As convenient as one can be, a track can be a crutch for your running, giving you plenty of false confidence.
Four laps of the track is still nine meters short of a mile. You’ll never find racing conditions as perfect as a track. You can check your pace every 100 meters. And most races in the D.C. area involve a 180-degree turn, ready to rob you of all of your rhythm.
So switch things up by getting off the track and mimicking what you’ll face in a race. You have great opportunities to do that on the C&O Canal Towpath or Capital Crescent Trail. The best place to reach both is Fletcher’s Cove, at 4940 Canal Road.
In case you aren’t familiar with either, the Capital Crescent is paved from Georgetown to Bethesda and includes half mile marks. The Towpath, running all the way west to Cumberland, is a natural surface, ranging from sandy gravel in Georgetown to soft dirt west of Old Angler’s Inn. In case you miss the ornery walkers in lane one of your local track, there are plenty of geese, ready to hiss at you and chase you. The towpath has mile markers that are generally pretty close, but by no means perfect.
Try running time segments, 10 minutes, for instance, rather than distances, and breaking them up in the middle by turning around and doing an out-and-back. See how it feels to stop and pivot versus swinging wide. Pivoting is a more precise way to turn, but you end up basically stopping and starting again; swinging wide adds some distance to the run, but lets you preserve some of your momentum. Whatever turns you on.
There’s a great opportunity to race out there June 19. The Georgetown Running Club is holding the Father’s Day 8k for the seventh year, but this year things are a little different. The race will start at 8 a.m., to avoid the late-June heat, and the the new location at Fletcher’s Cove will provide a lot more parking.
The club had been using the race to fund its elite racing team, but thanks to sponsorships by Pacers and New Balance, proceeds will go to the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That money will go to assist the budget for Cades Cove, a valley on the Tennessee side of the park dear to the late Lauren Woodall Roady, a D.C. resident and GRC team member in 2012.
I had the opportunity last year to run at Cades Cove, where Lauren and her family traveled from Knoxville for vacations. An 11-mile scenic road circles the valley, and it’s closed to traffic Wednesday and Saturday mornings, perfect for running. It’s certainly worth protecting.
In addition to the chance to race a fast and scenic course for a good cause, there is father-daughter and father-son team scoring, and a kids’ kilometer for the budding distance runners.
The 8k distance also lets you get the better end of the metric race deal, instead of notching your third or sixth mile of a 5k or 10k and having a little more to go, you get to stop a little short of five miles.