After years of dedicated planning and construction, Montgomery Parks opened the Powerline Trail, also known as the Pepco Trail, in October 2018.
The 6.8-mile trail, which kicks off from South Germantown Recreational Park in Germantown, Md. and terminates at North Potomac’s Muddy Branch Stream Park, marked the first use of power corridors for recreational use in Montgomery County. In my final days before shipping out for my freshman year of college, I decided to hit the trail to see if it would live up to the hype.
The origins of the trail date back to 2015, when power companies Pepco and Exelon were nearing a merger. Dave Magill, the Maryland advocacy director for MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts), remembers first hearing of the possibility of including the construction of a trail as a condition in the merger.
“A bike advocate, whose name I cannot remember, was chatting with me and said, “you know, Pepco hasn’t been very good with allowing trails of any kind, whether bike or hikers, either on or even across their power lines. Maybe to get an approval, they’ll have to go before the public utility commission (PUC). This is an opportunity to intervene in the merger and ask for them to change their policy about trails. That idea really resonated with me.”
My first ultramarathon was supposed to be the North Face 50K in September of 2009.
My actual first ultra was the Rosaryville 50K that July. Then the Catoctin 50K in August. Then The North Face 50K in September.
All because of Bob Gaylord.
I’d met Bob and his long-time running buddy Stan the previous May, the way I meet all my trail friends: Randomly in a parking lot at a trail head. Then, at some point between May and July, Bob convinced me that the best way to train for a 50K was to run a different 50K. You know, as a training run. And oh by the way, Catoctin is one of the tougher courses in our area — but it’ll be fun.
So … sure … what could go wrong?
Putting on a race is no small task.
Race directing usually involves hours (and hours) of prep work to scout course routes, secure permits, find and order materials on time, and coordinate an army of volunteers. Not to mention scrambling to make last-minute adjustments for terrible weather or missing volunteers.
Even with all the logistical gymnastics and giant drains on free time, most race directors certainly aren‘t in the game to make money.
We talked with four local trail RDs about how they got started with their events, why they keep at it, and how every single one believes race directing is a team sport.
During the pre-race brief, organizers of the Old Dominion 100-Mile Endurance Run described the race as a battle of the runner against the course against the clock.
Runners have to conquer 100.01 miles of all types of terrain, 14,000 feet of elevation gain, all in Virginia‘s oppressive early June heat and humidity. To count as a finisher, they must complete the course in less than 28 hours; but those who want to go home with a coveted silver belt buckle must do so in less than 24.
I don’t know what was wrong with me. I had this beautiful gift, and I had been ignoring it for years.
The last time I remembered running in the National Arboretum was right before Thanksgiving 2014. Then, for some reason, I just stopped running there. It wasn’t until the end of this past January, after months of me telling myself I should go back there, that I actually did.
What a treat.
Last month, a major outdoor magazine published a clickbait column pointing fingers at groups the author didn’t think did enough trail work.
This dispute made the trail runner internet community very angry, sending heart rates higher than a super sweaty mid-summer speed work session.
Not up for dispute? Trails take precision, experience, and hard work to build, then once built, require some quality maintenance to keep them fit for all kinds of use.
Trail racing doesn’t always mean running an ultramarathon.
In addition to various shorter races, DC-area trail runners can look to timed races to run as little — or as much — as they want.
Timed races are a great alternative to traditional set-distance events because the format means your finish line is where ever you want it. Runners have a set amount of time to complete as many — generally short — loops as possible; who ever runs the farthest is the winner, but everyone is a finisher.
Last March, I caught a toe while running the Catoctin trail near Maryland’s Gambrill State Park. The fall was so quick and so hard — face first into very pointy rocks — that it took me a few minutes to realize just how badly I’d hurt myself.
Once I got myself sitting upright it was immediately clear that my wrist was broken; the bones were not where they usually were.
Also immediately clear? I was 13 miles from the car.
Hidden between the Palisades neighborhood and Canal Road, a carpet of grass awaits.
The long-gone Glen Echo Trolley Line, which ran between the eponymous amusement park and Georgetown, offers two-plus miles of off-pavement running with a view.
Oddly enough, a lot of that view is of the C&O Canal Towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail down the hill, an embarrassment of riches running east and west in that part of town.
I get asked a lot how I can run for so many hours and hours … and hours. My answer is always the same: I love my trail running friends. So much.
They are the reason I drag myself out of bed before dawn to shiver through freezing temperatures, pouring rain or miserable heat. Sometimes we run extra long because we need a little more time to catch up. Sometime we cut it short because the post-run parking lot party is just too tempting.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my decade of trail running, it’s that crazy travels in packs, and there’s nothing like mutual suffering to forever bond you with a bunch of stinky weirdos.