“Are you worried about running Broad Street?” The question pulled me out of a week long stupor. I had seen responses to last week’s tragedy on social media, but I couldn’t formulate one myself. I could not express how the whole thing affected me.
I spent last Monday afternoon on my computer watching video and looking at stills, so much blood. I checked in with my friends to make sure they were ok physically, emotionally. The only response from one friend sitting in a bar near the finish line when the bomb ignited was, “Jesus Christ.” Emotionally shaken, but, thankfully, physically ok.
This is the first catastrophe of late that we let our kids in on in realtime. My ten year old watches the news every morning before school. We were on our way to take his younger brother to piano lessons last Wednesday when he told us that he had seen on the news that the Boston bombers were planning on attacking The Broad Street Run.
The stifled emotion leaked out as anger which I am sure was evident to my son when I responded, “I think you misunderstood them, honey. At this point they could only be speculating.” But he insisted. God damn sensationalism of the local media, what a horrible way to try to get in on the action, I thought.
I was mad that my children would now have a reflex of anxiety when I went off to participate in what had previously been an innocuous race. I was furious that I would forever be afraid. “Yeah, I’m worried,” was my answer when my friend asked me about Broad Street on Thursday morning. “It makes me really nervous.”
The Broad Street Run is where I fell in love with the city of Philadelphia. I have lived 20 miles north of the city for ten years and I worked in North Philly, at Temple University, for five before I ran Broad Street for the first time. Since I worked in the city I thought I knew Philadelphia (I spent more time there than any of my neighbors). But it wasn’t until I went from North Philly, through Center City, past South Philly to the Navel Yard, ten miles, on foot, that I realized this is an awesome city.
If you count the pre-race wait, much of your Broad Street Run race time is spent in North Philadelphia. Search North Philly on Wikipedia and you learn of the prosperous industrial history of this area of the city and its development as a working-class neighborhood. But the entry also states, “In past decades, North Philadelphia was hit hard by economic decline.” And it goes on to say that “unfettered poverty has earned North Philadelphia a reputation as a slum.”
In the early morning hours, of the first Sunday of May, North Philadelphia - which according to the 2010 census is solidly above 50% Non-Hispanic Blacks - gets decidedly, um, paler. Tens of thousands of white, middle-class runners pour out of the Olney Subway Station like albino ants from a disrupted mound. When you look around at the population of runners you can be confident that any other time of day, any other day of the year, these people don’t get within five miles of Olney Station. It does not seem to matter to the residents of North Philly. As the race begins a swarm of people converge on one point; the ants march toward the starting line.
As the crowd spreads, as runners find a comfortable stride, residents sitting on their front stoop provide inspiration. A teenage boy in baggy athletic shorts, next to a heavyset man, with a graying beard, scream, “Great Job!” and “Way to Go!” A choir in pale-yellow robes with gold stoles, fans out behind a priest on the steps of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church – a sprawling Gothic complex that takes up half a city block. He bellows exultations into a microphone while the choir claps and sings. A man in a Sixers jersey calls out with a joyful, booming voice, “You made it two miles. Keep Going! Keep Going!” A mile further a thin woman with a head full of bouncing, pink rollers screams, “You are doing it, girl! You are doing it!” to female runners.
It continues like this for miles, ten miles. Spectators are vital in a distance run. They give participants something to focus on other than physical discomfort. They humor and motivate, they entertain.
For me the hardest part about last week was knowing that the people I count on during a race were the ones who suffered. The people who get out of bed and stand for hours, cheering on stranger after stranger, waiting for a glimpse of a loved one and the opportunity to say, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Red Socks for Broad Street,” read the subject line of an email I received on Friday from a member of my runner club. This is how we will acknowledge the horror of last week here in Philadelphia. I asked her to get me a pair.
Am I worried? Yeah, I am worried. But I will don my red socks and I will run. If I stay home terrorism had its intended effect and I refuse to let that happen. I hope all the spectators of The Broad Street Run, who mean so much to this runner, feel the same.