It was over 20 years ago that I decided it was time to sell my house in Lawrenceville and move closer to where I worked in Alpharetta. And so I worked with an agent, and gave him a list of everything I wanted in a new home. Most of my demands were pretty standard, I’m sure. I wanted convenient shopping nearby. I wanted a nice family room with a fireplace, and enough bedrooms so we could easily accommodate family and friends if they were ever passing through Atlanta. And I wanted a quiet, safe neighborhood with a decent sized property with trees and plants in every yard. I wanted a place I could call home.
I also had one special request that may have been a little less common than most. I said “I need a home where I can go right out the front door and be able to run as many miles as I want without having to run the same boring 1.6 mile loop over and over again. In the Lawrenceville house, I was pretty limited because the neighborhood only had one entrance/exit and there was no safe place to run on the road once you left it. So day after day, I ran the same loop over and over again. If I wanted more variety in a run, I’d need to get in the car and drive a couple of miles to a local Kroger, where miles and miles of lightly traveled roads awaited me.
Honestly, the endless roads were one of my highest priority requests. A home not meeting those criteria would have been a showstopper for me, and I would not have even considered looking at it. But the right home in the perfect location came along, and it provided a lot of possibilities right from my front doorstep. I did my first runs there even before moving in.
Running a new route is much like making a new friend. The first time I ran in the new neighborhood, I found a loop that I estimated to be about 1.5 miles. This was in the days before I had my first GPS watch, so all run distances were estimated. I ran 4 of these loops, and in the process, felt like I had made my very first new neighborhood friend.
Even though I like options, I am not much of an explorer, so even though I’ve always had many possibilities to carve out new routes through the neighborhoods surrounding my home, what usually happens is, I’ll give a new route a test run, then if I enjoy it, I’ll stick with it for a while. It’s kind of like going to your favorite restaurant that has 100 menu items, looking it over, then ordering the same thing every time.
I’d say that over all the years I’ve lived here, I have had a total of about 10 different working routes I have run in total. Each one of those routes consists of a combination of different, entwining roads that I have generally run in the same mechanical order every time I run them. The original couple of routes I mapped out when I first moved here where the ones I ran exclusively have given way to three or four primary regular routes I run today. But they are still there to fall back on any time I want. Maybe I haven’t revisited the original routes partly because it would remind me how much slower I am now than when I first started to run them in my mid-40s.
If I am staying completely in my own neighborhood, then I have my “upper loop” and my “lower loop.” If I want to leave the neighborhood and go to the adjoining neighborhood across the street, then I have a couple of other choices, the “rolling route” and the “hilly route.” I also have a couple of options if I want to run through the parking lot by the pool and connect to a different phase of our subdivision. I went years without running down there until I recently rediscovered it. I had stopped running that neighborhood years ago when I was struggling with a knee injury, and running up that last steep uphill stretch was more stress than I cared to put my meniscus through at the time, and once it healed after surgery, I just never went back.
But everything changed when all of a sudden, due to COVID-19, I stopped traveling every week, and suddenly was running my neighborhood seven days a week instead of just weekends. After a couple of weeks of quarantining and running the same routes day after day, I started to get a little bored and a little restless for something new. I suppose if I went to the same restaurant every day for months on end, I’d probably start looking at other menu options after a while too.
So about a month ago, I started mixing things up a bit. Even though I was still running the same roads, I started running them in different directions, making turns at different points, and just in general mixing things up a bit. It added a whole new flavor to the run. This past month has been a month of new explorations within the same confines that I have run for the last two decades, finding new ways to run them, and doing things like trying to make up routes that start and end in front of my house with nice distances that are all to familiar to runners. Numbers like 3.1, 5, 6.2, 10, and 13.1. I figured that since it looks like virtual racing is going to be around for a while, if not the entire new way that runners compete, it would be nice to hit a specific distance at the same place a run starts
In order to do this, I have been “Jelly-bellying” my normal runs. Here’s what I mean by that. Jelly belly is a company that makes jelly beans in unique flavors. Their current giftbox of 50 different flavor includes such oddities as strawberry cheesecake, toasted marshmallow, cappuccino strawberry daiquiri and mixed berry smoothie. These are not the same flavors us older people grew up with. And as if 50 flavors aren’t enough, they also promote creating your own new flavors by mixing existing beans together in various combinations to create a whole new taste.
So this past month, I have been creating new flavors of running with the some old beans I’ve always had. I’m just mixing them in different ways, each with its own unique taste. It’s been a delicious month, totaling 175 miles, which is a high number for this old man. I started April with a virtual half marathon, because I was already trained for the RnR San Francisco race which bit the dust along with every other organized race in the country. I had no specific plan for a route I was going to run, but just kept on running until I hit 13.1 miles, which was ok, but not the same as running an actual course. I made it up as I went, and could never in a million years create it.
But from there, every morning, I started to become more and more focused on creating courses with different combinations of all the available roads in three connecting neighborhoods, and by the end of the month, I had created several routes measuring anywhere from 5K to 10 miles. I still haven’t figured out a reliable half marathon yet, and that might not happen until the fall now, as it is starting to get warmer out, so I doubt I will be looking at too many more virtual half marathons over the next few months. This morning, I did run one, but it was all on the Big Creek Greenway, so mapping it out was easy.
My hope out of all of this is that at some point, when it becomes a little safer to do so, I can show these new routes off to you, my fellow runners, and hold some very low key group runs around quiet neighborhood streets where I can introduce you all my new flavors of running I call my Jelly Belly routes. You’ll have choices of distances you want to run, and if you’re doing a virtual race, you’ll have Garmin-measured reliable routes of anywhere from 5K to 10 miles and beyond to run and document. Then, we can follow it up with some social distancing beer and whatever we decide to throw on the grill. And of course, for dessert, how about some Jelly Belly classics? It all sounds delicious to me.
Have another safe month of running.