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.
Ten years ago I became a trail runner.
I got started the way that most people do: I found a trail, then I ran on it.
(And then I probably fell down, more on that later.)
I was lucky enough to find myself on trail that day in May 2009 with two very experienced trail runners. I didn’t know either them when we met by accident in a parking lot, but after 10 miles of casual conversation (them), and some wheezing and shortness of breath (me), I had their contact information and plans to meet the following Saturday for more miles. I was hooked.
If it wasn’t for the eastern screech owl with one bad eye, I might still be unaware of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge’s North Tract and its many miles of undulating dirt roads, a mere 25 minutes south of my home in Baltimore. An unseasonably hot and humid day in October 2017 resulted in a shortened run at Greenbelt Park. My wife and I had driven south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway intent on logging 90-minute runs on Greenbelt’s principal loop and adjacent athletic fields, but the conditions exacerbated our training fatigue. We decided to cut our losses make the most of the afternoon by exploring the area.
There is a hidden gem for Washington-area runners in the heart of Loudoun County — Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. Over 20 miles of well-groomed grass trails traverse the 725 acres of grassy fields, hardwood forests, wetlands, and creeks. It’s a wonderful cross-section of the beautiful landscape that can be found in Northern Virginia. The picturesque scenery is an ideal backdrop for logging miles on soft trails. If you’re the type of runner that likes to connect with nature, this place is worth the trip no matter where in the metro area you live.
The first thing that may stand out to you is the odd name, the origin of which goes back to the early 19th century. Once you experience this place, the second word of the name makes sense, given “reeks” is a Gaelic word referring to hills and dales, which are abundant. The term “banshee,” Gaelic for female spirit, begs for further explanation. A local farmer, likely resulting from an intoxicating visit to a local saloon, came back home one windy night and claimed he heard a banshee on the reeks. The farm animals and wind were the likely culprits for the sounds, but over the years the story was repeated, and the area became known as Banshee Reeks.
Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg is the largest park in Montgomery County, encompassing over 3,700 acres of Maryland wilderness. The good news for runners is that this green space also boasts approximately 25 miles of trails, all of which have natural surfaces. Countless loops and out-and-backs make Little Bennett the perfect place to get lost on a weekend when trail running is on your schedule.
In addition, you won’t have to compete with mountain bikers, because they’re not permitted on any of these trails. Horseback riders, however, do frequent some parts of the park, so it’s best to use caution when approaching.
The loop outlined below provides a small sampling of what the park has to offer, including thick wooded forests, brilliant meadows, vibrant streams and boggy wetlands.
There was no medal, no bib and no race director. But for Silver Spring’s Adrian Spencer, none of those things mattered as he attempted a run to Washington, D.C from Gettysburg.
Spencer had not always been a runner. He started running six years ago while on a beach trip with his family. Back then, he was 50 pounds heavier and could not even run a mile. Quickly approaching his 30th birthday, Spencer decided to give running a shot, hoping it would get him in better shape.
Real estate developers may have their eye on Calvert County, Md. land, but at least 3,000 acres is safe.
The American Chestnut Land Trust protects hardwood forest, wetland and farmland. In the process, those lands offer 19 miles of trails that make it the ideal running spot in the county.
It’s off the beaten path, about an hour’s drive from D.C., but it’s not hidden. Signs on U.S. Route 4 point it out to anyone who passes, a turn onto Dares Beach Road, past Calvert High and Double Oak Road.
Update: Of the 14 local-ish Western States entrants, 13 finished, led by Jared Byrd’s 22:09:10.
Last year, my sister, Sarah Mercer-Bowyer, graduated from veterinary school in Southern California. She then accepted an internship at an equine medical center in Northern California. This required Sarah and her husband, Greg, to move.
I have a feeling, though, that Sarah didn’t have to twist Greg’s arm.
Their new home is in Auburn. It’s a town of 13,000, founded by gold miners, located approximately 35 miles from Sacramento, and it’s a great place for them to live.