices.

Run southwest and you’ll reach the wholesale district, which now houses multi-million-dollar national sporting venues like Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, with Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field nearby. Think about how far Indy has come from a city of manufacturing— to the “amateur” sports capital of the world— to a city that hosts professional sports and the highest selling AAA baseball team in the country. These venues are all within walking distance of each other, something you cannot find in every major sports city. Within this same district you will witness three mid-rise buildings currently under construction including phase two of CityWay, which will join the newly built The Alexander Dolce Hotel and Irsay Family YMCA in the surrounding three block area (see what I mean by Indy being accessible?) Adjacent to downtown you will discover historical treasures tucked away on the cobbled streets of Lockerbie Square like the old James Whitcomb Riley House turned museum. To the west you can explore historic Lockfield Gardens, the first public housing project for low-income blacks built in Indianapolis (funded by FDR’s New Deal Public Works Administration.) Head south toward the Fountain Square historic district where you will find hidden art installations like “The Idle: A Point of View,” a tucked away greenspace encouraging passersby to stop and reflect while overlooking the I-65 and I-70 merge. Here in Fountain Square you will also find a teeny-tiny house facade wedged between storefronts on Virginia Avenue, just outside of the Fountain Square Branch Library.

Driving through downtown for one-off events won’t convey its specialty, and driving the interstates will take you around downtown entirely. In a car, you miss the aged wear on the historic mansions flanking the Old Northside neighborhood. You miss hearing folks of all ages laughing with one another while sitting along patios flanking Mass Ave. Running Indy means you can go down that charming pedestrian alley you might only briefly spot from your car. You can pause and gaze awhile at the Christmas lights on Monument Circle, in storefronts, and streets. Notice your feet changing surfaces from grass to concrete as you navigate around monuments in the Indiana War Memorial. Smell the paint from local teens volunteering to touch up street art on the Near-East side. Trains will shake the ground and remind you that you’re very much alive in a city that’s equally thriving. The sounds of scooters, bikers, and the “clickity-clack” of horse drawn carriages will sound (and feel) distinctive as you run past. If you listen closely, you can even hear Indy cars zoom by from a distance on race day. Through each distinct neighborhood, you will feel the environment changing as you make your way through the bountiful trails, unearthed side streets, and green spaces of Downtown Indy.

“I fell in love with Indy by running Indy.” – Jackie S.

There’s something authentic about being right up next to the structures and sites downtown with your heart racing and sweat soaking through your clothes. You’re reminded that you’re a living, breathing human being whose purpose on this earth to move. You see the city from the perspective it was originally meant to be seen. Grounding oneself makes the built environment significantly more impressive as you start to feel smaller and smaller with your shifting perspective. Running, especially long distances, forces you to slow down and pay attention to your environment in ways traditional transportation won’t. When you experience Indy from the street level (whether that be running, walking, or biking) I encourage you to intentionally slow down and look around at the things and people around you.

You don’t have to go out there and run your fastest mile time, but run with the goal of being inspired by a city full of life, color, and character. You’ll never fail to pass a fellow Hoosier eager to give the friendly nod you needed to remind yourself that you can finish that last mile.

Don’t feel like going on a free-for-all adventure? Check out the following route suggestions that take you past historically significant sites: The Indy Cultural Trail, Indy LGBT History & Indy Sacred Spaces

Jackie Swihart

Jackie Swihart

IUPUI Public History Grad Student