Thousands of people run red lights on Broad Street-- but this Sunday, no one will be ticketed.
The morning of the Broad Street Run (BSR), the green of Central High School's Athletic Field is cloaked in a sea of neon tech tees and spandex.
By 8am on May 6th, some 35,000+ excited individuals will have emerged from the subway tubes near Olney. Runners, hundreds at a time, will empty into the streets of North Philadelphia like a spilled vessel, pinning colored bibs to their torsos as they go, polishing off protein bars.
From a bird's-eye view, the Broad Street Run, as a single urban footrace, appears quite simple: it's a 10-mile, flat course. It passes no parks, rivers or locale from the Rocky films. Yet everyone you know (and their brother) will be running on Sunday. Why is it so special?
Philadelphia hosts dozens of organized running events each year across the city: the annual Penn Relays shut down a portion of University City each April; the Philadelphia Marathon,a charming distance race dressed up in Fall foliage, winds through the grid into Manayunk; and 5k permits are booked months-- presumably years-- in advance to secure scenic routes by Kelly Drive. Yet the Broad Street Run consistently draws the most participants to the START line each year. 2012 will see 35,000+ registered runners. Another record is set before the race whistle blows: registration closed in five hours, this year.
First-time participants often cite personal fitness goal or a bucket list as inspiration to register. Asking a BSR veteran who has run it two, three, four times in the past why they're running again… "Broad Street [Run] is a favorite," says local runner, Gino Barrica (32), "Running through the neighborhoods and seeing all the people…" he pauses, "The city comes out to support you."
Broad Street bustles with thousands of spectators and volunteers on race day. Folks of all ages step up and support the event: youth groups and scout troops, seniors, parents and student associations hand out cups at the water stations and clean the route. Bands, drum lines, mascots, friends and families line the perimeter, cheering, holding handmade signs and noisemakers. A solo, shirtless man has been seen playing a drum set on the median in South Philly, runners flying by him on every side. Cute old ladies hand out bananas in front of their church. Pets excitedly peek out from behind their owners' knees and children line up to give high fives. The energy pulses as the course leads South toward City Hall and beyond-- a vein into the heart of Philadelphia.
A group of friends training for the Broad Street Run met with 215mag for a photo shoot on the Schuylkill Banks (a popular running path).
Jen Killius (28), who moved to Philadelphia last year, will be running the 10-miler for the first time on Sunday. Many of her friends are also training, which is not surprising, as there has been a noticeable surge of young runners in Philly in the past few years-- consistent with rising race entry numbers. It's not a new idea that running re-emerges as a popular sport in times of economic or social distress (re: recession), but there is another theory circulating regarding the generational bump: the rise of social media.
Social media allows the running community to connect online, off the pavement. Simply put: Social media makes the sport ...more social. Jen often runs alone, but is connected with other friends who train through an online tool, Daily Mile. On occasion, her motivation to kick asphalt delivers itself in digital form: guilt. "When I haven't been out [running] in a few days, and I see [online] that other people have been out…" She shrugs. Friends Jackie Seigle (27), Britt Miller (26) and Brian Lim (26) nod in agreement, discussing mobile training tools. These new tools-- mostly apps and personal devices-- have only become widespread in the past two, three years. They all also use social tools to track their progress when training for bigger events like the Broad Street Run. "Daily Mile, RunKeeper…" Jackie pauses, "… and Nike+!" Brian adds on. Most also update their stats and splits on Twitter and progress blogs.
The group discusses their training regimens. Some have only began running as recently as last year, like Vince Parrella (31), who built his way up from running two miles at a time to training for ten. He claims this will be his longest race. Others train regularly, not just leading up to big race events, like the Broad Street Run: they run year round, amongst other sports and physical activities. Brian plays hockey, Gino plays football and softball, Vince is a cyclist, and Britt just does it all. "I signed up for Cross Country in 6th grade and never stopped!" laughed Miller. And as a triathlete aiming to one day finish an Ironman, she isn't kidding: "It's a lifestyle."