VISIONRUNUSA Series (4): Planning the Route

Google earth map of VISIONRUNUSA

Elevation profile for VISIONRUNUSA

Once I knew I was going to run across America, I had to figure out a route to take.  I had hoped that it would be as easy as typing in a Google search, and I would be able to pull up a route.  I was wrong.  This was one of the hardest parts of the planning process.  It was meticulous, and very detail oriented - a couple things I do not enjoy for long durations of time.

First, I had to determine my start and stop points.  I decided to do the run in the Spring time.  The rationale for that was, my kids went with their Mom for Spring Break in 2016 (I am divorced and we switch who gets the kids for Spring Break on an annual basis).  I knew I would be away from my kids for at least 10 days due to Spring Break, so I decided this would be "the best" way to deal with a separation from my kids for 2 months.  I would have been away from them for 10 days already, so we would only have to suffer through 50 more days of being apart.  The strategy made sense mathematically, but no sense emotionally.  1 day away from my kids may as well be the same as being apart for a full month.

Since I knew I was starting in the Spring, I decided to go West to East.  The rationale here was that I did not want to be crossing the deserts in California and Arizona at the end of the run in late-May.  I would rather cross them early, when the temperatures were manageable.  I had to figure out what cities I was starting and stopping in.  I received a call from Adrian Broca, one of my heroes who is a blind marathoner.  He said he wanted to run some miles with me.  Adrian lived in LA, so I decided to start in his hometown to make it easy for Adrian and I to run together.  We would start at Santa Monica Pier - where Forest Gump ran to on the West Coast.  For the finishing location, I chose Boston originally, because Team with a Vision (TWAV) is based there.  TWAV is an organization that pioneered and hosts the Visually Impaired Division race at the Boston Marathon every year.  I wanted to support them because they have had such a wonderful impact on long distance running for the blind and visually impaired.  During the run, my endpoint would change to New York City, as 2 of my children had continuation ceremonies and I needed time to be driven back to Colorado after the run.  New York was chosen as the stopping point due to it being the headquarters of Achilles International, an organization that provides guides for the visually impaired and other challenged athletes.

The next thing I had to do was figure out a route with turn-by-turn directions.  I sat down at my computer and pulled up MapQuest.  I entered Santa Monica Pier in the address field and I entered Fanuell Hall in the destination field.  I clicked on "Get Directions" and waaa-laaa ..... I had a map taking me from LA to Boston.  Piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  I soon found out that it was illegal to run on Interstates.  I thought about just ignoring that rule and taking the law into my own hands.  I was so ignorant at that point, I didn't even realize that I would likely be seriously injured and possibly killed if I ran on Interstates across country.  I tried clicking on the "biking" and "walking" directions buttons, however I didn't trust how drastically the maps changed.

From what I gathered in talking to people and researching the rules about what roads you can run on, I discovered the following - you are allowed to run on roads and sidewalks.  In different states and counties, you are also allowed to run on Highways.  You are never allowed to run on Interstates.  

I e-mailed Perry Newburn (KIWI who ran across the US a few years back) and asked for his route.  He went from NY to LA (opposite direction that I was planning).  Perry was helpful in telling me some cities he passed through and some highways he ran on; however, that only accounted for 1/3rd of his route.  I had e-mailed Charlie Engle and asked for the route he and Marshall took when he attempted his crossing.  Charlie didn't have the route, but was trying to get me in touch with the film crew.  I e-mailed Marshall, and he shared his route with me; however, the route went from San Francisco to NY, so it was useless for my crossing.  I tried to get in touch with Adam Kimble to get the route he was planning to use for his 2016 LA to NY attempt, although I was never able to get a route when I was doing my route planning.  I also reached out to Lisa Batchen-Smith to see what route she was planning to take for her 2016 LA to NY attempt; however, I was never able to get in contact with the person who was planning her route.

I was back at square one - no route.  I asked a friend (Melissa Mincic) to text and call me everyday to pester me into creating a route.  She did her job.  I didn't do mine.  Finally, I plotted out 60 individual maps on MapQuest.  Then, I realized they couldn't be "linked" into one full map.  I tried the same  thing on Google Maps, and somehow lost all my work.  I was beyond frustrated.

Finally, my Coach came to my rescue.  Coach Carly (the very first guide I had at Achilles) had been helping me train in the morning when it was dark.  She must have realized how totally lost and frustrated I was, because in a span of 1-2 days, she told me she had a route planned for me.  She got on the computer to show me, clicked a link and a transcontinental map popped up.  IT WAS AMAZING!  We spent the next couple weeks tweaking the route until we thought we had it all done.  Then, a friend who lived in Ohio told us that we were going through some serious rollers on the East Coast, and that if we went a tad North it would drastically decrease the elevation profile for that section.  We also discovered Highway 54, a diagonal highway that went from New Mexico, through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and into Illinois.  Coach Carly would do an entire re-route.....on her own.  We broke it down into separate days and ended up with around 55 maps.  We finally had a route.

I would guesstimate that between the two of us, the route took over 100 hours to create and refine.

As VISIONRUNUSA began, we realized that we had created a great route as we had minimized the number of highway changes, avoided large cities (which would cause us to slow down, cause navigation complexity, present tripping hazards with curb cuts/trees/poles/etc., and unknown detour hazards), minimized elevation gain and loss despite having to cross 3 mountain ranges, and we had identified small towns with lodging at least every 50 miles or so (this was important as my Mom and I were not taking an RV).  Basically, we took Highway 60 West out of LA, cut North to the 29 Palms/Joshua Tree Desert, then jumped back onto Highway 60 into Arizona and New Mexico.  In New Mexico, Highway 60 intersects with Highway 54 which we took North East through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.  In Illinois somewhere, we started taking state roads and small highways due East through Indiana North of Indianapolis, across Ohio North of Columbus, and into Pennsylvania traveling North of Pittsburgh.  Once we got to NJ and NY, it was a real chore to navigate and run as we had so many twists and turns.  We also did some re-routing on the fly, but that is another blog post about why it is important to have a "live router" during a transcon run.  Below is a list of our daily start and stop points (nearest city).  If anybody needs the exact route, send me an e-mail and I can send the gpx file.

P.S.  What I learned from this routing exercise is that "if you want something extremely complex and important done your way, you're going to have to do it yourself (and enlist the help of some really smart people to help you)".

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at


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