A History Lesson on the Run

The great thing about living in such an active, thriving city like D.C. is the seemingly limitless number of opportunities to spend one’s free time. The difficult thing about living in such a dynamic, bustling city like D.C. is trying to actually figure out how to spend one’s free time.

This past weekend was my first, homework-free two-day break in the city. With no required reading to do or five-page essays to write, the weekend was all mine. But how would I pass the hours of my Saturday and Sunday in the District? Armed with the Washington Post Weekend Guide and an earlier Post article about its D.C. summer bucket list, I spent my Friday evening planning my two-day escape. 

Not one to shy away from the sun and never one to watch a weekend go by without some excitement, I avidly read through the pages of the Post guide to see what they suggested for the days ahead. There were many museum exhibitions and galleries going on, as well as the D.C. Jazz Festival. There were also some theatrical performances that seemed interesting but were unfortunately not within my budget. Among all the events listed, an article that caught my eye read, “Get tidbits of Washington history while on the move.” Twice a month the National Park Service organizes 3.5 to 4 mile jogging tour detailing some of Washington’s unknown and unique history. By combining two of my passions, fitness and American history (thanks, dad!), this was the perfect thing for me to do.

Besides appealing to two of my interests, what made the Chit-Chat Run worth my weekend time was that it focused on educating participants about Washington, D.C. while simultaneously providing them with a great workout. While anyone could go to one of the Smithsonian institutions to receive a history lesson, the Chit-Chat Runs afford runners the opportunity to learn beyond what could be learned in a museum or in a textbook. Even more, the runs introduce joggers to parts of D.C. that they might never have explored on their own. Such is the disappointing reality for many Washingtonians: they live in the city for so many years but never really appreciate all it has to offer.

Upon reading the article, I had every intention of spending my Saturday evening trekking to the Washington Monument for the 7:00 p.m. run. Unfortunately, the threats of thunderstorms looming because of the oppressive heat put a damper on my plans. Lucky for me, the National Park Service organized another run for early this morning. So with an alarm set for 7:00 a.m., I was up and out of the apartment early, ready to explore the National Mall.

As I stood at the base of the 555-foot monument dedicated to the nation’s first president, I could not help but wonder if I had made a mistake not to run in the rain the evening before. Though it was only 8:00 a.m., the humidity seeped heavily into the atmosphere, thus saturating my skin with droplets of sweat before the chat even began.

Led by a National Park Ranger, a bright and energetic young woman whose fascination and passion for American history was evident from the start, the chat was themed “Then and Now.” In her introduction for the run, the ranger described how the roughly four-mile course would take us through the early history and evolvement of what we know today as the National Mall. She detailed some of the prominent figures in D.C.’s development, most notably Charles L’Enfant. It is L’Enfant that we can all thank for D.C.’s grid system, a national promenade (the National Mall), and preserved ceremonial spaces, such as those where many of today’s monuments rest. Notably, though L’Enfant is credited as D.C.’s chief cityscape architect, renown for his name was less than favorbale during his time. In fact, due to disagreements with George Washington about micromanagement, L’Enfant was decommissioned from his assignment and therefore never received full monetary payment for his attributions to D.C.’s development.

The details about L’Enfant were among many of the new things I learned while on my run. Prior to the jog, I had no idea that the Tidal Basin was once a beach area for locals to cool off from the sweltering summer sun or that the architect of the Lincoln Memorial was rumored to have carved Robert E. Lee’s face on the back of Lincoln’s head. By running from the towering monument to the Smithsonian Castle then to the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and back, I not only worked up a great sweat, but I also learned more about D.C. history than I anticipated was possible at such an early hour.

With the Chit-Chat Run, the National Park Service offer a wonderful service to the D.C. community, as well as to history buff or running-loving tourists. Though it accounted for only an hour of my weekend, it was the highlight of the past forty-eight hours.

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