We run on the C&O Canal towpath starting at the Carderck Parking Lot marked on the map below. It's only minutes off the Beltway - very convenient to down-county. (Consider the Needwood runs if you're up-county.
Map showing Carderock parking lot where we meet: http://goo.gl/maps/3uM6T
Directions: Take the Beltway to the last Maryland exit ("Carderock/Great Falls"), go about one mile north (away from DC) and exit at Carderock (the first exit). Turn left after the Stop sign, and follow the twisty road into the park and through the underpass under the canal. At the T, turn right and then immediately turn left into the first parking lot (shown by the blue mark on the map). If you are coming the first time, be aware there is sometimes traffic on the Beltway (you may want to give yourself a few extra minutes). If the Beltway is really backed up on a given day, there are some alternate routes you can take from either the end of Seven Locks Road or Potomac Village (see a map to scope them out).
Photo courtesy of Cathy Blessing.
On Thursday evenings, starting at 6:30 PM (April 24 - September 4 in 2014) we run on the C&O Canal towpath and, if desired, nearby trails, beginning at Carderock. It's only minutes off the beltway - very convenient to down-county. (Consider the Needwood runs if you're up-county.) The towpath is a forgiving running surface that is softer than asphalt. It provides a good way to mentally unwind after a day at work.
We run at all paces, generally for an hour or slightly longer (usually 4-8 miles depending on pace). There are usually runners that run about 9:15-10:30/mile as an easy (LSD) pace, but also runners that are faster or slower. If you want to stay on the towpath, runs are out-and-back, so you can go whatever distance you want. If you want to run on the trails, many of the runners veer off into the adjoining trails after about 2 miles on the towpath, making some loops from 6.5 to 8 miles in length. A popular route involves taking trails (such as the Valley, Gold Mine Loop, and Gold Mine Spur trails) to Great Falls and then coming back on the towpath for an 8 mile run. If you are new to the run (or have a bad sense of directions!), the regulars can accompany you and show you the route. The C&O Canal NPS website has a map that shows the area and trails that we run - click on the Great Falls Hiking Trails link under Park Maps on http://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/parkmaps.htm to get the map as a pdf.
The trails slope up towards MacArthur Blvd. and have some hills, but are not very technical, and in fact are some of the best around for running. You can use your usual running shoes. We sometimes see deer, fox, owls, beaver, blue heron, kingfishers, woodpeckers, turtles, and other wildlife – not to mention ducks, geese, and gooslings. Be prepared for puddles and mud if it is raining or has rained. Bathrooms are at the start/end and along the towpath. Although much of the run is in the shade, it can get hot on summer evenings. While water is usually available in a couple of locations, please carry water to keep hydrated.
If you are training for a fall marathon or half, this run is a great way to get in a mid-distance Thursday run with good company. You have options for hills and can pick up the pace coming back on the towpath if you want.
We have created a Yahoo page called Carderockrun so people who participate in this run can communicate. Please click on the link to see the page and join. You will have to get approval from the moderator for your first post.
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Montgomery County Road Runners Club
P.O. Box 1703, Rockville, MD 20849