Charting the popularity of the Broad Street Run

Michael DiBerardinis heads the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.
Michael DiBerardinis heads the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.
Posted: February 20, 2012

The Broad Street Run, the annual 10-mile race held on the first weekend in May, has become insanely popular. It began in 1980 with 1,500 runners. Online registration for last year's race was open for four days before reaching the event's capacity of 28,000. This year, it took five hours to reach the new maximum of 30,000. Hearing the groans and protests from disappointed runners who were shut out, the Department of Parks and Recreation, which organizes the race, has added 2,500 spots through a lottery.

Michael DiBerardinis, the department's commissioner (and also deputy mayor for environmental and community resources) spoke with staff writer Melissa Dribben about the event, its appeal, and its future.

Question: What makes this race such a winner?

DiBerardinis: It's a unique kind of race. I don't think there's another one like it - a straight-line run from one end of a city to the other. And there's a populist feature to it. It's not intimidating. The overwhelming majority of participants run it for fun. You go through scores of city neighborhoods, through Philadelphia present and Philadelphia past, you see the diversity, the essence of the city.

Q: And it's all downhill.

DiBerardinis: That too.

Q: But for the first 20 years, the race was attracting fewer than 8,000 runners. What changed?

DiBerardinis: In 1997, we, along with Zack Stalberg, approached Independence Blue Cross to become a sponsor. That helped promote it and bring it to the public's attention. By 2005, the numbers had doubled to more than 14,000. Over the last five years, it has more than doubled again.

Q: How much bigger can it get?

DiBerardinis: I think we're close to the max. To hold on to the spirit and tone and fun, I don't think we can get much bigger. So I don't know what we do to accommodate the demand. But that's a good problem to have.

Q: The registration form warns entrants about the possibility of injury and even death. Given the "all comers welcome" nature of the race, are you concerned that many of the runners are not in particularly good shape?

DiBerardinis: We have lots of water, we encourage people to stay hydrated, and we have really great paramedics throughout the course.

Q: Not to be morbid, but what's the body count?

DiBerardinis: There have been two deaths during the race. One was about three years ago, a 29-year-old schoolteacher. The other was in the 1980s, a 45-year-old man who worked for Fairmount Park.

Q: The entry fee is $40, all of which goes to cover expenses, I'm told. How much does it cost to operate the race?

DiBerardinis: About $750,000, which is relatively low-cost. There's a lot of volunteer help, and the department puts a lot into it for free. We have 150 staff members working that day, mostly on comp time. We see it like the Mummers Parade, as part of our Parks and Recreation mission.

Q: Two years ago, it was blisteringly hot on race day. Have there been other dramatic weather moments you've encountered?

DiBerardinis: In the 1980s, there were some miserable days, damp, rainy, and cold. And there have been some really hot ones, too. But as far as I can remember, there's never been an immense downpour.

Q: Have you ever run the race?

DiBerardinis: No. I've threatened to a few times, but I'm never in good enough shape. I have never run a distance race - ever - as an adult.

Q: As a kid?

DiBerardinis: I ran cross country in high school at Bishop Shanahan in Chester County.

Q: So how do you spend race day?

DiBerardinis: I go to the start. It's really exciting, being up there on the platform with the mayor, watching everybody go through. Then, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I drive to the Penrose Diner and catch breakfast. Then I drive to the Navy Yard and make my way through to the finish line before most people get there.


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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