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How One Business Blends Running and Tourism

City Running Tours offers sightseeing runs with experienced tour guides.

City Running Tours offers sightseeing runs with experienced tour guides.

For many entrepreneurs, the light bulb comes on when they least expect it.

For Michael Gazaleh, he was working as a chiropractor in a small gym in New York City in 2005 when a phone call came in. A man was visiting Manhattan and was hoping a local personal trainer could take him out on a sightseeing run.

None of the trainers in the gym ran at the pace the man desired, so Gazaleh volunteered to take him out. He met the man at his hotel near Ground Zero.

“It was his first time in the city,” Gazaleh recalls. “He was there for the weekend, he wanted to get a lot in and didn’t want to run on the hotel treadmill. So I got the opportunity to show him the city. I learned a lot about him, he learned a lot about me, and it was a great experience. It was rewarding for me to be able to do that.

“That week, I started the business.”

It started slowly, mostly as a hobby for Gazaleh, who was equipped with little more than a small GoDaddy website and word-of-mouth testimonials from past clients. But nine years later, City Running Tours now operates in 16 cities in the United States. The company offers a variety of options to combine running and tourism—one-on-one personalized runs that take clients to whatever they want to see, personalized group runs, and scheduled group runs that visit the city’s most well-known attractions.

The business was exclusively in New York City for two years before expanding to Washington, D.C. and Chicago. It has since made its way to Boston, Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Providence, Austin and Annapolis, Md.

Each city has a manager, and each manager has a certain number of guides. The business setup is a revenue-sharing format. Each manager makes an investment and receives the majority share of revenue for his or her city. “This allows us to work together as a team to help grow the business,” Gazaleh says.

The guides are what make the business work, and it’s not a job for just anybody. Besides having good endurance and the ability to log many miles in a single day, guides need to be outgoing, friendly, likeable and, most of all, have a true love of the city they are showcasing for clients.

“When we’re talking to our clients about the city, whether it’s history, culture, restaurants, museums … that passion comes out,” Gazaleh says. “That really enhances the experience for our clients.”

And the customers have responded favorably. The business gets outstanding reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, with feedback like, “Forget the tour bus, you have to do this!” and “By far the best way to see a city.”

To further convenience clients, each guide carries a backpack on the run with a camera and water, plus enough room to hold everyone’s belongings—cell phones, hotel key cards, wallets, etc.

City Running Tours started with personalized runs in mind, but it has expanded to do scheduled group runs, which are less expensive but also less personalized. Lately, personalized group runs have started to pick up—including a recent request from a bachelorette party.

So where does City Running Tours go from here? Gazaleh gets interest from runners in cities all over the world, and admits that the business’s expansion is reactive to the right opportunity rather than proactive. He does anticipate expanding even more in the future, citing the positive experience in the cities already in place—for both the customers and the guides.

“It’s not a one-sided feeling,” Gazaleh said. “It continuously makes it fun and new. Even if we’re running over the Brooklyn Bridge for the 10,000th time, we’re doing it with runners who have never done it before. It’s a great experience for us.”

RELATED: Destination America: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Where Personalized Runs Go

Clients who sign up for a personalized run through City Running Tours get to pick the distance they want to run and the places they want to see. Inevitably, each city has its favorite spots that runners—most of them tourists from out of town—want to visit.

Here’s a look at a few of the most requested spots:

Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art is popular, largely because of the steps in front of the building that Rocky Balboa ran up in the first Rocky movie.

San Francisco: The nearly 2-mile run across the Golden Gate Bridge is by far the most requested run.

New York City: Runners usually want to either do the Central Park loop or run across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Austin: A personalized run in Austin often includes a tour of the University of Texas campus.

Washington, D.C.: With all of the famous monuments in close proximity, many personalized runs stay within the National Mall.

Chicago: Runners frequently want to explore Lakeshore Drive and visit Millenium Park and Grant Park. Some want to see the “Murder Castle” site made famous in Devil in the White City.