If you are a regular reader of Rock Creek Runner, you know that many of my posts are geared to the DC runner.  I try to give them as much information about running in this city as possible.

In the past few months alone, I’ve posted about running routes, the DC running community, training escapes, and trail running in DC.  But even with all the those posts, I felt like there was a huge void of information out there. I scoured and scoured all over the internet, but I couldn’t find a single comprehensive guide to running in Washington, D.C..

Now, as the founder of a DC running blog, I couldn’t let that stand!

This city’s streets and parks are filled with thousands of runners, with more joining our community each day.  This new guide was created for the new DC runners and those just looking for more information on running in the nation’s capitol.

Sign up now for the 5-part eGuide to Running in Washington, D.C. delivered for free straight to your inbox. 

This simple, easy to read guide has been broken into 5 e-mails covering a variety of different topics on running in the District.  After reviewing lots of ideas and several drafts, I narrowed it down to the following topics:

  1. Best places to run in the city.
  2. The DC running stores and running groups.
  3. Trail running in the DC area.
  4. Top area races from 5ks to 50 milers.

Sounds pretty good, right?  So sign up for the free eGuide now, and take full advantage of running in Washington, D.C.!

Running is such an unusual sport in that you can do it all by yourself or with tens of thousands of other people.  I have been running in the DC area for over 4 years now, and every day I’m impressed by how large and active people are in this city’s running community.

Being a part of a running community not only gives you a sense of identity within the sport, but like any other community, it allows you to learn from each other, push each other, and become better at what you are doing.

It is pretty simple, really.  To feel more a part of your local running community, go and hang out where the other runners are.  Throughout this post you will find 4 simple suggestions on how to do just that.  Though all of these example are DC based, the principals really apply to any city.

1) Find a Running Group

This might sound pretty obvious, but for a lot of people it isn’t.  Most runners are either solo runners, logging the long miles out by themselves, or gym runners, who bounce around on the treadmill in a room full of other people silently doing the same thing.  While both are great for their own reasons, finding a weekly running group is a great way to meet new people and push yourself with others.

DC is loaded with groups that depart from different locations nearly every night of the week.  A few of the biggest leave from the many PR Running Stores, Lululemon, Georgetown Running Company, Pacers and City Sports.  You can also find several unaffiliated with stores by looking at websites like meetup.com.

These groups usually meet at a certain time once or twice a week and split up into different distance groups.  Throughout the miles the groups often splinter out into different paces, but you’ll probably never be left alone, which is great for winter evening runs in the dark or for people who like the companionship.

2) Join the Conversation

In the world of pocket computers and tablets, you no longer need an in-person running community to brag about your killer last mile, vent about that pesky knee pain, or share the awesome new route you just discovered.  Sure, many of your friends probably don’t want to see every run you log on Facebook (please don’t be that guy), but other sites are set up for sharing just such achievements.

Maybe the most popular such site is dailymile.com.  If you are one of the few runners who don’t know it, Daily Mile is a social media site where you can log, map, and describe all of your runs.  You can follow other people, send them messages of encouragement, and engage with other runners from around the world.

I personally haven’t ever been able to get in the habit of logging my miles like that, so I resort to complaining about how slow I am on twitter!  Recently, Rock Creek Runner has officially endorsed the hashtag #RunDC.  Just about a month ago there was only one dude using it (@DCRunster), and now the #RunDC community is growing every day. If you are a DC runner with twitter, I can’t encourage you enough to check it out and share your runs.  Not from DC?  Your city probably has a similar hashtag like #runLA, #runNYC, and #runBOS

Places like these are the perfect for posting what you accomplished, how it felt, or the pic you took along the way.

3) Get to Know Your Running Store

When you want to meet the local painters, you go to the art studio.  When you want to meet the local drinkers, you go to the bar.  When you want to meet the local runners, you start hanging around a running store.

Just like bars and coffee shops back in the day, running stores can be a great place for people to share what they know.  Most running store employees are happy to talk shop, whether it is races, shoes, the latest gear, or training tips.  They live to run, and want to talk about it.

Having a running store that you can go to for injury questions or advice on your next race is an extremely simple way to connect with the community.  Stop in, chat for a bit, pick up a few Gus, and you will be part of the group in no time.

If you are looking for some good ones to check out.  I recommend Pacers, Potomac River Running, and Georgetown Running Company.

4) Run Small Local Races

Rockville Twilight 8k – Credit: delightfulldash.com

Hands down, the best way to get involved in your running community is to race your local running community.  No matter if you live in a big city or a small one, you can find frequent local races just about anywhere.  During the DC summer, the race calendar is jam packed with 8k Twilighters, 5k Friday series, half marathons, and trail races.

By joining in on these small locally organized races, you’ll start to see the same people over and over, and you will automatically have something to talk to them about.

Sign up for a run by yourself?  No problem, I do it all the time!  After the race just find that guy or girl you were pacing with for a few miles and congratulate him or her on a run well done. More than likely you will start to chat about how it went, and you just might have found your next running partner.

I ran the Ex2 Adventures Fall Back Yard Burn 10 mile trail series last fall. During the first race (of 5), I ended up pacing the last 4 miles with another runner. After the race we struck up a conversation, and by the end of the series we were looking for each other at the starting line before each race. I ran every single race with that person and we pushed each other harder and harder each time. It was great!

No Partisan Politics in DC (Running)!

Not everyone wants or needs to be a part of their running community.  For so many runners, it is 100% personal and that is the way they like it.  For most of us, the more we practice it, read about it, and talk about it, the better runners we become.

The DC running community is full of welcoming people ready to adopt anyone willing to join.  Go out there, find your group, race, store, or hashtag, and share your runs!

P.S. It never hurts to read and comment on your local running blogs either.  If you are looking for more info on running in Washington, DC, be sure to check out the ultimate Runner’s Guide to Washington, DC.

Over the past several years, trail running has had a huge increase in popularity.  Through books like Born to Run, people were exposed to the limitless possibilities trail running has to offer.

People are eager to leave the streets and pavement for the dirt and trees, they just need a good place to start.

Thankfully for those of us in Washington, D.C., Rock Creek Park offers a variety of trails for the dirt runner.  Some are more technical, but others are a great place for new trail runners to get a feel for the sport and begin training the body for the differences you face when running on trail instead of pavement.

Where to Find Beginner’s Trails

In the northern half of DC’s Rock Creek Park lies about 13 miles of horse trail.  Most of it sits west of the creek.  These trails offer up some of the best, fastest, and easiest trail running in the area.

The wide and mostly smooth paths are mostly absent of large rocks and roots, which allows the runner mostly solid footing.  While they can be hilly, these horse trails are different from trails like the Valley Trail, which has lots of quick ups and downs.  They offer more steady climbs and decent, giving the runner a place for strong workouts on very runnable terrain.

Photo from maps.google.com

Directions:  The best place to access the trails is right at the intersection of Broad Brand Road and Beach Drive.  This is also right where Beach Drive starts being blocked off to cars on holidays and weekends.  You will find two parking lots and bike racks just down the path towards Peirce Mill.  When facing north right at the Beach Drive gate, you will see two trails on your left.  The first shooting straight up the hill is the Western Ridge Trail, a great option for trail runners of all levels.  The second is the start of a horse trail which runs alongside the creek.  This is the perfect trail for beginners to hit the trail, and the start of what I like to call the ‘Beginner’s Loop’. 

3.5mi Beginner’s Trail Running Loop

The ‘Beginner’s Loop’ 

When people talk to me about where to try out trail running in Rock Creek Park, I almost always point them to the same place.  Most people who run or ride in RCP do it on Beach Drive, so they are familiar with this section of the park.  What they may not know is that from the same parking areas is a perfect 3.5 mile loop for beginner trail runners.

This section of horse trail is popular for hikers, dog walkers, horse riders, and runners alike.  Because a large section of it runs along the creek, it is nice and cool and about a mile is nearly flat.

The Loop:  Starting from the Beach Drive gate, run up the trail for about 1/3 mile before dropping back down to Rock Creek.  For the next mile you will follow along next to the creek on what is one of the best places for fast trail running in the park.  Follow the horse trail until it hits Joyce Road and the bridge (mile 1.45).  Turn left beside the road before crossing over with Ross Dr. and Joyce Rd. intersect.  Cross the road and turn left onto more horse trail which climbs into the woods and away from the creek.

Keep left at all of the trail forks, which lead you deeper into the woods before dropping back down toward the creek (mile 2.2).  You will then run down the hill, beneath the bridge, and eventually intersect the original trail which ran along Rock Creek.  Take a right and follow that trail back to the start.

The loop is about 3.5 miles in distance.  As you can see in the elevation chart below, it isn’t particularly flat, but is well maintained and very runnable.

The “Beginner’s Loop” Elevation Chart

A Few Things to Remember

Trail running is different than road running.  It works different muscles, can test your ankle strength, and is generally much slower than running on pavement.  As a general rule of thumb while you are first testing the waters, it is better to judge your workout from time than distance.  A 3.5 mile trail run may work your body more like a 5 mile road run.  Don’t be discouraged if you fatigue quicker than normal and don’t hit the splits you expect.

Ed Note:  This is a revisited post from TheHaySay.com.

For many people, running and vacation don’t fit well in one sentence. Unless, of course, “I’m not running on vacation” is the sentence.

But when you are in the middle of training, for whatever distance, “I’m not running on vacation” isn’t always an option.  Having done a lot of training and vacationing over the past few years, I’m here to say that the words vacation and running should fit in the same sentence.  Even a positive one like, “Whoa!  What a great time I had running on vacation!”

If this is surprising to you, then you are probably like most people and are too busy napping or drinking to even think about running when at {insert favorite vacation spot here}.  But that shouldn’t be the case.  Below I have outlined 4 simple reasons why you should be lacing up running shoes instead of flip flops.  Besides, there will be plenty of time for Mai-tais and puzzles after logging a few miles.

4 Reasons Running and Vacationing Work

1) It’s Fresh – Often at home I find myself running the same routes several times a week. I run past the same intersections, up the same hills, and along the same trails almost every day. For the most part I could do it with my eyes closed.  Vacation gives you the opportunity to explore this new town, city, state, or country that you probably don’t know very well.

Narragansett, RI

Over a vacation a few years ago in Rhode Island I went out for what I had planned to be a 10 mile run. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that if I went out this one road, it would follow the coastline for several miles.   What I found might have seemed normal to the local, but it was brilliant to me.  Dozens of cut-off streets sending me right down to the water, views of lighthouses, and massive coastal homes.

Minutes and miles were flying by as I ran through these new streets.  I ended up running several miles more than planned and enjoying every minute of it.

2) Change of Conditions – When training and running at home, I am conditioning my body to certain variables.  DC has only so many hills, is always at the same elevation, and tends to be hellishly hot in the summer and wet and cold in the winter.  Over time my body has adapted to just that.

Unless you like to visit places just like where you live, then most likely you are going to a different climate, with varying elevation changes and types of routes.  Training in different conditions not only makes you stronger physically, but will help you adjust mentally when running a race with different variables.

For example, the trails I ran this summer while on vacation in Vermont were a lot different than the typical trail I run in Rock Creek Park.  That challenged how I was able to concentrate on footing and speed, and over time will make me a stronger runner.  That doesn’t just apply to terrain.  The same thing goes with weather and altitude.

3) Let Lose and Explore – If you are anything like me, you often find yourself totally caught up in weekly mileage stats.  Too frequently I’m so focused on how many miles I’ve run that week that I forget to go out and run for the love of running. I often pick my routes for the length, not the enjoyment.

Because you usually don’t know where you are going when you take off for a jog while on vacation, it gives you the perfect opportunity to go out there and just run. Don’t bother opening up your mapmyrun account, and leave that Garmin at home. Pick a set amount of time and a direction, and take off.

There is no better way to get to know a new place than to do it on foot.  Running is the perfect way to explore.

4) Taking Care of the Body and Mind – Vacation is all about rejuvenation.  We go on vacation to leave the stresses, complications, and hardships of every day life behind.  We are trying to take care of both the body and mind.

Running serves that purpose for many of us at home, so let it serve that purpose on vacation.  Instead of thinking about that work e-mail that you might have thought about during a run at home, let your mind just float and relax.  Try meditative running.  Try running without a watch.  Try slowing your pace or focusing on your breath.

A nice, easy run is always rejuvenating.  Let it enhance your time away and relax the body and mind.

Running through your vacation can seem like an added stress you would rather just leave at home, but with the right outlook it can be a real highlight. Keep up your running, keep enjoying your vacation.

Anyone else do any vacation running this summer?

It is easy to be inspired these days.  Between heart warming Olympic stories, incredible videos and movies of people achieving what seemed to be the unachievable, to books documenting the lives of our idols.

In the age of blogs, twitter, and youtube, it is hard to NOT be inspired.

Just the other day I was watching the men’s 10,000 meter at the London Games and couldn’t believe how much it made me want to run.  I had already gone out for my run that day, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I had plans just a few minutes later I would have laced back up and gone back out.  And to think, that was just a 25 minute race I was watching.

We are constantly plugged into our phones and computers, where people’s daily workouts and weekly miles litter our feeds.  You can’t escape it.  People are doing great things and you are hearing about it. It is inspiring.

But once you get inspired, what do you do with that motivation?  If left untouched, it will be forgotten as quickly as it arrived.  You need to take advantage of it, use it, let it feed you, in order to achieve what you feel so inspired to do.

Figure Out Why

Reading a great article or watching a movie might be inspiring, but in order for it to be lasting something has to really resonate with you.  The first step in channeling that inspiration is to figure out exactly why it inspires you. 

I recently read Scott Jurek’s new book Eat and Run.  If you don’t know about Scott, he is a vegan ultrarunner with easily one of the best careers in ultrarunning history.  Everything about that book was inspiring.  From the incredible race reports, to the discussions about eating whole, plant based foods.  Every time I put the book down all I could think about was running my next race.

What resonated with me most was  his goal of finding himself:  physically, mentally, and spiritually through these ultra adventures.

 Knowing exactly why you are inspired will help you know how to keep yourself inspired.

Commit

The only way to ensure that that inspiration goes towards something is to actually do something!  Committing to a goal is the first step in achieving a goal.  It is easy to say, “I’ll start trying to lose weight” or “I’ll start running more,” but without setting a goal those sayings rarely take shape.

Commit to training for your first marathon, losing that 10 pounds, or cooking at home 5 nights a week.  Set the goal, with real, tangible rules, and stick to it.

I had run a few marathons when I registered for my first 50k.  It was because of the inspiration I (and so many others) gained from the book Born to Run that the idea first came to mind.  Instead of thinking on it, I just signed up.  I knew that if I just sat back and waited to sign up for an ultra when I was ready, I would have never signed up.  I needed to take that giant first step in order to start taking the baby steps of training.

Pick your goal, commit yourself to it, and just roll with it. 

Remind Yourself

Even if you know exactly why it is something motivates you, and even if you have already committed to a real, tangible goal, achieving that goal can still be extremely difficult.  If it wasn’t difficult, you would have been able to do it long ago.

It is critical to find ways to continue that motivation by getting it from other places.  It may have been an inspiring blog post that made you decide to run a half marathon, but you will probably (definitely) need more just that post to keep you going.  Finding motivation could come from a number of places:

  • Family and friends
  • Blogs and books about your goal
  • A group of like-minded folks
  • Making the goal about more than just yourself through fundraisers
  • An arsenal of inspirational movies

Just to name a few.

After the excitement of training for my first ultra started to wear off and I was faced with the reality of 4 hour training runs, it took a lot more than just the memories of Born to Run.  It was the support from family and friends, numerous inspirational race reports, and the encouragement of others that kept me going.

Being inspired is an amazing feeling.  But achieving the goal you were inspired to do is even better.  As cheesy as it sounds, it really is true that you can do things you never thought possible.  All it takes hard work, commitment, and the inspiration to get yourself started.

Now turn off that computer and get your butt out there.  Go!

—————-

Photo Credit

Sometimes you hear of a company that just does it right.  A company that provides a great product or service, and on top of that gives back to a community in need.  It would be great if you could count on all companies to do just that, but unfortunately they are few and far between.

Well the running world recently added just such a company.  Janji is a running apparel company that is both putting out quality products and donating a portion of each sell toward helping the millions of malnourished people around the world.

The idea is simple.  A percentage of the profits of every item sold goes back fighting the global food and water shortage.  As their website says, “Runners require proper hydration and healthy food to help us train, run our 5ks, and finish our marathons, while hundreds of millions around the world lack the simple nourishment just to survive. ”

Me sporting a Janji shirt on top of Sugarloaf Mt.

In the back of a bus on the way to the 2010 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Mike Burnstein and David Spandorfer were trying to think of a way that runners could give back in ways other than charity races.  By the time they were on their way home, the idea of Janji, which means “promise” in Malaysian, was born.

They currently work with two organizations: KickStart, who subsidizes sustainable water pumps for agriculture in Kenya, and Med and Foods for Kids, which provides medicine and food for children in Haiti.  $4 of each $30 shirt goes directly to each of these hand selected organizations.  Mike Burnstein, one of the two founders, told the Wicked Local that, “We looked at all of the organizations for [certain] things: They had to provide an innovative solution to their country’s needs. Instead of just handing out food or bottles of water, they had to have a systemic approach that attacks the problem at the root. They need proven results, to prove that their methods work, and can provide us with a tangible amount of social good per dollar that we donate.”

What about the Clothes?

Currently Janji has two tops and two shorts in both men’s and women’s designs.  One of each is designed to represent the colors and symbols of either Haiti or Kenya.

The good people over at Janji were willing to send me over a pair of shorts and shirt to give a try (Full disclosure, they asked that I donate the $4 for each item which goes towards the aid organizations).  A few weeks ago I received the Kenya shorts and shirt, and have been giving them a go.

Shirt – Immediately after pulling them out of the tubular shipping container, I loved the look and the feel of the shirt.  It is a 100% Polyester moisture wick shirt.  I was pleasantly surprised at how soft it was to the touch, and I appreciated the fact that the ink from the design was also soft.  I’m the kind of person who’s skin is irritated easily from certain shirts, and I am happy to report that this shirt was perfect.

The shirt also fit really well.  It was a true medium, and the design fits well while running.

Shorts – As for the shorts, I had asked for a medium, which has been my size in running short since I really took up running.  Unfortunately they fit a little small.  For that reason, I don’t think I can give them an true assessment on performance while running.  I can, however, say that Janji has another great design with these shorts.  Also 100% Polyester (both interior and exterior), they are lightweight, breathable, and cool.  They also have the interior pocket, which is the first thing I check for before buying a running short.  When I get my next pair, I will go for a size up.

Would I buy them again and recommend them to others?

Absolutely.  They stack up against any specialty shirt from any major running company.  So why wouldn’t you help

To support and learn more about Janji, visit their website, Facebook, or Twitter.  You can pick up their products online or in DC at Potomac River Running company.

The Giveaway!

Janji has generously agreed to give one of YOU a free shirt too!

I’m trying something new today that I first saw over at Macheesmo.  It is simple giveaway program called Punchtab.  It will allow you to enter the contest several times by doing different things.  Each time you complete one of those things (liking me on facebook, for example), it will automatically give you another entry.  You can sign in through facebook (it doesn’t post anything to your feed unless you ask it to) or through your e-mail address (no spam, promise).

Good luck!  The contest will be closed and the winner announced next Tuesday, August 13, 2012!  But even if you don’t win.  I’d strongly recommend supporting Janji though their online store.

Photo Credit: leander.hutton

Each city has their jewels.  The kind of place every local runner keeps on their list of regular routes and every visiting runner wishes they knew about.  Chicago’s Lakefront Path and New York’s Central Park are just a few such examples.

Washington, DC is no exception to this rule.  The city is home to plenty of unique and wonderful places that can make logging the long miles feel more like a Sunday afternoon stroll.  The city offers up plenty of options, from closed roads to dirt trails to world class views of the monuments.  Here is a list of my top five places to run in Washington, DC.

DC Routes Not to Miss

Embassy Row5)  Embassy Row – When people think of Washington, DC, they probably think first of the White House, then the monuments, then maybe corruption the Capitol.  What probably isn’t the first thing to pop into most people’s mind, but is something those of us who live in DC see all the time, are the more than 175 embassies scattered all throughout the city.

Massachusetts Avenue, NW, aka Embassy Row, offers a unique experience you will not find many other places.  Starting from Dupont Circle, run straight up Mass Ave for a few miles of gradual hill.  Along the way you will pass embassies from Haiti to India.  With wide sidewalks and low foot traffic, this is an ideal spot for your road marathon training.

Nearing the top of the hill, you can enjoy the quiet of Rock Creek Park on your right and the US Naval Observatory (home of our Vice President) on your left.  You are greeted at the top of the hill by the National Cathedral sitting at the corner of Mass Ave and Wisconsin Ave.

Don’t forget to wave hello to the dozens of security men guarding their countries’ territory, or to distract yourself from the hill by playing the ‘can you name that flag’ game.

4)  Beach Drive – When talking to someone about running in DC, Beach Drive is my favorite place to mention.  On the weekends, miles of this beautiful road which, winds its way through Rock Creek Park, are blocked off to cars.  Runners, bikes, roller bladders and walkers unite in a community of fitness at all hours of the day.

If you look closely enough, it will be hard to miss the dozens of deer and Blue Heron which call that section of the park home.

3)  C&O Canal – The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail runs 184.5 miles along the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD.  This is an extremely popular trail for both bikers and runners, as it is very well kept and consists of a mostly crushed stone surface.  It’s because of this trail that many DC runners are actually trail runners and don’t know it!

The trail itself feels mostly flat, but offers beautiful views of both the river and the surrounding area.  While on your run, you will pass by several old canal houses, giving you a bit of history as you run.

This is another super popular place for marathon groups training on the weekends.  The first 10 mile stretch from DC in particular, are filled with runners and bikers soaking in a little nature.

2)  Trails of Rock Creek Park – I talk a lot about the trails of Rock Creek Park on this blog,  mostly because that is where I end up logging about 80% of my miles.  The crazy part about these trails is that most DC residents have no idea they exist.  I didn’t until a few years ago when a former roommate told me how I could hit the dirt to keep cool.

Rock Creek Park is home to over 30 miles of dirt singletrack and horse trail.  Much of it is smooth and wide, making it perfect for fast trail running, while other sections are technical and steep, allowing for some more technical terrain.  It is quiet, cool, and peaceful deep within the park.  I consider this the perfect escape from the bustling roads just a short jog away.

1)  The National Mall – Nothing says DC like the National Mall. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this small portion of the city to soak in the sights, explore the numerous museums, and nearly melt from the unprotected heat.

But that shouldn’t keep the runners out.  In fact, the smooth paths circling the National Mall offer a very unique, very American experience.  To beat the crowds, all you need to do is go out for that run in the morning or evening.  On a Sunday morning in early fall, you’ll be joined by hundreds of runners just like yourself.

If you don’t mind the darkness, running the National Mall after dark is an incredible experience.  With the monuments illuminated in such a gorgeous way, nothing feels more DC.

 

Guest Post by Alex Bea.

Taking a breather at one of Skyline’s many overlooks

It’s easy to live in Washington, DC for years and start to think that we are impossibly far away from anything resembling nature. If the Metro doesn’t go there, it can’t be within a reasonable distance. It seems that is incorrect.

Besides the wonderful Rock Creek Park, which Doug Hay himself reintroduced me to, we really aren’t that far from the far more incredible Shenandoah mountains. I should have known better being a DC area native and one time Shenandoah camper, but it is not that far to get out of town and experience not only nature, but great opportunities for trail running and biking just two hours outside the city.

The Location:

Doug, two other friends, and I decided it was time for some (relatively) serious biking. I’d been trail running with Doug some, but it was time for a change of pace. After a few rounds of email decision-making, we decided to start our ride from the Matthew’s Arm campground, camping there that night.

With a stop for coffee and bagels on a Saturday morning, our trip from Capitol Hill was just a bit over two hours. Matthew’s Arm is on the northern end of the Shenandoah, just south of Front Royal. Our ride took us out of the campground and south a a bit over 15 miles to the Skyland Resort in Luray, the highest point in the Shenandoah mountains.

The Experience:

The Shenandoahs are really an incredible resource. I mean “resource” not in the “what can we pull out and burn/cut/make stuff from” way, but in the way that poetry is a great resource to expand your mind. Treat it with respect and we all come out better. I’ve experienced more impressive parks in my days, but these are beautiful mountains with nearly endless views. I can say having camped there as a child that the roads, campgrounds, minimal outposts, and all look essentially the same as 20 years ago. There aren’t many things you can say that about.

Having devoted the weekend to this trip, and being normally crammed into short bus or Metro trips where I have to stay vigilant for my stop, a two hour drive was a fine distance to stretch my legs travel-wise and catch up on Doug’s life since the 50 miler.

Working off one of our comrades’ experience, we started the bike ride going south from the campground. Two things to note here: 1) This is a nice, challenging route. 2) The beginning sucks. In an ideal world, mountain road rides would start easier, maybe on a flat stretch or slight incline. The road going out from Matthew’s Arm is neither. It is a Big. Freakin’. Hill. At the very least, make sure your legs are warm, because otherwise it could be a recipe for a pulled muscle right out the gate and a really crappy day. You’ll be rewarded with a nice downhill once you hit Skyline Drive.

As you can see here, our ride was a nice mix of windy and straighter stretches. I wish I could read the topographical map better, but I can tell you that the first ten miles or so south of Matthew’s Arm are also a mix up going up and down. The last few finishing at Skyland Resort just keep going up, however.

Along the way there are great overlooks providing safe, scenic places to rest and refuel. I was refueling with mostly a fruit and nut trail mix and Clif Shot Blocks. That, and plenty of water. With a full Camelbak I never ran out, refilling at the turnaround, but I also never stopped drinking. Even so, I did feel dehydrated when we got back to the campsite.

With power out due to a storm throughout the national park, one of the guys did try to score some doomed popcicles for extra energy at Skyland. Unfortunately they were having none of that–that’s what we get for trying to help.

The good side of all that going up? Coming down. Now, I like going fast, but I also have the memory of a bike crash fairly fresh in my mind. Still, on a hot summer afternoon after a whole lot of going up and a pair of tired legs, going down sure was fun. There were some solid hills going back, in particular the last mile or two before getting back to the campground.

The Verdict

Great escape and solid riding. One thing I hadn’t counted on biking in the mountains is that 30-40 miles of mountain road are like an additional 20 or 30 on flatter terrain. That, or I’m more out of shape than I thought. Regardless, if you’re mostly a city rider like I am, be ready to go fewer miles than you intended or be ready to be humbled.

Planning your turnaround by time rather than distance might be a good idea if you’re not used to this kind of riding. That said, the route we took ended up being a great challenge for three of us without wiping us out too bad. The fourth of us was weeks away from an Ironman race, and if that’s you, keep on pedaling til your legs start talking back.

If you live in the DC area, the Shenandoah mountains are great for all kinds of escapes. Whether it’s biking, trail running, or simply camping, you should get on out there. Unfortunately not being too far from DC also means that it won’t be a total escape from the DC heat. Certainly cooler, but not incredibly so. I’d love to do this ride again in late September when I can be sure the exhaustion is from hard work and not the heat.

With that, I’ll leave you with the stop motion video I took with my handlebar-mounted camera. The batteries ran out before getting to Skyland, but rest-assured that I’ll be back out there to give it another shot sometime real soon.

[youtube_sc url=DCSB_GdNTns width=500]

You are a runner.  You love the sound of your foot hitting the pavement, the smell of the dust that rises from the trail with every stride, and the feeling of salty sweat dripping off your nose.  But sometimes, to get better at something, you must stop doing it.  I’m not talking about long term, or even short-term really, I’m talking about that little thing everyone talks about but most runners never do.  Cross-training.

In my opinion, cross-training is by far the #1 way to stay healthy and injury free without missing out on a good opportunity to continue building strength and endurance.

Since finishing my first 50 mile race, I have had to rework my training schedule to fit both my physical and mental capabilities.  I wanted to take training down a notch without losing all of the strength I had built up before the race.  In order to do that, I am working out more often, mixing in different types of running, and incorporating a lot more cross-training into the mix.

But I’m a Runner, Why do Anything Else?

It is counter intuitive in many ways.  You are a runner, you want to be a better runner, why would you do something other than running?  While running is a great way to lose weight, add muscle, and gain endurance, running works a very specific set of muscles and pounds a very specific set of joints.  Varying your workouts not only with different types of running workouts, but also including non-running workouts will help you build overall fitness and in return make you a stronger runner.

3 Reasons Why You Should be Cross-Training

1)  Balance Muscle Groups

You wouldn’t go to the gym to work on your arms and only do bicep curls.  No, you work on all of the major arm muscles.  So why would you do that with running?  Running works muscles all over your body, but it is constantly working only the same set of muscles.  It is important to also build strength in the rest of your muscle groups.

By doing a different activity, such as swimming or cycling, you are still working your lungs and gaining endurance, but you are also using muscles that may sit nearly dormant during a run.  Keeping that new set of muscles more engaged will help prevent injury and work on your overall strength.

2)  Active Recovery

You hear it over and over again, “be sure to rest after a long run or difficult workout.”  It is true, many times you should have 100% rest days.  Most of the time, however, your body can (and will want to) handle another workout as long as you are not stressing the same joints or tender muscles as the previous workout.

Active recovery is a lighter workout following a particularly intense workout or race.  Say you had a hard day on the track on Tuesday, you may wish to leave the running shoes in the closet and go for an easy swim on Wednesday.  Yoga, cycling, swimming, or hiking are all great ways to use cross-training as active recovery.

3)  Mixing it Up

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, and running is no exception.  Most runners at one point or another are going to get bored with the same old routines.  I help battle those thoughts with new routes, new races, new challenges, friends (both new and old), and cross-training.

Cross-Training is a great way to mix up your regular routine without skipping a workout.  Sometimes you just don’t feel like running, but maybe you do feel like biking, hiking, hitting the gym, or going to a yoga class.  By adding a little variety, it will go along way with keeping you from burning out, all the while engaging and working muscles that will make you stronger.

Recommended Cross-Training Locations in Washington, DC

1)  Cycling Beach Drive –  If you have a bike and live in DC, Beach Drive is a must-do on a beautiful Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  The northern half is closed off to cars, allowing for plenty of safe space for bikers, runners, bladers, and the like to enjoy a tranquil road next to Rock Creek.  About 5 miles is closed off each weekend, but many bikers continue on Beach Drive into Maryland, where cars are used to large groups of riders and often avoid the area.

2)  Swimming at Hain’s Point –  DC has plenty of public pools, a couple of which stand out above the rest.  For lap swimming, the indoor pool in Tenlytown is a world-class facility with plenty of lanes.  But who wants to swim indoors during the summer?  The public pool at Hain’s Point is one of the best kept public pool secrets.  It is clean, nice, and doesn’t have all the rowdy kids many of the other pools have.  Rumor has it, Former Mayor Fenty favored this pool when it came to repairs, because this is his pool of choice as well.

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Call for Comments:  Do you cross-train?  What is your favorite type of workout?  Where do you like to mix it up?

“I don’t know how to train properly.”

“I don’t want to train alone.”

“I can’t stay motivated when no one else is running with me.”

These are just a few of the many excuses runners use when they are either ready to quit or simply don’t want to get started.  But there is bad news for the easy-way-outers; these are no longer good excuses.  In today’s world, the internet keeps us from ever being without a running partner or training community.

The internet offers so much information, inspiration, and community, that no runner should ever feel alone again.  Here at Rock Creek Runner, I strive to offer some of the community and advice I’ve gained from thousands of miles on the trails and numerous races.

But I couldn’t do it without the support and knowledge I have given to me by others.  Some of that support comes from family and friends, but a lot of the knowledge, encouragement and motivation that keeps me running comes from blogs just like the one you are reading.

The beauty is, no longer is top notch running and training information a secret!  All you need to know is where to look.

Below you will find what I believe are the 10 best running blogs for any runner.

Training and Information

1) Runblogger – Runblogger is all about the running. From training tips to product reviews, the author (Pete) offers up his experience and advice on the whole spectrum.  Pete is a father of three and college professor, and he knows what it is like to juggle a busy life while keeping up the training.  His tips and good stories can relate to any of us looking to improve on our running while juggling a busy schedule.

2)  No Meat Athlete – No Meat Athlete is full of passion, both for the sport and the fuel.  Matt writes inspirational and educational pieces geared toward runners of all levels.  With a few training plans and tons of recipes, there is something for every reader.  Regular contributors like Susan Lacke (and now myself) mix it up a bit.

3)  Strength Running – Jason from Strength Running is a 2:39 marathoner with tons of running experience to share.  He is a running coach by trade, but shares all kinds of great training techniques, beginner tips, and fueling information for free.  This blog is geared toward runners of all levels, but is especially critical for those looking to improve on half and marathon PRs.

4)  Runner Dude’s Blog – Just a guy who loves to run and loves to write about it.  You’ll find anything from race reports to runner’s recipes.  The author seems to have gone through all of the same triumph and struggles you have, and has written about how to work through it.

Gear

5)  DCRainmaker – The king of all things sports technology.  Ray has reviewed just about anything out there.  I’m not talking about a short product review highlighting the pros and cons, he dives into in-depth reviews including everything from photos of packaging to detailed comments from hours of testing.  He has a triathlon focus, but the blog is chalked full of running tech stuff.  Before buying that next GPS, always check out what Ray has to say.

6)  Running and Rambling – The minimalist movement seems to grow more and more every day.  Running and Rambling is your go-to place for the minimalist runner looking for reviews on shoes and other gear.  The best part, he seems to give something away nearly every day.

Inspiration

7)  Footnotes – Written by professional ultrarunner Joe Grant, footnotes offers poetic inspiration for the distance of runner and mountain lover.  The beauty of his words, love for the mountains, and gift of adventure and running gives you an incredible look into his running adventures.  On top of that, he lugs a big camera with him on most outings, which allows for beautiful shots from some of the world’s most remote of places.

8)  Predawn Runner – Anyone who is in the middle of training for a big race knows that training can be very time consuming.  Predawn Runner offers tips and tricks for the busy athlete looking to fit the training into their schedule.

Running News

9)  i Run Far – Arguably the best website for ultrarunning news, live race coverage, training columns, and advice from the elites.  Brian is a full-time blogger who travels all over the world to bring you great ultramarathon coverage.  If you are into following the action, getting inspired by the accomplishments of the big names, or finding training advice for your next 50, this is the place to go.

10)  Competitor – Competitor is not technically a blog, but it is a huge online resource for endurance athletes with tons of big names, funny people, and world-class athletes writing articles.  This is the kind of site you can eagerly check daily for inspiration, news, and tips.

Running can be a solitary sport, but you shouldn’t ever feel alone.  It is from blogs like any of these that we can all learn from each other and share our stories.  Do you have a running blog you cann’t live without?  Share it with us in the comments.

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