Chasing waterfalls, via rock scrambles

After spending the whole of yesterday tasting wines from every corner of Virginia, I had grand plans today to drink coffee, read the Sunday paper, loaf around and generally avoid the world. The universe had other plans and made that very clear with the stunning sunrise I awoke to.

OkayUniverse, I’ll go outside today.

Thankfully, my adventurous friend Sarah was also ready to sweat out some pinot from yesterday, so after about two minutes of planning, we were on out way to Great Falls. (If you live near D.C. and haven’t been to Great Falls, stop reading my blog right now, go visit and then smack yourself for not having gone sooner.)

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In all my years of going to Great Falls, I hadn’t actually hiked the popular Billy Goat trail on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. So glad I fixed that problem today. Sarah and I opted for Billy Goat Section A, the most challenging of the three trail options. The route is only a few miles but took a good 1.5 hours due to endless rock scrambles and some breaks for breathtaking vistas of the Potomac’s Mather Gorge.

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Definitely going to make a point of trekking out to Great Falls more often. In light traffic, it’s just a 25-minute drive from my place in Capitol Hill and easily accessible by bike, too.

Traveling Well

In Southeast Ohio, I ran on a path next to a sewage treatment plant. In Istanbul, Dave and I worked out in a gym that literally doubled as a sauna. In suburban Chicago, I spent 10 miles on a treadmill looking at a blank wall.

Such are the inconveniences of sticking to a training schedule while traveling for work, vacation, weddings and so forth. So, when IHG’s EVEN Hotels invited me to check out their new wellness-oriented hotel in Rockville, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The new-concept hotel chain focuses on helping guests stay “on balance” with diet, exercise and sleep while traveling for business. The Rockville hotel features in-room yoga and strength-training equipment, group fitness classes, a healthy restaurant and snack shop, and group runs.

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I particularly appreciated a comment during dinner from one of the corporate officers, who said the hotel is not trying to back any certain health/diet trends or tell guests which approach to take. Rather, the goal is to make healthy options available, whether guests are looking for high-intensity workouts, restorative yoga, gluten-free snacks, protein-packed dinner or just a good night of sleep.

This is beginning to sound like a press release, so I’m cutting myself off now. The point is, I really like this hotel concept. If you’re interested, check it out for yourself.

Holy Hills: Maryland HEAT Race

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When I signed up for a trail race between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, I wasn’t expected much in the way of elevation. The hills of the Patapsco Valley humbled me fast on Saturday at the Maryland HEAT Race 25K. East Coasters: If you’re seeking an annual quad-burning, rock-scrambling, stream-crossing sweatfest, look no further. The HEAT Race has all that, plus an after-party with enough beer, burgers and cake to please all the rungry meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans there.

I ran with my friend Sarah, who was doing her first trail race and longest race ever. We approached the run casually, planning to make a day of it rather than really race, since we were both undertrained. Dehydration hit Sarah hard (sort of a harsh rite of passage on the trails), but she rallied and finished strong.

We stayed together until my Garmin said 15.25 miles. Thinking there was only a quarter-mile left, I began my charge to the finish line, but, cruelly, it didn’t actually show up until my Garmin said 16.1. Ouch. We both finished in a little more than four hours and then collapsed in the grass with popsicles.

Wanna do a challenging trail race without schlepping out to Shenandoah? This is your guy.

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East Coast trail racing

As many of you know, I’m skipping out on the marathon scene this year. I’m pretty pleased with that decision, as I’ve been able to bliss out on trails and nail a couple half-marathons in the meantime. I did my first long(ish) trail race just before I left the Pacific Northwest, and now I have a couple more on the docket.

First, the sure-to-be-grueling Maryland HEAT Race. Apparently HEAT stands for High Endurance Adventure Test, and that’s a pretty accurate description. Outside Baltimore in Patapsco State Park, the 25K race will be boiling hot. But the pictures from past years look lovely, and the course even squeaks in 3,000 feet of uphill running. Interested? The race is Aug. 9. I think you can still sign up here.

Photo courtesy of MD Heat Race Facebook.

Photo courtesy of MD Heat Race Facebook.

Next on the agenda: The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club Women’s Half Marathon (wow, that’s a mouthful). I’ve been wanting to get involved with the VHTRC for months, and I’m excited to be a part of this popular event. Out at Fountainhead Regional Park in Northern Virginia, the course features rolling hills on miles of singletrack. The Sept. 13 race is already almost filled up with early registrants (me!), but you can sign up for some of the last spots on Friday here.

Worlds Away

I had the chance to spend some time in Vail, Colo., a week ago for work. Though my days there were busy, I found some time to explore the beautiful mountains surrounding the ski town. It’s easy to see how people here can live in a pleasant little bubble outside the real world.

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Wild & Wonderful: West Virginia

I’m not sure my recent trip to West Virginia even qualifies for real estate on this blog, considering the getaway involved mostly eating, drinking and floating down a river while doing both of those things. BUT, there were rapids! And there was paddling! And there was walking … on the Appalachian Trail! So, I say it counts.

Just an easy 1.5-hour drive out of D.C., Harpers Ferry is one of my favorite spots for a quick escape from the city. It’s situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, which carve a deep gorge through Maryland Heights. The result is dramatic cliffs and long views. The added Civil War history of the town adds another layer of intrigue.

On our agenda:

Riverside lounging.

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S’more, sausages and veggie dogs.

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Strolling with coffee on the Appalachian Trail (and feeling pretty lame compared to the thru-hikers).

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And “whitewater” tubing on the Potomac. Most of this was pretty mild, except when we accidentally went off course, and I flipped out of my tube in some not-for-leisure-tubers rapids. Don’t worry; I survived. No pictures, but it looked something like this.

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

District Love

It’s time to hit the trails!

Since a few of my fearless friends have agreed to conquer this death race with me in August, it occurs to me that I should probably reacquaint myself with the dirt.

Enter Rock Creek Park.

D.C. people rave about Rock Creek Park and its network of trails and wilderness smack in the middle of the city. I’ve spent plenty of time on the paved bike path but shockingly little time on the singletrack. Until recently.

The ultra-cool Jamie Corey of Run the District was kind enough to show me around some of her favorite Rock Creek stomping grounds a few weeks ago. And I surprised myself the next week by actually remembering all the twists and turns Jamie navigated, plus several more miles in the upper reaches of the park.

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting this 10-mile trot through Rock Creek Park.

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting this 10-mile trot through Rock Creek Park.

The only downside to Rock Creek is that it’s across town from my place in Capitol Hill. So, one option closer to home: the National Arboretum.

The Arboretum in Northeast D.C. is surreal: It boasts endless open spaces, eerie repurposed Capitol columns and an overall sense of remoteness just along one of the city’s busiest corridors on New York Avenue.

It’s definitely not trail-running central, as most of the running routes there are on paved roads winding around various sections of non-native trees and mini-forests. But tucked into the forests are two trail-running gems. They are short but worthwhile: a set of trails that winds around azaleas and offers views of the Washington Monument and Capitol building, and a set of trails that offers a tour of Japanese plants and riverfront access.

 

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My most faithful running buddy.

Have you visited the Arboretum yet? Duh, do it.

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