Anyone who owns running shoes in Northern Virginia has likely encountered Ray Pugsley at some time or another, either through one of his 10 Potomac River Running Store retail locations or at one of the hundreds of local races or running events that his company supports. A local legend, Pugsley has been supplying shoes, gear, and fitness advice to runners and walkers across the region since opening his first store in Ashburn in 2003.
Ray, who majored in geology at Dartmouth and has a master’s in hydrology from Johns Hopkins, and his wife, Cathy, both left successful corporate careers to follow their mutual life-long passion for running, and today their local and family-owned chain has locations in Arlington, Burke, Fairfax, Leesburg, Ashburn, South Riding, Reston, Springfield, Vienna, and Washington, DC. The Potomac River logo (= PR =) can be found on tents or promotional materials at most area races, and the company supports almost every public and private school running team in the region. They also offer popular training programs for adults and children.
As you might suspect, Pugsley has the inside scoop on great trails in the area that provide amazing natural views and interesting challenges, while, in some cases, avoiding urban crowds. He shares a few here:
Off the Beaten Track
Bull Run/Occoquan Trail. Located along the Occoquan Reservoir in Fairfax County, this 17-mile trail runs through 5,000 acres of woodland. Loaded with rocks, roots, and stream crossings, it is challenging and lots of fun.
Prince William Forest Park. Not as frequently visited as other resources in our region, this trail is hilly with some slightly technical spots, and it offers lots of single track miles in a 37-mile spiderweb trail network.
Appalachian Trail at Bear’s Den. Close enough to mention, this is “real trail running” if you are looking for a challenge. With hills, rocks, switchbacks, and great views, this famous trail has something for every level of trail runner, and lots of single track miles.
Potomac Heritage Trail. Running westward from DC along the Virginia bank of the Potomac River, this gem of a trail varies in difficulty and terrain while connecting many of the trail networks people already love to run (Great Falls Park, Seneca, Algonkian Park, and more).
Seneca Trails. Simply beautiful and great hill training for those seeking a challenge, not to mention local history (remains of George Washington’s “Potowmack” Canal) and amazing river views.
Great Popular Trails
Great Falls Park. This is a must-try area for trail runners. The hilly, not too technical, packed-dirt, single trail is very scenic.
Algonkian Park. This park offers miles of running with many surfaces, including paved and gravel roads and muddy side trails. If you want lots of choices with beautiful scenery but not a lot of hills, this park is a great option.
Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. This is a popular and mostly flat 45-mile trail for easy walks, runs, and faster workouts, with water fountains and regular access to bathrooms and rest stops. A bonus is the ability to use the paved portion or the cinder horse path depending on what surface you feel like using.
Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal. Not technically in Northern Virginia, but so close and user-friendly it shouldn’t be overlooked. The full length of this historic towpath covers 184.5 miles following the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. The crushed gravel path offers shaded long runs and fast workouts
Burke Lake Park, Lake Fairfax Park, Bluemont Park, The Mount Vernon and Connecting Custis and Four Mile Run Trails. Don’t overlook these beautiful and popular options, but also don’t plan on being by yourself on any of these trails!
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