Sunday, March 2, 2008

I can fly, or I can run around the airport

For the last few weeks a co-worker has been recommending running the trail around the Arlington Airport. He claims it's 5 ½ miles around, so twice around would make a decent 11 mile run.

With the various races and hilly runs that I've been doing, I hadn't managed a trip out to Arlington until today. I designated it as my Sunday destination run earlier in the week.

Before I committed myself to a long-distance run in a strange location, I needed a little more information. My co-worker wasn't around on Friday, so I emailed the Arlington Runner's Club with a very important question: Are there restrooms available along the trail?

The answer came back quite promptly (thank you ARC), but not too satisfactorily. Apparently the only restrooms were located at the Stillaguamish Athletic Club, near the beginning of the course. One restroom in 5 ½ miles made me a little nervous—but it wasn't impossible. As long as I had the one restroom.

Well, they forgot to mention one thing—that the Stillaguamish Athletic Club doesn't open until 2 p.m. on Sundays! And I got there at 11 a.m. (which was still an hour later than I'd intended).

But I am nothing if not resourceful, and I had already noted that there was a shopping center with various shops, including Starbucks and McDonald's, only about half a mile from the trail. It can be done. (In fact, I stopped to use the restroom at McDonald's before starting out.)

Since this was a strange course to me, I was a little nervous about whether the trail would be clearly marked. During my run I encountered occasional runners and walkers, but it was pretty quiet out there.

The first ¾ mile or so (heading east from the Athletic Club) follows the main road, on a well-trod dirt path. At the second stoplight, a brown "trail" sign directed me to turn left. Happily, these signs were well-positioned along the length of the trail. The trail alternates between gravel and packed dirt, with one short paved section. I know lots of people like to run on gravel, but I personally prefer packed dirt or a paved surface. My favorite surface (which was not very common) was packed dirt covered with grass and moss.

I ran alongside the airport, although all I could really see of it was some buildings. I didn't see any planes. The trail also passes, or actually runs through, what appears to be some kind of gravel yard.

My favorite part was about three miles in, where the trail winds through a wooded area. It reminded me of some of the footpaths I walked in England. There were a couple of spots where I was confused over which way the path went, but if I had been more alert I would actually have noticed there were trail signs marking the way!

Eventually the trail met up with the main road again, and I was almost done with my first loop. To be on the safe side, I decided to veer off the path and run the extra half mile to Starbucks to use the bathroom before I started around again. Plus, the extra distance added almost a mile to my total run!

The second time around the distance seemed to pass more quickly. This almost always happens once I become a little familiar with a route. Instead of wondering where I am, how far I have left to go, where I'm going next, etc., I am able to recognize landmarks and I'm often surprised how quickly they appear!

Before I knew it (well, not quite that fast), I was approaching the road for the second time and this time I turned left to return to my car. In the last mile or two of the run, I felt myself speeding up and running a little harder. I often like to push the end of a long run, even if that's not an official part of the day's training plan.

This time around, my stop at Starbuck's was by car, and I left with a latte in my hand!

(My opinion of the Arlington Airport trail: It's a good run, a good length, but really needs better restroom access, ideally at the beginning and midway on the trail.)

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