Trail Running Florida: The Overseas Highway Heritage Trail

“North, or south?” Alex asked as we neared the end of the dirt road stretch. I took a deep gulp of humid air, trying to keep my breath while surveying the options ahead. We had just pulled over after finding a dirt road on Long Point Key. Our detour yielded stretches of dirt trails in multiple directions, but most abruptly ended in heaps of limestone or thickets of vine. We refocused on our true objective: running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail.

“Left!”

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

We ran in that direction for only a few hundred yards before being once again lured toward a new route – this time a mile-long detour off the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and into Curry Hammock State Park. We waved to the rangers as we jogged past the entrance station, stopping only once we reached the lapping waterfront.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is a multi-use path that runs the length of the Keys across islands and bridges until reaching its terminus at Key West. It officially begins at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo, and ends at MM 0. The trail itself has been a work in progress for more than a decade as Florida slowly stitched together portions of existing bike paths to create a continuous, safe route for those who prefer to experience travel though the Keys at a human-powered pace.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

I didn’t find trail running until many years after I moved away from the Sunshine State. I used to live by a strict motto: “I ain’t running unless something is chasing me.” Somewhere between my native state and my new home in Utah, my anti-running resolve weakened and I kept finding myself lacing up shoes to hit the trails. Returning to my home state to bring together my native environment (read: humidity, sunshine, sea-level elevation, and salty air) with my newfound love for running was a treat.

I like running because it’s pure. You don’t need fancy gear or technical skills – it’s simply one foot in front of the other, until your legs feel like Jell-O. Left foot, right foot, repeat.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

With more than 100 miles of trail to choose from, you can make your experience on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail all your own. Here are some tips from my experience:

  • My favorite parts of the trail are the stretches between numerous smaller islands. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction you feel after running an island tip-to-tip, even if it’s less than a mile long.
  • Ultra runners can camp out at Bahia Honda State Park, then go big and run the trail’s final 32 miles from the park to Key West. Celebratory rumrunners, anyone?
  • Note: It is not advised to tackle the Seven Mile Bridge by foot. Heavy vehicle traffic and small shoulders make this portion of the trail less than appealing for the average runner. I would personally run it only if specifically attempting to complete the trail in its entirety. Plan your run around it or hitchhike your way across.

So, what gear do you need to run on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail?

  • Running shoes: The path is mostly paved and very well maintained throughout, so technical trail running shoes are not required.
  • Water (hydration pack or belt): Locals with a higher tolerance for South Florida’s hot, wet climate may be able to skip carrying water on shorter distances, but I found myself eager to hydrate often.
  • Sun protection: After just a single bridge crossing, I knew sunscreen would be at the top of my list for recommended gear. Many stretches of the trail provide little to no shade, so it’s key to come prepared with a liberal layer of sunscreen and I’d suggest a hat, too. If you’re bringing a hydration pack, toss in a tube of sunblock to reapply throughout the day.
  • Bathing suit: Okay, so this one you can leave in the car – I wore my bikini top as a sports bra – but the point is: be prepared to go for a dip after your run. Trust me, the après-run swim is almost as good as the actual running.
  • Bonus Points: If you’re running across a popular key, bring some cash for pit stops at Cuban sandwich shops and seafood joints.

All photos of me in this post taken by Alex Uribe. Thanks, Alex!

————– 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.