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Strategies for Finding Running Routes During Social Distancing

A guide to finding less-crowded, social-distancing-friendly runs close to home.

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As the world slowly opens up, runners are starting to look for alternatives to laps around their neighborhood. At the same time, many runners are expressing frustration that some favorite spots—the river paths, waterfront promenades, iconic parks—have become uncomfortably crowded. The situation is exacerbated by the still-evolving and haphazardly observed/enforced guidelines with respect to masks and social distancing.

To help, here are some tips for getting a little more space for your run, while still enjoying beautiful routes.

Go Early

This is what I call the “tourist run” rule. It’s what you do when you want to run at a popular spot in a heavily visited area, but want to avoid “the hordes.” Think Arno River in Florence, the Hollywood Boardwalk, or the narrow streets of a European city’s Old Town. The best strategy is to set the alarm and hit the road, exploring first thing in the morning!  When running while social distancing is the goal, this rule now applies to any of your favorite routes. In summer, this has the added bonus of beating the heat.

Explore a Lovely Residential Neighborhood

Residential neighborhoods provide a great way to enjoy a beautiful run in relatively splendid isolation. Our favorites tend to be historic residential districts, which feature windy, tree-canopied streets with period lighting and attractive homes set back from the road. Classics include Highland Park in Chicago, Bloomfield Hills in Detroit, Shaker Heights in Cleveland, and 6th Ward in Houston—but every major city has a few of these bucolic, older-style neighborhoods. An added bonus is that the shaded streets are a great option on a hot summer day.

For some help finding some of the most beautiful neighborhoods, Great Runs has tagged more than 150 Fantastic Neighborhoods routes. This includes recommendations for nearly every major city in North America. In most of these areas, rather than design a specific route, we recommend some of the prettiest streets or sections to free-form your own run. It might not be Strava segment territory, but your run will be refreshing and crowd-free.

Explore Outside the Central Area

For some of the larger cities in North America and Europe, there are often great places to run while social distancing in the suburbs and quieter areas, where you’ll find neighborhoods, multi-use paths, and maybe even a forest preserve—generally with fewer people using them than in downtown. In locations such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Houston, Great Runs has added new recommendations under separate listings for “Central” and “Suburbs.”

Check Out New “Pedestrian Only” Zones

As part of their “COVID Re-entry” strategy, many cities have turned miles of streets into pedestrian/bicycle only zones, to enable a better and safer option for getting around. These streets are often along key corridors, and might previously have been too trafficky and unpleasant for running. Now, it’s a new way to explore a city on foot. And if you go early, it’ll be like having a bike path to yourself.

For most of these cities, if you go to Google Maps, these streets are now represented by dotted blue lines and a pedestrian icon. See these examples for Oakland and Manhattan. Some of the other U.S. cities where this is happening on a pretty big scale include Washington, D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, Denver, and Philadelphia (the list is changing every day).

Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer at Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in cities and destinations worldwide.