I started in the snow by a welcome sign in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. More than four hours later, I would reach Mile 0 of the NCR Trail in the community of Ashland, near Hunt Valley, Maryland.
I’ve been wanting to run the Northern Central Railroad Trail in full — about 20 miles — for a long time. I made it one of my official goals for 2019, so I’ve accomplished the first of the five running goals I set for myself for this year.
On March 1, I finally had the chance to run the entire trail, running the trail point-to-point as a 20-mile training run for the Salisbury Marathon.
A good map of the trail, officially known as the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail, can be found on the NCR Trail Snails page. It runs from the Maryland-Pennsylvania line through northern Baltimore County, Maryland — through the communities of Freeland, Parkton, White Hall, Monkton, Sparks and Phoenix before ending in the Hunt Valley area.
After running at the Patuxent Research Refuge on Feb. 28, I stayed with my mom and stepdad, who live close to the southern end of the NCR Trail. It had snowed overnight, but around lunchtime the next day, they drove me to the northern end of the trail, letting me know they were just a call away if I wanted to be picked up. Before I drove with them to the northern end of the trail, we’d dropped my car off at the southern end.
To get to the Mason-Dixon Line area of the trail, we actually had to go into Pennsylvania. There didn’t seem to be parking in that area, so it worked well for a drop-off. There also weren’t really signs to get to this part of the trail.
If I had gone the other way — further into Pennsylvania — I would have been on the Heritage Rail Trail (learn more here). Now that I’ve run the whole NCR Trail, I would love to explore the Heritage Rail Trail in more depth. I’ve never run on the Heritage Rail Trail aside from the super-short portion I ran March 1.
I was only on the Heritage Rail Trail for a very short amount of time before I came across a kiosk that had the map of the Maryland side of the trail and the Pennsylvania side of the trail, along with a column that said “Mason-Dixon Line.” I posed for a photo here, even though I am not sure if this actually marks the Mason-Dixon Line. It looks to be slightly off on Google Maps, but you never know.
Since my mom and stepdad moved close to the trail a few years ago, I’ve run the southern part a decent amount on visits. Some of my early 5Ks as a teen were on the NCR Trail, too, and I ran there occasionally when I lived in Hampstead. However, I hadn’t ever been to the northern part of the trail — at least the northernmost eight, maybe 10, miles of the trail. So, it was nice to see new-to-me areas.
The northern part of the trail was also completely covered in snow — there were many areas where I made new tracks in the snow, and it wasn’t that crowded. I was running the trail on a Friday. So, in addition to the weather, many potential runners were also probably at work.
I’m glad I finally got to run the trail point-to-point, but it wasn’t really my day when it came to running. I ended up stopping for the bathroom twice — at a composting toilet near the Freeland stop and later, the bathroom in Monkton. I was glad that at least I didn’t have to use any portable toilets.
I also started having breathing issues at some point during the run, making it hard to keep up a solid pace, because I had to keep walking. When I got to Monkton and had about seven miles to go, I started doing intervals — four minutes of running followed by a minute of walking — and that actually helped me pick up the pace and stay more consistent. This hasn’t been the only run in which I’ve struggled with breathing issues at what should be a somewhat easy pace, so I went to the doctor this week and got an inhaler to use.
Since I was running on new-to-me parts of the NCR Trail, I saw some things I didn’t expect. There were some houses that were basically right along the trail. There was also a stretch that had exercise equipment along the trail.
Most of the trail is alongside water, and I saw a waterfall along the way.
There was also a huge display of various kinds of gnomes in the White Hall area. There were different types and sizes of gnomes, with numerous signs to read.
The trail also went through the town of White Hall — for example, I saw the post office from the trail. After that, there was a muddy patch. The second half of the trail was not as snowy as the first half.
I was also carrying a backpack. I would have brought my hydration pack, but I was missing a part. So, instead, I loaded up the Vooray backpack I got at The Running Event with three water bottles and some fuel. It worked fine, but my back was certainly sore afterward, even though I really wasn’t carrying much weight. I also ended up getting hungry on the run, probably because I’d started later in the day and hadn’t eaten much.
Once I got to around Mile 8 or so, I knew I’d gotten to that point on out-and-back training runs before, so that was helpful to know mentally. It felt like a long day out there, particularly since I wasn’t feeling my best. I logged just more than 20 miles on my watch.
It was a tough run, but it really felt like I was out on an adventure. Maybe I can make the Heritage Rail Trail, point-to-point, a training run for a future race.