The D.C. area is at the heart of some of the most beautiful and dynamic running routes in the country. The DMV is surrounded by scenic paths, urban gems, woodland trails, historical parks, lakes, and sprawling fields. But despite all that the area has to offer, many runners will time and time again repeat the same set of loops from their front door.
Vivian Smith is a cybersecurity consultant in Manassas. She does not want to fit the trend of running from home or work each day. She travels somewhere to run at least four days a week, even if that means driving only a minute or so to get there. “I’ll drive half a mile to a park so that I can enjoy more of my run in the park than on the shoulder-less road on the way to the park,” she said.
“One day a week, I’ll run outside my house and it’s usually just a two-miler just because I feel like moving.”
Smith loves to explore the area and said some of her favorite places to run are Great Falls Park, the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail and the Vienna portion of the WO&D trail. She splits about half her runs on trails and half on road or pavement. Most of her running destinations take her west — she said he doesn’t like to deal with the parking in D.C.
She eyed her first visit to Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., aiming to run the ragged, hilly trails there.
Springfield’s Phillip Le, on the other hand, loves to head into the city for his runs. Le chooses different destinations centered around Metro stops, proving that you don’t need a car to travel to great running locations.
“I like running in new places. You can’t do it every day, but you do it once and awhile to break up the monotony,” he said. “I always like to leave once or twice a week … If I were to [leave from my house] six days a week, I feel like that would just get boring.”
In many cases, Le even uses running as a way to break up his commute while traveling home. As the store manager for Potomac River Running’s Ballston location, he travels between Ballston and Springfield daily and will frequently get off and on at various stops along the way to do some running.
When the the Metro was shut down south of National Airport, Le sometimes ended his runs at the Pentagon and take the shuttle home from there, using running almost as an alternative way to commute home.
“A lot of it is finding new places to go, even if the end destination is the same, it’s exploring new ways to get there. Especially if you have X-amount of miles to go in the day,” he said.
Le said he loves to take the Metro at Foggy Bottom and run around the National Mall. “The Mall is always going to be my favorite place to run because any time of year there is always something going on. It is easy to take for granted, but I try to get there as often as I can.”
His other favorite locations include Georgetown or Rock Creek Park. “Beech Drive on the weekend is really nice because it doesn’t feel like you’re in D.C.,” he said. “You don’t have to cross any streets once you’re further up there.”
Le said that if someone is looking to do a long run, that Georgetown or Rosslyn provide the best starting-points, describing them as, “Focal points where you can go in a million directions.” He also notes that Georgetown and Rosslyn are both easily accessible hubs for a lot of people.
“Georgetown is a like a spiderweb place,” he jokes, referring to the numerous trails that branch out.
Fairfax’s Nick Wathen also loves to travel out to run. The ultra-marathoner often spends hours out at a time. But unlike Le or Smith, Wathen prefers sticking to trails over the road or pavement. His most frequent running destinations include Fountainhead Regional Park, Burke Lake, or if he is coming home after his work for the Navy, the National Mall.
While those are his most frequented routes, Wathen said his favorite locations are more technical. “I really like the Billy Goat Trail over in Carderock and Great Falls and the nice thing about that is it runs right parallel to the towpath, so if you get out there and you’re not necessarily feeling the more technical terrain, you can just jump right onto the towpath. It’s the same scenery, but it’s a nice groomed trail.”
Like Le, Wathen said running in new locations helps to break up the monotony.
“It gets kind of boring to run around the neighborhood all the time and when you’ve got to do a three or four-hour run, it helps to get to a real trail with multiple miles without stoplights and stuff like that,” he said.
Wathen said he will even travel out to the Appalachian Trail when he wants to work on elevation training. “One of the trail heads you can drive to is about an hour away [from my house]. As soon as you hit the trail, you start climbing.”
He said he visits the Appalachian Trail around once a month, citing that it is a bit more time-consuming to travel that far out as opposed to some of the other locations closer by.
Wathen does not only travel out to runs here at home, but also while traveling. “When I’m traveling for work, sometimes I’ll drive some place to find better road running. When I travel, it’s almost like souvenirs. I collect different running routes. I’ve got my Strava route from when I ran the Red Square in Moscow and I’ve got my Strava route from when I ran St. Petersburg. It’s kind of like my weird souvenir,” he said.
Corinne Milligan also loves to run while traveling. The St. Mary’s County videographer only moved to this area about a year and a half ago, but traveled often for her previous job. She would take advantage of her travels to explore new places to run, saying, “I think that’s the best way to explore a place is to run it.”
Even when she isn’t traveling, Milligan said that three out of her four runs are destination runs. For her, the motivation is to vary up the training.
Milligan is attempting to run a half-marathon in all 50 states, and to do so requires familiarity with a variety of terrain and elevation changes. “You need to get used to different topography to run different races,” she said. “I work with a running coach and one day a week he’ll say, ‘Go run a hill,’ and so I’ve got to go and find a hill … My little neighborhood does not provide the hill work.”
Her favorite locations to run include Solomons Island or the Three Notch Trail. Like Le, Milligan prefers road running to trails.
Milligan said she rarely travels into the city to run, though she would like to do so more often. Being new to the area, she hasn’t yet met enough running partners living in other areas to feel comfortable venturing out of St. Mary’s County, though she does plan to do her upcoming 12-mile run in Howard County this weekend. She hopes her run in Howard County will be a positive experience.
Traveling to different places can lead to some unique moments, as Vivian Smith knows from experience. She once saw a coyote during a run in Manassas Battlefield’s Chinn Ridge. “It was looking right at me.” The coyotes caused her to run right back to her car, but she said the moment was still “beautiful.”
Smith has a long list of reasons why she prefers to travel somewhere to run. She cites safety and variety as two big factors, but also cites the excitement that comes from making an event out of a run. “It’s adrenaline and excitement. I need to do something exciting in my day and I need novelty and excitement. My day job is boring and this area has so many good trails. Seriously. Being from beach farmland in Delaware where it’s just flat and cornfields, this area is exciting.”
“I think some people see exercise or running as something to check off a list. Like, ‘I worked today, I ran today.’ It’s [viewed as] just another part of the day, and not something special for some people. It’s one of the most special parts of my day, so I try to plan it and say, ‘Where am I going to go today?'”
“I think some people don’t really believe in driving out somewhere running. I had a coworker who would say, ‘I don’t get why you would get in your car to go somewhere to run. You can just step out of your door and run,'” Milligan said. “I find it a challenge to find new places.”
Wathen suspects part of the reason many people do not travel out to running locations is because they do not know what’s out there. He also suspects that people may be worried they do not have the proper gear or equipment with them. “I think some people think you have to have all sorts of special gear for trail running, which is absolutely not true,” he said.
Le thinks most runners don’t tend to travel to locations because of the time constraint involved. “[People are] creatures of habit. And a lot of it has to do with time constraint. If you have a set time for your training run, it’s easier to just go out your door and do it. You almost have to pre-plan your runs otherwise … It’s easy to do the run, shower, then go to work.” But for Le, he said pre-planning is half the fun.
Smith said that the argument that it takes too much time or inconvenience to plan out a run is not a strong one. “The ‘time and convenience’ isn’t a great argument because it’s not about time, it’s about priorities. If you want to do it, you make it happen. The other day, I got up early and it was so easy to get up early because I was going on a trail run. But another day, I got up early but it was to get to work and I wasn’t as excited about it and it was hard for me to get up.”