When most people think about taking a vacation, they picture their feet crossed on a sandy beach, or warming up in a bubbling hot tub in the mountains, or indulging at a famous chef's restaurant. You might walk here or there, but most don't expect to traverse an entire city by foot. 

What if we told you some people pay hundreds of dollars for a chance to run from one sightseeing spot to the next? 

These people are what Dallas Marathon president Paul Lambert calls "sports tourists." Each year, they hop on planes to New York, Berlin, Paris and other glamorous cities around the globe to take in the scenery from the ground level. 

Runners head east across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge during the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon in Dallas, Saturday, December 9, 2012. 

Runners head east across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge during the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon in Dallas, Saturday, December 9, 2012. 

Brandon Wade/Special Contributor

Take Philip Fishbane, for example. You'll see this Dallas resident at local races, often near the very front of the pack, but he's also run the Paris Marathon, twice, the Rome Marathon, and five trail races in the Swiss mountains. With views of the Matterhorn among the "breathtaking" scenery, those trips, he says, are his favorites.

"[Racing there] allows you to be in the middle of tiny Swiss villages where young kids are ringing cowbells yelling, 'Hop-hop-hop!,' which translates to 'Go-go-go!'" he says. "It's truly an experience where only your legs and heart can take you." 

Plus, completing a marathon in a foreign city allows the running path to become the travel itinerary.

For cities less known for such historic, artistic or cultural grandeur, Kelly Richards of Grapevine is a bit of an expert. She has finished marathons and ultra-marathons in all 50 states in the U.S., as well as countries around the world, from Cambodia to South Africa. It took roughly 18 years to snag a medal in every American state, a feat she completed in October 2016.

With former Disney exec in charge, Dallas Marathon shifts focus to 'wow moments'

Richards admits some states were a bit less attractive than others; they weren't places she'd likely have visited otherwise. And, a couple of races fell a little flat against her expectations, especially considering the investment in getting there. But, mostly, she says the challenges were filled with delightful surprises. 

Like, Omaha, Neb. She loved it. The small-town vibe and friendly locals made for a great post-race celebration. Another unexpected pleasure: Huntington, W.Va.  

"I was just so surprised that they had beautiful botanical gardens there and art museums and some good micro-beer," she says. "That was really one of my unplanned trips that kind of materialized and ended up being really fun."

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What does 'sports tourism' look like here in Dallas? 

It's a work in progress, Lambert tells us. He has lofty plans as the race nears its half-century. 

This year, more than 30,000 travelers, city newcomers and longtime locals are expected to convene near Dallas City Hall on Dec. 9 and 10 for the 47th year of Texas' longest running marathon. 

Here are our favorite spots on the Dallas Marathon course — places where both spectators and runners can take in Dallas' best landmarks:

Dallas City Hall

See that odd, upside-down building next to the start/finish corrals? That's Dallas City Hall. Opened in 1978, it was designed by architect I.M. Pei — who designed the famous pyramid-shaped addition to the Louvre in Paris. A claim to fame: The building was featured prominently in the 1987 cult classic RoboCop.(Which is set in ... Detroit.)

Pioneer Plaza 

It's unlikely you'll experience exercise-induced hallucination during the marathon's first mile. So if you spot a full-scale cattle drive in downtown Dallas, that's Pioneer Plaza. The four-acre park includes a breathtaking cattle drive sculpture featuring 49 bronze cows and three trail riders.

Pegasus I

It's a long story, but consider this mythical creature Dallas' unofficial mascot. The vibrant red neon Pegasus that rotates near Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center formerly flew atop the Magnolia Hotel before it was replaced in 2000. The original Pegasus was restored and moved to its current location in front of Omni Dallas Hotel  in 2015. Most runners will have to crane a bit to see the Pegasus, as the marathon, half-marathon and 5K courses turn north before crossing her path, but those in the 10K event will race right beneath her majesty.

Reunion Tower

Probably the most recognizable feature of the Dallas skyline, Reunion Tower will be visible to runners for much of the marathon's first mile. Feeling nervous? Maybe it's your first race. Just point yourself toward the Ball — yes, you can call it that — and put one foot in front of the other. Tourist tip: If you're looking for post-race things to do, there's an observation deck and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the top, which rotates 360 degrees in about an hour.

Old Red Museum

Standing out from downtown's modernist designs, the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture looks like a piece of yesteryear nestled among skyscrapers. It houses fun pop cultural and historical artifacts like the original plat of Dallas, Tom Landry's fedora and J.R. Ewing's Stetson.

Dealey Plaza

The route then moves through a somber section with great historic significance: the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Across Elm Street, you'll spot the infamous grassy knoll and, likely, sightseers among those cheering for runners. History buffs make a mental note that the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, in the former Texas School Book Depository, is nearby, across the street from the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Full marathon and half-marathon participants will spot this stately landmark to their left as they cross over 366 on North Riverfront Blvd. Those running the 10K have the unique privilege of running over the Trinity River on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Peek into the trendy Trinity Groves restaurant strip before making a U-turn and heading back to downtown. Tourist tip: This neighborhood was specifically designed to incubate up-and-coming restaurants.

'Eye' at the Joule

Those running Saturday events will see and be seen by a massive, creepy, three-story eyeball sculpture in downtown Dallas. It's located just before the first mile marker in the 5K and just after the 4-mile marker in the 10K. What is it? Why? Good questions. Let's just say it's there "because art." If you're taking midrace selfies, this is our vote for one of the most unforgettable backdrops.

Uptown

Around mile 2, the full and half-marathon courses head through the city's Uptown neighborhood. From the street level, it might seem like mostly office buildings and high-rise apartments, but take note for later. At the intersection of Olive Street and Cedar Springs Road, you're just a street over from McKinney Avenue. If you're partying later, that's a key area for hot bars and restaurants.

Highland Park

Fans of fancy houses, heads up. This historic neighborhood is known for its stately, high-end homes. Here's where you might see an exotic car parked in a drive or an elaborate holiday yard display to keep your mind off the challenge at hand. This portion of the course is a gradual incline. Take in the sights and keep an eye out for glitz.

U.S. Highway 75

Also known as North Central Expressway, this frequently traffic-jammed highway is the bane of many work commuters' daily existence. Not you, though. A little more than halfway through mile 6, you'll speed over it on closed service roads with a police officer or two likely cheering you to go faster.

Granada Theater

Whew. The climb on Longview Street is a beast, but once you see the historic Granada Theater, it's time to hammer down. This live music venue presents international headliners in an intimate setting; definitely add it to your Dallas to-do list. But, while you're running, hang a right onto Greenville Avenue.

Greenville Avenue

This is where things get wild. Lined with hot restaurants and bars — many that feature fabulous patios for brunching-while-you-spectate — Greenville Avenue will likely boast one of the course's best cheering sections. Get ready to slap hands with enthusiastic spectators who have been drinking mimosas for well over an hour now. For half-marathon runners, if you're looking for the right timing to fire the jets, now's a go. The course is all downhill from here, and it feels fast.

Lakewood

Get ready to bid adieu to the half-marathoners, for a while. Full marathon runners will continue toward White Rock Lake through the beautiful, mostly residential Lakewood neighborhood. This is where you'll likely see families with little kids cheering along the course and maybe some funky architecture. When you're done running, consider coming back to this laid-back area if you're in need of a low-key dive bar or hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

White Rock Lake

You've made it to what many consider the jewel of Dallas, and you'll be here a while — miles 11 through 20, to be exact, so get comfortable. Throwing back to the race's roots — it was originally named the White Rock Marathon — the full loop course is back by popular demand. You'll likely see people playing catch with pets. Don't miss that stunning view of the Dallas skyline from the lake's northernmost edge. Points of interest you'll run by are the spillway, the Bath House Cultural Center and the Dallas Arboretum. You'll only be able to see the outside walls of the arboretum from the course, but the location is worth noting for later sightseeing.

The Lady of White Rock Lake

No, we don't mean Erykah Badu, though it's not completely unfathomable that you would see the famous R&B singer hanging out near her home. (She and her kids even handed out water to overheated runners and cyclists one summer.) In this case, the Lady in question is the ghost of a teen girl alleged to haunt the shores of White Rock Lake. If you see a beautiful hitchhiker in a wet evening gown, feel free to offer her an energy gel.

Swiss Avenue

They say mile 20 is where a marathon truly begins. After retracing steps through Lakewood — and some of the course's most challenging hills — full marathon runners meet up again with the half-marathon runners around mile 22. Breathe a sigh of relief. You're almost to Swiss Avenue, a fast downhill stretch. Here, you'll see ritzy houses akin to those of Highland Park but with a more historic feel. Let the high-energy crowds and descending elevation carry you through Old East Dallas.

Deep Ellum

Runners in the full and half-marathons roll into one of the city's most celebrated neighborhoods late in the game — around mile 25 or mile 12, depending on the event. Deep Ellum has seen a resurgence in recent years. It's where you'll find murals, live music, arts festivals and a budding restaurant scene. On the course, it will be hard to not smell the intoxicating aromas from Pecan Lodge barbecue. Keep going; it will only make you hungrier. Jog underneath a massive overpass, its concrete columns lined with lovely murals. (The 5K and 10K routes run through a portion of Deep Ellum, too.)

Downtown Dallas

You're almost done. Runners leave Deep Ellum and jog down Canton Street, where, nearby, there's the Dallas Farmers Market. (You won't see it, but note that it's full of good food and places to shop all year long.) Keep your eyes focused on the skyscrapers ahead. Or, make like RoboCop and kick it in double-time toward Dallas City Hall. You made it!

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