A couple weekends ago, I thought I had the perfect plan for a reintroduction to running on trails. I was going to go do Old Rag early in the morning before the crowds, suffer on the perfectly manicured switchbacks that wind up to stunning views, and then enjoy running down the fire road on the backside. However, due to a little bit of weekend snow and sub-freezing temperatures, I decided to stay a little closer to home. Instead, at the suggestion of a new trail running friend, we headed out to Wildcat Mountain in Warrenton, Va. I can say, I am happy that we did.
I had never heard of Wildcat Mountain, despite its proximity to Arlington, and its ease of access. Wildcat sits right off of exit 29 on I-66 and is only about 45 minutes outside of Arlington. The Mountain is maintained by the Nature Conservatory, and offers a very secluded bit of trail that offered both a pleasant and a stark contrast to the city streets on which I log most of my miles. An excellent set of trail directions, an elevation profile, and directions to the trail head can be found here. As such, my trail review is going to focus on how I perceived the trail, and the benefits that I think can be gotten out of completing training runs out at Wildcat Mtn.
The trail itself consists of a small web of trails on which we did about a 5.2 mile snow covered figure 8 style loop with just over 1500 ft of climbing. It proved to be a difficult re-introduction to the trails off the bat as it starts with roughly a 400 or so foot upward hike on a slightly rough single track trail. With this climb, I was quickly reminded to respect both the trail as well as what the day gives you. After the first climb, things level off for a bit, and you follow a nice and mostly runnable section of trail for the with some steep downhills even until around the 2 mile mark where you start heading up again. The second major uphill was not as steep as the first. However, it did seem to be a bit longer. The elevation profile on the Hiking Upward page, (linked above), shows that to indeed be the case. Once we got towards the top of the hill we started to be rewarded for our efforts. Near the top there are several old stone fences, and at the top of the loop sits an old farm house in a small clearing that gives a slight window to history. The rest of the hike went much like the first half, with some good runnable sections, and some steep downhills, on which we were extra careful due to the ice and snow, until we found ourselves back at the small parking lot and thoroughly pleased with the days efforts.
All in all, Wildcat Mtn. provides a wicked training loop for any trail runner with a bit of masochistic tendencies. Also, with the loop distance, it sets up perfectly for long run days, as the car can become a make-shift aid station so long as you have enough gumption to keep going after returning to it to restock. I'd rate this trail about a 3 out of 5 in terms of difficulty (totally subjective, I know), with difficulty points being added for the less than manicured single track portions, a couple of steep climbs and descents and the stream crossings. I'm not sure how much the snow impacted my score, so I will try to remember to update this when I do it in drier conditions. I am very excited to get back out on there in the upcoming weeks, as the variation and technical level of the trail is enough to whip any level of runner into tip-top shape.
I'd like to see what my impression of the trail is when it is not a snow covered and slippery winter wonderland. I'd also like to see if my new trail shoes, the Pure Grit 2's, make any difference with their newly optimized lug pattern over the 1's which I was wearing this time. (Shoe review coming soon!)
Until next time, happy trails!