Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Running Washington D.C.

It has been a while. Life has been insane and the blog has suffered. It's just the way it is. Something has to give. Anyhow, here I am again blogging about a short trip to Washington DC for a wedding. My brother in-law Mark married a lovely lady called Victoria who is originally from Russia. I'm a big fan of hers and I had a great time at their wedding.

I am making a steady come-back after a long injury and this was a fun running experience. I have been to D.C. once before to visit friends when my wife Maureen was at a conference. One of our friends still lives there and she partook of the McNamee family wedding shenanigans. My first day was taken-up with my son Charlie and a tuxedo adjustment. My trousers were 3" too short - I'm glad I tried them on. Maureen took the girls and met-up with their cousins at some museums.

The next day, I was determined to run. I decided to run toward the Capital building, head West down the National Mall (otherwise known as The Mall) and wing-it. I got up and thought it would be quiet at 6:30am. I was dead wrong! D.C. is running crazy at that time. I guess it makes sense A-type political people and military types need to pound off that stress somehow I guess. I ran the same route for two days. It was 4.6 miles and I loved every second of it. I forgot how clean downtown D.C. is. Running there made me feel like a small mouse running in a very huge and grand outdoor museum. There is so much to see. Here's a taste of my route...

I headed up Jersey toward Capital Hill and the Capital building. The hotel was really close. For those of you who aren't American, every U.S. State has a Capital building. They aren't all domed but they are all pretty cool looking. Washington D.C. does not have the biggest or tallest Capital building but it's pretty distinctive.

My Instagram of the Capital Building

I cut South West on Louisiana past the Robert Taft Memorial. It's a nice quiet spot and the memorial has bells on top. I didn't hear it ring but I believe it does. The beloved Senator was the son of President William Howard Taft (27th President). When President Hoover dedicated the memorial in '59, he said "When these great bells ring out, it will be a summons to integrity and courage." He sounds like quite a man. Remind me to brush-up on some U.S. political history.

Robert Taft Memorial

I then headed East on Constitution Ave and cut through the Ulysses S Grant Memorial which is at the base of Capital Hill. President Grant was the 18th President and played a huge role as General in the second half of the Civil War. Grant sits on his horse looking West toward President Lincoln's Memorial because Lincoln was his war-time President. He is pristinely calm as a violent cavalry charge happens right next to him. Apparently, he was known for being cool under fire. The Grant and Lincoln memorials are the Easter and Western boundaries of The National Mall, which is a European style walkway through the Capital.

Ulysses S Grant Memorial

I crossed 3rd Street and then East down Madison Drive. One of the first things I noticed was the National Gallery of Art and it's sculpture garden. There was a tree there and all of a sudden, I realized that it was silver. On closer inspection, I realized that this tree was made of metal. This 45 ft tree made by sculptor Roxie Paine is made of stainless steel and is pretty impressive as you go by and the light hits the polished metal.

National Gallery of Art, Sculpture Garden.

For those of you who haven't been to DC and can't get a sense of what The Mall is, here's a photo. My route is headed away from the camera on the right hand side of The Mall. It's basically a park that I believe is classed as a National Park. It has yellow crushed gravel pathways, is tree lined and is generally a great way to walk DC and see the museums and monuments.

The National Mall

I headed across 14th Street and ran around the Washington Memorial. It's an impressive structure. It's just over 555 ft high and it's made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss. It's the tallest stone structure in the World and the tallest obelisk. I believe that nothing in DC is allowed to be taller than this monument. President George Washington was the Nation's first president. There had been a lot of talk about a tribute to him even before his death at the end of the 1700's. They started this monument in 1848 but didn't finish until 1884. You can tell where they stopped work in '56 because the color of the stone changed when they started again in '76. Why the delay? I don't pretend to know all the details but I think it was money and maybe a little turmoil in the Union.

The Washington Memorial

For some reason, I had really turned on the speed as I rounded the Washington Memorial and slowed down a little to cross 17th Street. I then headed along the side of the National WWII Veterans Memorial, which commemorates the 16 million who served and the 400,000 who died. The fountain is even more impressive at night. Each State is represented around the fountain. It's amazing to me that when I was young, I knew so many people who had served in WWII but now, they are few and far between. God bless them all. That truly was a noble fight.

The National WWII Veterans Memorial

As I came around the WWII Memorial, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Then... all of a sudden, I realized that I was running down a beautiful tree lined lane alongside The Reflecting Pool. I say "the" but in fact, it is the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It's not the only one in D.C. For some reason, seeing this had more emotional impact on me than anything I had seen so far. That impact had nothing to do with how interesting it is to see a large wave-less body of water reflect National monuments. This space has hosted all sorts of important events but in my mind, I can't separate this space from Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Inspiring stuff!

Washington Memorial reflected in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

At the end of the pool, I climbed a few steps to the Lincoln Memorial. I didn't think President Lincoln would be visible without climbing all the way up to see him but there he was, sitting on his chair and watching me as I hit my half-way point. President Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President and did a few impressive things like lead the country to a Civil War victory, abolished slavery, orated some of the most famous speeches and had the time to be a man of integrity. Not too shabby sir. This memorial is my favorite. The Daniel Chester French sculpture is amazing.

Lincoln Memorial

As I ran around and headed East on Independence Ave, I spotted something that sent shivers up my spine for a moment. It looked like some ghostly white WWII troops walking in mist through the trees. It was actually the Korean War Memorial and the mist was just the sprinklers. These stainless steel soldiers by Frank Gaylord look brave, tired and sad. They represent all branches of the armed forces. 6.8 million people served and over 54,000 lost their lives.

Korean War Memorial

Further along, noticed the DC War Memorial through the trees. I hadn't seen this before either. A little research told me that it is a memorial with a very local flavor. It is dedicated to the 26,000 Washingtonians who served in WWI. It also displays the names of 499 District of Columbia residents who lost their lives.

District of Columbia War Memorial

I crossed 17th again, went around the South side of the Washington memorial and headed East on Jackson Drive. The 1930's Department of Agriculture building is pretty impressive. It was the largest office building in the World until they finished the Pentagon.

Department of Agriculture

Then came the Smithsonian Institute castle. This is a lovely gothic revival building in red seneca sandstone. It is the work of James Renwick, Jr. who also designed St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. It was built in the late 1800's.

Smithsonian Institute

On The Mall near the Smithsonian there is a little carousel. It's such a sweet and family friendly thing to find in this very formal and sometimes austere environment. Apparently it is a rare 1940's carousel because it has four horses abreast. It was located at Gwynn Oak Park, Maryland (near Baltimore) until it closed because of a flood caused by Hurricane Agnes in '72. In 1974 it was moved to it's current location. I have no idea who decided to do that and what permission it took to make it happen but I am a fan.

Carousel on the National Mall

I then past the very distinctive Hirshorn Museum. It is an art museum built in the 1960's and is a part of the Smithsonian. It focuses on art made in the last 50 years. The architect was Gordon Bunshaft and the building is a huge cylinder on legs with a large fountain in the central courtyard. This is most definitely the most distinctive and out-of-character building on The Mall.

Hirshorn Museum

On the home stretch now, I past the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. This 1970's building holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft. It's not that impressive a building from the outside but the gold polished Ad Astra (to the stars) sculpture by Richard Lippold is quite distinctive.

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

From here, I ran back across 3rd, headed North and then cut North East across the Grant Memorial. I crossed the street to the Taft Memorial. As I walked to cool down, I was impressed by my time. I ran the 4.6 at an 8:30 pace. That was a much faster pace than I had been running. I realized that the improvement in pace was probably due to a couple of factors (other than my leg feeling better). First of all, the route I ran is pretty darned captivating. I wasn't thinking about my running at all. Secondly, D.C. runners are a little competitive. They do not like being passed and the pace I found to be generally quicker than my local park in Chicago. Whatever the reasons, I was happy with my pace and euphoric after each run. I had a really great time running in D.C. and I would recommend this very touristy route to anyone who visits the City. It's a great way to experience the place and the D.C. running culture.

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