Every runner has a regular route. It's one of the realities of the sport that you end up getting really familiar with certain streets, parks, and trails as you huff and puff through them on a daily basis.
So if you're like me, you want that running route to have enough variety to keep things interesting, even after the "new route smell" has faded.
I'm lucky in this regard. I happen to live near a trail that has proved consistently interesting: the North Shore Channel Trail.
Stretching from the intersection of Lawrence and Francisco in Albany Park all the way to Evanston, the path runs along the man-made North Shore Channel, most of the paved path on both sides of the river.
I start near the southern Albany Park side, on Argyle next to the North Park Track -- a perfect place for runners to warm up or do sprints, incidentally.
The first part of the path -- heading north, a little under 2 miles from Lawrence to Lincoln Avenue -- runs through a few well-shaded parks filled with baseball fields and basketball courts. On the weekend, expect to run past more than a few Little League games that might send a ball across your path. Conveniently, for runners who hate standing still at traffic lights, the path runs under cross streets all the way to Lincoln.
Unfortunately, the first part of this trail also runs past a sewage treatment plant, so you'll get a few choice smells coupled with cool breezes wafting off the river.
North of Lincoln, the trail opens up as it goes past the Lincolnwood Town Center and into Evanston, and runners will lose a little tree cover and a little time as the path no longer runs under the cross streets. Unfortunately, some of those big intersections (all with crosswalk signals) might eat up one or two full minutes. Not that I'm complaining at a chance to rest!
In fact, you might even be looking for a chance to stop during this part of the trail, since several sculptures dot the North Shore Channel Park, most of them modern in design. It's not often you can refine your artistic palate while running, is it?
The first part of the trail has a few hills to contend with, but north of Lincoln the ground evens out, and the path is always wide enough to accommodate bikers, runners, and strollers side-by-side.
Overall, this trail has enough going on alongside it to warrant your attention on those long runs. Speaking of long runs, the path stretches more than 6 miles, so you could almost fit in a half-marathon going there and back.
There aren't many water fountains and bathroom stops along the path, so be prepared to bring your own water -- and hold it! But overall, shade, scenery, and length make this trail worth a visit.
You never know, it might even become a regular destination.