Running: Behind the popularity of the Broad Street Run

Posted: April 28, 2014

The largest race in Philadelphia is happening next weekend: the Broad Street Run.

It's not just a big race for the city, either. It was the largest 10-mile race in the United States last year with 32,521 finishers. It's the second largest 10-miler in the world, behind the Dam tot Damloop 10 Miler in Holland, according to Running USA.

It's grown quickly, too. The number of finishers in Broad Street has risen 67 percent from 2008 to 2013.

Race director Jim Marino, who has worked on Broad Street since 1984 and been in charge since 1998, has watched the event's growth, and attributes a recent surge to two major factors.

First, the number of entrants jumped by 3,000 from 2007 to 2008 alone.

"When the recession hit, that's when we really started to climb," he said. "People were working out because they were working out their frustration, saying: 'I've got time to train. I might as well do something to burn my energy.' "

Second was that women started to embrace running, especially at the 10-mile to half-marathon distance. Last year, 60 percent of finishers of the Broad Street Run were female, according to Marino.

I asked a few local runners why they keep coming back to Broad Street. The uniqueness of the course, convenience, and tradition were the leading factors.

The 10-mile race is not a common distance, and we're lucky to have one in our backyard. According to Running USA, 10-mile events had only 1.3 percent of all race finishers last year.

"There are hardly any 10-milers out there, so you would have to make the jump from a 10K right to a half-marathon if these races didn't exist," said Therese Johnston of Gladwyne, who also competes in triathlons. "I used it to see if I could do a longer race and feel OK. I didn't feel ready for a half-marathon, but Broad Street gave me the confidence to try."

Which is exactly what Brian Kirschner of Elkins Park is doing. He's running Broad Street for the first time, and it's also his first 10-miler. "It's moving to the next challenge from 5Ks and sprint triathlons," he said. "I don't consider myself a runner, so the distance seems within reach, and I have heard the course lends itself to someone looking for the next competitive step."

Liz Pagonis of Philadelphia, who works at the Philadelphia Runner running store, said that timing plays a big part, too. "It's the first big race of the season in the Philadelphia area. People can start training around New Year's, making it a good resolution," she said. For Pagonis, who is planning to run the race for the seventh time, it's also a tradition. "People run it every year with friends and have parties or other events after. It's a community event and really brings people from the area together."

And then there's the landscape of the course itself, which Moorestown-based running coach Colleen Tindall describes succinctly: "It's flat and fast!"

For Patrick Pang from Gladwyne, a different kind of Philadelphia racecourse is a big factor. Unlike the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon, and Love Run Half Marathon, Broad Street's route is a straight shot through the city, not along Kelly Drive and Martin Luther King Drive.

Convenience and novelty are both key for Pang, too. "I can roll out of bed, get to the subway, and ride to the starting line in no time. How many times do you get to ride the SEPTA for free?"

Convenience and luck are why I decided last week to run Broad Street for the third time. I didn't register in the lottery because I was unsure how I'd feel about running a 10-mile race less than a month after the Charlottesville Marathon, and my issues with Broad Street are common complaints: The lack of portable toilets at the beginning of the race means I have no choice but to stop during the race, and the huge crowds make the first few miles a hassle. Despite the relatively flat terrain, I've had a hard time putting together a great race because I spend so much time running around other people.

On Wednesday, though, Independence Blue Cross put up a Facebook post offering race spots to the first 15 people who commented (though we did still need to pay the $43 race fee). I put in a comment just in time, and was one of the lucky 15. Not only can I easily get to the start from my house, but I had already planned to attend a postrace tailgate, so why not run there under my own power and have that first beer with a race medal around my neck? It will make the runner-dodging worth it.

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