Once you become a runner, the world looks totally different. All of a sudden, you’re looking at every place you see to decide whether it would make a good run. Have you just moved to a new place, or just gotten into running? There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored through running. We’re here to explain how to find good running routes in your local town or city.
I personally know how important this is, as I was used to having really great running/biking trails where I used to live. Now it’s completely different after moving to a small beach town.
I find myself missing the running trails in my former locations more than anything else, so I have to get creative about finding good running routes. And you can too!
What to Look For in a Good Running Route
The key to finding the best running routes is knowing what you are looking for as a runner. You might have one particular priority, or you might be looking for variety. Whatever you are looking for in a run, a little bit of forethought will get you on the right route.
Safe and Convenient
Ideally, good routes have minimal to low car traffic. Roads with wide shoulders, sidewalks, and good runner/vehicle sightlines are the safest options.
You’ll also want to make sure that the route is in a well-lit, populated area (especially if you’re a female, as I am) if you plan to run at night.
You might want to see if there are routes that have conveniences such as water fountains or stores to buy drinks. If you’re okay with carrying your own water, then this is less essential.
Personalized and Captivating
Beyond safety and convenience, you need to know what you’re looking for in a route. Some people love road running, while others prefer trails. You may want to mix it up sometimes. Look for routes in places that will suit your needs.
To that point, remember that it’s a good idea to vary the surface you run on. Pounding the pavement day after day is pretty hard on your joints, so you should toss in a trail run every once in awhile. Or if you default to the trails, a nice smooth road run can be a very enjoyable thing here and there.
Similarly, you’re going to want a different route if you’re running with friends versus if you want to be one with nature. And there is always the possibility that you might want both of these things at some point, so knowing the options available to you is very important.
Look for routes that are scenic and provide great views. Nothing can beat great foliage or a beautiful ocean view!
Appropriate to Your Fitness Goals
Finally, you’ll want to select running routes with terrain that is both appropriate to your fitness level, and offers a variety of workout intensities. If you’re a beginner, flatter routes are a good option. If you’re more experienced, you might enjoy the extra workout you’ll get from a rolling or hilly route.
But, as a side point, if you’re a beginner who wants to run her first half marathon on a hilly course like I did, you should train on terrain that is similar to your race. Then you’ll be prepared for whatever hills your race may throw at you.
And remember that if you want to see gains, you’re going to have to change up your route. Some days you should be running hard, other days you should be taking it easy and just logging miles. Doing the same thing all the time isn’t going to make you fitter or faster. Having a variety of route options will help you meet this need.
Sometimes finding a good running route is about common sense. Running near heavy traffic usually means breathing in exhaust, so you might want to search out cleaner air. Obstacles such as traffic lights can make it difficult to get into a good rhythm. Stream crossings in the woods can leave your feet wet and muddy, and maybe that’s not your thing. And some routes just don’t work in bad weather conditions.
You don’t want your go-to route to turn into a swamp whenever it rains, making it necessary for you to find another route spur-of-the-moment or miss your workout entirely.
Types of Areas That Meet These Criteria Include…
As a general rule of thumb, you can normally find great routes in:
- Suburban neighborhoods
- Rail trails or bike paths
- Beach boardwalks
- Popular hiking trails
Another great place can be high school or college tracks. Normally, they are open to the public, and you’ll likely see others there. If you’re looking for a safe place to run when you’re traveling, tracks are definitely a good go-to.
How to Find Good Running Routes
All right. Now that you have a broad overview of what constitutes a good running route, let’s put it into practice. If you’re new to an area, whether you just moved there or you’re visiting, here are some tips for how to start planning routes:
Talk to People
Check out the website or Facebook page for the local running club and see if they have any routes listed or if there are group runs you can join. There’s a good chance someone there will be able to help you with popular running routes in the area.
Don’t underestimate the power of people. Just ask around about good running routes. Runners always like to share places they like to run, and even non-runners can have a good idea of popular recreation spots.
Hotels can also be a great resource when you’re on the road. When I was vacationing at an Orlando resort during my half marathon training, I had no clue where I would be able to find a 10-mile route for my long run. I asked the front desk, and they told me how far different sidewalks went.
With that information in mind, I was able to put together a perfect 10-mile route. I will note that they were pretty surprised when I asked about that distance, but they were very willing to help.
Likewise, when I’ve moved to new areas, I’ve always reached out to the people I know and asked if what I’m planning to use for a running route is safe. Realtors can be very helpful, as they know the area well even if they aren’t runners themselves.
And don’t forget running stores. They will have a wealth of knowledge about good routes and local group runs.
Use Mapping Apps and Technology
MapMyRun and other fitness tracking websites or apps are rich with suggestions for where to run. MapMyRun is probably the most popular, because you can filter based on distance, location, elevation gain, and other keywords like “dirt path”.
It also includes ratings, notes, and route previews, so that you can make sure that the route is going to fit your needs for difficulty, scenery, safety, or other priorities.
Like MapMyRun, Runkeeper allows you to search routes that other people have saved. You can specify the location as well as distance so that it best suits your needs.
Your technology may also be useful. Garmin watches and apps allow me to input the distance and direction I want to run, and it will put together a route for me.
Google Maps is another great resource. It will provide you with suggested routes on paved paths that are safe for cyclists and runners alike. The routes tend to avoid steep hills, another important consideration for designing a good route.
Test It Out
If you’re new to an area and you don’t know what’s safe, you could always put together a route and then drive it first to make sure you feel comfortable. Or walk your route first so that you know exactly what to expect.
Walking your route ahead of time is an especially good idea if you used an app or technology to map it out—likely one that starts and ends right at your house.
There’s a good chance that your phone or watch won’t take into consideration how trafficked a road is, whereas a pre-made route that you find on MapMyRun or other similar service might account for this.
You should also use the need to find running routes as an excuse to explore your local neighborhood or town for parks, roads, and other places to run. I know when I’m new to an area I’m always scoping out places that would be good to run.