Sunday, May 05, 2013

Family Fun in Washington DC

In August 2012, we took our three kids on a road trip to DC and spent 10 days there doing all the tourist things. I've been asked several times for suggestions based on what we saw and liked for others planning similar trips. Instead of re-writing the whole thing each time, I put it all here and will be more than happy to direct anyone to read through this and ask any other questions. There are also many resources online for what to do in DC with families.

National Mall. Note that all the Smithsonian (and many other) museums are free, which is a win, but they partly compensate for that with the prices of food. We never took the time to really search out food options outside the museums while we were there. We chose convenience over price. We tended to buy lunch in the cafes/restaurants while out sight-seeing, and then make our own simple dinners at the hotel (we had a small kitchenette). Also, there's no subway/bus line that really goes around the mall so you have to do a lot of walking.


Downtown DC

  • Air and Space Museum. Kind of a must with kids. Great exhibits and interactive areas. The cafe here sucks big time - it's McDonald's and always crammed and gross. We went to the Museum of the American Indian next door for lunch and then came back rather than fighting through this cafe.
  • Museum of the American Indian. I wish we'd spent time here, but we never made it past the lobby on the way to the cafe. I've only heard amazing things about it. The cafe is expensive, but very good with a rotating menu that reflects different Native American traditions and cultures.
  • Museum of Natural History. Kids loved this one. Lots of diverse and really interesting exhibits. The gemstones exhibit is unique. Cafe is standard cafeteria food. Good, but (as usual) expensive.
  • Museum of American History. Our kids loved the transportation section, the Star-Spangled Banner, and Kermit, but not much else. They didn't understand most of the contemporary cultural exhibits. But they have a lot of rotating exhibits, so there are probably different exhibits now.
  • National Gallery of Art. Absolutely lovely if you have an art lover. And they have the only DaVinci in North America. The cafe in the basement is very nice and overlooks both a dug-out waterfall and a tunnel of lights that's a lot of fun to walk through.
  • Sculpture Garden. Outdoor part of the National Gallery. It was really nice to walk around it in the summer. There is a Pavilion Cafe in the sculpture garden that we really enjoyed.
  • National Archives. Totally worth it and doesn't take too long. See the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution and one of the original Magna Carta. We went first thing one morning and there was virtually no line.
  • White House. It’s a self-guided tour, and you can go at your own pace and spend as much time in each room as you want. It covers the official state rooms, and there are Secret Service officers stationed in each room. Those officers are an amazing wealth of knowledge! They will answer any questions and tell amazing stories about administrations and events in each of the rooms. But you usually have to request (free) tickets at least six months in advance through your Representative or Senator. Note: Tours are current suspended due to sequestration. Hopefully that will change soon.
  • Capitol/Library of Congress. You can walk into the Capitol visitor center and get a free tour ticket anytime. The standard tour is okay (you can see the dome), but if you contact your Representative or Senator ahead of time you might be able to get tickets to the galleries that look out on the chamber floors. There's an underground walkway from the Capitol to the Library of Congress. We walked around the LoC for less than an hour, but I'm glad we did. Stunning architecture and displays in the main lobby.
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A really interesting tour. Watch real paper bills being printed!
  • Monuments/Memorials. Washington/Lincoln/Vietnam are all close together (opposite end of
    the Mall from the Capitol) around the Reflecting Pool and somewhat easy to walk to, though the Lincoln Memorial is at the very far end of the Mall. The kids really liked these. We never made it to the Jefferson or Roosevelt monuments, because those require walking to the other side of the reservoir and our kids just didn't have it in them at the time.

Other around DC

  • National Zoo. It's okay. Very, very hilly which made for lots of complaining from our crew because we were there after spending several days walking all over the Mall. The pandas are certainly unique, but the rest of it is a regular zoo. Food is typical zoo-fare, but there are lots of little eateries on the city streets just outside the zoo. The Zoo is also free (part of the Smithsonian) so it’s easy to come and go as often as you like.
  • Udvar-Hazy (annex of the Air and Space Museum). About an hour from downtown DC near
    Dulles airport in VA. This is the one we're all dying to go back to already! There's not really any interactive stuff, so Audrey was a bit harder to keep engaged. But it's an ENORMOUS hanger filled with planes and other aircraft. Fascinating stuff. I think it's worth the drive even if all you do is visit the space wing to see the Space Shuttle Discovery nose-to-nose – it’s a breath-taking experience! Again, cafe is nothing but McDonald's and there's no place to go outside the building. But you can bring your own food.
  • National Aquarium. This is in Baltimore. It's a nice aquarium, but I'm not sure I'd make it a priority over the stuff in downtown DC.
  • B&O Railroad Museum. Also in Baltimore. One of my husband’s favorites. A must for any train lover.
  • Mount Vernon. About an hour drive from DC and very nicely maintained. You can easily
    spend a full day walking around the grounds.

If you contact the office of your Senator or Representative, you can also get (free) tickets to tours of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Library of Congress, or Kennedy Center for the Arts. There may be a few other options, too. It's only the White House tours that require long advance notice and background checks.

What We Didn’t Get To, But Hear Great Things About

We stayed at Residence Inn in Greenbelt, Maryland, about a 5 minute drive from a Metro station with a very large commuter parking lot. The hotel prices in DC were astronomical, and we really wanted a place with a kitchen so we could make our own dinners after a long day of sight-seeing.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Nike Women Half Marathon

On Sunday April 27, 2013, I participated in the inaugural Nike Women Half Marathon in Washington DC along with 15,000+ other runners (mostly women), including my partner-in-crime for the day Alison. This was my first half marathon.

The course meandered around the big sights of downtown Washington DC - National Mall, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, National Archives, the Capitol, and so much more. A lovely, lovely course. 

Alison and I at the "We Run" sign at the Nike Expotique. It was amazingly perfectly proportioned to be able to use it as a cover photo. Which I did. Have to give Nike credit for knowing their audience and catering to discerning women with disposable income who like to shop.

After dinner near Dupont Circle the evening before the race, we were able to stick around to see President Obama's motorcade on the way to the White House Correspondent's dinner. Streets were blocked off and the helicopter started circling about 30 minutes before. About 10 minutes before, police cars startied zipping up and down the empty streets. Then came the motorcycle cops - 7 or 8 of them. Followed by several police cars, two black limos (above - one of which carried the President), two large black SUVs (also above), more police cars, an ambulance, more police cars, and more motorcycle cops. The DC locals seemed to not even notice. I was quite impressed, and can't imagine living in a way that requires that kind of environment.

On the wall outside Nike Georgetown, there was a mural that said "We Run DC" created out of all the names of the registered runners. It was quite something. And right down the street was Baked & Wired, where Wayland introduced me to the most amazing Coconut Cupcake ever!

 Look! There's my name!

Waking up at 5am on race day was rather difficult, especially since I'd had to wake up at 5:30am the day before to get to the airport. But I managed to find my way out of my cousin's apartment in the dark and actually find my way back to the Metro station. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to bring any of my breakfast that morning, but there was a 7-11 open so I was able to grab a banana, a Clif bar, and some water. I was proud to wear my Boston bib on the back of my shirt.

 Alison and I in the corral and not really awake yet. 

Way in the back of thousands upon thousands of runners. Next time, I think I'd put myself in one pace corral faster. It would be a more appropriate reflection of my pace, and the field was so crowded that weaving around the people walking at the beginning was rather difficult. One of the very few things I think Nike could improve on next year is to delay some of the corral starts to allow runners time to spread out on the course.

But the most amazing thing was that just before the race started, the officials called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. And within a few seconds, all 15,000 runners plus the thousands of spectators all gathered together in that small space of a couple blocks were utterly and completely silent. You could hear the birds chirping. You could have heard a pin drop. Time truly stood still. It gave me such goosebumps!

 Had the honor of watching sunrise over the Capitol as we waited for the race to start.

As Alison said, "It's like a rave, but with runners!" This was in the 9th Street tunnel that goes under the National Mall. It was within the first mile and the space was filled wall-to-wall with runners. Barely any room to move and you had to be careful not to step on someone else's feet. (This is one place where a staggered start may have helped.) But within this fairly long tunnel, there were two different drummers set up to get hearts pumping and maximize the energy. Super-duper loud and overwhelming in there!
As we came out of the tunnel, everyone was funneled onto a narrow off-ramp. It was narrow enough and crowded enough that everyone was forced to a near stop to get through it. We stopped to take a photo of the tight crowd going around the bed after that funnel. So many people!

Over the miles, though, I came to appreciate that crowd - at least once it thinned out a bit. Nowhere else have I seen so many runners in one place who run at my slow pace! It was very gratifying.

Mile 3 rounded around the Lincoln Memorial.

The lawn behind the Lincoln Memorial had a group of Chinese dragon dancers and drummers. They were so enthusiastic and energetic! There were great groups all along the course, but I think my favorite was an all women African drumming group behind the Kennedy Center for the Arts. They were astonishing!

Still feeling great at Mile 3!

Behind the Lincoln Memorial, we ran across Arlington Bridge to the rotary at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. Looking back across the bridge at the Memorial was definitely worth of a photo stop.

Mile 7 and still feeling good. This was the start of several miles around East Potomac Park that was kind of lonely. Yes, there were runners all over the place. But there were no spectators, no bands, no one to help us maintain energy through this stretch. There were great volunteers at the water stations trying their best to cheer us on, but they were also overwhelmed by the volume of people coming through. It would have been a great place for a band or two (it is difficult to get spectators out there).

Mile 10 after coming out of East Potomac Park. Legs are starting to get tired and sore at this point despite the smile.

Turning the corner to do the loop in front of the Capitol building. That loop is much longer than it looks, especially when you're on the last couple miles of a half marathon and your legs are pretty well shot!

See that tiny green sign in the middle of the photo? It's the FINISH LINE!!! This was taken during a walk break because we couldn't even make it that far running at this point.

The finish line! There it is!

Just up ahead, we saw Alison's husband and 2 year old daughter (sitting on Daddy's shoulders) on the sidelines. Her daughter's eyes lit up when she spied her mom and she screamed out "It's Momma!" with the biggest grin possible. So adorable.

Little blue boxes from Tiffany's awaited the runners at the finish line.

Handed out by these lovely and gracious young men in tuxedos.

The necklace (in place of a medal) is quite beautiful. The front features the silhouette of a runner on a backdrop of cherry blossoms. The back has the name and date of the race.

We did it. We actually did it. Official time was 2:53. Actual moving time (removing pit stops and photo ops) was 2:40-2:45. Neither of us was able to keep a totally accurate time on our various devices.

'Ama Runs also has a nice race recap. I wouldn't recommend coming into a Nike race and thinking it's like a small road race where you can really do your own thing and find a pace and finish time that pushes you, or really try for a PR. The Nike races seem to be much more about the community and shared experience. If that's your expectation, it can't be beat!