“The Barton Hills Lollipop Loop is one of my favorite ways to run seven miles,” said Al Cumming, namesake and coach behind the free Austin running group Al’s Ship of Fools. “I love the challenge of the route—of working so hard up all the hills and then coasting down them on the way back. It’s a great sense of accomplishment when you finish.”
Anywhere from 30 to 50 runners join the “Ship” on their Saturday morning runs.
Start the route at the 0-mile marker at Auditorium Shores or from the 2-mile marker— “the Rock” —underneath the MoPac bridge.
When the footbridge crosses over Barton Creek on the Lady Bird Lake trail (mile marker 1), head south. Stay to the right as you pass under Barton Springs Road and run alongside one of Austin’s most popular swimming holes, Barton Springs. Keep left on the trail and continue running through Zilker Park. Then, get ready to climb. Once the trail dumps out onto Barton Hills Drive, you’ll face the first hill, and it’s a steep one. “It’s either the worst or the best hill, depending on your point of view,” Cumming said.
Because there’s very little traffic on the wide, oak-tree shaded Barton Hills Drive, it’s a safe early morning or late afternoon run.
For some of the group members (called “Shipmates”), 5 miles of hills aren’t enough, so they insist on taking a left turn at Wilke Drive and incorporating some hill repeats.
Finally, the Ship arrives at the “pop” on Barton Hills Drive that turns group members around—literally and figuratively—to send them running back in the direction they came.
“There have been some newbies who haven’t seen anyone running ahead and have mistakenly run the “pop” a couple or several times,” Cumming said. The more miles, though, the merrier.
Cumming’s motto, taken from Austin running coach Jimi Heerwald, is simple: “Run every chance you get.”