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Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

How awesome are their shirts?!

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

The HERGs and BTC unite

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

The sun put on a show for us

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Off we go!

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?

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Pretty neighborhood

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Proof that I am last last last – thanks mruns.com for the pic!

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Mmmm muffins

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

View from The Lonely Cul de Sac

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

I felt like I should be wearing cowboy boots

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.

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Best picture ever? I think so! Thanks mruns.com for the shot

We ran past their Saturday market and onto the “beach” in front of a waterfall, where we of course stopped for photo ops and met Lily the deaf dog.
Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Helena has it right – eliminate barriers to people getting out and exercising

Running on the Hillsboro Path back to the school, I could see why Helena was voted one of the best places to raise children. In a land of obesity, Helena took initiative and created a safe and beautiful way for kids and adults to exercise. They were also voted one of the Top 100 Places to Live in 2007, so a lot of people feel the Helena love!
Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Reeses Peanut Butter Cup doughnut – why I run

The HERGs like to refuel post-run at a nearby doughnut shop, so of course we followed suit. Let me tell you, the Donut Chef is amazeballs! Cake and yeast doughnuts, smoothies, and these meat and cheese filled fried dough things. Delish!
Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

New friends

Overall, I had an incredible time, and I know the other Birmingham runners did too. The HERGs were so welcoming and their excitement to share their story and town with us made the morning that much better! Running with them provides a great alternative to driving all the way to Birmingham if you live out that way, so I definitely recommend checking them out. I look forward to running with my new friends again soon!
More shots from the run:
Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Brooke and Donnette’ giving us a rundown of the morning

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Jason, my Dixie 200 teammate, joined us just long enough for a photobomb

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Mruns.com showing us around his town

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

“Thumbs up if you’re having fun!”

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

It felt like running in a fairy tale

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

The HERGs brand their coolers

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Up, up, up

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Circling The Lonely Cul de Sac

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Showing off their awards

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Philadelphia Italian Ice!

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Why did the runner cross the road?

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Because CLICHE!

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Mmmm local veggies

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Going to the beach

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

So picturesque

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Lemmings

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Adding an extra mile up The Beast

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Like a roller coaster, throw your hands up when you get to the top!

Helena, Old Helena, HERG, Alabama, Top 100 places to live, running, running groups, Birmingham, Donut Chef, Helena Middle School, Hillsboro Path

Fin.