For most Americans, the “Presidential race” isn’t measured in miles and a “running mate” isn’t someone who shares your fitness goals. Nonetheless, a number of running events from 5K to 50 miles now embrace our nation’s history by featuring and celebrating its past leaders. As the country commemorates Presidents’ Day this week, we spotlight ten races that showcase former U.S. Presidents—or as we like to call ‘em, PROTUS.
(Do you know which President appeared on the largest denomination of U.S. currency ever printed? Read on—the answer may surprise you!)
George Washington’s Birthday Marathon and Relay – Beltsville, MD
(Feb; marathon, marathon relay)
There’s no better way to kick off the presidential racing season than with this homage to our nation’s first Commander-in-Chief. Now in its 56th year and held on the Sunday before Presidents’ Day, the race comprises three gently rolling loops along the two-lane roads of the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. True to its venue, runners are treated to wide-open countryside and the unmistakable aroma of livestock manure, while the echos of gunfire from the nearby County Trap and Skeet Center offer a sharp reminder of civilization’s proximity. George-themed swag and presidential birthday cake await all finishers, and we cannot tell a lie—this one’s a Boston Qualifier!
Run AJM Jackson (Andrew Jackson Marathon) – Jackson, TN
(Apr; marathon, half marathon)
First run in 1972, Tennessee’s oldest marathon and the town in which it’s held both bear the name of our nation’s 7th President. The Run AJM Jackson course starts and finishes in the city’s historic downtown district, within a stone’s throw of popular local attractions like Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum and the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame. Half marathoners run one loop of the rolling course while full marathoners run two. And as the founder of the Democratic Party, Jackson himself likely would have appreciated the organizers’ liberal offer to pay Boston Marathon entry fees for the first three male and female finishers who qualify for Boston at their race.
Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon – Springfield, IL
(Apr; half marathon)
If you’re looking to walk a mile (or 13.1) in The Great Emancipator’s shoes, then look no further than Springfield’s Lincoln Presidential Half. This scenic tour of Illinois’ capital city starts and finishes at the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech in 1858. Along the way the course passes his law offices, the home where he lived for 17 years before being elected our 16th President, and the stately Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, site of his final resting place. Back at the Old State Capitol, Honest Abe and Mary Todd impersonators offer words of encouragement plus post-race photo opportunities. And where else can you see spectators appropriately dressed as pennies?
Eisenhower Marathon – Abilene, KS
(Apr; marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K)
While words like “fun” and “low-key” aren’t typically associated with a five-star general, the Eisenhower Marathon fits the bill. This flat, two-loop Boston Qualifier follows the historic Chisholm Trail used by cattlemen in the 1800s, allowing runners plenty of elbow room and fresh air. The race starts and finishes at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, the site of our 34th President’s boyhood home and final resting place. Best of all, the event benefits up to two dozen nonprofits that support local low-income families. Throw in an all-you-can-eat pre-race pasta dinner and post-race brunch sponsored by the local parish, and it’s easy to see why Eisenhower Marathon finishers proudly proclaim, “I like Ike!”
George Washington Parkway Classic – Alexandria, VA
(Apr; 10 miler, 5K)
By George! If running a marathon in Washington’s name seems too daunting a task, then the Parkway Classic may be just the solution. And April is the perfect time to enjoy lush spring foliage, sparkling views of the Potomac and Alexandria’s red brick neighborhoods. Both the 10 mile and 5K courses run along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and share significant overlap with another presidential race, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half in November (see below). As an added bonus, the 10-miler begins on the steps of Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. Photo opportunities with the man himself await all finishers, along with kids activities and the Port City Beer Garden for finishers 21 and over.
Chasing Jefferson Davis Marathon – Fitzgerald, GA
(May; marathon, half marathon)
Though never President of the United States, Jefferson Davis was the lone President of the short-lived Confederate States during the Civil War. As the race name suggests, this point-to-point course from Fitzgerald to Abbeville follows the route taken by Davis during his unsuccessful attempt to evade capture in May 1865. Through farm land and pine woods on both paved and unpaved roads, marathoners run through three Georgia counties before finishing within feet of the actual site of his capture. And while Davis received a charge of treason for his troubles, all CJD finishers receive a shirt in their randomly assigned team color (Blue or Gray) as well as a commemorative medal to mark their achievement.
Grant-Pierce Marathon – Arlington, VA
(Jun; 50K, marathon)
Despite boasting the surnames of two former U.S. Presidents, the Grant-Pierce Marathon is in fact named after running phenom Michael Wardian’s two sons. That said, the race is held at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, so how could we overlook it? Grant-Pierce is the only indoor, climate-controlled event on this list and one of only a handful of indoor marathons in the country. And while government often feels like it’s going in circles, Grant-Pierce really does, with 211 laps required to run 26.2 miles and earn its finisher belt buckle. What’s in a name? Inspiration apparently, as the indefatigable Wardian set world indoor marathon (2:27:12) and 50K (3:12:13) records here in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
Marine Corps Marathon – Arlington, VA
(Oct; marathon, 10K, kids run)
“The People’s Marathon” is a rousing tour of our nation’s capital and a patriotic tribute to the men and women who serve this country. Starting between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the course showcases 240 years of American history including such Presidential landmarks as the Kennedy Center, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and Washington Monument. Most powerful is the wear blue Mile, a living memorial to the fallen heroes of the U.S. Military. In an increasingly social media-centric world where the word “inspiring” threatens to lose its meaning, no race is more inspiring than the Marine Corps Marathon.
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon & 6K – Alexandria, VA
(Nov; half marathon, 6K)
Named for the bridge it crosses (and by extension our 28th President), the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half was recognized by Runner’s World in 2013 as one of the 27 best half marathons in the country. Constituents laud the event for its first-rate production and scenic course, which features stunning views of the Potomac River and Old Town Alexandria, plus a Finish Line Festival with live music, local microbrews and an appearance by the race mascot himself, Woody Wilson (above). And don’t forget your commemorative Woody Hoody! Little-known fact: the Bureau of Engraving and Printing featured Wilson on the 1934 $100,000 gold certificate, the largest denomination of U.S. currency ever printed.
A word of warning: Following a change in ownership, the 2017 event earned a number of poor (1-shoe) reviews from disgruntled finishers who cited their frustration with the “shady” production. Therefore, if Crucible Racing remains at the helm for 2018, we can’t in good conscience recommend this event to runners. Caveat emptor.
JFK 50 Mile – Boonsboro, MD
(Nov; 50 miler)
Founded when JFK himself was in the White House and now in its 55th year, the JFK 50 Mile is the oldest ultramarathon and largest 50-mile race in the U.S. The point-to-point horseshoe course starts with 11 of its first 15 miles on the Appalachian Trail, before connecting with the unpaved C&O Canal Towpath for the next 26 miles. Along the way it passes such landmarks as the original Washington Monument in Boonsboro, the B&O Railroad and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The weekend kicks off with a pasta dinner/social honoring JFK 50 Mile “Legends”, an event open to race participants and their guests. To (mis)quote our 35th President, “Ask not what your cartilage can do for you…”
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(Updated Feb 9, 2018; originally published Feb 23, 2017)
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