What was I thinking? Why did I do this to myself?
I had signed up for a four-mile Capital City Highlights Tour in Sacramento. I run, but I’m not a runner. I’ll periodically sprint when playing indoor soccer and jog at the gym for a max of 1.5 miles. Now, on a weekday morning, I’m greeted by my tour guide, Jenn Kistler-McCoy, who is a bonafide running beast. She is also owner and operator of Sac Running Tours, a business she launched in September.
I follow Kistler-McCoy’s Instagram account, where pretty much everyone else is put to shame by her regular 14-mile runs (completed before I’ve even woken up for the day), headstands to build core strength, interval training, trail runs at Folsom Lake and something called “tempo runs.” All of this while caring for her nearly 2-year-old daughter, who sometimes lays on mom’s back as she does planks. Kistler-McCoy is training for the California International Marathon in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in April. But this isn’t some fluttering feeling of hope — this is a woman on a mission.
A runner for the past 17 years, Kistler-McCoy joined her New Mexico high school’s cross-country team to get in shape for tennis, and then kept going. Her 2016 New Year’s resolution was to run one race per month. So far, she says, she’s completed nine.
So this morning’s run could get embarrassing for me.
Putting in Her Own Sweat
Thankfully, Kistler-McCoy immediately reassures me that she goes at the group’s pace, or in this case, at my pace (so I’m thinking like a 12-minute mile). The tour (cost: $35) begins with an introduction to the Capitol — the historic structure took 14 years to build, completed in 1874 — before we head to the front of the Leland Stanford Mansion, a 19,000-square-foot Victorian building that now serves as the state’s official reception center for visiting world leaders. The historical details come easy for Kistler-McCoy who has a master’s degree in history, with an emphasis in ancient/medieval science.
Kistler-McCoy had the idea for a running-tour business in 2006 while working at a Girl Scout camp in Germany for two and a half months. She’d go on bicycling tours in different cities and towns, and wished that a running tour had been available. Then she moved to Sacramento, worked for a weekly paper (where we were colleagues for a few months), married, earned her master’s degree, became an adjunct history professor at Solano Community College, gave birth to a daughter and took a job in the marketing department at the UC Davis Extension campus. One day, she mentioned her business idea to her husband, Beau, who encouraged her to make it happen.
Although an entrepreneurial novice, Kistler-McCoy knew she would need to put her own sweat into forming her business, although Beau — a tattoo artist who has run his own shop — offered some advice and designed the Sac Running Tours logo. But for now, Kistler-McCoy is doing everything else solo: managing the website she created, devising the routes, researching the history, leading all the tours, promoting the business on social media and dropping off fliers at local hotels. Geniously, the business required limited upfront capital and risk.
Kistler-McCoy is also trying to capitalize on her involvement with the local running community — she recently joined the Fleet Feet Racing Team. Sac Running Tours partnered with Fleet Feet to host a fun run of up to 100 people during Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival, according to the store’s marketing assistant Tiffany James, who also participated in Sac Running Tours’ inaugural run: the Urban Art and Beer Tour (cost: $40) around Midtown that features several of the pieces created for the Sacramento Mural Festival, ending with a pint of beer at Rubicon Brewing Company.
“I felt we ran at a comfortable conversational pace and was able to take in the moment and learn about each mural,” James says. “I’ve lived in Sacramento my whole life and it was wonderful to take a tour of the city while still working on my fitness.”
As we jog, I begin to notice a jarring discrepancy in sweat output between the two of us.
Running Most Popular Outdoor Activity
Shiloh London, a member of the Fleet Feet team, also participated in the first Urban Art Tour. “I’ve lived in Sacramento most of my life and I’m still amazed at how much of my city I have yet to truly experience,” she says. “I’ll often run the same route — American River Parkway or in my Curtis Park Neighborhood — so [this tour] was a nice change of scenery for me.” It was cool to experience her town from someone else’s point of view and to discover things she had missed, says London, who always brings running shoes when traveling for work. “Running is the perfect way to experience a new city, but occasionally I wind up running laps around a hotel business park because I’m not sure where to go.”
Sac Running Tours has three pots of potential customers: tourists who enjoy running as a way to explore; schoolchildren learning about Sacramento history; and locals who want a fun way to grow more acquainted with their home.
Kistler-McCoy could be onto something. The 2016 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report found that although participation in running/jogging was down 5 percent from 2014 to 2015, this activity remains the most popular adult (age 25 and older) outdoor activity with 15 percent of adults surveyed taking part. That’s more than fishing, hiking, bicycling and camping. Running/jogging is also the most often done activity, with runners averaging 87 outings in a year.
During our run, we stop by the Crocker Art Museum, hit up several stops in Old Sacramento, pass by the old entrance to the torn-down Downtown Plaza, run alongside the new Golden 1 Center and take a lap through Capitol Park, where I learn that more than 200 plant species grow. Kistler-McCoy peppers our stops with interesting facts and figures and context, and somehow I — a Sacramento native — learn a lot, including what motivates a real runner.
“It’s simple,” Kistler-McCoy says, of running. “Hard, for sure! But simple. Whether I push it during a race or hard workout, or slow it down to explore and meditate, it’s just running. All I have to do is lace up my shoes and step out the door.”
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