Someone, probably an eccentric aunt, once said variety is the spice of life. For runners, maybe one of the worst enemies, outside of shin splints, tendinitis, loose dogs and smog, is boredom. It is important to vary running courses. Run something different. See new sights. Explore.
One of the most practical assets of being a runner is getting to know where you live, up close. If you run a lot, then you will probably know where so-and-so street is, or the location of a little out-of-the-way restaurant or specialty store. You tend to seek out the tree-lined streets with beautiful homes, hidden playgrounds, parks, and trails that might lead to a clear, spring-fed lake the locals would rather not advertise.
After talking with runners and doing 20 years' worth of exploring Tampa on my own, I have come up with a list of what appear to be the most popular places to run in the Tampa area. In some cases, the locations may seem good places to run, but have disadvantages.
Each numbered paragraph corresponds to a numbered map location. Based on testimony or experience, I've also tried to describe what the surface and traffic is like in that area, as well as potential hazards.
1. Lake Park: Lake Park is located on N Dale Mabry one mile north of Gaither High School. The park opens at sunrise and closes at dark. Surface is mostly dirt and grass with some asphalt. Trails abound throughout. A 2.2-mile dirt road circles the outside of Starvation Lake. The archery area is off limits to runners, walkers and equestrians. Beware of alligators and rattlesnakes occasionally sunning themselves on the trails. Some high school cross country meets are held near the rodeo area during the fall.
2. Northdale and Northdale Golf Course: Quiet residential streets meander around a seemingly open, but sometimes guarded golf course. Mostly asphalt and grass. Northdale has excellent sidewalks for running or in-line skating. There are some dirt trails along powerlines that connect Northdale to Lake Park. Although runners are sometimes harassed by officials, it seems okay to run on the golf course near daybreak or dusk.
3. Northlakes: Mostly roads. Good sidewalks for running or skating. Quiet roads. There is a large soccer field that is great for short intervals. Nearby Avila Golf Course is beautiful, but nearly impossible to get to due to security and a double barbed-wire fence system.
4. Carrollwood Golf Course. Soft grass. Very scenic. The perimeter is about 5 miles. Many people walk, run or play touch football on it just before dark when security officials will not tell you to leave. Every Wednesday night at 7:30, a group from the Tampa Bay Runners meet at the old Oshmans near Dale Mabry and Fletcher to run the old Chili's race course and later drink a few beers. They recently celebrated their 500th consecutive run.
5. West Village Drive: This is where the beautiful people run, skate or walk. A wide winding sidewalk runs the length of this street and links it with the Carrollwood Golf Course area. Beautiful homes, some grass. Good security. Many women feel safe enough to run alone at night.
6. Babe Zaharias Golf Course: About two miles around the perimeter. This is an open golf course that winds through the Forest Hills neighborhood. Usually crowded with golfers teeing off, runners should stay to the outside of the Australian Pines, which act as a buffer between golfers and the houses. Some runners reportedly have been hit by golf balls. Was once the home cross country course for Chamberlain High School.
7. Lowery Park: Lots of trees, some grass and dirt trails along the Hillsborough River. Some hills near the amphitheater.
8Rowlett Park: Used by Hillsborough High School for cross country meets. Large pine trees cover the park. Asphalt and grass trails. There is a large hill on the south side. Probably not safe to run in after dark.
9. Temple Terrace Golf Course and surrounding area: Great place to put together a really long run. Perimeter of golf course is approximately 5 miles. A number of runners, including longtime Hillsborough runners Terry Fluke and Barry Holcomb, meet on Sunday mornings to run up to 15 miles in the area. Lots of grass, hills, some dirt trails. My personal favorite place in Tampa to run.
10. USF: More road races are held here than any place else in Tampa. Lots of roads, grass, large fields, hills, sand. On any given day you can see USF track and cross country coach Bobby Braman and his Bulls pounding sub-5-minute miles on the roads or doing intervals on the track. Watch where you park. They will ticket you if you don't have a sticker.
11. USF Golf Course: Two miles around the perimeter. Used by the USF cross country team for home meets. This is a place where golfers and runners seem to co-exist and look out for each other. Politeness is the key. Watch out for water moccasins after a heavy rain. Lots of wildlife. The course is bordered by a large swamp.
12. Tampa Palms: Very little traffic, great sidewalks, quiet, the golf course nearby is gorgeous and available to run on just before dark.
13. Horizon Park: This place probably has more running traffic than Bayshore (see No. 16). Mostly asphalt roads, there are some dirt and shell trails and several large grassy fields. Plenty of parking. Many people come here not only to run, but to be seen and socialize. The park plays host to Leto High School cross country.
14. Hyde Park: Old houses, cobblestone streets, magnificent oaks, very little grass. Hyde Park is artsy and historic. About 20-30 runners regularly meet with Bill Strack at Fleet Feet Sports in Old Hyde Park Village every Monday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 a.m. for a run around Hyde Park, parts of Bayshore and Davis Island. Davis Island is just like Hyde Park except the houses are bigger.
15. Palma Ceia Golf Course: Very exclusive golf and country club. People tell me they have run on it, but every time I've tried I've been chased off by guys in suits.
16. Bayshore: Asphalt and concrete and some cement. This road is popular to run on because this is where the Gasparilla 15K race goes out and turns around. From Bayshore one can see the lovely Tampa skyline, get bathed in a strong gulf breeze, and whiff the stench of Tampa Bay. Bayshore is really more of a parade than a place to run.
17. MacDill AFB: Flat, very flat, and even flatter. Palm trees, sand, beaches, runways, service roads, loud planes. If you want to run on MacDill, it helps to be in the military so you can get on base. MacDill is host to several races, including a half-marathon. Some runners like the gulf breeze and smell of salty air.
18. Picnic Island: Trails, sand dunes, some hills, giant sandspurs, occasional fights. Robinson High School calls this its home cross country course. Plenty of parking. Not safe to run alone after dark. A real adventure run.
19. Bloomingdale, south of Brandon (not on map): Grass, hills, trails, country roads. A group of the Brandon Road Runners meets at 7 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at Nature's Way Subdivision Handball Park to do one or two laps around a 4.2-mile course.