Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

– John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address Delivered on Friday, January 20, 1961

Today is an exciting day in the United States. I have always been amazed by the American President’s inauguration. Maybe it was the countless hours I spent at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. Those moments as I sat transfixed in front of the large screen, watching and listening to Kennedy’s inaugural address. As I observed this visual history in the museum exhibit, it was the first time I heard a speech that inspired me. It made me feel emotionally connected to history, the moment, the point of it all. As a historian, I continuously try to reclaim that connection to the past. That’s one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit Washington, D.C., and see the important monuments, museums and consider the nation’s collective memory of the past.

Four years ago this March, my wife and I traveled to Washington, D.C., so that I could run another Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. As I wrote in numerous blog posts about half marathon travel, I love Rock n’ Roll organized races. The half marathon I ran in Washington, D.C., is a perfect example of why I continue to travel and run. I enjoy traveling to D.C., and, especially as a historian, there is an endless amount to do. Since today is Inauguration Day and President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris will take the oath of office, I thought I would venture back to the nation’s capital and reflect on my last time there. Make sure your sneakers are tied and have your cold weather running gear because D.C. was frigid. The only way to remedy the freezing temperatures was running fast and eating some delicious food. Just beware of the eatery you go to; you might bump into someone unexpected.

Background to our DC Trip

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,”

– Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address Delivered in March 4, 1861

My wife and I are both Historians, so we enjoy the history Washington, D.C. offers in the form of memorials and museums. We have been to the city twice, in 2005 and 2017. Our first trip in 2005 (picture below) was a weekend trip to see one of my wife’s friends and take in all the essential sights. We saw so much that first visit, which coincided with Veteran’s Day, that recapturing or copying a similar itinerary in a second trip would be redundant and, well, not us. It was a fantastic trip with wonderful moments walking through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, around Arlington National Cemetery, the WWII, Korea, and Vietnam War Memorials, as well as by the Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson Memorials, and of course a stroll along the National Mall, The White House, and U.S. Capitol. We ate a ton of great food, walked for what seemed like miles, and observed more than we imagined possible. So, when we returned in 2017, we focused our attention and energy on non-history related topics. We were excited about the food this time, which has become a significant part of our recent travels.

When we decided to head to D.C. for our second time, it was in the summer before the Presidential Election of 2016. We both thought, what an excellent opportunity to see D.C. for a second time. I would run a Rock n’ Roll series half marathon and see the city less than two months after the first female American president’s inauguration. Of course, once the election came and passed, we were surprised and unsure if we wanted to continue our trip in March. In the end, we both decided that we would continue with our original plan, even if our hearts were no longer “into it.” So, we built our itinerary around my race and food.

As I have said in previous posts, my wife is amazing when it comes to building a travel itinerary, and the establishments she selects are always a hit. We made it, in many ways, a short foodie vacation. Luckily, there would be plenty of food choices, wicked good coffee, great desserts and beer, and a dinner with family, but another meal that almost destroyed our trip. I don’t want to ruin the surprise ending, so let’s fly back to D.C. and celebrate Biden’s inauguration with my 2017 trip to D.C. We may not have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was disappointing. Still, we made the trip a success, and we’re happy we didn’t cancel it.

Friday, March 10, 2017 – Day ONE

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

– Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address Delivered in March 4, 1865

In the months leading up to our trip, my wife planned out the places we would visit. We knew the types of things we wanted to do and what we were no longer interested in seeing. We had crossed so many sites off our bucket list during our first trip, so it did make scheduling out this weekend running vacation slightly easier. This weekend getaway would be one day shorter than our usual “runcations,” mainly because we could not take off time from work. So this was a weekend trip. All that was required was the Rock n’ Roll expo on Friday, shortly after our arrival, and the Half Marathon on Saturday, followed by a return home on Sunday. Two nights in D.C. with a loose schedule. With our flight to D.C. arriving in the early afternoon on Friday, we knew that time was on our side, but we had places to be and people to see.

Our flight from Logan International Airport in Boston to Reagan International Airport in D.C., which is the closest to downtown, was smooth, and when we landed, we knew how to get to our hotel from the airport. There was no need for an Uber since, similar to my trip to Denver, D.C. has an excellent metro system, which runs directly from Reagan to downtown. Our hotel, the Residence Inn by Marriot DC/Capitol, was in a non-touristy area, mainly because of cost and availability. While I like to select hotels near the start of the half marathon race, Rock n’ Roll D.C.’s start location was adjacent to the National Mall, so hotels were limited, primarily based on our travel budget. The Residence Inn afforded us the ability to spend money on other amusements while still being walkable to the half marathon starting line if I so chose.

Even so, the Residence Inn was one block away from the nearest metro stop, which could bring us to the race starting point, or any city location, quickly. So, it was as if our hotel was close to the race since getting to the start was incredibly easy. Was it simple getting back to the hotel after the race? That was a little harder, but not impossible, and I will discuss it in detail later. The Residence Inn location is excellent for non-running weekends, too, since you can walk to the National Mall, and it is closest to the U.S. Capitol. The site was stellar for us and would be for anyone staying in the city who wants a hotel accessible to the airport, walking distance to tourist sites, but off the main path, so it is quiet and peaceful. While it is across the street from NASA, the immediate area’s food was adequate, but not exceptional, since this was more of a business location. You can still find anything you need and are within walking proximity to great food options.

After checking in, we made haste to our room, dropped off our bags, and headed to the Rock n’ Roll race expo. I may sound redundant since I have discussed several expos held for the Rock n’ Roll Race series in cities like Nashville, New Orleans, Denver, and San Diego, which you can read in previous blog posts. While some expos are good (San Diego/Nashville) and others are barely necessary (New Orleans), most are adequate but are solely an opportunity to pick up a race packet and bib. The Washington D.C. expo was fair and held at the D.C. Armory, adjacent to RFK Stadium. We took the metro to the expo since it was the most comfortable and cheapest option and offered nearly door to door service.

If you have read several of my blog posts before, you know the weather is sometimes an issue for me during my travels. While D.C. was not a travel nightmare story like my trip to Florida or as messy as my trip to Guatemala, on Friday, it rained ferociously and Saturday, well I will get into that in a moment. The rain did not last long, but as we made our way to the expo, it rained buckets. When we arrived at the armory, we were wet and were one of the first groups. Even with the spotty weather, we arrived as soon as the expo opened. We usually go to a race expo later in the day, but this was the second day of the event, so we wanted to get it done as soon as possible. Also, we had a stellar lunch reservation, one we could not miss.

Unlike the San Diego Rock n’ Roll race expo, held in a large convention center, the D.C. Armory was a tight squeeze. Thankfully, there was not a large crowd when we were there, so I easily received my bib, took a couple of photos, chatted with a few people, and departed after quickly walking the exhibition floor. As I have said before, an expo will not make or break a race, but it can set a positive tone if done well. The D.C. expo was adequate, and I was certainly ready for the race the next morning. Visiting the race expo the same day as we arrive is not how we usually schedule our itinerary. While not a problem, when I do these travel race vacations, I like to have one day, usually the day I visit the expo, sandwiched between arrival and race, similar to how I did New Orleans. This trip illustrated that an “in-between” day was unnecessary. Unless I am with my brother and we do a ton of brewery visits the first day. If so, 100% a day in between arrival and race is required. Stay tuned for my post about my half marathon trip to Brooklyn, NY, in a few weeks!

After the expo, we took the metro towards the National Mall area for lunch. With the rain now completely gone and the sun shining bright, we had a ton of energy. My wife booked lunch reservations at Zaytinya, which offers Mediterranean inspired dishes in the Penn neighborhood. It’s one of the city’s top restaurants and the creation of José Andrés, who is an ultra-famous powerhouse chef. He is known for his many exquisite eateries and World Central Kitchen, a “non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.” With dishes inspired by Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese, Zaytinya has an “innovative mezze menu” that “features shared small plates of authentic and innovative fare.” To say that my wife was excited to eat here would be the understatement of the century. She was freaking pumped! Do you think a Michelin Star and Bib Gourmand awarded chef would disappoint us, foodie wannabes? No.

Our choice of small plates was absolute perfection. My wife and I love a “tapas” style eatery since it allows us to order several options, share, and try as much from the menu as is possible. So, we tried a variety of options. The Hummus starter, a couple of flatbreads, the Artisanal cheese pikilia, falafel, and even ordered a couple of cocktails and the homemade naan bread we requested, literally, ten times it was that good. We ordered way more than we could eat, but we had a wonderful time. I would recommend Zaytinya to anyone and everyone. It was the perfect way to begin our weekend of D.C. eating. Once we finished our meal, we left Zaytinya and walked toward the U.S. Capitol and consumed the historic atmosphere. On our way, we observed a peaceful protest marching down Pennsylvania Ave to support indigenous people’s rights and cheered it on. After a comfortable stroll along the National Mall, observing the Washington Monument and disappointed that the National Museum of African American History and Culture had no more entrance tickets available, we headed back to the hotel to rest for an hour or two.

Most trips that I go on often include a short rest. That’s one of the reasons why my wife and I are perfect matches. We have similar travel “identities.” Soon after our rest, we decided to walk around Capitol Hill before getting ready for our evening plans. Shortly before our departure to D.C., my wife had learned that her brother Kyle and his fiancé Christine were visiting the city to see a friend, and our time overlapped. What were the chances? So, we scheduled a dinner date for Friday night. Christine lived in D.C. years earlier, so we trusted her to select the eatery. After an hour of sightseeing, we returned to our hotel, once again, got dressed up, and departed. It was a short metro ride from our hotel, in Capitol Hill, to the eatery closer to the Westchester/Georgetown area. We met up with them around 6 pm with reservations at a beautiful Asian fusion restaurant called Dumplings and Beyond. This eatery serves traditional Chinese food like small dishes of noodles, rice, dumplings, and hot pot, but we focused our attention on the dumplings. It did not disappoint and made for a wonderful memory. After a fantastic dinner with the family, which none of us wanted to end, we went back to the hotel and called it a night. With my half marathon early in the morning, I needed some sleep, but I was more than ready.

Saturday, March 11, 2017 – Day TWO

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

– Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address Delivered on March 4, 1933

Luckily, I was not running the marathon, so I did not need to arise in the morning as early as those who were. Why is this lucky? Well, the temperature that morning was 17°F, so it was freaking cold. I refused to arrive at the race start any earlier than was necessary. With the marathon starting at 7 am, and as I was in a mid-tier corral of the half marathon group, I joined my wife for the hotel breakfast buffet. After a fabulous pre-race meal, I watched on television as the race began, and once enough time passed, I got ready, took the metro, and showed up at the race, with about twenty minutes until I needed to begin. Not bad, right? I loosened up and bundled up, wearing a hat, jacket, stretch thermals, and gloves, for this race since it was probably my coldest half marathon. My wife did accompany me to the race start but quickly departed for Compass Coffee, which, as she told me later, was one of the best coffee shops she had visited. She bought a couple of cans of whole bean coffee to bring home. She always goes to the best places while I run, which is apparent to those who have read my half marathon travel posts. I am not jealous, though!

Even though the race was frigid, this is a fantastic half marathon, and I recommend it to those seeking a flat course with tons of scenery. According to Halfmarathon.net, the race takes “runners on a fast and flat route through the streets of the nation’s capital, with lots of views of iconic national monuments like the U.S. Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the White House, the U.S. Botanical Garden” and “the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Oak Hill Cemetery.” The race starts by quickly passing historic locations like the White House, the National Mall, and Lincoln Memorial, so seeing these landmarks started the race perfectly. As a historian, the historic places on the course made me think very little about the cold. Instead, I quickly got in the zone and observed the marvelous sights while enjoying the atmosphere with other runners.

While not a personal best, I finished at RFK stadium/D.C. Armory with a great time. I have never been under two-hours in a half marathon, but in the end, that’s not my goal. It is to run well, run smart, and run with excitement. In D.C., I did just that and had a great time. I enjoyed what I saw and felt, and finished very strong, with a fantastic finishers medal placed around my neck. Remember, I love finisher medals, and Rock n’ Roll series races have the best race bling. Once I completed the race, I met up with my wife. She took the metro to the finish line after spending a while at the cafe, staying warm and drinking coffee. Unlike some half marathons, this race was a point-to-point race, so the start was different from the finish. We met at our prearranged location, which I recommend people do when meeting up with someone. Thousands of people arrive at the finish line, so it may feel like finding a needle in a haystack if you have not discussed logistics prior. Even though we quickly met up, getting out of the area proved more challenging. The metro stop closest to the finisher zone was utterly packed. It made it hard to get on a train, not to mention it was blisteringly cold. We decided to walk a few blocks away and take another metro, and this worked perfectly. Before we knew it, we were at the hotel. I took a hot shower and got ready for some delicious lunch.

For lunch, my wife chose an excellent eatery called Bantam King. There is nothing better to eat on a cold day, and after having run 13.1 miles, than a bowl of delicious ramen. The establishment we went to was small, but we quickly got a seat at the counter where the chef prepared the ramen. It was a fantastic experience, and exactly what we needed. We ordered the ramen, of course, but also tried a couple of appetizers. Once finished, and with the D.C. temperature slightly warmer, we decided to walk around the city a little more. We ended up near the waterfront and found a unique local brewery named Bluejacket Brewing. I enjoy visiting at least one brewery when traveling, as I feel it is a memorable way to see parts of a city I might not have considered otherwise.

Bluejacket Brewing’s located at the Navy Yard, only a stone’s throw away from Yards Park’s beauty with its waterfall, grassy open area, and lovely riverfront boardwalk. It’s walking distance to Nationals Park, where the Washington Nationals MLB team plays. All of this was only a ten-minute metro ride, or twenty-minute walk, from our hotel area. Someone can easily experience all of D.C.’s excitement. Just another reason I felt our hotel was perfectly located. The brewery is in a century-old former factory, so it has a beautiful industrial look and chic urban vibe. It has long communal tables and one section, acting as a sit-down restaurant, serving American fare food and another seated area performing as a bar, but with the option to eat too. There is an outside area, but it was too cold. So, we grabbed a seat in the separate bar room with communal tables. We were excited to try their microbrews and ended up trying a flight of their stout, blonde ale, pilsner, and IPA. My wife loved the stout, and while I enjoyed the IPA, I loved the blonde ale, which I ordered a pint of once I finished the flight. After spending an hour enjoying the brewery and surrounding area’s vibe, we decided to walk around more.

Enjoying our walk and needing a snack/dessert, we walked away from the Navy Yard and towards Capitol Hill, where we found District Donut. This hip and cute bakery serve classic and unique flavors of yeast gourmet donuts. My wife and I are not fans of cake donuts, not that we eat donuts often, but when we do, we choose yeast donuts. The inside of the bakery was small but friendly, and while only a few donuts options remained, we grabbed those we could and a coffee to go. On our walk through Capitol Hill, we ate our donuts and drank our coffee. Not a terrible way to spend an afternoon in the nation’s capital. Once we had walked off our ramen and donuts, we headed back to the hotel, and once there, we rested. We had one more night in the city, and while we didn’t have anything planned, we knew it would include dinner and walking around. For dinner, my wife asked me to choose the eatery, and while we had already eaten some delicious meals, I was in the mood for Tex-Mex, so I chose a place with great reviews, was close to the hotel, and directly in the center of Capitol Hill. I chose Tortilla Coast without knowing its history or what might await us after we arrived.

A Dinner to Remember, But Do I Want To?

“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

– Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address Delivered on March 4, 1801

If I had done a little more research and googled the eatery’s name, I would have learned that Tortilla Coast is the go-to restaurant for members of Congress and U.S. government employees. Listen, I just wanted Tex-Mex cuisine, not any political run-in. If I had googled the name, I would have learned that Tortilla Coast was “supposedly” where the Freedom Caucus met in 2013 and planned the government shutdown. Again, I just wanted a burrito, some rice, and maybe a cocktail. If I had googled the name, I would have learned that this is a place that is often visited without warning by politicians of any branch of government. If only I had googled the name. Still, my wife offered me the opportunity to choose our eatery, and I chose, without googling, Tortilla Coast.

After resting, and a clothing change, we arrived at Tortilla Coast, and it was empty. It had a very inviting environment. We quickly got a seat, positioned nicely with a view of the city street, and observed a pretty extensive menu. I already knew what I wanted, as a burrito had been on my mind and still was, well, that and chips with salsa. My wife decided to try the taco salad, as well as a mixed drink. As we ate our chips with salsa, more and more people started to come into the restaurant. As soon as the waiter delivered the food and we began to eat, we watched as a commotion started at the restaurant entrance.

Many men dressed in black and blue suits were walking around and positioning themselves at the front door of Tortilla Coast. My wife, who looked nervous at this point, asked what I thought was going on. At first, I thought it was security for a politician, but then I noticed their earpieces and mannerisms that made me think they may be Secret Service. As I said at the beginning of this post, we originally wanted to come to D.C. to celebrate the election of the first female President of the United States. When that didn’t happen, we considered canceling our trip. We didn’t, and instead were eating at Tortilla Coast about to see someone enter the eatery, which was a surprising sight.

Shortly after the men arrived, I noticed a man and woman walk into the restaurant. I am not going to lie; my stomach began to turn. I was hoping it wasn’t the current President. Luckily, it was not, but it was his Vice President. Yes, that is precisely what would happen to wrap up our time in D.C. in March of 2017, a run-in with the United States vice president. It wasn’t Biden circa 2016, not even Al Gore circa 1996, or Kamala Harris circa, two hours from now! Nope, it was Mike Pence, circa 2017. I don’t want to get political. It’s not the point of this post or my blog. Instead, I will say that the VP came in and sat down, and we quickly finished what we could of our meal and, with haste, left the eatery through throngs of Secret Service inside, outside, and a black SUV on each corner of the road. It may have been an uncomfortable moment, but we tried not to let it ruin our experience. With that random moment behind us, we took our last metro ride back to our hotel. We had an early flight the next morning and decided to use that run-in as a message to put a pin on this trip.

Conclusion

“Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither.”

– Theadore Roosevelt’s Second Inaugural Address Delivered March 4, 1905

Hopefully, my 2017 trip to D.C. provided some travel and running insight on this important day, Inauguration Day in America. While not about the inauguration, this trip was a great travel memory to Washington, D.C., even if it was brief, and included that random run-in at Tortilla Coast. It had some fantastic food, an awesome half marathon, and a great family meet up. Even though cold, it was a relaxing weekend made calm by walking around the nation’s capital with no strings attached. I look forward to going back to Washington, D.C. in the future, for a third time with my wife, especially now that Biden is in office, but mainly because I need more of that ramen! I do miss running half marathons and planning trips around those races. As I mentioned in my New Orleans post, I have signed up for and scheduled a couple of half marathon travel trips in 2021. It’s ambitious, but I need something to look forward to after the last year’s events. Until then, stay tuned; I have a few more “runcations” to explore in the months ahead.

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