A few weeks ago, a group of runners from Birmingham tried something new for their long run—hit the road and traveled to Helena (a small town outside the city) to log their miles. This idea was born when I decided to make a series of posts highlighting running routes in different towns after realizing how much people liked reading my Birmingham—I Run This Town post. Helena’s running group—the HERGs—immediately reached out and invited us to come explore their little slice of heaven.
The HERGs were born in July 2011 when Donnette’ Hulsey decided to create a running group in Helena so that runners wouldn’t have to travel all the way to Birmingham to run with others. She loved the idea of having a group for support and accountability, and so she found Helena runners through Facebook and Twitter.
I loved being able to run in a different town with different runners. So often we run the same routes day in and day out, for months on end. It’s familiar, comfortable, safe. But doing this makes you miss out on so much—you may never explore cool places that are right next door to you.
Plus, it’s fun! I think it makes a difference when you don’t know what’s around every twist and turn—after the run, all of the Birmingham runners agreed that the 14 miles flew by.
We got to Helena Middle School just as the sun was rising over the new high school across the street. It was an impressive sight—that school will be nice once it’s done! Introductions were made between the two groups, and we went over the route, pace groups, and best places for a photo op.
It was awesome to see how excited the HERGs were to host us. I met one runner, Kristen, who is a fellow Jersey girl and grew up in the town next to mine! Small world, huh?
We started out on the six mile loop first—a route with rolling hills through the Old Cahaba subdivision (neighborhood, for all you Northern folks). The houses were new and nice, and it was refreshing to not have to dodge cars coming at you at 50 mph. And before you think “neighborhood, how boring,” this area had a lake and enough hills to give you gorgeous views of the surrounding hills and ridges.
Trying to be the ever-obedient student, I stayed at the very back of the pack (I’m talking DFL) with Chulwon, a Helena runner and Crossfitter. We chatted about upcoming races, his family, and how hilly Helena is. People talk about Bham hills. Let me tell you—Helena is NOT flat! We had over 1,000 ft. of elevation gain—just enough to literally keep us on our toes.
At the end of the loop we came back to the school to refuel on bananas and muffins, then set out on an 8 mile loop toward Old Helena. This portion of the run was my favorite, and I’m jealous that they get to run it all the time!
We started out on the Hillsboro Path—a two-mile one-way paved trail that runs under the roadways and through the woods (to Grandma’s house, of course). It was built in 2009 to connect the neighborhoods to the middle school to allow kids to bike and walk safely. Seriously! How cool! If you’re from the ‘Ham, think Lakeshore Trail, only more secluded and no road crossings.
The end of the path brought us to the Hillsboro neighborhood, with more new houses and a lot of tall grass and wildflowers in the undeveloped parts. We had a nice, gradual climb on an out-and-back to The Lonely Cul de Sac, which sat high above the neighborhood with some gorgeous views of the hills.
After that, we ran right into Old Helena. I’d driven through here once or twice before and had always wanted to come back and walk around because it’s so cute. The buildings are older and it really has a cozy, small-town feel to it. It reminds me of small western towns I’ve driven through in Colorado and Wyoming.