The Best of Washington, D.C.

Top picks for places to play

<strong>Many kayakers rate Great Falls Park rapids as some of the best in Virginia.</strong><br>  AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

Longtime local athletes know that D.C. is a great town for active people. Why that's true however, is a matter of debate. From runners to cyclists to outdoor adventurers, athletes in all corners of the metro area have their favorite spots.

We asked elite athletes and other sports notables to name their favorite local workouts, events and off-hour diversions. Readers also weighed in with ideas and we couldn't resist tossing in a few of our own. Whether you run, bike, swim, hike, climb, paddle or all of the above, here are some of the top ways to enjoy the area.


Best Place to Get Your Tires Dirty: Patapsco Valley State Park

Even the most experienced mountain bikers find all they can handle at Patapsco. The 35-mile network of trails offers loads of gut-busting climbs, sweeping descents and technical riding. With terrain that ranges from wide hard-packed to tight singletrack littered with roots and rocks, world champion mountain biker Chris Eatough says he accomplishes most of his training at Patapsco. "You don't have to travel far to get to the mountains because there is world-class mountain biking that's easily accessible right in Patapsco State Park," he says.

Best Place to Go the Distance: Capital Crescent Trail

As one of the most popular trails in the District, the CCT is certainly no secret, but that doesn't stop top athletes from training there. Elite duathlete Steven Duplinsky uses the Capital Crescent as the core of his workout regimen. "That's the bread and butter of my training," he says. "I probably do 70 percent to 80 percent of my runs there." The largely flat 11-mile trail allows runners to settle into a pace for long stretches with limited interruption. Duplinsky regularly logs 10 to 15 mile runs on the CCT, sticking to the gravel paths whenever possible. Plus there are plenty of pit stops if you need to refuel. Duplinsky's favorite: Wow Cow ice cream shop on River Road in Bethesda.?

Best Big-Time Race: Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

Local legend Ted Poulos says it's the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Miler and who are we to disagree? Ted has run over 2,500 races, and set the world's record for most races run in one year (222), so he ought to know. But his choice is a great one. The Cherry Blossom 10-Miler draws elite runners from all around the world, and the course, with an out-and back leg in Rock Creek Park, is beautiful with a fast finishing leg. If the weather is accommodating, you might even get to see its namesake cherry blossoms in bloom.

Best Tri Training Spot: Hains Point

From June through August, the tip of southwest D.C. is an ideal spot for swim-bike and swim-run workouts. Head down to Hains Point and turn laps at the East Potomac Park outdoor swimming pool, then transition to the bike or a run. Former I.T.U. World Champion Margie Shapiro says the 3.2-mile paved loop around Hains Point is "perfect for speed work on the bike. You're outdoors with very little traffic, so you can really settle in." If a run is on your training schedule, lace up after your swim and head along the Potomac or past the nearby monuments.

Best Epic Day Out: Cross County Trail

The ever-expanding Fairfax County Cross County Trail opens up a world of opportunities for athletes seeking a little adventure near the District. The 33-mile path links together several national and county parks from Great Falls through Lake Fairfax to Wakefield and out to Lorton. "It lends itself to doing chunks of adventure race training," says Kristin Eddy. "It's perfect for trail running or mountain biking and in the parks you can practice your map skills." Eddy says that by linking to Great Falls, she also adds paddling and climbing to the mix. "You can easily get in three or four disciplines from that trail," she adds.

Best Place to Put in for a Paddle: Great Falls Park

For Whitewater Hall of Famer Davey Hearn, Great Falls is a place where champions are born. The park offers everything from daunting drops over the falls to mellow surf spots. Many put in from the Angler's Inn parking area along the C&O Canal and head upstream through the majestic Mather Gorge to the edge of the falls. Although it takes a fair amount of strength and skill to attain up to the falls, once there paddlers can work on everything from freestyle and surfing to expert whitewater navigation. "Great Falls Park is a gem that is largely undiscovered by the denizens of D.C.," Hearn says.

Best Place to Ride Like a Pro: Saturday 7 a.m. Ride

On weekends when there isn't a big road race in the area, this D.C. Velo club group ride is a showdown for some of the District's best riders. Pro cyclist Matt Cooke picked up the fundamentals of racing on this 40-mile high-speed ride, prepping himself for future victories on the national stage. "Right away they go flat out for 40 minutes at above race pace," Cooke says. "It's tough for people to hang on." The group meets at the corner of East West Highway and Beech Drive in Silver Spring, Maryland, then heads out past Old Anglers Inn, down into Great Falls Park and back out. Steep hills like Brickyard Road are often in the mix. The group then makes its way along Democracy Blvd. en route back to the starting point. For a similar route at a more manageable pace, hook up with the Sunday 8 a.m. group ride from The Bicycle Place in Silver Spring.

Best Hill Workout: Calvert Street exit off Rock Creek Park

Start on the bike path by the pedestrian bridge, cross the exit road and race up the grassy hillside. To really get that gut-wrenching burn, finish with a run up the steps slightly to your right and don't stop until you get to the top by the traffic light. Brodsky swears that if you run repeats of this workout, "you'll become a hill climbing monster."

Best Physical Therapist: Rachel Miller

Everyone from elite local athletes to members of the White House staff have come to rely on Miller to help them get over the hurdle of injury. A runner herself, Miller specializes in putting runners back together after they've taken themselves apart, Stewart says. It would be nice if we never needed her, but when we do, it's nicer that she's there.

Reprinted, courtesy of Windy City Sports Magazine. For more articles and information for Windy City Sports, please visit

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