As a British expat and long-term New Yorker who has just relocated to Richmond, I’m excited about exploring a brand new city and its surroundings. The enthusiastic talk from the locals is that RVA has much to offer the runner, cyclist, hiker and kayaker. I’m particularly keen to start checking out running
routes, both long and short, to and from downtown.
My first long run last weekend was a nineteen mile loop around the south and then north banks of the James River. There are two excellent foot bridges that cross the water from downtown where I live: the flat, slightly-bouncy-when-you’re-running Tyler Potterfield Bridge from Browns Island, and a more humped, pedestrian-only one directly under the Lee Bridge to Belle Isle. On this occasion I took the latter, snaking across the island, exiting via the south side and climbing the stairs to join the excellent and mildly-rugged Buttermilk Trail heading west. I then joined Riverside Drive at Westover Hills where Riverside and New Kent roads come together. Riverside is a quiet, but winding road with a fair few blind corners to navigate. Then I came to the had the worst road section of the day — luckily short — on Forest Hill Avenue, crossing above the Powhite Highway. There’s no sidewalk, not much of a shoulder, and not really anywhere for the runner to avoid the four lanes of speeding traffic here, so care is needed. I kept to the left/west, which seemed the slightly less egregious side of the road to be on. Patience was needed waiting for a gap in traffic to cross to the eastern side. As far as I can tell, there is no obvious alternate route to avoid Forest Hill Ave., if one wants to keep following the river west.
Turning north as soon as possible I wound through a quiet residential area of Willow Oaks and, after a wrong turn or two, made it to the parking lot and trail head in Pony Pasture, a small waterside park with short loop trails, kayak put-ins, and fishing points. First through the woods, and then back on to Riverside Drive right by the riverbank, this section made for flat, pleasing and speedy running. One
has to keep a close look out for a right turn onto the Huguenot Woods Trail further west to maximize off-road run time. This path leads a short distance under the Huguenot Bridge and to a parking lot where Riverside restarts once again. I looped south and then north to cross over the wide concrete expanse of the Huguenot Bridge to recross the river. There’s a wide sidewalk on both sides of this bridge, I’m happy to report.
Remaining on the left-hand side of River Road (north of Huguenot Bridge), there’s a narrow, unmarked, gravelly trail called the Gambles Mill Corridor (according to Terrain360.com). I sought that out to run north alongside a country club golf course, and then swung right and east along the top of the course on the start of the return journey back towards downtown. There are then a number of options to pass through the residential neighborhoods to the east of the University of Richmond.
I spent some time along Grove Avenue before snaking southeast on a few fairly uncomfortable, uneven, bricked sidewalks through Windsor Farms. I would imagine that there is probably a more foot-friendly route through there somewhere. Wanting to keep as close to the river as possible, I then crossed I-195 again via Douglasdale Road to meet Maymont Park. One could then either head for the North Bank Trail or up through Byrd Park, but I somewhat randomly chose a street route due east and north of Hollywood Cemetery, and then up to the main VCU campus, turning right towards downtown.
Overall: a varied and interesting long training run for my inaugural jogged jaunt. A few places are a challenge due to the proximity of heavy, fast-moving traffic and no pedestrian spaces, but the trail sections make up for it. Street running on the northeast side of the river was generally no problem and not a million miles from similar sections I’m well used to in NYC, such as the eastern extremities of
Queens. Sadly there doesn’t appear to be a way to avoid that short section on Forest Hill Ave., if one’s heading west to the south of the river. Hence, if you’re nervous of running that close to fast-moving cars, then you might want to avoid that section. I’m not yet sure if I’m missing anything, but one frustrating aspect of this loop is the lack of a means to run anywhere near the north bank of the river
until just east of Maymont; this seems to be the case further upstream too.