What it’s like to do the Philadelphia Broad Street Run

Getting up at 5:30AM on a Sunday and forcing my body to run 10 grueling miles on Philadelphia’s most famous street doesn’t seem like a good idea, and yet, over 32,000 people including myself did that last weekend. What is it about the IBX Philadelphia Broad Street Run that makes it the most popular 10 miler in the country and Philadelphia’s most sought after race ticket? Here’s my experience.

I consider myself a runner, but a very casual one. My frequency fluctuates throughout the year and I usually do 3 or 4 5K races per year. I’ve never considered doing a marathon or a half. 10 miles seems more doable.

I got up at 5:30AM and made my way to the Collingswood PATCO station by 6:15AM where I caught the train with about a dozen others. Once we transferred to the Broad Street Line we were packed in so tight you have to talk to the people around you to prevent it from being awkward.

Broad Street Line was packed with runners

While on the subway I met some people from Audubon, NJ, where I lived for 5 years. While dominated by Philadelphians, NJ’ers make up about 20-25% of the Broad Street Runners.

She was proud to show off the best possible race number

It’s hard to describe the feeling of riding along in a train, covering approximately half the distance of your upcoming race. Even the train ride feels long. Knowing you’ll have to run twice that far in a couple hours is intimidating.

The runners get off on the Olney Ave stop and join the thousands waiting to start the race. In the pre-race information they state there are 350 portable toilets available at the start which makes the potty to runner ratio around 90:1. If you even think you might have to go, get in line right away.

Runners getting ready to start.

There are so many people around, you’re bound to run into a few you know. I spotted @k8iedid mostly because she had her twitter handle on her t-shirt.

As each group (corral) of runners start, your stomach starts churning. Did you eat enough? Too much? Are your ankles going to hold up? I made the decision a few weeks prior to the race to wear my old running shoes since my new ones were giving me some weird pain after 3 or 4 miles. I didn’t want to find out on mile 6 how bad it would get. On long runs like this I also usually bring some leftover easter candy with me for some extra fuel, but I forgot. Oh well.

Start! Not having run enough recently I nervous about being able to finish the race. I took the start pretty slow and it showed. I must have been passed 1000 times in the first minute. It wasn’t until about mile 3 until things started to even out.

The best thing about the course route is that it’s one way. You start farther north in Philadelphia than I had ever previously been and finish about 500 yards before you’d have to jump in the Delaware. You can barely see Center City from the start or the finish. Psychologically this messes with your mind as City Hall slowly creeps into view, but it also feels badass once you finish.

The Broad Street Run seems to attract all sorts of people who run in crazy costumes, so here’s a rundown of the best ones I saw.

This guy in a Terminex shirt ran with a butterfly net the whole time
This girl thought dribbling a basketball for 10 miles was a good idea
This guy made me hungry during the race.
This optimistic Flyers fan carried an inflatable Stanley Cup during the race. Photo by Vincent J. Brown.

See more of Vincent’s great Broad Street photos here.

Lots of girls in tutus

I haven’t mentioned the weather yet, but it couldn’t have been better. Slightly cool at the start and never too hot the entire race.

Drum bands and choirs lined the streets as we ran by Temple University. Every time I ran by a cheering group of people or a band set up to entertain runners I felt my energy level go up, even if just for a 30 seconds. The amount of people out on the streets cheering is kind of astonishing, especially as you get closer to City Hall.

City Hall at last! This is about the halfway point.

A little over halfway through you finally reach the landmark you’ve been staring at for the last 45 minutes or so, William Penn on top of City Hall. Here you encounter the only turn in the whole race as you follow the road counter clockwise around to the other side. Here’s where the crowd really starts to get big and look for Ed Rendell hanging out on the right over the next quarter mile. He’s been there both years I ran.

After you pass South Street and Center City starts to fade away, you enter the final third of the race where you start to question what the hell you’re doing. Miles 6-8 are just awful, awful, miles and the volunteers who hang out all day just to hand out water to the slow pokes like me are awesome. Why someone would care enough to give out water, but not run, is crazy to me but thankfully there were hundreds of crazy people who did it. This year there also seemed to be way more people cheering in South Philly and it made these miles a little more bearable.

Lots of people cheering the runners on this year.
Some people got really into it

Miles 6-8 are tough, but 8-10 is hell. I was so hungry and tired at this point the only thing keeping me going was the bag of snacks I was about to get at the finish.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, I am not.
The Navy Yard is coming up

Soon after you start mile 9 you get a glimpse of the Navy yard gates. This is not the finish! It looks like the end but you have at least another 1/4 mile to go. It narrows down tight and there isn’t much room. Around here is when one of my shoelaces came untied and there was nowhere to stop and tie them.

At last!!!

And finally the finish. At this point, most of us are too tired to even manage a high five. We walk over, get a medal, a soft pretzel, a bag of random Philadelphia snacks, and some kind of sense of accomplishment and community that can only be had by running 10 miles with 30,000 strangers.

Am I Achieving My 2010 Goals?

Ouch. I just looked up my goals for 2010 and I am NOT doing well. Here’s my progress so far.

1. Read 12 Books – Easily completed this already. A few I listened to using Audible.com and I read the Purple Cow on my iPhone with the Kindle app.

So far I’ve read
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Ed Tufte
Priceless by William Poundstone
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Start with No by Jim Camp
Born to Run by Chris McDougall
The Road by Corman McCarthy
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

I’m still working on Under the Dome by Stephen King and Envisioning Information by Ed Tufte. Under the Dome is so big I can’t bring it with me when traveling. I’m about halfway through Ghost War, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It’s great, but it will take me forever.

2. Run a sub 23 minute 5K – There is no way this is happening this year. I ran one last month and my time was 25:14. I think I can get down to 24:30 in a month and I’m ok with that.

3. Write 5 Songs – Total failure. I really thought I’d be able to do this, but song writing has escaped me this year. I haven’t written a single new song. In fact, I’ve probably only written 2 in the last three years. Sad. I’ve been getting the bug to start playing more, though.

5. Finish my House – Well, I sold it so does that count? It sold in two days, which was awesome.

6. 6 batches of beer – Fail. I have a batch brewing now, but it’s my only 2010 batch.

So I’ve completed 2/6, but really failed at 4. Better luck next year!,

5K Results Reimagined

Haddon Township 5K Turkey Trot 2009 Race Results
Haddon Township 5K Turkey Trot 2009 Race Results

This graph shows and is sorted by the relative times for each runner on the left, their relative age on the right, and their gender by color. It seems to show that on average, men ran the race faster than women.

This graph below is the same data, but sorted by the participants’ age.

Race results sorted by age
Race results sorted by age

Image 2 shows the distribution of racers with a sharp increase about 1/4 of the way up. ? ?I think the 1 year old is a typo. ?haha. ?It also shows a big cluster of 12-14 year old girls. ?I couldn’t figure out a way to show what town they were from, but that would be interesting to analyze, too. Big thanks to Sparklines for Excel for the AddIn that helped me make these images.

Update: ?I fixed the problems I had with the previous images. ?These should reflect the actual data.

Haddon Twp Turkey Trot 2009 Results

It took me forever to find the results for the Haddon Township Turkey Trot 5K. I don’t see them linked anywhere on the official website, but google had indexed them somehow.

4th Place = 3rd Place due to a technicality
4th Place = 3rd Place due to a technicality

One thing I found out after seeing the results was that I didn’t actually get 3rd place in my age group. The overall winner was in my group, so they omitted him from the age group placing. doh! I’m ok with my 25:00 minute time as a good time to build on for my next race. I don’t have one scheduled yet, but would like to do one in January.

WTF is Up With My Running Lately?

I’ve had a lifelong love/hate relationship with running.

I ran cross country for a couple years in high school, but never really enjoyed it.? I liked being on the team, but always hated running while I did it. ?The cheapskate in me loves running because it’s free, but it was always one of those “I’ll do this because it’s good for me” type of things.? Over the last ten years I probably went running about 10-15 times per year.

Over the last few weeks I went running 15/18 days and that includes two days I spent in the hospital when Owen was born.

And I loved it.


A few weeks back I joined FitFeud, an online weightloss/fitness competition built on the premise that peer pressure and competition are the best motivators. ?After I had a bad week in the FitFeud I decided to go for a 2 mile run the next day and couldn’t believe how good the run felt.? I intentionally took it really slow, but in my 15 years of on-again/off-again running I never felt that good. ? I ran again the next day and felt even better. ?Soon, I was putting in 3-4 miles every day.

I attribute the success to a new running pattern where I start very slow and gradually bring up my heart rate, along with being in slightly better shape due to a soccer league I played in over the last year.

I also attribute my renewed interest in running to DailyMile.com, a great site for mapping out runs and recording your training. ?My goal is to run a 5K under 25 minutes. ?Now I just need to find a good race. ?I’m missing the Oaklyn 5K this Sunday because I’m going out of town.