Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of City Running Tours founder Michael Gazaleh. This version has been corrected.
When I first arrived in the District, a friend invited me to join her on a run around her neighborhood and Capitol Hill. It made for great scenery. I found myself looking at what was around me rather than thinking about my feet or the workout, and that seemed to take the “work” out of it. I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get a real tour of the city and get in a good workout?”
Well, you can. Michael Gazaleh used to take friends visiting his home town of New York on running tours just like my first one in Washington. That’s how he got the idea for City Running Tours, which started in New York and is now operating in 15 cities across the country, including the District. And the activity now known as “sight running” is growing across the globe.
“You want to go on a run and you want your blood pumping, but you also want to experience the city in a way only a local can show you,” says D.C. City Running Tours manager Sara Murphy. Even if you are a local.
Running tours are for visitors and residents alike, Murphy says. For the visitor, it’s an excuse to get out of the hotel room, experience the city and get a workout. For the resident, it’s a way to break out of the everyday routine (how long has it been since you visited the FDR Memorial?) or to learn about something off the beaten path. “I guarantee I can show a long-term resident something they’ve never seen before,” she says. For locals, Murphy recommends the Chinatown/D.C. Riot Runs for some interesting civil rights history.
D.C. City Running Tours take 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) routes with multiple stops. (Go to www.cityrunningtours.com/dc for the schedule.) The White House Run is the company’s most popular; others include Eastern Market/Capitol Hill Run, U Street Run, Chinatown/D.C. Riots Run, Foggy Bottom Run and the weekly Right Proper Beer Run. Personalized tours are also an option. Prices range from $30 for a 5K group tour to $75 for a personalized six-mile tour.
I did the 10K White House Run on a sunny Sunday morning. Six other runners — five tourists, one native — and I met our tour guide at the designated meeting spot provided in an e-mail sent the night before.
Our tour guide, who happened to be Murphy, introduced herself and asked for our mile paces. After determining we were going to stay around a pace of 10 minutes per mile, we began the tour. “Everyone has their own level and capacity,” Murphy says, and tour guides will make sure each group member is comfortable. But if you’re not confident with your ability to keep up with a group, scheduling a personalized tour might be your best option.
Having never run more than four miles, I was nervous about running a 10K. However, there was a good mix of running and walking. We would run for a while at a comfortable pace, then stop to take pictures or walk through a memorial. (Murphy explained that the tours never run through memorials, out of respect.) For Murphy, one of the challenges is managing the message of what these tours are about. “It is not a race,” she says. These tours serve the purpose of getting in a good workout and learning more about the city, not breaking personal records.
We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and, of course, the White House.
I’ve heard from many longtime runners that having a conversation during a run can take your mind off the running, making it a little easier. So as you pass Washington’s historic sites, be sure to ask questions. Enthusiasm is the No. 1 expectation of tour guides. “Enthusiasm for running, enthusiasm for people and enthusiasm for the city,” Murphy says.
I walked away from the tour feeling accomplished for running a 10K and more knowledgeable about the city. And yes, a little sore.
Find your pace:
Running not your thing? Check out these other ways to see Washington and stay in shape.
Capital City Bike Tours:
What they offer: Day and night bike tours throughout the city — a Food Truck Tour was recently added — as well as private family, student or corporate tours. 202-626-0017. dc.capitalcitybiketours.com. $36, kids 12 and younger $26; Food Truck Tour $65.
Free Tours by Foot:
What they offer: Walking tours through Washington such as National Mall Tour, Secrets and Scandals, Ghosts of Georgetown, Lincoln Assassination and more, accompanied by a licensed D.C. tour guide. 202-370-1830. www.freetoursbyfoot.com/ washington-dc-tours. Pay what you choose.
What they offer: Two-hour tours such as Abraham Lincoln’s Washington, Arlington Cemetery, Capitol Hauntings, Memorials by Moonlight, the Most Haunted Houses and more. 202-484-1565. www.washingtonwalks.com. $15, children 3 and younger free, military or federal employees $10.
What they offer: Audio walking tours such as American Scandal, Capitol Hill, Haunted History, Tidal Basin and more. 202-421-4053. www.dcwalkabout.com. 99 cents per stop on iTunes and Google Play, $8.99 per tour on Amazon.
What they offer: 90-minute urban or nature hikes that include three or four 15-minute stops for yoga (for all levels). 202-670-6120. www.yogahikesdc.com. $26, three-hike pass $60, five-hike pass $90.
Colella is a visiting Tim Robinson Fellow from Samford University.