Are you a die-hard roady who puts in mile after mile on pavement? Do you crave the off-camber footing of a technical trail? Or maybe you're a new runner just getting into the swing of this running thing?
From long trails through the woods to urban routes with local run clubs, the Charlotte area has a variety of solid training options for everyone. Here are some of the best places to run in and around the Queen City, whether you’ve just finished your first 5K or are planning your next 100-miler.
The Couch to 5Ker
You’ve just begun your running journey but you’re already in love. You’ve starting to hear your friends say, "how do you do that? I don’t run unless I’m being chased." You’ve learned what a massage stick is and have developed a love/hate relationship with the foam roller. Best of all, you’ve learned that 9 am beer is totally acceptable if it’s after a 5K race.
If running is a social sport for you, you’ll want to give one of the many beer runs in town a try. The dual motivation of like-minded joggers and a delicious craft beer will help keep your feet moving. Some of the more popular include run clubs at Sycamore Brewing, NoDa Brewing, and Legion Brewing.
Finding great routes will help keep your workouts fresh. There are few 3-mile routes in Charlotte more famous than the Booty Loop. Alternating between the shady streets of Myers Park and beautiful campus of Queens University, this road run is an absolute classic. The nearby Freedom Park is a good place to park and start your run.
Alternatively, try some of Charlotte’s many greenways. The softer surface and typically wooded trails offer a respite for sore knees and city-weary runners. Both Little Sugar Creek and McAlpine Creek are very runner friendly.
The Trail Runner
You wear your calf mud with pride. When a road runner asks why you like the trail, you go off on tangents about the benefits of multi-angle foot placements and the mental health of spending time in the woods. You no longer do ninja moves while encountering early-morning spider webs—you just casually pull them off your face and keep rolling. You’re not sure why, but trucker hats don’t seem as hideous as they used to. You understand that all race start times and distances come with an implied "ish."
While you’ll find group road runs in and around Charlotte every day of the week, group trail runs are much rarer. The Thursday night group runs at the U.S. National Whitewater Center are the exception, when two separate groups meet to tackle the singletrack at the center. The Carolina Trail Runner and Mountain Biker Group meets at the pavilion towards the back of the main parking lot while the USNWC official run club meets at the bike center next to the manmade river.
The Tarheel Trailblazers built and maintain over 100 miles of incredible singletrack all around the Queen City and beyond. These multi-purpose trails offer an incredible variety to Charlotte trail runners. With 30 miles of trails, the system at Lake Norman State Park is one of the largest in the area and a blast to run. The trails there are more forgiving than other systems with a few long inclines offering the bulk of the technical challenge. Well-canopied under a lush forest, Lake Norman SP is suited to protect trail runners during hot summer months.
No, you can’t meet your friends for an early brunch. Sunday mornings are reserved for long runs (but you will meet them at a brewery later to "re-tox"). You no longer giggle when someone mentions fartlek training. City names have little to do with geography these days, and revolve around questions like “are you running Chicago?” Your splits may be negative but you’re positive you can qualify for Boston this year.
McMullen Creek Greenway offers one of the best training grounds for Charlotte’s long-distance road runners. The wide, mostly flat greenway stays in shade much of the day. Dogs are allowed on a leash, so McMullen is a great place to run with your four-legged coach.
Find friends that enjoy the sweet misery of the long run on Sunday mornings at McMullen Creek Greenway for the aptly named Sunday Long Run. Each week, dozens of distance runners gather at, or before, 8 am to link the greenway into workouts of 2 to 20 miles. Post run, enjoy a coffee and baked goods while you decide which city to hit for your next race.
Twenty-six point two miles is an excellent warm-up run for you. Your pre-race taper lasts longer than your entire training program used to. You hear "I don’t even drive that far" more often than you can count. Forget post-race bananas—you crave mid-race quesadillas, M&Ms, and hunks of boiled potatoes with extra salt. You pride yourself on minimalist gear except for your space age hydration pack with the awkwardly placed bottle nipples.
A 3-mile greenway isn’t going to cut it for a 40-mile training run. Good thing Charlotte has some lengthy trail systems for your training pleasure. For the best long run in the Charlotte area, head to the Ridgeline Trail.
Located near the border of North and South Carolina, this rolling, wooded path is eight miles long and connects to two other trail systems. To the north is Crowders Mountain State Park where two peaks combine for a 10-mile stretch. To the south, Kings Mountain State Park adds an additional 16-mile loop. Water and bathroom facilities are located at the trailhead and at each state park.
Originally written for OrthoCarolina.