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By guest author Heather Miller, Founder, Runfari

Though the concept of running while on vacation may not win the popular vote, “We the People” know racecations are a front-runner for future generations of active vacationers. For those who like to throw a little history into the mix, we’ve outlined six racecation destinations that work the body AND the mind. Consider this your racecation proclamation!

Boston, MA

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Boston Marathon – April
Boston’s Run To Remember – May

B.A.A. Half Marathon – October

Boston may be known for Fenway Park, Boston Cream Pies, New England clam chowder and Samuel Adams beer, but it’s especially proud of its American Revolutionary heritage. And no wonder — with notable icons and events like Paul Revere’s Ride, the Boston Massacre, the USS Constitution, and the Boston Tea Party, Bostonians have every right to boast. But considering this town also happens to be home to the mecca of all marathons, this may just be the ultimate destination for running history buffs. With over one million spectators, a celebratory beer, post-race massage, and a worldwide community of supporters, you’ll be sure to get chills as you cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But don’t worry if you can’t make it for the annual Patriots’ Day celebration — alternatively, you can take on Boston’s Run To Remember which honors fallen law enforcement officers and first responders, or the B.A.A. Half Marathon which runs the Emerald Necklace, a Boston gem made up of six parks designed by famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. In any case, this city won’t disappoint. Check out these post-race recommendations to fuel your knowledge:

  • Freedom Trail — A 2.6-mile route lined with historic sites significant to the American Revolution, including Bunker Hill Monument, Faneuil Hall, Granary Burying Ground, and King’s Chapel. Download the audio tour and head out on your own, or take a history lesson from a costumed guide during a private or public tour.
  • JFK Presidential Library and Museum — Dedicated to one of the most beloved U.S. Presidents, the library and museum sits on ten acres of park and is committed to the “life, legacy, and leadership” of President John F. Kennedy. From interactive exhibits and theaters, to personal artifacts and tours, you’ll learn everything about his family, campaign trail and presidency. And if that isn’t enough, JFK’s ties to the ultrarunning community should be. As President he inspired numerous 50-mile events (including Maryland’s own JFK 50 Mile) in his effort to bring the country back to fitness — baller.
  • Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum — Bring the kids and step into character on this floating museum where history gets interactive. Explore exhibits and restored ships, as you’re thrown back into time where live actors help you learn about the people, events and consequences leading up to the American Revolution. And even though you’ll dump tea overboard with the Patriots, Abigail’s Tea Room has a secret stash hidden away – so get those pinky fingers ready for an afternoon of tea, sandwiches and relaxation on the terrace.

Charleston, SC

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Charleston Marathon & Half Marathon – January
Cooper River Bridge Run 10K – April

Life below the Mason-Dixon Line is more than fried chicken, football and country music. Known for its old city charm, beautiful architecture and hospitable people, Charleston also played a significant role in the American Revolution, Civil War, and African-American histories. Running in this town will take you past manicured gardens and monuments, historic churches and plantations, and scenic water views, all paying tribute to the city’s past. So after you cross the finish line, treat yourself to some good home-style cooking with all the fixins and check out what this city has to offer. Y’all come back now, ya hear!

  • Fort Sumter National Monument — Visit this historic location where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. There is no entrance fee, but the island is only accessible by boat. Ahoy matey.
  • Drayton Hall — America’s oldest unrestored plantation house and grounds offering guided tours, nature walks, a memorial, exhibit center and more.
  • The Old Slave Mart Museum — An old slave auction house-turned-museum. Though children are welcome, this museum is geared toward adults due to the amount of reading involved. Heavy, but informative and educational.

Gettysburg, PA

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Gettysburg Festival of Races (North-South Marathon & Blue-Gray Half) – April
Gettysburg Battlefield Half Marathon – November

Gettysburg is best known for its American Civil War history, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. A family-friendly destination, this Civil War town takes its history seriously with live battle reenactments, museums, tours, historic monuments and national parks. And though those battlefield hills may feel as though they take “four score and seven years” to finish, we can promise these courses will be worth it. Run with the Blue/North or the Gray/South at the Gettysburg Festival of Races, but choose carefully — the winning side in each race earns bragging rights and an extra prize. A competition within a competition? Double score.

  • Gettysburg National Military Park — Learn how Gettysburg played a turning point in the Civil War by visiting its battlegrounds, cemeteries and statues. Take a guided tour with a ranger or explore on your own via foot, bike, or horseback.
  • Gettysburg Museum of History — Immerse yourself in a personal collection of 4,000 artifacts and exhibits from the American Civil War, World War I and II, U.S. Presidents, and pop culture icons. You’ll see items relating to Lyndon B. Johnson, John Wilkes Booth, General George Patton, and more.

Harpers Ferry, WV

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Harpers Ferry Half Marathon & 5K – May
Freedom’s Run – October

Most well known for John Brown’s raid on the Armory during the American Civil War, Harpers Ferry is a small, quaint historic town located where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet the state lines of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Blending history, education and outdoor recreation, these races take off to the sound of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and will have you running for the hills — literally. With the elevation change of these battlefields, you best come prepared for a course that is anything but flat. Run through several Civil War towns, enjoy a refreshing post-race beer, and explore these historic areas:

  • Harpers Ferry National Park — Take a step back in time at this 4,000-acre park rich with Native American and American Civil War histories. Experience interactive exhibits, informative museums, artisan trade workshops, and historic trails and battlefields. Bring the family and get active on land or water with hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, and whitewater rafting.
  • Antietam National Battlefield — Learn how General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North led to the “bloodiest one-day battle in American History” with nearly 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing. Take a tour with a ranger, visit the monuments, and explore these historic lands with outdoor adventure.

Philadelphia, PA

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Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon – March
Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon – September
Philadelphia Marathon – November

The City of Brotherly Love is known for more than its die-hard sports fans, delicious cheesesteaks and famous Rocky Statue. Philadelphia has been rooted in American history dating back to our Founding Fathers. Often referred to as the “Birthplace of America”, it was home to the convening of the Continental Congress, the signing of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and was even temporarily the Nation’s Capital. So make that Philadelphia finish line ancient history, and test your knowledge at these local attractions:

  • Independence National Historic Park — A park that spans twenty city blocks and serves to preserve many sites significant to the American Revolution. Bring the family and “let freedom ring” with The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Washington Square, Benjamin Franklin National Monument, and more.
  • National Constitution Center — An historic museum having everything to do with the Constitution. Whether you want to read it, learn it, or debate it, you’ll get a hands-on, interactive experience with the most supreme law of the land. Sustained.

Washington, DC

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Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon & 1/2 Marathon – March
Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run – April
Marine Corps Marathon – October

Washington DC, the capital of the United States, is at the center of American history, politics, and democracy. Named after First President George Washington, it is home to the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court, making it a focal point of the U.S. government. With its neoclassical architecture, historic landmarks, and heavy military presence, it’s no surprise that the Marine Corps Marathon is one of the East Coast’s most popular races. This “Marathon of Monuments” will have you running through history with the likes of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol Building, Jefferson Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery. But if you can’t make this Marine-filled fall extravaganza, check out the springtime Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run or the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon & Half, each of which likewise delivers its runners a capital time. So run, walk, crawl, or drag yourself over those DC finish lines — then start exploring this amazing city. Oorah!

  • National Archives Museum — A museum focused on telling the American story through its display of historically significant documents, records, exhibits, learning centers, and special events. A good history lesson for adults and children alike, with highlights that include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
  • National Mall and Memorial Parks — One of the busiest locations in DC, this popular open green space serves to honor and celebrate the nation’s commitment to democracy. Home to historic monuments and buildings, it’s also a gathering point for relaxation and outdoor recreation.
  • Smithsonian Institute — The world’s largest museum and research complex operates 19 museums and galleries plus additional exhibits and even a zoo! Get your history on with the American History Museum, African American History and Culture Museum, American Indian Museum, National Zoo, and many others. Choose carefully because we promise you won’t be able to fit it all in!

Looking for more races in each of these destination cities?  Search for Races by State or use our handy Find a Race tool to search by name, date, location (US state, city, zip code radius), distance, terrain & more.

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(Updated October 17, 2019; originally published May 5, 2016)

About our guest contributor

Heather Miller, founder of Runfari

Heather Miller is a Baltimore-based runner who is currently pursuing her goal of completing a marathon in all 50 states. She’s also an IRONMAN® finisher and the founder of Runfari, which provides runners with racecation goodie bags filled with exclusive offers for race registrations, local eats, and vacation activities. Simply sign up, find a bag and begin discovering! Learn more at www.runfari.com. #racecation

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2 thoughts on “6 Racecation destinations for U.S. history buffs

  1. Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA in November is a great one. Two loops around the September 1863 Battlefield of Chickamauga, one of the bloodiest battles of the Western Theater of the Civil War. Great small race.

    1. I second Mark’s recommendation. In fact, Chattanooga, TN could easily be added to this list of historic destination cities. (Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon, held each November, is just over the state line and is actually put on by the Chattanooga Track Club. Between the fall leaves and the historic monuments, it’s one of the loveliest races you may ever run.) Many of the local races are held in historic areas, including the Chickamauga Chase (15K/5K/8 mile trail race, April) and Missionary Ridge Road Race (4.7 miles beginning and ending at historic Bragg Reservation, August). For those seeking a spring marathon or half, there is the Chattanooga Marathon weekend in early March. Chattanooga is also home to full distance (September) and 70.3 (May) IRONMAN events each year. Come for the roads or the trails and enjoy some history while you are here!

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