The difficulty of running in unfamiliar places

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

A trail in Alexandria, Virginia - running in unfamiliar places in 2013
I ran on this trail in Alexandria, Virginia, during the summer of 2013.

I didn’t used to call myself a runner, but have now logged months where I’ve run 80 miles. So maybe I am a runner now, though, a slow one. I often go anywhere from 6-8 miles and the longest distance as of March 31, 2014, ever has been 11.6 miles. I have some favorite routes at home in Eastern Iowa but also enjoy running in unfamiliar places while traveling. Sometimes finding a route is easy and sometimes not so much. I will highlight some of the tools I’ve used to find running routes in unfamiliar places.

In 2013, I’ve traveled to:

During each trip, I tried to go on at least one outside run. For most of my ’13 trips I was able to find a route, except on my Vegas trips. Drawing on several resources I was able to find decent trails or parks. In Vegas, I kept running into dead ends, just couldn’t find a good route and ended up running on the hotels’ treadmills. On my Fort Wayne trip, I remembered a dead end I ran into the year before and was  able to avoid it in 2013. So there is something to be said about being familiar with your surroundings.

Let’s take a look at some of the tools I’ve used  to find  good running routes.

Locating unfamiliar places to run while traveling

My first step usually includes getting on Facebook and Twitter and saying something like: “Hey D.C. area friends, looking for suggestions for running routes. In the area of 6-10 miles preferably.”

Usually, I get some suggestions that I can use. Every once in a while I end up setting up dinner with a friend who lives in the area and whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. That’s a bit beside the point here, but connecting offline with friends we haven’t seen in a while could also happen. I also found it important to share the distance in the social media post. Otherwise, you could end up  with suggestions of  really short trails.

My second step sometimes involved getting on Foursquare, the app that allows users to check -into places and also search for nearby places. The key is to take a close look at the map to make sure the route will work. Google Maps is another tool that can be used for this, too. You can search for “trails near me.”

My third step can include asking the local residents. Some questions work better than others.

Not the best: “Do you know of a nearby place to run?”

If the person asked isn’t a runner he or she may not know what a good place to run  is. Seriously. One person answered this question by saying: “There’s a neighborhood nearby.” OK, but can I run there? What we ask for can make a big difference in the quality of information that we receive.

Better: “Is there a trail nearby where I could go on a run?”

That’s easy enough to wrap your head around. Even if the person isn’t a runner. As long as he or she knows where the trail is. If there is a trail …

My fourth step might include using the “Map my Run” app on my iPad. The app allows me to draw out the run and get a distance calculation. This app is usually more useful – in my opinion – once you know where you are going to go on a run.

My fifth step could include just venturing out and looking for a place to run. This is usually my last step and when I did this in Vegas, I continued to run into dead ends, finally gave up trying to run outside and headed to the hotels’ gym for the treadmill.

Running in unfamiliar places - A trail in the D.C. area in 2013
A trail in the D.C. area in 2013.

Running in unfamiliar places – the positives and negatives

Running in unfamiliar places while visiting areas away from home certainly has lots of positives, including seeing the area differently than we would from a car, being able to run outside and of course the joy of getting a workout in. But there are also negatives, including finding a suitable route and then potentially running into rough terrain or dead ends. Those negatives can impact our running experience, but I still at least try to go for a run in those unfamiliar places.

When I look back at 2013 overall, I think my batting average wasn’t too bad. While smaller hiccups did occur in one or two of the other places, only in Las Vegas was I not able to run outside.


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