Idled teacher uses time off to explore new trails

When Kerry O’Brien woke up on Friday, March 13, she hadn’t expected to have an entire day free, because she’d been planning to go in to school to teach her 6th grade special education class. When she got the memo that her school would be closed for at least the next several weeks due to COVID-19, she seized the opportunity to tackle her bucket list of local trails. O’Brien set a goal to run a new trail every weekday she is out of school, which Governor Northam just announced will now be until the end of the school year in June.

O’Brien has an inspirational notebook where she keeps lists of places she wants to travel, books she wants to read, and of course, trails she’d like to run. When she first moved to the DC area from upstate New York in 2012, she craved community, so she joined a Meet-Up group that met every Saturday morning at Teddy Roosevelt Island for long runs.

These friends showed her the well-traveled favorites, such as the Mt. Vernon Trail, Custis and W & OD, and Rock Creek Park, but soon she hungered for greater adventure. It wasn’t long before she was the one suggesting cool new trails she’d discovered to this group of runners who had quickly become her closest friends. O’Brien even met her now husband through the group. They call their group Hard Core Oats, a name which is somewhat facetious, as many of them just love running for fun and are not hard-core at all, and encompasses their shared love of post-run oatmeal.

Over the years, O’Brien has slowly chipped away at her trails list when she had time to drive to them, but she suddenly found herself with the time to make a much bigger dent. That first day off of school, O’Brien ran the Rocky Run Trail in Fairfax, part of the Fairfax Connector Trails.

So far, O’Brien has run the Sugarland Run Trail (Herndon, VA); Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail (WB & A) (near Bowie, Md); Giles Run Trail (Lorton, Va); Battery Kemble Trail (D.C.); Muddy Branch Greenway Trail (North Potomac, Md.); Meadowlark Connector Trail (Vienna, Va); and the Potomac Heritage Trail (starting at Ft. Marcy Park of the George Washington Parkway and finishing at Teddy Roosevelt Island).

O’Brien adds new trails to the list in her notebook every few days so that each morning when she decides how far she wants to run and what kind of trail she feels like exploring, she has a few options lined up. Often her method for finding a trail is pulling up Google maps and looking for some green space or a park, as trails often run through those areas. Regardless of the specific trail, each day the trails feed her soul in a different way.

“The cool thing is that every day I do this, I come away with something different,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes I just want to process what’s going on. Sometimes I need to disconnect from everything. Sometimes I just need to get my heart race up since I’ve been sitting on the couch for so long. I feel more in control and confident, happier afterwards.”

While each trail has offered a slightly different experience, O’Brien already has a favorite.

“So far my favorite trail has been the Cross County Trail in Vienna. It is beautiful single track that’s part of the Difficult Run Trail. The day I ran it, the weather was perfect and it was so quiet and peaceful. I just felt very removed from what was going on, so it was a memorable experience,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien is grateful for the opportunity to rekindle her spark for adventure.

“This project has given me that feeling again I had when I first moved here like, ‘Wow! It’s so awesome to run here! We have so many different trails with amazing scenery and varied terrain to explore,” O’Brien said. “I just keep thinking while I’m out running these trails, Man, I can’t wait to bring my friends out here to enjoy this, too.

O’Brien rarely runs with a watch, so if you’re hoping to follow her escapades on Strava, you’re better off checking out her Instagram posts where she is photographing and documenting each new trail run.

At this point, O’Brien is about seven days in to her quest to seek out new and exciting trails, and she has no plans of stopping until life returns to normal and she’s able to reunite with her students. Until then, she has many more miles of trails to tackle.

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