The Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo journalist Ben Gray takes a lap around the entire Atlanta Beltline with three friends. See all of the sights he captures around the 22-mile loop in Gray's photos and video. (Edit by Ryon Horne/AJC)

Metro Focus: Beltline bound

Run the Beltline … not just the completed, marked, paved Beltline, but the entire 22-mile loop.

I don’t know exactly how the idea came to me, because it took shape slowly. Living just a block off an unfinished section of the Beltline and having Ryan Gravel, the brains behind the Beltline concept, as a neighbor certainly helped spark the idea.

Taking up running and discovering a love for long distances and varying surroundings stoked the embers. Curiosity as to how the city would be connected and changed as the Beltline took shape fanned the flame, and a love for adventure was gas on the fire.

Even if it was a crazy idea, I had to do it. The big question was: How?

I knew there would be some sketchy areas and plenty of unknown hazards (which, as it turned out, included briar thickets, rushing streams, homeless camps, unmarked trails and roads without sidewalks).

Not something I wanted to attempt alone. Besides, something this cool deserved to be shared with friends.

I immediately thought of Kieran Reynolds and Mike Cosentino. Kieran is an architectural photographer and my main training and racing partner. Mike is founder of Big Peach Running Company and a long-time ultrarunner. Both said yes before I could even finish laying out the idea. We rounded out our group with Mike’s friend Philip Croley, an ultrarunner who works for running manufacturer Pearl Izumi.

Now that I had a crew, I needed to figure out exactly where we were going. I soon discovered that there is no definitive map. Project engineers still aren’t sure how they’ll connect the more obvious sections of the loop.

Using the best maps I could find, I identified what looked like the most logical connections, but that left me with a list of a dozen stretches that could be problematic. I did some light scouting of these areas, so I had a pretty good idea of our options, but I didn’t actually go out on the route beforehand. I wanted the run to be an adventure.

As dawn broke clear and cold on a Friday at the end of February, Kieran, Mike, Philip and I set out from the Big Peach Running Company store in Midtown. We headed for the corner of 10th and Monroe, where we would start our run on the paved and heavily used Beltline Eastside Trail, traveling the loop clockwise.

Four guys with a sketchy map, an iPhone, a love of running and only the vaguest idea of what lay ahead …

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