Whenever my travels take me to the Washington, DC area, I always stay in Alexandria, Virginia.
Founded in 1749 (but with a history of settlement that goes back to 1695) Alexandria is a scenic town on the Potomac River with easy access to Washington, DC but the feel of a small village: lots of independently-owned businesses, great restaurants and cafes, friendly people and narrow streets edged with red-brick sidewalks. It's also, quite simply, a great place to run.
From my hotel, across the street from the King Street Metro Station, it's easy to run straight down the red-brick sidewalks of King Street (or any of the streets running parallel to it) to the waterfront. These are quiet, tree-lined streets and as I run, I keep an eye out for historical markers like this one where I learned about one of the only ice wells still in existence, whence came ice that once chilled the drinks of George Washington, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Once as I passed the city's large market square, I learned that it was once the location of the second-largest slave market in the United States, but is to this day one of the oldest continuously-operating farmers' markets. I've run past an eighteenth-century distillery and a townhouse reconstructed as a replica of George Washington's Alexandria home, on the site where that home once stood. A few blocks away is the Hayti district, a neighborhood forged by Quakers and free African Americans before the Civil War.
From my hotel near the King Street metro, it's a bit over a mile to the waterfront, and just about any time of the day, the path along the Potomac is busy with people: locals walking their dogs, kids walking to school, bike commuters making their way into the city. I've seen jugglers practicing their art in Founders Park, the TC Williams High School Crew pushing out into the water for morning practice, and countless water birds enjoying a meal or an evening swim.
Further north on the Mt. Vernon Trail, the path bends inland, and swampy lands like these predominate. Wading birds and hawks alike can be spotted here, and once at dusk a bat swept right over my head, nearly silent but for the whoosh of air that followed. In the middle of a huge metropolis, wildlife encounters are still possible.
As I travel, I'm not always able to find long, unpaved trails to train on, but I still relish every run in Alexandria.
I'll end this blog entry with a word of warning, though: the historic architecture and beautiful views, combined with the uneven red-brick sidewalks, can be a dangerous combination, even for trailrunners with good proprioception. I admit to having made a number of "blood sacrifices" to this beautiful city as I skinned knees and palms when my attention was focused elsewhere.
So...pay attention, kids, and see you on the trail!