Run & Travel: Planning Routes
Running is one of the best ways to explore new places but planning routes can sometimes feel overwhelming. Here's a guide with some tips for finding great trails and planning perfect runs.
Runners: Follow runners on Strava and Instagram to get inspiration for new routes. This doesn't mean elite athletes, it could be somebody in your local area to get ideas from or trail runners across the UK who are constantly on the move in search of new locations to explore.
Races: Even if you don't want to run a race, you can use race routes to get ideas for places to run. Often race websites have a map of their route easily available so it's a great idea to run these routes in your own time, or even just a small section.
Parkrun: If you're on holiday or running in a new area then look up the local parkrun. Not only can you use the route, it will also be an opportunity to meet local runners and ask them about good spots to explore.
Strava Explore: There's more information on how to use Strava Routes below but if you don't want to plan a route yourself then try Strava Explore (Strava App: Explore > Explore Routes). You can enter location, distance, elevation and surface preferences and Strava will then generate some recommended routes to try.
Kamoot: This is another great app for planning routes and finding inspiration. Again, it allows you to enter all your route preferences and it even allows you to state your fitness level! Something I particularly like about Kamoot is that route directions can be read out loud so you can plug your headphones in rather than look at your phone screen.
National Trails: The UK has an abundance of coastal paths and footpaths to explore, find out more about them here.
London Walking Routes: There are so many routes around London for walkers and these can be used to plan great runs. One of my favourites is the Green Chain Walk. Lots of information can be found here.
Strava route planner is what I use most for planning routes and its easier on a laptop rather than a phone. To find this feature head to Strava > Dashboard > My Routes > Create New Route. You will then see the below screen:
Using the search bar at the top, enter the location where you want to run and you'll see a map of the surrounding area. Here are a few key features to take note of before planning the route:
1. Route Preferences
In this section you can adjust your preferences for the type of route you want to create. The most important is probably the surface type - i.e. do you want trail or road? For trail runners, select 'prefer dirt surfaces' and then the map will highlight these for you.
2. Map Preferences
The type of map display can be particularly important if you're not familiar with the area. I usually make the route using the 'standard' map but for sections where I need a better understanding of the ground I briefly change the map to 'satellite'. Play around with the different views and see what works best for you.
3. Global Heatmaps
The global heatmap is incredibly useful. The map will show all the possible paths and roads that you can use. The darker and thicker the route is, the more people that have taken this path.
My advice would be to try and plan your route using the darkest/thickest lines possible. In areas where there is just a faint line it means not many people have gone here and there is probably good reason for this!! So if you're completely new to an area play it safe and follow paths that plenty of people have taken before.
4. Manual Mode
When plotting your route Strava will automatically plot a path from A to B based on where most people have gone or where there is a set footpath. Select manual mode if you don't want Strava to do this and instead you want to move from A to B your own way.
I would only recommend doing this if you know the area - don't manually plot a route across a field that you've never been to as you may arrive and realise that it's impossible to do in real life. The majority of the time I keep manual mode turned off. I only turn it on if I'm planning a route somewhere that I know really well and want to make my own paths.
Plotting the Route
Once you've set your feature preferences you can start plotting a route...
Search your location in the top search bar. Find the exact point where you want to start (think about where you can leave your car/where the nearest station is!) and then click and release. The starting point appears as a green circle.
Click and drag the mouse to move around the map. To add the next point click and release. The last point will always show as a black and white checked circle.
It's useful to plot a point at every intersection and build you route up gradually. Between each plotted point will be a line and the fill of the line will tell you the type of surface: white for unknown, dashed for off-road, orange for on-road.
There will also be a bar at the bottom of the page showing you the total distance and elevation as you build your route. Keep an eye on this as sometimes the map can be deceptive and your route can end up much longer that you thought!
Once your route is plotted and complete click save in the top right. At this point you can name the route, add a description and mark it as private or public. If it's private only you can view the route. If it's public it will appear on your Strava profile and other runners can access the route.
- Think about transport: how are you getting there & back, do you need to finish at the same place you started?
- Hope for the best, prepare for the worst: make sure you have a charged phone on you and a light source, consider carrying a paper map, let somebody else know where you're going.
- People are the best source of knowledge: contact local runners or even running clubs to get advice if you're going somewhere new & find people on social media to draw route inspiration from.
Happy travelling & happy running!