Tag Archives: Routes

Montgomery County’s best running routes

Every time I move to a new place, whether it’s a new neighborhood or a new country, I have a simple routine that

The Mormon Temple serves as the centerpiece of one of my favorite hill routes.

The Mormon Temple serves as the centerpiece of one of my favorite hill routes.

never fails to make me feel like I’m home: I put on my running shoes and go.

That was the case when I moved to Silver Spring, Md., in November, after four years in Florida and a month couch-hopping. Once the boxes were unpacked and the furniture in place, I headed out into the deliciously cool fall weather, intending to hit Rock Creek Park, which we apparently lived right near.

The run was glorious, and I loved exploring my new neighborhood, but I never found a trail to spit me into Rock Creek Park. Same deal the next time, and the time after, and the time after. By the time we started running with our Pacers Silver Spring “fun runs” running group, we asked desperately: How do we get into Rock Creek Park?

The leader of the fun runs, Laura Cloher, drew a map on a piece of scrap paper showing the interesting little zig-zag one has to make to get to the trails. I’ve been in love with the park ever since, and am grateful to Laura for introducing me to one of my best friends in the area (yes, I mean the park. I don’t think the “best friend” bit is a stretch).

That was just about the time I was starting to pitch stories to magazines and newspapers in hopes of making a living as a freelance journalist after six years writing for daily newspapers full-time. I pitched a story about Montgomery County’s best running routes to Bethesda Magazine, whose editor is an avid runner, and I got the thumbs-up. I started talking to the county’s master route-makers, including Laura, to get their favorites.

The final product is the result of a few months of hard work on my part, and of hard play — I ran every one of these routes myself, enjoying the adventures and misadventures inherent to exploring a new place with your running shoes on. The Mormon Temple route especially stumped me the first time (read why here), but the hill loop is now one of my favorites. I also fell in love with the C&O Canal Towpath and the network of trails around it.

Since writing the story, I’ve found even more fabulous routes, such as these through Rock Creek Park.

For a more city-centric run that features a great view of the Capitol dome, try the National Half Marathon route, which I’ve used as a long run with great success.

Just this morning, I enjoyed a 13-miler incorporating about 10 miles on Sligo Creek Trail. The flat, paved trail saved what could have been a really miserable morning, and let me finish in just about two hours. That includes several stops for traffic lights — stops for which I was very, very grateful.

More about that tomorrow. For now, enjoy these routes! Let me know if you try any, and let me know what your favorite run in the Washington area is!


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Hitting the trails again

It seems fitting to start this post from the end of my weekend, when I embarked on the most gorgeous, inspiring and relaxing trail run I think I’ve ever had. What made this run so special? It came at the tail end of a weekend that reminded me that regular time outdoors is integral to my mental and spiritual health — and reminded me why I bother with the less sexy side of running, the core exercises and the treadmills and the cross-training.

Oh — and it was my first trail run since spraining my ankle in Rock Creek Park in December, an injury that came with a few weeks off, a cortisone shot in the affected ankle and a few months of skittishness on the trails as I worried my spazzy free-for-all of a body would injure itself again.

I grew up running on the trails in Hartshorne Woods near my home in New Jersey, and ran in the Flatirons in Boulder, Colo., in college. I’d been off the trails since December, and might have stayed away for longer if not for last weekend’s backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park, where we camped by a 93-foot waterfall, cannonballed into freezing-cold swimming holes and spent large swaths of time sitting on rocks and staring into cool blue-green haze of the mountains in the distance. It’s the closest the spazzy free-for-all that is my brain comes to standing still, aside from running hard.

We got home Saturday, pleasantly sore but still wanting a workout on Sunday. So we hit the trails in Rock Creek Park. Steve led me on a great trail route our running group does frequently, but that I’ve sat out of until now.

Here’s how I got over the hump: I was careful, watching for rocks and roots with every step, slowing down considerably on the downhills and saving my energy for vigorous uphills. It hadn’t rained in a few days, so the trails were firm yet forgiving. I had one of the best runs I’ve had in weeks, and the five-ish miles flew by as I truly tuned in to everything around me. While it’s nice to let your mind wander while running, there’s something about being aware of every step that snaps your brain into the present.

The run reminded me why I slog through the leg lifts and BOSU exercises that stabilize my core and hip muscles: They keep me healthy and injury-free for adventures like trail runs and backpacking trips. I promised myself to keep up with these, to guarantee many happy trail runs in the future.

I also promised myself to get back into the woods on a regular basis, to remind myself why I bother with everything else: The weight training, the treadmill runs in nasty weather, the indoor swims on days I’d rather be lounging at an outdoor cafe. A prime example: I will swim roughly 3,500 yards indoors today, but on Saturday, I’ll tackle roughly the same distance outdoors in the  2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Va. I’ll be keeping my mind from jumping ahead to the next set my letting it jump ahead to Saturday instead.


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