I’ve had an opportunity to run in the Great Falls Park of Northern Virginia and I’ve really enjoyed it. There are a variety of trails with varying degrees of difficulty and challenge. It’s January, so many of the trees have lost their leaves, but the views and the surroundings are still awesome. I have found trails that are predictably firm, modestly hilly, and well marked, and others that are rocky, slippery, steep, and not so well marked. But that just adds to the experience and the work out. I love the fact that this beautiful space is so close to where I’m staying – it’s almost like I’m in another world compared to the hustle and bustle of the DC/N VA metro area.
You can see from this picture how hilly the environment is. The Potomac River is to the left and I'm running a ridge trail. It is very steep off to the left, navigable, but steep. This trail was great to run on. It was fairly clear of rocks and I could get a reasonable pace going. Having said that though, I still had to pay a lot of attention to where I was stepping.
Being new to trail running it really has been a challenge for me, both physically and mentally. Physically because it can be very hilly, the ground gives in different ways (it’s not asphalt or concrete) and sometimes the ground is soft and sandy and other times quishy and muddy, I have to watch for rocks, roots, and slippery leaves, and mentally because I have to really pay attention to the ground. I can’t just run and put my mind on auto-pilot – I have to pay attention to where I’m going and where I’m stepping. One bad foot placement and I could be rolling an ankle (or worse…). But I can really feel the workout in my quads and hams. I can also feel it in my joints, and I’m wanting to carefully and deliberately develop strength and stability, so I am taking rest days when I need to.
The downer to running these trails though is that the scenery bears looking at, but I can’t take a chance to sightsee while running – so I have been stopping a lot so that I can look around. I figure that its ok to do that; I’m not racing, I’m training. I’m sure that if I continue doing trail running and enter a trail event that I’ll want to train for speed on a trail and my sightseeing time will be postponed. But that’s ok.
I also found that when I wander off any of the main trails that I really have to pay attention to where I’m going, because since the trail might not be well travelled, it’s sometimes hard to tell where it goes. I’ve had to backtrack a couple of time to reconnect with the trail that I think that I’m supposed to be following. I don’t have a map and there are few signs. Sometime the trail is marked by a dash of paint on a tree trunk, so I have to be watching for those… But all of this adds to the thrill of it. I figure how lost can I get? In one direction is the Potomac River and in the other is a road. And I know which way is North…
This is actually a great running environment. I’ve found that there are a long string of trails that connect to each other throughout the Potomac River area. I’m not sure, but I suspect that you could run from the Great Falls Park area all the way around to Alexandria and only have to deal with crossing or navigating a major road but a couple of times. I’d like to try that.
There is a trail called “Difficult Run”, which is actually a water way (kind of a natural stream) with a trail that runs along it. It’s pretty cool. Some of it is a hard packed trail and some of it you have to carefully pick your way around (at least the area that I tried). I’m hoping to run the entire length of that also…
I’ve decided that my near term challenge is to register and run the Marine Corp 17.75 event in Prince William Forest in March. Assuming that I finish, I would be guaranteed entry into the Marine Corp Marathon in October, which is my second challenge. So with that in mind, I am amped to getting prepped to run 18 miles! I have read that it’s a little hilly – all the better for my training. This is actually a good step up for me from my flat Michigan running!