It’s often said that the best way to explore any new city is on foot. You can test that hypothesis—and get in your daily workout—by partaking in the new trend of running tours. Faster than walking tours and more nimble than bus tours, these fleet-footed expeditions have sprouted up around the world in the past decade.
In the U.S. alone, there are now running tours at least 16 cities stretching from New York City to Honolulu—and the trend shows no signs of abating. “I had three guides when I started, and now there are eight,” says Annie Gianola, who used to manage the Philadelphia program before becoming the executive director of City Running Tours, a national company that oversees numerous markets (cityrunningtours.com). Gianola, who lives in Philly, still leads local tours on occasion. “I get pretty jazzed up every time I do a tour and people say, ‘I never knew running was so great,’ or ‘I didn’t know Philly had so much history,’ ” she says.
Each city offers a choice of group or personalized runs. Tours usually have some sort of theme, such as architecture or a particular slice of history. The runs generally range between 3 and 7 miles, and while there’s no fitness requirement, participants should feel comfortable running the anticipated distance in moderately hilly conditions. But don’t worry: There are always stops for photos, water, and
history lessons along the way.
We laced up our kicks for trips around the three nearest cities offering jogging jaunts and discovered there’s plenty to see while you pound the pavement.
The Warm-up: Annapolis Running Tours was started in 2014 by outdoorsy empty nesters Charles Goldblum and Beth Robbins, who also own the rights to the Baltimore territory. (They haven’t created any Charm City tours yet, but may soon.) Along with two other guides, the couple leads three themed tours of the state’s capital—Colonial heritage, maritime heritage (both approximately 3 miles), and a tour of St. John’s College and the Naval Academy (6 miles).
In Your Sights: We opted for the Colonial Heritage Tour, which begins at Market House, the collection of food vendors across from City Dock. The route then travels past the magnificent yachts and boats that bob in the row of slips known as Ego Alley before looping through the downtown, taking in many a historic manse along the way. (A particular highlight is a peek over a back wall to the formal terraced gardens of the William Paca House, the home of the former Maryland governor and Declaration of Independence signee.) The tour ends back at City Dock, by the sculpture of Alex Haley, the author of Roots, a sobering reminder that the Colonial quaintness we enjoy today was subsidized by the Atlantic slave trade. The Maritime Heritage Run crosses Spa Creek to Eastport, the hip Annapolis nabe that retains a strong seafaring streak even as it has gentrified over the past few decades. Stops include the Annapolis Maritime Museum located in the former McNasby Oyster Company building, the last remaining oyster-packing plant in Annapolis. The 6-mile trip through the colleges is just that—an up-close look at two of the nation’s most storied temples of higher education: St. John’s College, which traces its roots to 1696 and teaches a curriculum based on the great books of Western Civilization, and The U.S. Naval Academy, which will mark its 170th birthday on October 10.
The hip Annapolis nabe of Eastport retains a strong seafaring streak.
Fun Fact: A debate club met nightly in the 1760s in a building that still stands on Duke of Gloucester Street. The club’s members, who included William Paca and future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, discussed issues of the day, such as aristocracy versus democracy and the populace’s right to dethrone a king—like a ye olde version of Hardball.
Cost: $30-40. Participants get a coupon for 10 percent off at the Annapolis Running Shop.
Refuel: Participants are given water and snacks before being sent out into the Annapolis day. But if you’re craving something more substantial, stop at the most famous sandwich shop in Annapolis, Chick & Ruth’s Delly (165 Main St., 410-269-6737, chickandruths.com), which is known for its oversized sandwiches and platters named for local politicians.
→ WASHINGTON, D.C.
The Warm-up: Washington, D.C. Running Tours offers seven different routes. A 6-mile White House and monument run is popular, as is a 4.4-mile beer tour that ends with refreshments at the Right Proper Brewing Company. Other routes explore Southwest D.C.’s waterfront, Chinatown, the U Street Corridor, and the Eastern Market/Capitol Hill neighborhoods.
In Your Sights: We chose the 6-mile Embassy Row and Foggy Bottom tour, which starts and ends at the fountain in Dupont Circle. The run quickly leaves the green of the park and begins an exploration of the magnificent buildings of Embassy Row. Runners can see how each country defines itself through architecture and statuary. The South African Embassy, for example, features a statue of Nelson Mandela out front, while the Russian Embassy looms over its neighbors, making one wonder what kind of spycraft goes on inside.