In Reverence to the Runners | The Triangle

In Reverence to the Runners

Runners enjoy the beginning of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. (Sarah J. Glover/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)
Runners enjoy the beginning of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. (Sarah J. Glover/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)

I don’t like running. Never have. It’s something that I will go out of my way to avoid. Going for a nice run on the Schuylkill River Trail is not my idea of an enjoyable time. I mean, how can you even watch Netflix while you’re out there pounding the pavement?

In the past, I’ve even had the gall to look down upon running as a sport. I gave the cross country runners at my high school lots of grief, saying how “monumentally boring” it was and that, in the end, it was just “glorified transportation,” not a real sport.

I attended the 35th annual Broad Street Run May 4 to support my sister, and it was a fantastic experience that has totally changed my opinion of running. I can see now that what I said before was out of ignorance, so I am here to take that all back.

Although I had always known about it, I had never actually attended the Broad Street Run before. The 10-mile race course starts out in Olney (Ol-what?) and ends at the Navy Yard, just past the Sports Complex.

Security was air tight, which is something that is to be expected ever since the Boston Marathon bombings that happened a year ago. Police were everywhere I looked. When I got onto the subway there were two SEPTA, two Philadelphia and two Department of Homeland Security officers all in the same car. I had to double-check to make sure there weren’t any foreign dignitaries or members of the Cabinet sitting around me. Outside of AT&T Station, bicycle cops roamed in packs, waiting (I assume) to arrest wrongdoers, sit them on their handlebars, and pedal them down to the station.

I situated myself right on the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, across from FDR Park, just past the nine-mile mark. I thought I had gotten there early enough, but people were already lining the streets in droves.

After standing around for a while I was struck by how each group of spectators was there to support just one or two people out of thousands. People around me muttered about where “their” runner was along the course while giving words of encouragement to the few elite runners going by at a rapid clip.

As the crowd of patrons and participants began to grow and grow, the sense of worry among the other supporters and me became palpable. Would we see whomever we came out here to support? Would they see our hand-crafted signs and, even better, get a quick high-five in? Personally, I was terrified of missing my sister, and I began quickly doling out the praise to those already going by in the hopes of swiftly establishing some good Broad Street Run karma.

As I kept scanning each passing face, I began to realize just how unique the Broad Street Run is. It’s not as long as a marathon, so while the runners look pained, there are still a few with smiles on their faces. By mile nine, most were still in good spirits as they looked to finish the race strong.

It’s an event that is different from any other sporting event I have attended before.

Unlike baseball or hockey, these participants are people you can easily relate to. I saw mothers and daughters running side by side; an older man trotting along carrying an American flag, stirring up a frenzy of “U.S.A.!” chants; and kids far younger than I. There were a great number of people in superhero and Star Wars costumes. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wheelchair racers who stared right down at the road with looks of pure focus as they kept pumping their arms to keep their wheels spinning.

Thousands of people, from all walks of life, ran by, and it was just incredible to see.

Cheering half-heartedly as I continued to look for my sister, or by that point, any familiar face, I began to wonder why so many people would put themselves through 10 miles of running, even if the weather was as perfect as it was that morning.

I began to think that running, whether it be a race or just around your neighborhood, is not really done for fun per se, but as an exercise in self-affirmation. You are out there by yourself when running; it’s totally a solo pursuit. It must be scary, out there all by yourself, not a teammate to be seen. Connecting with anyone in the crowd must be a relief for a runner, to get a brief respite from the isolation they have forced upon themselves.

Hundreds of self-determined faces continued to run by me — none being my sister — and they all seemed to be telling themselves, “Come on, you can do this!” and then once they ran 100 yards past me, “Oh sweet, free water!”

Finally I saw my sister, just barely, as she sped by me and my “RUN!” sign, which was handwritten on the back of a Fruit Loops box. We both seemed equally excited to be able to make that connection among the thousands of people out there on Broad Street. It was an exhilarating, even euphoric, moment, and I got to experience it all over again when I saw my friend from economics class. It was a great run of luck.

Walking around at the Navy Yard, surrounded by all of the runners wearing their shiny new medals, I saw nothing but happy faces. These were people who were able to answer their self-doubts with a resounding, “Yes, I can!”

Whether we were there with family, friends or just by ourselves, the Broad Street Run seemed to unite us all together. It was a race where everyone really won. Will I try to attend next year’s Broad Street Run? You bet. Should you go down there yourself? Oh yes, I highly recommend it, five out of five stars.

Even go ahead and run in the race. It looked like a lot of fun once you finished all that running!