The middle of the summer is here, and for runners training for a fall marathon, that means the start of marathon training. Saturdays or Sundays from here out are marked on the training schedule with two familiar words: Long Run.
For most of us, that means taking on the same route each week, just adding a few more miles (or laps) to the routine. And that’s fine. When you’re spending a few hours running, there’s certainly something to be said for convenience. But if you have another three or four months of weekend long runs to complete, why not add a little variety to the mix? Changing up your long run makes sense as a training aid. Running the exact same run every week is a good way to train for the exact same route—which isn’t the marathon you’ll be running.
Make your body adapt by including some long runs with hills with others that are flat and fast. Try going off-road some weeks, even if that means having to slow things down a bit. You won’t only improve your training, you’ll also get to explore new areas around Atlanta and maybe meet a few new runners as well.
Here are 7 great options for a long run in the Atlanta area that will hopefully get you excited to try something new.
1. Suwanee Greenway Trail
This isn’t the longest of trails for a long run—you’ll need to do loops—but the Suwanee Greenway Trail offers a nice 4-mile multiuse path through forest and natural wetlands that makes for a pleasant run. The trail is bookended by George Pierce Park to the north and Suwanee Creek Park to the south, each with water and restrooms. If you add the Ivy Creek Greenway Trails in the George Pierce Park, it’s pretty easy to create a 10-mile out-and-back run.
The trail is mostly flat, combining pavement with wooden boardwalks across the wetlands. There’s a good chance you’ll spot blue herons and snowy egrets there. Parking is free at both ends, and chances are you’ll find plenty of runners along the route enjoying nature and building up their mileage.
2. Silver Comet Trail
The Silver Comet Trail starts in Smyrna and extends 61.5 miles all the way to the Georgia/Alabama line in Cedartown. Built on a former rail line and named for the luxurious Silver Comet passenger train, the trail is straight, flat and paved nearly all the way. Mile markers line the sides of the trail make it very easy to keep track of exactly how far you’ve gone.
There are occasional water fountains along the trail, however, don’t count on them always working. But you will find restrooms, water and free parking at the trailhead in Smyrna. Most of the trail is lined with trees, providing welcome shade in the summer
3. Morningside Nature Preserve
The Morningside Nature Preserve is an Intown oasis quietly tucked in Atlanta’s urban landscape. While Midtown and Buckhead are less than 10 minutes away, the preserve feels like you’re in the woods of North Georgia. You’ll have to do a lot of loops to create a long run—an out and back from the east to the west end of the park rounds is 2.5 miles—but there are many trail offshoots where you can tack on distance.
But the convenience for so many runners makes it worth repeating the trail. Plus the mix of mulch and packed dirt help keep your legs feeling fresh throughout the whole run. Typical of Atlanta, there are several short, steeper climbs but the max gain is a mere 18 feet.
4. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offers countless options to put together a trail run for those looking to explore. An 8.5-mile loop on the connector trail between Sope Creek and Cochran Shoals is a popular one for runners. You’ll find plenty of variety, but there will be lots of tree cover and views of the Chattahoochee to enjoy.
5. Big Creek Greenway
The Big Creek Greenway ribbons through 8.3 miles of Alpharetta and Roswell, leading you alongside the Big Creek and taking you over bridges, past meadows, ponds and nature trails. The paved trail has a minimal grade, so you can easily setting into a comfortable, consistent pace. Once you’re on the trail, you feel immersed in nature, and you can focus on getting in your miles for the day, without the distractions that are common on roads.
Throughout your run, you’ll find convenient stops at parking lots with bathrooms and water. The trees create a canopy of shade that provides a reprieve from the heat. And if you want a break from the pavement, keep an eye out for the hiking trails that are located just after Mansell Road when you’re heading into Roswell. They’re short with the switchbacks carved into the side of a large slope. They’ll add some nice variety to your run.
6. West Palisades Trail
The West Palisades Trail offers some nice traffic-free running in Atlanta. By combining the Rottenwood Creek trail and Bob Callan trail link together, you create a 4-miles out-and-back loop. Not particularly long, but not bad for the city.
Deciduous trees speckle shade across the path for a welcome relief in the warmer months. This portion of the paved trail can be accessed in two locations: south at the Paces Mill Boat Ramp and north at Interstate North Parkway. Ample parking is available at Paces Mill, but a $3 parking fee is required, which can be paid in cash or credit. Bathrooms are available here. This is the lot closest to the off-road trail portion of West Palisades.
7. Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park
Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park is part of the National Park Service, covering almost 3,000 acres. While the drawing point to the park is the preservation of its historical significance during the Civil War and the Battle of Kennesaw in 1864, there are several good trails will help you create a memorable run.
The Red Mountain Loop is a 5.8-mile route with rolling hills from the visitor’s center to Burnt Hickory Road. To the south, you get a sweeping view of Atlanta’s full skyline and on clear days you can see some of north Georgia’s mountains. The 5.5-mile loop from Cheatham Hill to Kolb’s Farm features a smooth trail and takes you past the 1836-built log home.