There is a time and a place for a routine workout that you’ve completed in the past, and you have the luxury of knowing benchmarks that you can work to improve. Truthfully, not every training run can be an exciting adventure filled with new experiences and memories. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out those experiences! One of the joys of living in a new part of the country has been exploring and experiencing new running routes and locations, and meeting new people along the way. In all honesty, the fact that I have been bombarded with so many new experiences to input has almost made up for the friends and running partners I miss back in Iowa, and the significantly disproportionate number of solo miles I’ve logged in the last six months.
So, when I read about a Rocky-themed fat ass run through Philadelphia a few months back, I knew I had to put it on my calendar and check it out. I had traveled to Philly on several occasions prior to moving out here, and although I had enjoyed running in a new area and had fun exploring, I generally found the city itself to be less than thrilling. Aside from the amazing historical significant tied up in the city of brotherly love, I always found it lacking some of the energy and charisma that New York, D.C., or San Francisco possess. I also felt like the environment lacked a sense of pride in home, based on the lack of cleanliness and overall disrepair in many areas. Now, I realize that every city has these characteristics, especially once you leave the tourist-centric areas and head into the everyday world outside. However, there was always just something about Philly that never gave me the same excitement or eagerness to explore. I’d be lying if I said this most recent 50K running tour improved my perception of Philadelphia, but it did change my perceptions. Much of that change was the result of getting a better sense of the people make up the community. After completing the Rocky 50K run, Philly was no longer just a destination. It was a community, and one that I am looking forward to becoming more a part of in the future.
When the alarm went off at 4AM, I began to immediately second guess my plan to drive 45 minutes north for what was essentially a large group run with a bunch of people I didn’t know. 7AM starts are hard enough close to home, but I sucked it up, got dressed, and was out the door by 5:30AM. I had printed out the turn-by-turn directions for the run ahead of time, and since it was a point-to-point, I decided to park near the finish at the Art Museum steps, and run to the starting area ahead of time. I found a meter near a Whole Foods about a 1/4 mile from the museum and got myself situated. It was 3 miles to the start, and I had 30 minutes to get there, so I thought I would be fine. However, I didn’t anticipate needing to use a restroom, of which there were none to be found as I ran through random dark neighborhoods I’d never visited before. Luckily (I think), I passed a port-a-potty in a small construction site, and did my best breath hold and hover before getting back out on the street. I managed to make it there a few minutes after 7, and there were plenty of people still lingering so I was in good shape.
Many folks had busted out the gray sweat suit and red headband for the run and the energy of the group immediately lifted my spirits. I started out again almost immediately, and the run was underway. My intention was to take things pretty slow and easy, and use this run as training for the Across the Years 48-Hour run at the end of the month. As is typically the case when I’m surrounded by folks I don’t know, I slipped into race mode a bit, and began passing some folks and jumping ahead to other groups who had headed out a bit earlier or were running a bit faster. Eventually, I fell in with a group of runners who were moving at a comfortable pace, and I took to enjoying the experience and taking in the sounds, sights, and smells of my new environment. Regardless of what I might have thought about Philadelphia before the run, it’s safe to assume that many of the areas I went through on the route would not have been places I would have visited otherwise.
We made our way to the downtown area relatively early in the run, and once we passed City Hall (an area I was familiar with from previous exploring), I was in completely uncharted territory. I was moving at a comfortable pace, and feeling good about the day. This being a fat ass race, I packed all of my own supplies, and was wearing my Salomon S-Labs 12L vest. I decided to conduct another nutritional test, so I filled my 2L bladder with Tailwind, and used it exclusively for the entire run. Not surprisingly, it worked like a charm and kept me beautifully hydrated and fueled for the long slow miles!
After about 20 miles, I found myself separated from most of the other runners, and was navigating on my own via the directions I printed out. The route took us through some neighborhoods that left me more sad than anything else. The area wasn’t inherently bad, but it was clear that the city had long since stopped investing any significant resources into maintaining the buildings and the streets. The sidewalks were littered with trash and other less savory discarded items, buildings were in need of repair, and cars found their way into awkward angles on sidewalks and in yards. It was a stark contrast from the clean, historic, and proud buildings of the downtown area, and it gave me pause. These impressions were contrasted by the amazing volunteers who had come out on the route to cheer us on, ask if we needed anything, and randomly hand out water and other snacks. This was a fat ass race, but these amazing folks wanted to be a part of the event, and this is how they chose to do so. They took pride in their community, and in the broader Philly running community, and it was contagious.
Our own world views are so often shaped by information given to us by others, and not information we gather ourselves. Not surprisingly, the information we receive is the result of different motives and views, and is never truly objective. The same is true of most road races. Think about the road marathons you’ve run, and the routes you’ve taken. You’d be wrong if you think the route was decided at random, or simply the result of what was “easiest”. Sure, race organizers want to show of their city, but there is also a lot of motivation to keep us from seeing many aspects of the real city. Each race is a narrative written by someone else, a work of fiction we are meant to enjoy (and spend lots of money in, hopefully). The Rocky 50K run was different. This route was a story written the year I was born, when the city was much different than what it is now, but also one written for a different purpose. The result was a very reflective run on this cool, comfortable Saturday morning in December.
Eventually the route led down to the Schuylkill River and followed a path towards the museum that I had run previously. It was refreshing, after 20 plus miles, to be on a dedicated running path, and be able to check out mentally a bit more. As if to tease us, the route past right by the museum, and then headed back into the downtown area for the final 5 miles or so before looping back. With a few miles left, I caught up to another runner wearing a Salomon pack, and my TAUR-dar kicked in 🙂 Sure enough, he was an ultra-runner from just across the river in New Jersey, and we got to chatting about different races we’d done, and how much we preferred trails to roads. It was a refreshing way to end the run as we headed up the final stretch towards the famous museum steps. I was feeling really good, albeit a bit more tired than I had planned, probably because I had gone faster than I had intended. I hit the base of the steps, and my final kick hit as I tackled the stairs two at a time and reached the top in no time. There was no finish chute, no medals, no mylar blankets or cheering crowds. There were a few other runners who had finished, along with some folks taking pictures, but they were simply interspersed with all of the other tourists who had come out that day to check out the steps, and hopefully head instead to enjoy the museum’s wonderful collection.
The low-key nature of the morning suited me just fine. I downed a bottle of water, paused for a few minutes to take some pictures and rest, stopped by the Rocky statue, and then headed back to my car for the drive home. I ended up with just over 36 miles on the day. More than that, though, I left with an appreciation for the community of Philadelphia, which is the true appeal of the city, and I can’t wait to become even more a part of that community!