Sweat Seeing

Sightrunning Combines Tourism with a Workout

By Arlene Karidis | Posted on 10.27.15 – Destinations, Travel

How often have you blown off a long, sweaty workout to indulge in some other activity? Or, conversely, have you nixed a leisurely day trip for your morning gym fix or five-mile run? Well, you can actually do both at the same time—pump your heart and lungs while exploring new terrain, or familiar spaces.

It’s done through “sightrunning,”—guided tours where you run (or jog) rather than walk. Tours are offered in 17 cities nationwide including Washington, D.C., which is the second largest market for this venue, with New York drawing the biggest crowds.

DC Running Tours has routes in all four city quadrants with themes like Embassy Row and Chinatown. There’s a beer run past a once-gated community of Italian-style villas and gothic cottages, other quiet neighborhoods and an operating urban farm. Tourists finish at a brewery for a cold, locally crafted beer.

Each group—no more than six runners—sets the pace as they pedal their feet, learning of the city’s history, cultures and local events.  They decide if they will stop often to take pictures or just motor past the sites.

“Some of our tours take runners past world-known landmarks; others veer off the beaten path, where people discover city secrets, like an old Basilica [of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception],” says Sara Murphy, manager of DC Running Tours, part of City Running Tours. “The Basilica is huge and magnificent, even bigger than the Washington National Cathedral. Yet people tell us all the time they never knew it was there, even locals.

There are seven established routes on the DC Running Tours menu, with distances from 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), priced from $30 to $45 per person. Private tours can be customized for rates that depend on mileage.

Each group—no more than six runners—sets the pace as they pedal their feet, learning of the city’s history, cultures and local events.

As you might expect, the White House/Monuments Run is most popular. “If you want the greatest hits collection, that’s what you go for, especially if you have never been to D.C. and or have limited time. It’s much of what makes the city eye-popping—being on The Mall and close to the nation’s seat of power,” says Murphy.

The White House Run is what called to Megan Hartman and the other Frederick women she rounded up for a sightrunning tour. They are all members of Frederick Moms RUN This Town, a 250-member local chapter of a national running club. “A lot of us run in Downtown Frederick, which is antique-ish and quaint and historical. But to be in D.C. was so different and a nice change of scenery,” says Hartman, who had not been to the nation’s capital in about a decade.

Hartman’s group started at the White House and ran past the Capitol building. They saw the Smithsonian museums and U.S. Botanic Garden, before circling around to the monuments and the National World War II Memorial. “It wasn’t a training run where you push through. It was for the fun of running while getting to tour,” says Hartman. A history teacher, she was intrigued by the trivia shared by their guide—for example, about the Capitol remodeling project, a $360 million work-in-progress to redo the structure’s iconic dome.

While their paces varied between 10-  and 14-minute miles, the runners stopped at cross walks, so they all caught up to each other sooner or later. “We could enjoy charging the hill on the way back to our starting spot. And when we wanted to stop and take in the moment, we could,” says Jody White, one of the five Frederick women in the group.

While Murphy researches and develops a skeletal script with route information, the guides put their own spin on their presentations. She describes them simply as D.C. residents who love the city and love running.  “The guides provide the color that brings something unique to the experience. We have one with expertise in Washington’s musical heritage, which fits in well on the U Street Run where we talk about evolving musical forms, some that you will find only in D.C. Another guide knows about public gardens, and flora and fauna of urban landscapes and brings her personality and knowledge on all the tours,” says Murphy.

Running Tours was started by a New York City chiropractor who was also a personal trainer. “I was asked to run with a man in town from Australia looking for a trainer to take him through a run of the city,” says Michael Gazaleh, founder of City Running Tours. “I showed him my version of the city and got to learn about him while he learned about me.”

Gazaleh thought he would offer more personalized running tours once in a while—both leisurely experiences and for athletes who wanted to train while sightseeing. But after he launched a website, his novel idea began making headlines all around, and the concept took off. The operation has grown from 10 New York City tours in 2005 to more 1,000 a year, nationwide.

Shannon Doughty was among the Frederick running club members who tried the D.C. monuments tour. A branch manager of a bank, she spends the bulk of her days inching along in Interstate 270 traffic and cooped up inside an office. “Running is what I do for fun,” she says. “I get out and decompress. It was nice to do it in an organized, learning experience with other runners who, until that day, I just knew from our Facebook page, but had a lot in common with.”

One of the highlights for Doughty was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. “I had just seen it on TV the night before in an episode of House of Cards. It was cool to actually be there, running by the building and gardens.”

Another nearby City Running Tours venue to Frederick is in Annapolis. It’s a chance to take in some maritime heritage while exploring the city’s waterfront and brick-lined streets.

White says she would make the trek from Frederick again for some more sightrunning. “I came away feeling like I was part of the moment—experiencing the city up close guided by someone who knew the area, rather than observing it from the outside.”