Ashburn running club celebrates 20 years of fast friendships

On the Road Again
By Jonathan Hunley

Conan Mowbray is a runner’s runner. Dedicated to the sport, he tries not to let anything stop him from lacing up his shoes and hitting the streets – even a broken big toe. 

That was 2010, when Mowbray, a past president of the Ashburn Area Running Club, was in California to compete in a half-marathon at Disneyland. 

His doctor had told him not to run and even insisted that Mowbray wear an orthopedic boot of sorts that the frustrated patient called a “Frankenstein” shoe. But run he did – in the boot – finishing in just over two hours. By the way, the boot fell apart around the 10-mile mark. 

What did his orthopedist say when he found out? “He wasn’t particularly happy,” Mowbray recalled. 

The “Frankenstein” shoe.

His friends in the running club, on the other hand, were thrilled by the story. They had the remnants of the boot bronzed and later gave it back to Mowbray, now 50, as a trophy for being the “craziest runner.” The story was one club members shared recently as they looked back on the history of the organization, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in May. 

“Reaching 20 years – it’s a little bit of a surprise, but also a feeling of satisfaction,” said Mowbray, an IT specialist who lives in Sterling. “When you run with others, the sport changes. Your running buddies will push you to new heights.”

The Ashburn Area Running Club was originally founded by Ray and Cathy Pugsley, owners of Potomac River Running, a chain of stores dedicated to shoes and accessories for running and walking enthusiasts. The brand now goes by the name PR Run & Walk.  

The Pugsleys opened their first store in 2003 on Ashburn Road and launched the club about a year later. 

The club members started organizing runs on Tuesday nights – in and around the Ashburn Village neighborhood and the W&OD Trail. There were maybe five or six members at first, but then word got out and the numbers grew, and the club had to add a second run. 

Fast forward to today – two decades later – and the club holds eight runs a week and has roughly 140 members. Most live in Ashburn, but the club brings in runners from Sterling, Leesburg and even Frederick, Md. 

“It’s very gratifying to see what it’s become,” Ray Pugsley said. 

Felix Tanh is the club’s current president and a resident of the Belmont Country Club neighborhood. He says members vary in age. While many are in their mid-30s to early 40s, some are as young as their 20s, and others are in their 70s. 

And though the members have fun on their weekly runs, they can get serious, too. 

It’s normal for the running aficionados to train for marathons and other “goal” races together and then compete together. Sometimes members will travel out of town just to cheer on their peers. 

“Last fall, a bunch of the club – their goal race was the Richmond marathon. We had at least 10 members who were running it,” Tanh said. “A few of us went down to Richmond, staked out places along the course, and as our runners came by, we were cheering them on – and then we would move to another spot and cheer them on again.” 

Club members point out that Ashburn offers a lot of options for running, and the crown jewel is the W&OD – a 45-mile paved path between Purcellville and Shirlington along the former roadbed of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad.  

“The sheer convenience of having the W&OD there – for the club, it’s really good for us,” Tanh said. “You can go as far as you want and come back.” 

Area runners also appreciate the water fountains and bathroom stops available along the Ashburn stretch of the trail –  including the kind folks at the Carolina Brothers Pit BBQ restaurant, who have a history of allowing folks using the trail to pop in to their facilities. 

Other reasons that Ashburn is a good place to run, according to club members – the many neighborhood trails and sidewalks coupled with the relative safety of the community. 

“Crime is pretty low. We have plenty of traffic lights and crosswalks and sidewalks and paths,” said Jeanne Friberg, an Ashburn Area Running Club member and Broadlands resident who has run at least 20 marathons. “Most of Ashburn is pretty well lit in the morning.” 

Whenever and wherever members are running, there’s one thing the club offers that is special – togetherness. 

“We have club members who have been there since the very start and have developed friendships that have lasted all these years,” Tanh said. 

“It’s more fun to exercise with friends than to do it alone,” said Stacey Metcalfe, executive director and CEO of Morven Park in Leesburg, who leads one of the club runs. “It’s like a family that we choose.” 

Even if that “family” sometimes gets a good laugh over your Frankenstein boot.

Jonathan Hunley is a career journalist and lifelong Virginian who has written for publications around the state.