Philadelphia's Broad Street Run, May 2018

While I don’t run with the same frequency (or distance!) as my wife, I do enjoy participating in the occasional race. If I do, it is usually because Ruth and a handful of our close friends have also signed up, which prompts me to be a good sport and participate as well.

Last year, a group of us signed up for Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run, the infamous 10-miler that goes in a straight line down Broad Street, cutting through the city from north to south. Our primary motivation was to raise money for our close friend’s sister, Susie, who was battling cancer at the time. Though 10 miles is still an intimidating distance for me, running for Susie and to support her family was a great motivator, and the race turned out to be a fun, invigorating experience. So, when the 2017 race was all said and done, we entered the lottery for the 2018 run as well. Five of us in total signed up, and again, I decided to participate rather than spectate for this one.

And then, race day approached, and the texts started to come in:

John: I deferred my Broad Street entry, I’m going to do next year instead.

Kate: My back has been bothering me, so I think I’m out for this year.

Ruth: My hip is giving me trouble after the recent marathons, probably best if I don’t run this one.

Scott: Forecast looks like rain. If it rains, I’m out.

Which left…me. Perennial spectator, not a particularly enthusiastic runner, and the one who signed up simply to be a good sport and participate with the other four! As the days ticked by, and our friends, and even Ruth, started dropping out, I began to consider whether running alone was really something I wanted to do. I’m a slower pace than our friends, so no one technically ever runs “with” me, but I’m also never the reason we are all there, so I don’t mind coming in a little behind everyone else. The idea that some or all of our friends would still show up, but be there to cheer memade me uneasy. The pressure! I decided to stick it out anyway, and rain or shine, fellow runners or not, I was doing the Broad Street.

The night before the run, I was feeling really anxious. Ruth and John had decided they would take me to the run and cheer for me along the course, and our friends Kate and Scott decided to host a post-race party at their house for all of us to enjoy after the run was done. Having Ruth plan to be on the course cheering for me was complete role reversal, and I found myself answering the same questions I usually ask her before a run.

What side of the road will you run on? The righthand side.

What do you think your pace will be? Probably 9.5 to 10 min miles.

Will you carry your phone? Yes.

Did you sign up for tracking? Oh, right, I’ll do that now.

The morning of the race, I got ready and we picked up John on our way towards the city. The Broad Street Run starts in North Philadelphia and cuts through the city heading south, finishing in the Navy Yard, which is near Philadelphia’s sports stadiums. Dropping a runner off at the race can be challenging because once Broad Street closes that morning, you are stuck on whatever side of the city you are on until the race is finished. So, it is critical to plan carefully! Ruth and John dropped me about a ¼ mile from the start on the west side of Broad and said they would go into center city and find parking near City Hall. They indicated their first cheering stop would be around the 5.5 mile mark, just below City Hall. As a runner, it helps tremendously to know the approximate location of your spectator(s) so that you don’t spend the whole race looking around for them unnecessarily. Searching the crowd for faces can be exhausting, and you have to keep your energy for the race itself!

I walked up to the start and hopped in my corral, using the time before the race to put together a last-minute running playlist on my phone. As soon as the air horn sounded, and the Rocky theme blared through the speakers (a favorite tradition at Philadelphia races is playing the Rocky theme as often as possible), I made my way across the finish line and joined the throngs of runners beginning the race.

With over 40,000 participants, the Broad Street 10-miler is one of the largest races in the country, even outranking most marathons in terms of number of runners. Whether you are a runner or a spectator, if you participate in the event that is the Broad Street Run, you will really see the city of Philadelphia come together. Lining the streets for the entire ten miles of the race are local individuals, families, and business-owners, many with posters and signs, to cheer on the runners. People sit along the sidewalks in lawn chairs, or on their front porches, shouting encouragement and waving as the multitudes of runners pass by. Some people dance, some hold out their hands for high-fives, and others even try to get you to drop out, like the one guy I saw with a sign that said, “Free Beer for Quitters” (very tempting, I have to admit). The city comes out to run, and to support its runners, and the entire morning becomes something of a city-wide block party.

       

As I ran on Sunday, I got to enjoy high-fives and “you go girl” cheers from total strangers, but best of all, for the first time ever I got to spot MY OWN spectators along the route! Ruth and John stood on the median of Broad Street just south of City Hall as planned, and considering our friend John is approximately seven feet tall (not an exaggeration, that is his height), I had the advantage of spotting them before they spotted me. I jogged over to them for a big hug and a high-five. They seemed equally thrilled to have succeeded in finding me, and assured me they would find me again along the course. They also said, “This spectating stuff is hard!” Seeing spectators cheering is one of the best parts of any race, but seeing spectators who are there to cheer for you specifically is unparalleled in its energy-boosting quality. I left John and Ruth behind me and headed towards Mile 7, still feeling pretty good and keeping a steady 10-min mile pace. Around Mile 8, I saw our good friend Adam, who was out cheering in South Philly with his two-year-old daughter, Emi. Another bear hug and high-five from each of them, and I was off again. I couldn’t believe at this point that the finish was only a few miles ahead! The race was going by quickly, and I surprised myself by not yet feeling the aches and pains of the run. 

Just before Mile 9, I saw the top of John’s head among the crowd and again felt the thrill of finding my spectators! At this point, being so close to the finish, John snapped a few photos of me and Ruth together, a true first with me on the course in my gear and her in jeans and a sweatshirt. We agreed then to meet up the left-hand side of the course following the finish, and I took off to complete what I had started. Moments later, I could feel my phone vibrating in my hand and I looked down to see “Dad” on the screen. My parents were away in California for the week, and so I first ignored the call to concentrate on my final ten minutes of the run. But then the vibrating started again, and this time it said, “Dad FaceTime”. I figured, if they can’t be there in person, I can still give them a brief glimpse of me running! So I answered and ran with my phone just out in front of me so my parents could see me for a few seconds. “You’re still running?!” They exclaimed when I picked up. “Yes!” I shouted breathlessly. “I’ll call you after!” I briefly panned the phone out in front of me to show them the size of the crowds running before ending the call to focus on getting to the finish.

The final mile of Broad Street in some ways feels like the longest – maybe because it is slightly uphill in parts, but also because the entrance to the Navy Yard is marked by a banner that has now fooled me two years in a row into thinking I’ve reached the finish before I really have. In fact, the banner (when you get close enough to read it) informs you that you are a mere ¼ Mile from the end. The longest quarter mile of my life! But I managed it, and crossed the finish at 1:42:32 feeling that swell of accomplishment that comes with finishing a race.

A shiny finisher’s medal that doubles as a beer opener (very handy) was draped around my neck following the finish, and I managed to find my way to John and Ruth, who were waiting for me in the Navy Yard. The whole way back to Manayunk where the after-party would be hosted at Kate & Scott’s house, we talked about the run and compared notes about running versus spectating. It turns out, Broad Street is a particularly great race to do either, but is made slightly more difficult for spectators because of its straight-line course. Most courses have a few sections that at least come close to or double back on each other, but Broad Street is a straight shot, which makes it impossible for spectators to see their runner more than once unless they are driving (or a pretty darn fast runner themselves). I was really impressed that Ruth and John saw me twice on the course, and waited for me at the Finish!

If you’re looking to enter the Broad Street Run in 2019, keep an eye out for the lottery to open in the winter of 2019. The 2018 lottery opened on February 1, and the city has capped the number of participants at 40,000. It is all done electronically, and the only runners with an advantage in securing a bib are those who have completed the Broad Street Run ten or more times. Another option is always to sign up to complete the race in conjunction with a charity, which is a great way to get a race bib and raise money for a cause close to your heart!


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