You Can Run a Race Through an Old Prison in Virginia This Weekend

A guard tower at the old Lorton Reformatory. Photograph by Flickr user Forsaken Fotos.

There will be a beer garden with live music in Lorton on Saturday, but to enjoy them you’ll need to “break out” of prison. That afternoon, the decommissioned Lorton Reformatory, which for 91 years housed prisoners from the District, will play host to the inaugural Escape from the Workhouse 5K Adventure Run.

The event, sponsored by the Workhouse Arts Center, which took over the prison after it closed in 2001, starts at 5 PM in the middle of the campus. Runners will venture off-road through the woods and surrounding trails. A police roadblock will help keep participants within the boundaries of the “escape” pathway.

“Odds of escape are not good,” says Ricki Marion, Workhouse Arts Center’s director of development and community relations. She says all of the participants will most likely end the race within the confines of the facility, because the course doubles back to the Workhouse quad for happy hour.

Racers will be dressed as inmates in bright orange T-shirts displaying the event’s date in the style of a prisoner number. Marion advises joggers to stick with their fellow “inmates” during the race.

Known colloquially as the “Workhouse,” the Lorton Reformatory was opened in 1910 as a an agricultural work camp for convicts from DC and operated by the city’s corrections department. (Today, the District sends many of its convicted criminals to federal prisons.)

“It’s part of our identity and we are proud of that,” Marion said.

She said runners can expect a performance from the Army jazz band and beer from nearby Forge Brew Works. The evening event is for those age 21 and up and online registration is $30.

Briana A. Thomas is a local journalist, historian, and tour guide who specializes in the research of D.C. history and culture. She is the author of the Black history book, Black Broadway in Washington, D.C., a story that was first published in Washingtonian in 2016.