Historic Virginia Commute

About a year ago a new job brought with it a dream commute – seven miles of rolling hills and good sidewalks through historic towns and a national park, all perfect for running.

I run commute about twice a week between Colonial Heights and Fort Lee, Va., about a half-hour south of Richmond.

Before the new job, my weekday runs started after my son went to bed, usually around 8 p.m. Now running feels like a part of my day rather than something jammed into inconvenient times, always after everything else was done.

It only takes about 45 minutes longer to run than drive, including showering. My office building has a shower, and my job offers two hours a week off for physical fitness as a benefit. Add these to the terrific route, and it’s hard to make excuses.

Some days I run the 14-mile round trip. Other days I drive in, leave my car, run home and then run in the next morning. Either way, it racks up miles quickly. I usually have nearly 30 in before the weekend.

The run starts in a typical older neighborhood, but after the first half mile I turn along a four lane commercial strip, the main drag through the small town of Colonial Heights. From here everything takes on a historic tone. It was from this point the Marquis de Lafayette led American troops in bombarding the British during the Revolutionary War, an act that gave the town its name.

Down a short hill is a bridge over the Appomattox River and into Petersburg. Both the river and city have become synonymous with the waning days of the Civil War.

At the center of the bridge my watch beeps to mark the first mile. I enter Petersburg, past 150 year old brick buildings, and then across an overpass.

It’s exhilarating running over Interstate 95, one of the busiest roads in the country. Local commuters mix with freight and families traveling between Maine and Florida. Dozens of vehicles passing below me, each its own bubble.

Another mile ticks by and I’m alongside historic Blandford Cemetery, home to tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers. Blandford is followed by an Orthodox Jewish cemetery, with graves dating back to 1913.

As the third mile ends, the best part of the run begins. Traffic stops and all hints of the city instantly disappear. I’m now in the Petersburg National Battlefield, meticulously maintained by the National Parks Service and as close to perfect for running as I can imagine.

For the next three miles I’m on a wide bike and pedestrian-only lane. It hardly matters, though, as it’s not uncommon to see only deer on a week day morning. Especially in the winter, not that cold has been a problem this year.

The park road alternates between woods and fields, interrupted every half mile or so by historic markers and monuments, artillery pieces and the remains of dirt and wood forts. I’m no Civil War buff, but it’s hard not to enjoy being surrounded by history.

A short stint on a dirt road, and I exit the park onto Fort Lee, the center of Army logistics, for the final mile. Most days I run past soldiers, and often Marines, subconsciously pick up the pace.

I arrive at work far more awake than if I’d driven. Though I’ll spend the next eight hours in a cube, I choose how I get there.