Where to Run in Rio

Honey in a bathing suit posing on the beach in Rio.
How about a quick swim before we run up the Dois Irmãos mountains?

With the Olympics starting next month, our eyes will be fixed on each nation’s strongest and fastest as they compete in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am not one of those athletes, but that didn’t stop me or the nearly 4,000 other runners that finished the Maratona do Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Sure this race was three years ago, but I learned something that might come in handy for anyone traveling to Rio for the big games. Along my taper runs and along the marathon course, I found some fabulous pavement to pound and some off-road trails to satisfy every runner.

Keep reading to find out which route would best suit you if you ever find yourself in this South American metropolis. As a bonus, hit these routes, and you’ll be able to soak up the Carioca sun as well as some Olympic action in the “Marvelous City“.

The distinctive pavement pattern of Copacabana (From Creative Commons)

If the beach is your thing

First things first, if you go to Rio, you can’t miss out on the absolutely exquisite trio of neighborhoods: Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Because Rio beaches. This is what’s known as the Zona Sul, situated at the city’s southern and westernmost end.

Along the beaches, there is a a paved bike and pedestrian lane cozied right up against the distinctive sidewalk patterns that correspond to each neighborhood. The avenues and hotels are on one side of you, coconut vendors and sandy beaches on the other. End to end, the stretch is about 4.5 miles.  It would make for an easy out and back 10 mile course. Here is a video of the entire palm tree-lined stretch.

The beaches are marked with a lifeguard station, called a Posto, at regular intervals. Beach volleyball will take place at Posto 2 in Copacabana. The Copacabana Fort will be the Olympic home for the triathlon, marathon swimming, and road cycling.

If you want to chase the sunset

If you’re an evening runner, then be sure to time your run to end at the Pedra de Aropador, which sits at the corner of Ipanema and Copacabana. The rock formation has a few trails that wind their way up and out over the ocean, and the view of the sunset is so revered that people applaud for it. Seriously. Nature’s pyrotechnics.

The Lagoa and the Rio from the air.

If loops make you happy

Then the Lagoa is for you. The lake is circled by a 7.2 km (~4.5 miles) walking and cycling path. Looking down from up above you is the iconic Cristo Redentor statue. (Actually, no matter where you are in the city, he will pop out from around a corner to peer at you. It might sound creepy, but it’s actually really cool!) For a shortcut across the lake, you can rent a paddle boat to cut across. Just don’t count on this during the Olympics; the Lagoa will host the canoe sprint and rowing events.

If you like big, public parks

 Botafogo and Flamengo are two other Rio neighborhoods that hug the coast and also have beaches. In addition, there are long, winding stripes of public green space where you can run, stroll, stretch, or relax post-run. At the northern end of this path, you can watch the Olympic sailing events at the Marina da Gloria in Flamengo Park. Notably, the gum drop-shaped Sugar Loaf or Pão De Açúcar sit just south of Botafogo in the Urca neighborhood. If you prefer your parks with elevation, it’s possible to climb some of the trails leading up to the Pão De Açúcar.

The Rio Marathon’s course map for the beautiful course.

If you want to race the local marathon

The City of Rio Marathon starts in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, which is about 32k (~20 miles) west of your girl from Ipanema, and ends at the Marina da Gloria in Flamengo. The entire route spans the coastal highway and beachside avenues. And despite Rio being a city that spills across miles of hills and jungle-covered peaks, the race course is practically as flat as a pancake, with just 30 feet of elevation total. Very doable. (There’s also a Half Marathon and Family 6k option!)

A few miles past the start, in Barra da Tijuca, is where the 2016 Olympic Village is located with the aquatics complex and all of the indoor sports venues. From the marathon route itself, you’d even be able to catch a glimpse of the Olympic golf course. Woo!

Sunrise at the Rio Marathon start.

If you want to run the Olympic Marathon

Instead of spending all of your time at the beach, you could run the 2016 Olympic Marathon course, which, according to this update, is 95% determined. It will both start and end in the Sambódromo, the venue for Rio’s lavish Carnival parades and competitions as well as this year’s archery events. In addition to passing through Flamengo Park, the marathon course will take runners into the busy downtown and port areas and along its main avenues.

To make it an ultramarathon, jog about two miles past the Sambódromo to see the venerable Maracanã Stadium, where the opening ceremony will be held in addition to the match-ups for the most international of all sports, soccer.

Run stairs in Lapa

If stairs do it for you

Look no further than the Selarón steps in Lapa. 410 feet (or 125m) of mosaic-covered stairs can be the stage for your own Rocky moments. These stairs were the 20-year project of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, who died in 2013 in a case surrounded in mystery.

If you want to live a little on the wild side and run some Rio trails

Your absolute best bet would be up the mountain of the Dois Irmãos. Those twin peaks are a constant presence as they tower down over the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema. If you go before noon, you will literally be running through the clouds of morning mist.

While not a particularly technical trail, it is definitely a challenge: steep, humid, and did I mention steep? Not only that, to get to the trailhead, you first have to pass through the favela of Vidigal. Now, you might have heard warnings about setting foot in the favelas (Portuguese for “slums”) – Drugs! Violence! Corrupt police! – but Vidigal is being pacified and gentrified as we speak. You could gather your pluck and hike up the neighborhood’s also steep winding streets or you could pay a motoboy to give you a lift on a motorbike. Either way, you’ll work your glutes and be rewarded with the most unforgettable view of Rio de Janiero, the “Cidade Maravilhosa”.

The view from the top of Dois Irmãos.
The view from the top of Dois Irmãos.

Are you heading to Rio for the games or interested in running there some time? 

A Minnesota girl living in New York City. I'm a middle school teacher (by choice!), runner, bike commuter, traveler, and general do-er of things. My next goal is to change my finally crush my marathon PR of 4:01 to under 4:00.

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  1. If you let the news guide you, you’d think you’d instantly contract Zika or end up with your body parts strewn across the beach if you dared to run outside the walls of some swanky resort. Reading your tips makes me excited to check out Rio some day! Seriously though, as someone who’s been there what do you make of all the doom and gloom articles about Rio in the lead up to the Olympics, Honey?

    1. I see similarities in the media buildup to the Olympics as we had before last year’s World Cup. The sad truth is that people are being displaced from their homes and financial resources are being diverted for a two-week spectacle. I’m sure that all of the athletes and most of the spectators will be safe in the Olympic village, its venues, and the nicer areas where the hotels are. But for residents, who already live in such a stratified country of “haves” and “have nots” under intense government corruption, I doubt they’ll actually benefit from the P.R. bump. The doom and gloom will last longer for Brazilians that visitors. Last week’s “On the Media” from NPR has some really great reporting from on the ground in Rio to talk about exactly the things you were thinking about.

      I should also mention that I traveled as a single woman and felt totally welcomed, safe, and enchanted by Brazil.

  2. I went to Rio on my honeymoon, and LOVED it! Granted, we mostly stuck to the touristy areas, but had a great time at the beaches and restaurants. Would definitely like to go back someday- maybe for the marathon Honey mentions! I think the Olympics will be fine- the athletes are there to compete, and will focus on their competition, not what city they’re in for a few weeks.

    1. You should totally run the marathon! It is hands down the most gorgeous race course that I have ever been on. Did you try any crazy fruit juices or acai bowls? I feel like it was pretty easy to eat healthy with fuel up with all of those so-called superfoods as well. I’m so glad you had a positive experience, Parsley!