On Home Turf: A World-Class Ultrarunner Reveals His Favorite D.C. Routes

Michael Wardian on a run outside Washington, D.C.
Michael Wardian on a run outside Washington, D.C. Michael Wardian
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In November 2013, Michael Wardian ran a 2:31:19 marathon in San Antonio, Texas. He won that morning race.

Wardian opted to skip the post-race beer tent and instead jump on a plane bound for Las Vegas. Hours later in that desert oasis, Wardian ran his second marathon of the day. His time was 2:57:56 and he finished sixth, due in part to some nutrition issues.

One day, two marathons.

That pretty much sums up Wardian, a product of the Washington, D.C. area who now lives in Arlington, VA. The 41-year-old competes in as many races as he can while working a regular job as a shipbroker.

Wardian's running pursuits have taken him all over the world for races such as the 50K world championships (he finished third in 2009 and 2010), the 100K world championships (second in 2011), and demanding ultramarathons like the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (100 miles with 28,000 feet off vertical gain in the Alps), and the Marathon des Sables (150 miles across the Sahara Desert).

Wardian's resume also includes national titles, several victories and top-10 finishes, and quirky world records like the fastest 50K ever run on a treadmill.

When Wardian is not racing, however, you can find him either working in his D.C. office or running the streets in and around the nation's capitol. And just for kicks, he opts to run to work instead of drive.

The C&O Canal towpath stretches for 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Md.
The C&O Canal towpath stretches for 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Md. Jason Devaney

We asked Wardian about some of his favorite runs in the D.C. area. Here's what he said:

1. Potomac Heritage Trail

Distance: 7-8 miles
"This is one of my favorite places to run on the planet. I love the singletrack, solitude, and proximity to Washington, D.C. I usually start my runs from Roosevelt Island and run up to Chain Bridge. This will give you a great 7-8 miles of technical trail running with rock hopping, climbing (hands on knees), and some killer views. It is also really friendly and uncrowded, so you are able to run with dogs without a problem."

2. Iwo Jima

Distance: 8.5-10.5 miles
"I like to start a lot of my runs from Iwo Jima because the parking is good, the routes are plentiful, and the various loops you can do are endless. One of my favorite loops and one that I take most friends on is to run from Iwo Jima, across the Key Bridge into Georgetown, down the hill by Georgetown Harbor, back to the Memorial Bridge, around the Lincoln Memorial, down the National Mall , past the White House, Washington Monument, Smithsonian, to the Capitol and then back to Iwo Jima by the Reflecting Pool, Jefferson Memorial, West Potomac Park, and back across the Memorial Bridge, around Arlington Cemetery, and back to Iwo Jima."

3. C&O Canal

Distance: Lots of options
"I love this run. You can start at Iwo Jima and after crossing the Key Bridge, bang a right by Francis Scott Key Park, head down the hill, and then run. This is a true treasure of Washington, D.C., with mile after blissful mile of dirt and gravel, mostly flat, and shaded so perfect in the summer for those long runs or in the winter to cut down on wind. The views are sweeping and it overlooks the Potomac River. The C&O Canal travels 184.5 miles, so worrying about running out of trail is tough."

4. Difficult Run

Distance: 5+ miles
"This is a great run that I don't get to do as much as I would like. You can start at the parking lot off Georgetown Pike and run into Great Falls Park , do a huge loop, and run basically as long as you want. The trails are steep in sections and there are lots of rolling hills. The views are incredible and you have magnificent sight lines to Great Falls at points."

5. Billy Goat Trail

Distance: 5+ miles
"The Billy Goat Trail is a favorite with our family for hiking, but if you go before the crowds it is a legit run. It is not very long from the parking lot at Carderock—you do a quick bit of the C&O Canal and then dive into the charming, gnarly trail. You are forced to watch your footing and boulder hop, and at one point you scale a 60-foot climb before returning to the C&O Canal for a cool down back to the car. There are plenty more trails all around the area if you need more miles and are up for the adventure."

6. Custis Trail

Distance: 4 miles (one way)
"The Custis Trail is a bike path along I-66 and goes from Bluemont Park in Arlington approximately 4 miles into Washington, D.C. It is very hilly and will test any runner or cyclist. The course is marked and you can really move if you are willing to suffer a bit. I love it for training and commuting to and from work."

7. Rock Creek Park

Distance: 2+ miles
"This is another place that took my breath away and the first time I ran there. I was like, 'are you serious? This place exists in a city?' It has meadows and Beach Drive, which closes on the weekend if you want to run roads or trails right off the road. If you prefer trails, you can run through the National Zoo. Seriously, where can you do that without paying? You can see pandas and elephants and lions (oh my!). The National Zoo sits on a big hill, so it's a nice workout. The trails and loops in Rock Creek Park are substantial, so you can go for two miles or 40 miles."

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