Saturday, 12 February 2011

Washington DC, Tidal Basin Loop Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 3.5 km (2.2 miles), terrain flat

Washington Running Routes:
National Mall and monuments  
Tidal Basin
For more running routes, see the Route List.

Here is a little 3.5 km run you can do in Washington DC by itself or as an extension of the Mall/National Monuments route. It's described quickly: It begins at the east end of the Reflecting Pool in the Mall, and goes once around the Tidal Basin to the south. You can run either direction around the small lake. This loop is especially beautiful in late March and early April when the Japanese cherry trees lining its shore are in bloom.
The Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin
If you run counter-clockwise, then you'll first run along the west side of the lake, going by the construction site to a new Martin Luther King memorial. Soon you'll pass a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a series of outdoor rooms depicting events during his eventful presidency (the Great Depression and the Second World War).
The whole time, you will be running towards the beautiful temple-like structure of the Jefferson Memorial, which is based on the design for Monticello, the home which Jefferson designed for himself. If you go into the memorial, you'll see inspiring excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson authored.

Continue along the water and you will come to a boathouse for renting paddle-boats, then head back to your starting point, and the Washington Monument, right next to it.
Nighttime visitors to the Washington Monument

Washington DC, Georgetown Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 9.1 km (5.7 miles), terrain contains one hill

Washington Running Routes:
National Mall and monuments  
Tidal Basin
NOTE: For more running routes, see the Route List.

This DC running route will zig-zag through Washington's oldest neighborhood, Georgetown. The hillside area is full of historic homes and waterfronts along the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The neighborhood sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac, and is home to Georgetown University, the alma mater of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, so the neighborhood is full of students, professors and wealthy Washingtonians.

We'll start in central Washington, in one of the most interesting parks, Lafayette Square, touching the north side of the White House. The square is also bordered by the US Chamber of Commerce to the north, and beautiful old row-houses along the other sides. Surprisingly, you can approach the White House and look in at the fence.
White House, seen from Lafayette Square
Leave the square towards the west, running past Blair House, the residence of official visitors to the White House.
Lafayette Square row houses
Run along Pennsylvania Avenue, which heads diagonally to the right, heading north-west. Pennsylvania is one of the main streets in downtown Washington, but not particularly scenic. You will go past Washington Circle, then in just a few blocks, you'll cross the bridge over Rocky Creek.

NOTE: If you turn right at Rocky Creek, you can follow the parkway on a footpath through parkland for kilometers. It was too dark for me to try it, though, during winter evenings.

Just past the bridge, Pennsylvania ends by running into M Street. Georgetown begins right here. M Street is the main shopping street, full of restaurants and expensive shops.
Houses on P Street
We'll begin the zig-zagging along the historic streets here. Turn right at the first side-street, 29th Street. It goes uphill for the first block. The houses are an interesting mix of styles and materials, and it is one of the nicest American neighborhoods, in my humble opinion. Keep going until P Street, then turn left to run to the next cross-street, 30th Street, then turn left to zag back towards M Street.

When you come to M Street, keep going straight down towards the river. After a block, you will come to the old C&O Canal, with its wooden boat locks. Turn right to run along the canal tow-path, past more historic houses.
Along the C&O Canal
Run along the canal until Wisconsin Avenue, where you turn left and run downhill all the way to the river. Wisconsin is Georgetown's other main shopping street, and the Blues Alley club is located right behind you, the venue where the legendary Eva Cassidy often performed.

NOTE: Hear her haunting version of Fields of Gold live at Blues Alley here, if you don't already know it.
Canal-side houses
There is a riverfront park at the end of Wisconsin, where you turn right and run along the Potomac. You can see the Alexandria, Virginia downtown skyscrapers across the river. You are heading straight towards the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which dominates the view.

Just a block before the bridge, the park ends, and you need to turn inland. Cross under the overhead expressway and head straight uphill by going up the stairs. They will lead you to a pedestrian bridge over the canal.

Keep running north on 34th Street, crossing M Street and continuing uphill until you come to O Street, where you turn left and head towards Georgetown University. In three blocks you will come to the main campus gate, after passing a lot of historic wooden houses.

Georgetown University is America's oldest Catholic university. There are some gothic buildings around the main square in front of you. Run straight towards the main building ahead, with the huge tower, then circle clockwise around the square, to your right.

At the north end of the square, exit the campus at a smaller gate, and run eastwards along P Street. When you come to Wisconsin Avenue, you will need to first turn right, then left at the first opportunity, on O Street, and keep running eastwards.
O Street homes
Continue running east on O Street through the historic neighborhood until you come to 28th Street, where you turn right and run downhill back to M Street. At M, take Pennsylvania Avenue all the way back to Lafayette Square again.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Washington DC, Mall/Monuments Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 10.8 km (6.7 miles), terrain contains one gentle hill

Washington Running Routes:
National Mall and monuments  
Tidal Basin
For more running routes, see the Route List.

Sometimes I'm overcome by a normally dormant feeling of hope, a stirring of pride. It doesn't happen often, but, suddenly, there it was when I checked into my hotel in Washington last week. Washington is back to life.

The city has seen dark times as the murder capital of America (a difficult honor to achieve in the drug-fueled gang wars of 1980s American cities). But a coalition of urban pioneers who risked their lives and fortunes to bring back one seedy neighborhood after another has breathed new life into this city, and the results are a livable community full of breath-taking sights.
Row houses in Foggy Bottom
Washington is one of the greenest of American cities, which is the great fortune of its runners. There are parks lining the Potomac river and various creeks and canals, as well at the famous Mall between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial on the river (which we'll run here). Monuments, museums, gardens line the parks and provide a rich background to any run, and the parks are full of runners, day and night.

A wide swath of beautifully restored row-houses also provide pleasant running streets from Georgetown eastwards past the Capitol, and southwards towards the Southwest Freeway.

In my opinion, there are 3 basic running routes from central Washington:
1. A tour of the national monuments surrounding the Mall.
2. A run along the riverfront from the triangle to Georgetown.
3. A run up the park-lands of Rocky Creek towards the zoo.

This run will concentrate on the national monuments in Washington's federal heart, also the town's main jogging area. Unfortunately, I last ran it in winter, in the dark, as the pictures witness.

NOTE: This was only my second trip to Washington. The first was 38 years ago, as a student reporter following a group of protesters at Richard Nixon's second inauguration, back during the last phases of the Vietnam War. At the time, Nixon was attempting to win a better bargaining position at peace talks by means of a massive bombing campaign, blanketing Vietnam's neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos with B-52 raids.

A group of Zippies was protesting by marching to the Lincoln Memorial with a giant papier-maché rat with Nixon's face, with a blood-soaked doll in its mouth. Their motto was "Rat-ify the peace treaty now" for a counter-inauguration of the "Coronation of King-Rat". At Constitution Avenue, police confiscated the rat. The scene was surrealistic, but the bizarre humor fit the troubled spirit of the times.

The DC National Monuments Route
We'll start the route just north of the Mall, in Foggy Bottom, a neighborhood dominated by George Washington University. There is a Metro station here, so it's easy to get to. The Metro Station is at the corner of I Street and 23rd St. NW., right in the middle of the university campus. The university was founded at the behest of George Washington, as an academy for future leaders.

Just run straight south on 23rd Street, through campus and then past the US State Department (which has the nickname "Foggy Bottom", after the neighborhood).

In 6 blocks, you come to the Mall, a long east/west park going from the Potomac River to the Capitol building. You will see the Greek-temple styled Lincoln Memorial directly ahead. Run towards it. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is on your left side, and you might want to take a detour to take a look. It is a simple depression in the lawn, bordered by a wall covered with the names of fallen soldiers, simple and moving.
Lincoln Memorial at night
If you climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial you can see the famous statue of a seated Lincoln, read his moving Gettysburg Address, which ends with the resolve "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".
From the memorial, you can also look out over the Mall all the way to the Capitol, about 2.5 kilometers away. The gigantic obelisk of the Washington Monument dominates the view, mirrored in the reflecting pool.

The Korean Veterans Monument is off to the right. Even at night, you'll find people silently visiting and photographing the war memorials. I felt humbled by their reverence.
Looking towards the Washington Monument
Now we'll run straight east through the Mall. Running along the Reflecting Pool, you will pass lots of joggers, and run past some fenced-off areas. The fences are just everyday chain-link fences, nothing like the solid iron fences found in London's or Paris' parks. Somehow, the American sense of style doesn't extend to smaller details. At first, that bothered me, everything looked a bit cheesy. But then I started to realize that absolutely nothing in Washington was ever built by or for a king: everything was done in the mixed spirit of democratic patriotism and bureaucratic cost-cutting, which is one of the refreshing things about the city.

After running through the World War II Memorial, you'll come to the Washington Monument. If you lean against its stone walls and look up, you're guaranteed to feel some vertigo.

After the Washington Monument, the Mall will become narrower, with a row of museums lining it on both sides. The Smithsonian Museums on the right side are my favorites, especially the Aerospace Museum. You can look in several of its giant windows to view the main exhibits as you go. You can decide to either run close to the buildings on the right side or stay in the middle of the park.
Looking into the Smithsonian windows: wow!
After the National Museum of the American Indian, you'll come to a big pond reflecting the Capitol, home of the US Congress, crowning a small hill straight ahead. Surprisingly, you can run right up to the building itself, and then run around it along the right side. When you come around to the far side, you'll find yourself at the main entrance.

This side is also completely free to public access, and you can run around the east side to the main entrance steps. Now turn your back to the Capitol and run eastwards again, through the last bit of park. You will run straight towards two of Washington's most imposing buildings, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court.
The Capitol Building main entrance
Turn left, running by the Supreme Court, and then turn left again to follow Constitution Avenue westwards around the Capitol, then back along the north edge of the Mall, staying inside the park.

This side has several art museums, and the Natural History Museum. In the winter, the sculpture garden is full of ice-skaters.
The ice-skating rink, with the National Archive in the background
When you get back to the Washington Monument, turn right (northwards) and cross Constitution Avenue to go into a bordering park, the Elipse. Cross the Elipse, and you'll see the White House straight ahead. The street directly next to this side of the White House is blocked off, so you have to stay along the south side of the street.

Run to the left (west) along the street (E Street). In just a block, you'll come to another little park, Rawlins Park, which you can run through.

At 21st Street, turn right to run north through the George Washington University campus again. At I Street, turn left and run the last 2 blocks back to the Metro station.