I love finding new places to run. But a hidden gem doesn't have to be a location that you discover; it could be an event or a new training regimen.

There is a certain joy in discovering something new, that hidden gem of an idea or a new use for something. In the case of running, perhaps it’s a new race or a new gadget or gizmo, or a new workout. For me, I love finding new places to run.

I was recently out of town for a few days and, as is my usual, surveyed the running landscape. Now, some of my trips over the years have offered up some pretty crappy running options. The city of Dallas has some nice parks and greenspace. Unfortunately, I was nowhere near any of it. A trip to Riverside, California a number of years ago offered up hot, humid and no shoulders on the roads. And don’t get me started on the northern Shenandoah Valley. Beautiful place…NOT really runner friendly.

But my recent trip to Hunt Valley, Maryland provided a hidden gem, indeed.

Anyone who’s even somewhat active knows that Bike Delaware is a strong advocate for improving the “bike-ability”of the Small Wonder, from wider shoulders whenever possible to stronger enforcement of safety issues. Non-bikers sometimes view this as an infringement upon their right to text and driver at 72 miles an hour (not all, but unfortunately one is one too many). And when bicyclists find places to safely pedal, it’s a big deal.

Runners have that same vibe. So when I located a rails-to-trails project a mere kilometer from my hotel room, I was all over it. And what hidden gem it was. The NCRR Trail was a perfectly groomed, wide, shaded, well-traveled trail, complete with paved parking lots every few miles, porta-potties at “opportune places” (and yes, I visited), and a feeling of safety and contentment. My first morning run there I was the first car in the lot and on day two, the second. And although the lot was pretty full by the time I was done running, I felt like I had single-handedly discovered this place, and planted a flag for all Delaware runners, walkers and bicyclists (no, Maryland did not allow me to annex it).

Recently, one of the athletes I coach confided that he was bored with his normal running routes. I asked him where, specifically, he lived and he told me. I google mapped it and voila, there was a park about 3 miles from his house that he’d never even heard of (well, it WAS New Jersey, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised).

It doesn’t take much to get out of our usual routines to find something new. Often the biggest obstacle is our inability to locate a starting point. I recall recommending Carousel Park to someone a few years ago. He’d never run there until then, but once he ran the trails, decided to make it a regular stop on his running routes.

It doesn’t have to be a location that you discover; it could be an event or a new training regimen. There are all kinds of varieties out there like heated yoga, a 200-mile team relay, Cross Fit, a color run, or even a duathlon (tri’s are out for me, I swim like a rock and rarely take baths). Fortunately, because I do travel a bit more than the average beast, I’m always scouting out trails, parks and “clean air” as I like to call it. We visited Utah last summer…too easy. That place is ALL clean air.

The first step to locating that hidden gem is to start looking. Even if you are happy with your current routine, race schedule or daily 5, adding something new can’t hurt. You may have to work for it a bit more, like my Jersey athlete, but in the end, you may find something that’s beneficial for the body and the mind, like my NCRR Trail experience.

Make it a point to find a hidden gem this summer. It doesn’t have to be a huge time-taker, and it doesn’t have to take you half way across the continent (although it helps), but it does have to be something that you discover, plant your flag in it, and claim it for your own, before Jersey does.

I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails (those hidden gems!)

Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.