Once in a while during the D.C. summers, you get a cool, dry day that makes you forget all of those squishy shoes and the necessity of pre-dawn long runs.
I got one in late July 2017, the same morning as I drove out to western Loudoun County to meet up with Ed Lull to shoot our magazine cover – the Loudoun Valley boys’ cross country team. Looking for a rolling dirt road, Joan Hunter pointed us to Yellow Schoolhouse Road, near Bluemont. It did the trick alright. We only drove about a mile out, but I liked what I saw. I also knew it was an hourlong drive for me from D.C., so I had better make sure it was going to be worth my time to go out there.
When Kristen Serafin felt like a failure, running helped come back. Twice.
The first time, it was on a monthlong road trip with her now-fiancé Erin Kelman. The second time, when it was even more complicated, it gave her insight and an incentive to share her experience and strive to come out of it more motivated.
Back in September, recovering in Garfield Memorial Hospital in Utah, Serafin asked her attending doctor what would sound like an insane question: Could she run Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim? A 47.5-mile run though the Grand Canyon and back, 10 days after losing a pregnancy she only learned about two weeks prior. To her surprise, she got the go-ahead to accompany Erin.
“He was practical about it, he told me ‘you’re going to be tired, you lost a lot of blood, but I think you can do it if you want to give it a shot,'” she said, “He told me I might need to bail, but there’s nowhere really to bail.
“When I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t do this thing my body was supposed to be able to do, I still wanted to do something amazing.”
You’ll never have a still enough day to see it quite that way, but the Potomac River is a mirror.
On one side, the C&O Canal Towpath, ranging from sandy with a few puddles to vast, flat and smooth, all the way to Cumberland.
Across the span, however, you’ll find the opposite — rugged, rocky and halting. The Potomac Heritage Trail. The name means a lot of things — primarily a network of trails flanking the river between the Potomac and Ohio river basins — but in D.C., it means the towpath’s sinister sibling.
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.
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.
As a new resident of the Woodbridge and Occoquan River region, I was eager to explore what the local running trails had to offer this past summer. On one early morning run in June, I passed a freshly paved blacktop trail veering off from the sidewalk along Rippon Blvd., which hadn’t been there the week before.
I followed the trail for a few minutes to discover a spacious parking lot and a playground. As I continued, I came around a bend in the trail to discover a wide, pristine boardwalk winding like a serpent over Neabsco Creek and the surrounding wetlands.
Trail races are already pretty chill, but those looking to take low-key to an even lower level should go find a Fat Ass.
Fat Ass events are free, loosely organized group runs that focus on trail community and camaraderie over competition. Depending on the organizer, races will sometimes have aid, sometimes swag, and sometimes course markings, but an entry “fee” is always a donation of food or drinks to a communal aid station.
“My first true experience into the real-world culture of trail running and the ultra family was at Halloweeny FA put on by VHTRC,” says D.C. resident Thomas McNulty. “My race entry ‘fee’ was two bags of potato chips. There was no judgement on whether I had run fast, slow, run the whole distance, run part of the distance or didn’t run at all. New friends were made, laughs enjoyed and I quickly realized that this was the people that I wanted to surround myself with.”
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.