On a recent drizzly Saturday, as the clock approached 8 a.m., the only sound at the Washington Monument grounds was that of flags whipping in the wind. As the sky threatened a downpour, a handful of people in running shoes congregated on the monument's east side.

What motivated them to head out in the rain? The National Park Service's free, twice-monthly Chit-Chat Run, a jogging tour that promises a side of history. On this morning, the theme was iconic first ladies; Park Service volunteer Jen Ripley guided the group of six.


You don't have to be a marathoner to tag along on the Chit-Chat. The jog, which spans an hour and about 3 1/2 miles of urban pavement, travels at a leisurely pace and is punctuated by frequent stops along the route.

Ripley's tour took joggers to the White House to hear about Mary Todd Lincoln's lavish spending habits and Abigail Adams, who hung her laundry to dry in the East Room; the American History Museum, to discuss first lady fashion (and Jackie Kennedy's Chanel suits, naturally); the Tidal Basin to talk about Helen Taft, the first lady who arranged for the planting of the cherry trees; and the FDR Memorial, to hear about the outspoken, down-to-earth Eleanor Roosevelt.

The historical trivia and friendly conversation with other runners makes it easy to forget you're exercising. Although the group consisted mainly of locals, the jog also appealed to tourists who planned to get outside and see the city.

"I figure, I'm going to be out here, anyway, miserable weather as it is," Australian Ken Finck said. "I might as well be doing something interesting."


Chit-Chat Run tours are free and offered the second Saturday and Sunday of each month, rain or shine, starting at the Washington Monument. For more information, call National Park Service ranger Susan Martin at 202-437-1888.

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