After solemn nod to Boston, an upbeat Broad Street Run

Nearly 40,000 runners participated in the 2013 Blue Cross Broad Street Run on Sunday, May 5, 2013. (Colin Kerrigan / Philly.com)
Nearly 40,000 runners participated in the 2013 Blue Cross Broad Street Run on Sunday, May 5, 2013. (Colin Kerrigan / Philly.com)
Posted: May 07, 2013

There was no avoiding the shadow of Boston.

Hold a distance race through the heart of a great American city just three weeks after the bombing of the marathon, and it is going to be there.

One of the triumphs of Sunday's Broad Street Run was the way it honored the victims and celebrated the strength of Boston without dwelling on the tragic events of April 15.

This wasn't heads down, hearts heavy. This was thousands of red socks pulled high. This was "I run for Boston" shirts, most of them handmade, and Red Sox caps. This was Mayor Nutter shaking his tail feather as "Sweet Caroline" blared from speakers above the starting line.

The only somber moment: Nutter asked for an appropriate moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. With nearly 40,000 runners and thousands of spectators hushed, the only sound was the whirring of helicopters overhead. It was that - the audible reminder of the need for greater security - which cast a momentary pall over the scene.

But then Neil Diamond's cheesy classic played, the air horn sounded, and the runners were off on their journeys.

"There was a lot of talk [about Boston]," Heather Brown said after finishing her second Broad Street Run. "But I'm glad what happened there didn't stop people. Running is about freedom."

Brown wore knee-high red socks and a Red Sox cap and jersey (Dustin Pedroia's 15). She lives in Center City and helped organize 30 coworkers to race Sunday. The Boston connection came from her roommate at Drexel.

"I've been up there for Patriots' Day and to watch the marathon," Brown said. "That's a great day in Boston, and this is a great day in Philadelphia."

Ultimately, Philadelphia itself is what makes the event special. You can run 10 miles anywhere. It is running the spine of the city, from Olney Avenue to the Navy Yard, past rowhouses and Temple University, around City Hall, along the Avenue of the Arts, and then into South Philly.

With all affection and support for Boston, this is pure Philadelphia.

The current mayor got them started in North Philadelphia. A former mayor, and governor, kept them moving along South Broad Street. Ed Rendell was in his usual spot in front of the Hyatt at the Bellevue. The only difference? He wore a Red Sox T-shirt under his blue track suit as he high-fived passing runners.

Bands played. Spectators banged cowbells and held up signs. A man in blond wig and a dress - "The Broad in Broad Street Run!" - offered encouragement. So did a man wearing a horse head.

This, of course, is what made the Boston Marathon vulnerable. A distance race is impossible to secure as tightly as an arena or stadium. It takes a sick mind to see that openness and access as a target.

"I felt safe the whole time," Brown said. "They did a great job with security."

They did. To their immense credit, city and police officials didn't overdo it. An overreaction, or misguided one, can sap the joy out of an event. Ask anyone who has flown since Sept. 11, 2001. We're still taking off our shoes and putting toothpaste into plastic bags and pretending that makes us safer.

But it was very strange, those first few flights after Sept. 11. When the familiar is transformed by unimaginable violence, it takes a while to feel familiar again.

Brian Cunningham worked in the Eagles' public-relations department that year. He remembered their first road game after the terror attacks, a cross-country trip to Seattle. Later that year, with a series of anthrax attacks still all too fresh, Cunningham was on the sideline when a mysterious white powder drifted onto the field and briefly delayed a game in Washington.

"I had to stand next to Andy Reid, in case something happened," Cunningham said after completing his first 10-miler. "I remember how strange things felt that year. There was nothing like that here today."

Nobody trains to run 10 miles, or a marathon, out of spite. People do it in tribute to friends and family, to support charities, to test themselves. They do it for their health and they do it for fun.

Two creeps in Boston can't begin to spoil that. This Broad Street Run, like its predecessors, was about "For You Dad" and "Wearing Violet For Melissa" and "Cancer Sucks" and the thousands of sparks that fire the human spirit.

In Philadelphia, like Boston, that spirit is inextinguishable.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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