Airports aren't always the best place to run. But a travelling runner often has little other choice. And many airports can be quite passable with a bit of planning.
This page presents my notes from a few airports where I've enjoyed memorable runs.
Airport conditions change -- construction, new security rules, etc. Please watch carefully and don't assume my notes are right.
For each run, you'll need somewhere to leave your bags, and somewhere to take a shower after you're done. I tend to favor airport lounges (which airlines provide to Business/First Class passengers and, often, to loyal customers), which often offer both these services. If you're traveling with someone else, that person might be able to hold your luggage while you run.
For runs that start and end at airport terminals, you'll need to reclear security upon your return. Be sure to have appropriate documentation (e.g. boarding pass and photo ID). Clearing security in dirty running clothes is unusual but absolutely doable. Great time to have TSA PRE access!
The JFK passengers terminals are in a loop, largely with sidewalks between terminals. For a short run, it's typically possible to take the sidewalks between terminals. Worst linked by sidewalks is Terminal 8 (American and selected partners). But a serious runner would find a between-terminal run unsatisfying -- too many interruptions, and insufficient distance.
I suggest taking the JFK Airtrain to the Federal Circle stop. That's free, and service is frequent (every 3-5 minutes in my experience). Get off, and ignore signs for hotel shuttles and car rentals. You'll find ample sidewalk in the area, and very light vehicle traffic. For the most open space and fewest interruptions, I suggest continuing in the direction of the Airtrain, towards the taxi waiting lot.
It's also possible to cross Federal Circle, but traffic there is heavier, making that route less desirable.
Distance: perimeter loop approximately 10 miles - map
Exit your terminal and proceed on the sidewalks on the Arrivals level. Passenger terminals are arranged in a U, with the open end at Terminal 1 and 8. At the open end of the U, a traffic light lets you cross Sepulveda Boulevard and proceed straight on Century Boulevard (heading east). Continue past hotels on your left and cargo terminals on your right. Turn right on Aviation Boulevard and continue, keeping the airport on your right. Cross where necessary to stay on a sidewalk; there is indeed a sidewalk the whole way.
The most difficult crossing is at the exit of the Sepulveda Tunnel. Despite signs instructing that pedestrians must not cross, I typically do cross there, when traffic conditions allow. Alternatively, cross Imperial twice to enjoy crosswalks all the way.
After crossing Sepulveda, look for the pedestrian underpass under an automobile on-ramp . Continue, still keeping the airport on your right. In due course you'll reach the starting point.
A reader suggests extending the run to the ocean. "Instead of hugging the western end of the airport, just keep going straight as an arrow till you're on wet sand, then turn north. The beach is really nice and has a wonderful view. This add a mile to the loop but is worth it."
It's also possible to begin this run at any of the airport hotels on Century Boulevard.
Note that this run is quite exposed to sun -- very hot on a summer day, with little shade en route. No water fountains en route.
An additional warning: It's hard to cut this run short; halfway around the loop from where you started, it's not easy to get back. I strongly recommend against using the Sepulveda Tunnel as a pedestrian -- painfully loud, dark, rather scary. But it's possible if absolutely necessary.
Distance: perimeter loop approximately 9.5 miles - map
Perimeter Road fully surrounds Heathrow. The road changes names -- Northern Perimeter Road, then Eastern, then Southern, then Western. But the road itself is continuous and clearly marked.
In most areas, vehicle traffic is quite light, and there's often a sidewalk. The busiest area is on the north side of the airport, between Terminal 5 and the Central Terminal Area. I advise particular caution there -- and remember the direction of British automobile traffic.
If you're starting at the Central Terminal Area (Terminals 1 and 3), you'll need to get out to Inner Perimeter Road to begin. Most automobile traffic to/from the CTA uses a "Main Tunnel" out to Perimeter Road. But there are also two small tunnels, one on each side of the Main Tunnel. The outbound-side tunnel is for bicyclists and very limited vehicles (maintenance vehicles only?). Signs clearly indicate that pedestrians should keep out, but I used it anyway, I believe in a lane intended for bicycles. I remember feeling safe and comfortable there, though extra caution is definitely appropriate. A natural alternative is to take a bus from the CTA bus station to the first stop (on Bath Road, just outside the airport property), then run back in. Given the short distance, there are numerous bus routes. Local bus service is free.
I sometimes begin this run at the BA T5 Arrivals Lounge (available for long-haul arrival passengers in BA premium cabins and certain top-level elite passengers). Officially, their bag check staff only allows bags to be left while a passenger remains in the lounge, but when I explain the purpose of my brief exit from the lounge, the attendant is usually agreeable.
It's also possible to begin this run on any of the hotels on Bath Road. Begin by following signs to Heathrow Terminals 1 and 3 / Central Terminal Area, or to Terminal 5, and be alert for signs to Perimeter Road.
From T5A departures, follow signs for the transit to T5B and T5C. Take the elevator (not escalator) to level -4.
If you mistakenly take the escalator, or if the elevator won't take you to level -4, then proceed from the transit station on level -2. Walk to the far end of the transit platform. Towards the right side, there is a door to a staircase down to the pedestrian tunnel. Be sure you take the right door; other doors are marked "opening door will sound alarm" (or similar), but the door you want has no such markings. Down the staircase, you'll find a tunnel to T5B and T5C.
The tunnel is lightly used. Some passengers use it instead of the transit, but not that many people use it. (It was just widely publicized for that use in spring 2014.) It is used by motorized carts transporting passengers with special needs, but usually just a few such carts per hour.
Bombardier reports that the pedestrian tunnel is 670 meters one-way (from T5A to T5C). Repeat as many times as desired.
The tunnel is partially climate-controlled. In shorts, I was comfortable on a January day when it was just above freezing outside.
During spring 2014 the tunnel was updated with moving walkways as well as a softer floor surface. To date, usage remains light. The tunnel remains open and usable for runners. Photos.
At the conclusion of your run, end at the T5A side. Take the elevator to floor 2 (T5A departures) and back to the BA lounge complex.
Note that this run does not require leaving the secure area or reclearing security.
Where to leave your bags: The BA T5 First and Concorde lounges offer bag check to all passengers. (A reader comments that the BA Business "Galleries" lounges in the main lounge complex has a bad storage area though with no attendant. The secondary Galleries lounge, to the left after security, may offer a bag-check attendant.)
Leave your bags at the MAD Premium Traveller lounge at T4. (Admission is free for those arriving in Iberia long-haul business class.)
Alternatively, you can leave luggage at Iberia T4 Sala VIP lounge. (Check with lounge staff, who can lock it in a secure room.) If your flight is departing from T4S (satellite terminal), lounge staff will direct you to the T4S lounge, but I've found they're willing to let you use the T4 lounge if you offer a good reason. "I want to go running outside" passes the test.
As to where to run at MAD outside:
My preferred run follows roads to and around airport support areas (bus parking, electrical substation, gas station, etc.). Exit the T4 Premium Traveller lounge and talk the walkway straight ahead over the train/metro lines to the parking lot. Go straight through the parking lot at ground level. Turn right. There’s a roadway with cars entering and exiting garage, but an adequate shoulder for joggers. Be sure to watch for turning vehicles, including those coming from behind. Continue straight ahead, past cashiers for the parking area. Then proceed straight, keeping right at the fork. The roadway looks inhospitable for a bit but retains an adequate shoulder and quickly becomes a very quiet service road with extremely light traffic, one vehicle every few minutes. Portions of the road have a sidewalk and the rest have an ample shoulder.
One downside to the route described above is that it is quite sunny, with little to no shade. That's probably unsuitable for some joggers at some times of year and some times of day. An alternative is the shady covered area at the base of the parking structure at T4. At certain times of day and certain times of year, the base of the parking structure may itself be in direct sunlight. I once ran in the foyer of the parking structure. There are no cars at the front-most part of the parking structure. Pick your preferred level, or use the stairs (every few hundred feet) to change levels. The parking structure is approximately 0.4 miles in length, so running back and forth can rack up reasonable distance in short order.
Manchester Airport (UK) is surrounded by an 8 mile bicycle path, consisting primarily of paths nicely separated from the roadway. There are great views of the runways, as well as a tunnel under the runways. Signage marks the route relatively clearly in most places. Orbital cycleway details.
Distance: Out-and-back with distance to taste. Map.
At Terminal 2 Arrivals, you’ll find a *shower service in the basement (B1F level). It’s JPY1000 for 30 minutes. There is a continuous or near-continuous promotion for free access for passengers arriving NRT in JAL long-haul business class or first class. Perhaps there are similar promotions from time to time on other carriers; I don’t know.
It is not permitted to leave unattended bags in the shower area while running, though if you’re particularly charming or speak good Japanese, you might manage to pull it off. If you have a non-runner in your party, that person can wait with luggage in the foyer of the shower area (two adequate couches, good lighting, AC power). Otherwise, there’s a *left luggage service upstairs (JPY 500+ per piece; no discount posted for particularly short periods).
To begin your run, return to the arrivals level, go out any door, and turn right. Continue straight ahead, keeping all cars on your left and staying as close as possible to the terminal building, which will give way to a fence and cargo buildings. Continue straight, bending around to the left as you approach a security checkpoint (for cars, buses, and trucks approaching the airport). Continue straight as far as you like – there’s several miles of open sidewalk ahead, with rolling hills and the occasional traffic light and half a dozen airport hotels, parking lots, and the like. I found this sidewalk passable even after dark ( even terrain, no leaves, rocks, or other annoyances when I was there), though it’s much easier during the day (as lighting varies from section to section, and some parts are quite dark).
Coming back to the terminal area, via the pedestrian walkway next to the car/bus/truck security checkpoint, I was asked (mostly in Japanese!) for my photo ID. Of course I didn’t have it. (I’ve never been asked for ID to approach any other airport.) After a few minutes of polite non-discussion – I didn’t have a language in common with the security staff – they accepted a handwritten scrap of paper onto which I wrote my name, city & country, and inbound flight number.
Distance: perimeter loop approximately 7.2 miles. Map.
Seatac airport is surrounded by roads and sidewalks on all sides, with only a very few exceptions.
Begin and end at any hotel on International Boulevard. Proceed north on International Boulevard, crossing to the east side (the far side from the airport) because there's no sidewalk on portions of the west side. Turn left on 154th Street, pass the new rental car facility on your right, and proceed to the north of the airport, keeping the airport on your left throughout. 154th Street becomes 156th Way with a dramatic set of retaining walls (North America's tallest, at a total expense of some $1.1 billion!). You'll generally continue with the airport property immediately to your left, though there are a few driveways and the like which you need to ignore (dead ends). You'll end up on 188th St which passes through a tunnel under a runway (a bit loud, but with a comfortable separated sidewalk). 188th St finally returns you to International Boulevard.
Distance: out-and-back, approximately 5 km round-trip. Map.
At arrivals at Terminal 3, follow signs to the Etihad Arrivals Lounge. They’ll let you leave your bag while running outside. Lounge has showers for use after running.
Best route from the lounge to outdoors: Exit the lounge from its back door. Follow the hallway down to the chauffeur pickup area. Though you're an arriving passenger, you'll end up on the departures level.
If you exit the terminal (Terminal 3) and turn left, you’ll be heading towards Terminal 1. There’s a sidewalk all the way, easy and broad. In a few areas, an air conditioned vestibule blocks the entire sidewalk. You can either run through the vestibule, or carefully step into the curb lane of vehicle drop-offs.
After passing Terminal 1, proceed ahead. The sidewalk and roadway slope downwards but sidewalk remains. Bear left at every opportunity. You’ll find concrete sidewalks almost everywhere, with reasonable lighting allowing a jog at any time of day. Traffic is relatively light. It’s 2.5km one-way from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2.
To get back into the Etihad Arrivals Lounge: Enter Terminal 3 on the arrivals level and bear right. Proceed past the chauffeur desk, up the same hallway you previously waked down. At the back door exit from the lounge, you’ll find a doorbell. Ring it to be readmitted. I couldn’t find a way to reaccess the front door of the lounge – seems like it should be possible, but with this back door you don’t need it.
An airside transit hotel has a gym. Includes pool and whirlpool. Price is reportedly $30 per person. Further details unknown.
After passport control and customs, you’ll find the Qatar arrivals lounge to your left. (Business and first class passengers only, no Oneworld elite access benefits.) You can leave your bag there, either in a special luggage room (though it was locked when I was there, with no attendant available and whereabouts of key unknown) or with lounge staff. (They were happy to do this for me and didn’t seem concerned about it.) Lounge also has (lovely) showers for after your run. At off-peak hours, the lounge is quite deserted – I was the only person there! – which yields exceptional service at the restaurant etc.
Exit the lounge and follow signs to short-term parking. Go straight through the parking lot on ground level, and you'll find a bicycle path at the rear (far side) of the short-term lot. The path is clearly marked with distinctive green pavement. Follow it to the right. On the first half-kilometer, there are a few road crossings (light traffic), but once you're out of the terminal area, it's a great path with no cross traffic. The path continues for some ways, I think all the way downtown, in any event further than most folks are likely to want to jog.
Note that there is absolutely zero shade along the route, and also no water that I saw. These are potential concerns at certain times of day given sun and temperature. I found bicycle traffic to be quite light, perhaps one cyclist every few minutes, so certainly no problem there.
Long-haul flights arrive and depart from KUL’s satellite terminal, connected to the main terminal by a quick shuttle train. For those with an overnight transit within the airport, passenger volume is low enough to make it feasible to run inside the terminal. Between 1am and 7am this was fine. Outside those hours I’m doubtful.
Those flying Malaysian Airlines or otherwise able to access its lounge will find that it’s friendly to runners. Open 24 hours. Ample showers in the rear of the lounge. Easy self-service luggage checks in lockers at the front of the lounge (to the left as you face reception) (no charge, no deposit required).
For running route: The satellite is shaped like a plus sign. I ran each of the “finger”-style walkways, down to the end, then U-turn and back. Repeat as many times as desired.
Running surface seems to be a hard tile. Could cause some knee pain. In my runs here, I've seen nothing at all slippery, but beware -- any spill or cleaning could cause a slip.
Reportedly the airside transit hotel also offers a small gym.
To my surprise, I've found it possible to run inside the Singapore airport: Passenger areas feature broad walkways where running need not bother others. And the distances between Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are enough to let a runner achieve a reasonable speed. Clearly this works better at an off-peak time (late at night or early morning), but I found it just barely workable at 7am.
If you don't have access to an airline lounge, consider low-cost lounges in the terminal. I saw some quoting prices of about US$10 for a shower. I suspect they'd check a bag for an hour for little or no additional charge.
Running surface is mostly a low-pile carpet. Very much to my taste.
I look forward to improving this page with your preferred routes, pictures, maps, and more. Send suggestions.