"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Favorite Runs Outside of Pittsburgh #4

C&O Canal Towpath Trail- Hancock, MD, Mile 124
There are 184.5 miles on this trail, so plenty of places to choose. I personally like the section around mile 124.
I can't remember when I first started running on the towpath, but I first came across it in June 2001, while waiting for my then-girlfriend to be dropped off in Hancock by her mother so I could bring her to Pittsburgh. It was a little more than halfway between Pittsburgh and DC, so I made it a regular stop on my trips.
The canal is a National Historic Park along the north bank of the Potomac, so in addition to increased maintenance, the trail has numerous educational displays, though I am rarely in a position to stop and read them. The parking lot in Hancock has a permanent bathroom building which is also maintained well. The dirt trail is soft but firm. I've rarely been crowded when running, and I often see other runners out there. Most of the route is shaded, and although the slope is very gradual, every now and then a quick hill breaks the monotony.
It's an easy 2.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh and 1.5 hours from DC, at the juncture of I-68, I-70 and US 522.
I typically run east and turn around, though that leaves me with a slight uphill on the way back.
In 2004, I started noticing a correlation regarding my runs on the Towpath. When I ran on the towpath after interviewing for a job, I would either get the job or advance in the application process. It was enough to make it part of my traveling routine.
The GRC frequently runs on the towpath, and one runner did nothing but Towpath runs for a while, giving him a nickname, but the stretch close to Georgetown feels distinctly different from the Hancock portion I enjoy so much. Maybe the eastern section is too close to the Clara Barton Parkway, maybe it's that I haven't traveled for 2+ hours to get there, but it isn't the same.

My coach Steve Taylor told me stories about workouts on the trail, which he also recalled in a Running Times article on his training partner Steve Spence:
"A month before the trials, Spence and Taylor completed a memorable 3-hour run. Starting comfortably, the pair gradually dropped the pace and really pushed the last 4 miles of what ended up being a 30-miler. "We were down in the 5:30 range for the 40 minutes leading up to the last 4 miles," Taylor recalls. "I ended up averaging 4:56 for the last 4 and Steve left me with a mile and half to go and averaged 4:51. After that run we knew we were ready." "
When I run my next marathon, I will likely do a point-to-point long run, assuming I can find someone else with whom to drive out there and either run or bike with me. I am excited to see more than eight miles at a time, since I have only done out-and-back runs so far. Although the trail has mile markers, I am not sure how accurate they are, so I would prefer to do that pre-marathon run with someone who has a bike-mounted odometer to confirm mileage.
I vividly remember a 16-mile run I did to the east Nov. 7, 2005, when I kept picking up speed on a perfect Sunday afternoon, on my way to Westminster, MD for an interview. That autumn, I spent a lot of time considering living in western Maryland, so it might have become one of my training mainstays, rather than a treat for when I travel.

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, the legend of the towpath moniker. I never ran on the towpath much in high school but once I was in college and running 70+ miles per week during the summer, I discovered the towpath was a great place to accumulate easy miles on an earthen surface. During the summers it was not uncommon for me to run 5 days per week on the towpath, sometimes visiting the trail for am/pm runs on the same day.

    In hindsight, it would have made more sense to alternate towpath days with rock creek days, which is now my custom.