I’m a creature of habit. Consistency and routine help propel me forward. Certain constants, like knowing exactly where my mile markers are — without having to look at my watch — let me get into a zone and retreat into my thoughts during my runs. But, like anything else, sometimes you just need to ditch the routine to keep things exciting. After all, running is supposed to be fun, not a chore.
Following are five of my favorite local spots to visit whenever you need a change of scenery.
Just off bustling Gandy Boulevard, this little oasis in northern St. Pete has nearly 5 miles of trails spread over its 3,200 acres of land. What I love most about this spot is the mix of trail types: paved, boardwalk, and natural. Some of the boardwalk trails lead to dead-ends overlooking open water; take a breather for a few minutes to watch the mullet leap out of the water one after the other.
This hidden gem of a park in southern St. Pete may be on the smaller side — it’s just 245 acres — but there are 6 total miles of interconnected trails, including one main 3-mile loop. You can even make a weekend retreat out of your visit if you want; there are 12 campsites available to reserve.
Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
There are a sprawling 8,300 acres of land to explore here, so you can really plan a full day’s excursion to this Pasco County park. Come here if you’re in the market for a challenging mix of terrain. There are more than 7 miles of paved trails, plus another 13 miles of natural hiking trails. The latter will really give you a run for your money; you’ll tackle compact soil, powdery beach sand, muddy obstacles (after a generous rainfall), and even gnarled tree roots that will (literally) keep you on your toes.
Downtown St. Pete
There’s a reason just about every major race in St. Pete is hosted in the vicinity of Vinoy Park: It’s where you’ll find the city’s best waterfront views. Stick to the walkway along the bay; it stretches to Coffee Pot Park in the north down to the Salvador Dali Museum for a total of 3 miles. Don’t miss a detour along the St. Pete Pier for a nearly 360-degree view of the water — plus, it’ll add an extra mile added to your workout.
Again, there is a reason this is where just about every race in Tampa is hosted. The waterfront views are fuel to keep you moving on even when you’re running on fumes. Start out just south of the Tampa Convention Center, and you’ll get to enjoy more than 4 miles along an extra-wide sidewalk along the bay before you have to turn back.