Culture

The Best and Most Rewarding Way to View the U.S. Capitol

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Looking West towards the Washington Monument.

One of the most obvious landmarks in our nation’s capital is, well, The Capitol.  The dome crowns The Hill’s marble sidewalks and lush gardens and towers over all of the other buildings in D.C.  In “Wisconsinite,” it is the “Big Cheese.”

This building is one of the quintessential places to visit in Washington, D.C., however, I think many of the tourists miss it at its most magical.  No, it’s not the Capitol as a backdrop during the 4th of July, nor a silent guardian amongst untouched snow in Winter.  The Capitol truly shines on quiet, ordinary nights– and I will tell you WHEN and HOW you should go see it.  This week’s destination in D.C. is for the population that is exercise-inclined.  You’ll see that this matters.

I’m a runner–but I’m very far from an expert.  I don’t drink weird shakes in the morning or plan my life around running marathons.  I’m a “casual runner”…maybe 10-15 miles a week on a non-couch potato week.

When I first made the move from the suburbs of Alexandria, Virginia to downtown Washington, D.C., it was a bit of a shock.  Loud.  People.  Sirens.   Exploring a new running route when you’re new to the city (especially D.C.) could spell bad news.  I had seen people get hit by cars on the streets and I wasn’t quite sure where the safe areas were.    When I finally decided to renew my running habit, I found a great running destination in plain sight: The Capitol.

My first few runs were just through the neighborhood and around my work but one night I decided to venture out further–towards the Library of Congress, Hart Office Building, and near The Capitol grounds.

I’m not sure what made me run towards the Capitol the first time–I honestly had never been in it or very close to it. My weary legs and bright orange running shoes just carried me there.  It being D.C. (built on a lovely swamp) it was the typical 80,000 degrees Fahrenheit and I was sweating like a fluffy St. Bernard in Tuscon, Arizona.  I was miserable.  Every runner wants their run to be “AWESOME”–to break a milestone of some sort.  I was just trying to stay alive during mine.

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I make lots of friends when I run in these.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=332QeTNmfh8

With sunset came a reprieve from the crushing heat–I started to get into the groove and picked up some speed.  By dark, I found myself on the east side of the Capitol building. Alone. It was completely quiet.

Other city dwellers and D.C. residents will realize how odd this is, especially near one of the most important and most famous buildings in this country.  Where were the cops carrying AR-15s?  Where were the tourists?  On 1st and East Capitol NE I just stopped and I looked up.  There, in front of me was one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen.

I was completely exhausted. Sweaty. Sore.  There, before me, was the east side of The Capitol glowing like it was coming from within.  Ronald Reagan’s quote came to mind, “America is a shining city upon a hill.”  This was it if anything was.

I jogged up the pathway, passed the underground guest entrance doors, until I was standing on the stone terrace that surrounds The Capitol.  I honestly cannot describe how beautiful The Capitol looked–shining against the blue night sky.  I was completely alone in this moment.  I sat down. There, on the giant expanse of stone, and just stared at the magnificence of this building.

Call me sentimental, emotional, uber-patriotic, whatever, but I thought about all the history that had come before this moment–all of the sacrifice. Time. Lives. Blood. Sweat.  This building stands because people continue to fight for it and believe in the mission that erected it: liberty, democracy, freedom.  And me, little, sweaty me in pink shorts and orange shoes sat there and admired it–appreciated it–and pondered how lucky she was.  I felt proud.

I took leave from that magnificent sight and ran home that night with such a feeling of content and warmth–it’s honestly hard to describe.  You’ll just have to lace up your running shoes and run out there and experience it yourself–exhausted, tired, and aching–and truly appreciative of what this country gives us.  Seeing that building lit up against the sky will take your breath away and replenish the energy you’ve lost.  It’s a near religious experience.

Just do it.

Who Should go?

Runners looking for both a great run and a natural high of patriotism!  I especially urge native D.C.-ers to go revisit that Capitol.  Seeing it up close, at night is especially striking. Exercise is also good for you.

Where is it?

The U.S. Capitol. Enter at 1st Street Northeast and East Capitol Street Northeast.  You can get closer on this side (the east side).

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West side of The Capitol.