How to find a running route

A few week’s ago we discussed running crews. Yes, finding your people can be a real game-changer. I told you how one of the best things I got from running were the many friends I’ve made.

The other awesome thing about running is the places we go. I’ve run on airport runways, along Santa Monica Beach and the Cliffs of the Palisades. I’ve run over the Golden Gate Bridge, George Washington Bridge and even Tower Bridge in London. I’ve run in (so far) 15 states and 7 countries, and on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean. I’ve run along the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and a couple Great Lakes. I’ve run on the FDR Drive, Pacific Coast Highway, Lake Shore Drive, and the Salt Hill Prom. And on some days, I’ve run around in circles or in the most boring places imaginable to get in the miles.

Salt Hill Prom. Galway, Ireland. July 2018.

The two most important factors for me when choosing running routes are safety and convenience. Next would be scenery. Often, I have to sacrifice one for the others. Ideally, I want to be able to walk out my front door and just run. In my little New Jersey town, convenience meant running on roads often void of sidewalks, not very safe. Long runs could be done on several park trails, but meant getting in the car and driving 15 minutes to half hour or more. There was usually only time to do that on weekends.

When I first started running in 1996, and began to venture out of my immediate neighborhood, I would get in my car after a run and drive the route to figure out how far I had run. When I was training for my first marathon in 1997, for my longest run of 22 miles, I had my husband drive the car until the tripometer said 22 miles and had him leave me there to run home!

Thankfully now there’s America’s Running Routes, Map My Run and others to help us plan. And of course there is also Garmin and Apple watches, and apps like Strava and Nike Run Club with which we can track our mileage. Hopefully all of this is making running more convenient and safer too!

A neat feature on Strava which I recently stumbled across (included in the $60 annual upgrade from the free basic version) is a heat map. You can see all the places you’ve run with Strava in varying degrees of color depending on how often you’ve run that route. My heat map shows that in New Jersey, I did most of my runs in Ramsey – with the corner I lived on being the thickest and brightest for obvious reasons. Convenience. It also showed that my next most popular running route was the Saddle River County Park Trail. Safety. 

View of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge as seen from the Palisades. January 2018.


In Chicago, most of my runs have been along the Lakefront Trail which has it all. Safety. Convenience. And a view that will never get old. Now that I’m living up in the suburbs, I’m sacrificing convenience (and sleep!) to still run my weekend long runs there. It’s hard to get bored in Chicago, but if you do, you can switch it up a little. There is over 18 miles of Lakefront Trail end-to-end. The Chicago Lakefront Trail is often cited as one of the best places to run in the world (Great Runs and Active).

Since my recent move, I’m getting acclimated to some new running routes. The local park district offers some nice trails around lakes, and playgrounds and ball fields that are fine and are easily accessible from my new home on foot.

There are also an amazing amount of forest preserves in the area that offer their own trails or through which the 56-mile Des Plaines River Trail runs. While these are somewhat convenient (a short drive away) and are predominately safe from vehicle traffic, as a woman, I have concerns about running much of them alone. So I run with my boyfriend or for the next marathon cycle, the 45 minute (off-peak) drive to the northern most part of the Lakefront Trail will be a minor inconvenience, and with the absence of summer heat, won’t require such an early start time.

Races are a little different. We don’t do them every day, and have more time to plan. A lot of the incredible places I’ve run were in the middle of races where safety is typically a reliable attribute and convenience may be replaced by a worthwhile destination.  Running in the USA, RunSignUp, and Race Find are just a few of the sites that provide searchable data bases to help runners find races by location and date.

The bottom line is that whether racing, or training, or just keeping in shape, running is a great way to explore your neighborhood or the world from a different perspective. I always map out a run when visiting a new city. Running will take you to places a car won’t. There’s always something to see from unique buildings, budding flowers, and friendly people to sunrises, sunsets and storm clouds. Running has shown me the beauty in everything I see on my run.

Taking a break on Chicago’s Lake Front Trail. North Avenue Beach. Chicago, Illinois. July 2019.

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