My First Experience Doing the Broad Street Run
After months of training, hitting the pavements, running those hill repeats, speed drills and long runs; after weeks and months of watching what I eat, cutting out beer, cheese and processed whites, the day that I had prepared for was finally here. I was a nervous wreck the week before the race. All I could think about was how I would do. My biggest fear was that it would be one of those “off days” that are acceptable during your training but not on race day.
I knew what to expect as far as getting enough sleep the days leading up to the race but not including the night before. I was too anxious to sleep and tossed and turned all night. I was up early enough to eat something, throw up (nerves) and hydrate. Walked to the subway and stood with a million other runners all the way to Olney. For what seemed like a packed subway would soon reveal quite the empty scene at Broad outside.
I was an hour and a half early. But I intended it that way. Enough time to stretch, relax, gather my thoughts. It wasn’t long at all before I met up with Jess, my running partner for this race. Jess made it clear to me that we would be running the entire race TOGETHER. There would be no separation at any mile and we would finish strong.
Jess showed me a side street were there was a warm up track. We headed over there to take a lap. I ran into 2 of my friends in doing so, along with our Mayor, Michael Nutter. He was kind enough to give us a photo OP.
“We are proud Philadelphians and we are very proud of our mayor”, I said to him
“Thank You so much”, he replied , in a very sincere tone.
It was time to get in our corral. Who else do we run in to but our trainer, Sgt. Nate. You could tell he was proud to see his “children” all there representing in this historical race; this Philadelphia tradition. We chatted and I started to do my Qiqong to loosen up and breathe properly. I felt that I had to go #1 – Not really bad, but I knew it would catch up to me soon. So i got in the monster line.
As soon as I did, the corrals started moving. The lines did not seems to move for the porta potties. The first three corrals had already started
“I’m at Sommerville” said Jess’ text
“On my way” I replied
Luckily I was in and out of the “bathroom” in time to meet her at our corral,which was next to start. This was it. This was THE moment I was waiting for. My adrenaline was pumped, and my nervousness was no where to be found. The PA system played “Sweet Caroline over and over, as a tribute to Boston. I get it and I do appreciate it, BUT, they normally play the Rocky theme. Maybe it was a good thing they didn’t because that song gets me so pumped, especially in a public Philly forum like this, that I might have started too fast.
“GO!” We were off and running! Along with the thousands of other runners let out the gate I belted a “WOO-HOO!!!!” and Jess gave a “YEAH! WOO!” The energy was electric. It was a high like I never experienced. I ran a full mile before I could soak in what was going on. The streets were lined with people cheering and yelling for us.
I had heard from several friends about the crowd but to witness it a totally different thing. From the ghetto sections, to the hipster villages to Center City to South Philly; EVERYONE is out there cheering, making noise, holding up funny and supportive signs. And each one of them feels like they are there for YOU!
The first 3 miles flew by. Our pace was well under 10 minute miles and we both felt great. Jess and I talked and pointed out sideline attractions the whole time we ran. I was on such a high that it didn’t bother nor occur to me that we were still north of the city. We would soon be approaching the long stretch of Temple University.Temple had their marching band out in full swing, belting out songs that made us forget what we were doing and made us smile. On the other side of Broad were the football players, in uniform, hands out to High 5 the runners.
I started to swell, in my eyes. I could not believe all of this love that this city was giving to 40,000 runners, well before noon on a Sunday. My biggest goose bump moment was passing a baptist church in North Philly. They opened their doors and brought the choir out to sing. WOW! It was beautiful and full of soul and energy. I started to cry tears of joy.
We were soon approaching Mile 5, the halfway mark, where my wife, Morgan and my Mom & Dad were waiting since 7 am,holding signs with “Go, Matt” and “Hey Now!” on them. I knew which siode they were on since Morgan had text me well before the race. I ran right at them, waving and smiling. I ran past and High Fived my Dad. I was running fast and was still pumped up.
CITY HALL to SOUTH PHILLY
A block after Mile 5 we stopped for water and Gatorade. We stopped for a second to drink and carried on. We were KILLING the clock and still feeling great. For anyone that knows Philly but hasn’t run Broad Street, you don’t run through City Hall but around the west side of it. You run a little bit on JFK Blvd. and then loop around back to Broad. There was another live band playing at the turn but what I remember most is the majestic view of the skyscrapers.
We looped back onto Broad and were in the heart of Center City. Tons of people lined those streets, all of them with signs yelling and cheering for us or someone they knew. I don;t know how it happened but I saw Ed Rendel, ran right over to him and shook his hand.
“You’ll always be MY mayor”, I said
Which was dumb because he was also our governor. But I really liked him as mayor so there! Jess looked at me and was amazed. She couldn’t believe that I managed to locate and shake hands with 2 Philadelphia mayors – all within 2 hours.
I looked at my iPhone’s GPS and saw 6.2 miles. “We just ran a 10k”
We were still dominating the clock. By Mile 7 I could feel myself getting a bit sore. It wasn’t anything that was going to stop me from running but what running 7 miles would feel like. Jess was great, She kept telling me how good we were doing and was constantly encouraging me.
We made it to South Philly were the crowd was still out, the signs were still waving and the high 5s continued. At Reed Street we saw Katrina and her sister, Jess along with some more friends of theirs They had a sign that read “If Broad Street were easy it would be called “Your Mom” Seeing them gave us another energy boost and carried us up to Mile 8.
The Last Mile and a Half
Earlier in the day Jess had asked me where my wall was. What mile while running is where I start to fade.
“Somewhere between 7 and 8”, I had told her because that was the truth.
We were now somewhere around 8.3 when Jess said to me, “You made it past your wall and you’re still kicking ass!”
That was about to change. We were in the deep end of South Philly, bordering on the Stadiums. I struggled to lift my legs anymore yet I somehow managed to carry them. I recall Jess telling me a story but I couldn’t tell you what it was about. All I knew was she was doing her best to keep me engaged and to not have me think about running. I was slipping in and out of consciousness. I know that sounds bad but anyone who has done distance running knows about this.
At the same time I overheard a guy say to his friend something to the effect of how everyone struggles on these last 2 miles and that this part of the race is very mental. I remember this from some of the books I’ve read from Ultra runners and training books. You have to have a threshold for this pain. What makes one runner better than another is often how one’s mental capacity to carry them over these hard miles is. And so began my mental challenge.
I found myself dragging my feet and then suddenly getting a burst of energy. Jess kept assuring me it was OK to go slow now but I’d need to be prepared for a burst of speed for Mile 9. SHUT UP,LEGS! That was the sign I saw and somehow, it was on mine and almost everyone else’s minds at that point.
We were past the stadiums now. Jess turned to me and said:
“Remember how I let you set the pace in the beginning? Well I’M setting the pace now. Ready?!”
I somehow managed to snap out of my slump and pick it up. We were both weaving in and out of all the other runners. There was a separation of maybe 2-3 people between us but I could hear her excitement of me coming alive. After a while I couldn’t hold that pace anymore. But it was ok. I referred back to my fartlek and speed training. Go slow / go fast: Intervals. We finally saw the sign “NAVY YARD”. Almost home. The final .3 miles I felt useless, spent. But I dragged my feet with every effort I had left in me and crossed that line.
We hugged and high fived each other. WE DID IT! As we moved in line for water and our metals it happened to me again: I got teary eyed. The woman who handed me my medal had this look of joy and happiness on her face as if to say “Here, you deserve this”. My eyes swelled. I just ran 10 miles at a 10:13 pace. My GPS said I finished 1:43:02. I met up with everyone back in South Philly at my friend Lilah’s house. It had been over a month since I had a beer or any alcoholic drink for training purposes. I was anxious and proud to open a Boston lager.
I’m still riding the high of that day. I’m sure I’ll read this post again and recall 50 other events and moments that I left out. But those belong to me, and to Jess. I will never forget what she did for me on this race. Not only the moral support but the company she kept. I can only hope to be so lucky to get in next year and run with her again. This time under 1:40.