50,000 Footsteps on the Streets of Philadelphia (and not one on the Rocky Steps)

My Garmin watch tells me I landed more than 50,000 steps on Sunday, November 20, 2022. That’s how my wearable tech will remember the day into digital eternity.

Here’s how I will:

Signs Are Good

Sorry to blow our elaborate cover, but Philly sports fans have been playing the national media for years. I know because I am one, of the Sixers and Phillies, at least. We laugh behind our backs at the idiotic stereotypes of us being more abusive and rude than other fan bases.

Santa is Cool
We don’t boo Santa Claus — there was even one running in the race on Sunday, to what I understand was thunderous applause. (FYI> We do boo and throw snowballs at drunken fools who stagger onto the playing field in costume and make a mockery of the beloved Kringle.)

We cheer any athlete who gives maximum effort — as was on display Sunday, when 14,000 runners were cheered relentlessly by perfect strangers who lined nearly the entire route. Many of us were plodding along at a pace that was not particularly cheerworthy, yet I swear I heard people yelling their support just as loudly as I have at Citizens Bank Park. And this after standing in below-freezing temperatures FOR HOURS.

And the signs! They were the best. In addition to the old favorites like “Run If You Think I’m Hot,” an assortment of fart/pooping your pants gags, “Tap Here for Power,” “If it were easy, I’d be doing it,” “All This for a Free Banana?,” and “Worst Parade Ever,” a few memorable ones stood out:

You are running better than Twitter

Hal Higdon Lied (if you know, you know)

YOU = AWESOME (on a board about the size of a lunchbox, held diligently by a tiny little girl, maybe 3 years old)

And my personal (least) favorite:

Because of Inflation, You Have to Run 28.6

I remain baffled as to why so many people were there, cheering so loudly, remaining for so long, while knowing so few people (if any) actually running the race.

I am left to make only one controversial explanation: Philly fans are the best. Fight me.

Brushes With Greatness
Boston Billy brought the plaque he was awarded in 1974 for winning the old Philadelphia Marathon.

I’m either lucky, #blessed, or have a little Forrest Gump in me, because I found myself meeting and talking with both Bill Rodgers and Jared Ward. Rodgers takes his place on the Mount Rushmore of American marathoners with four Boston wins and four NYC Marathon wins.

Bill Rodgers even autographed my bib. “Let’s Run– Forever!” I appreciate the sentiment, but that might be a liiiiiiiiiiitle too long for me.

Ward, a 2020 Olympic marathoner, designed the training plan I used to train with over the past 4 months and was at the finish line to present my medal.

Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a fourth possibility for my good fortune: In 1989, I happened to go to work at the company that published Runners World. There, among the running dignitaries like 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, I met Bart Yasso, an editor and itinerant golfer, who befriended me and got me into the 1991 New York Marathon, my first. Bart introduced me to Rodgers and Ward this weekend as he continues to live the dream as The Mayor of Running and avoid ever working a day in his life.

A personal Philadelphia sports thrill for me was being able to flash Allen Iverson’s signature “Let Me Hear You” hand to the ear gesture to the crowd. I’ve done it at other races when I really want to egg them on to cheer for us as we go by, but this was especially meaningful, since I had witnessed AI do it so many times on the court in South Philly.

At several junctions of the race I flashed my best “I Can’t Hear You” signal. I have to believe at least one person there got the reference– and that’s a close enough (existential) brush with greatness for me.

The people I DID NOT want to brush upon were my usual nemeses — the novelty runners. As a spectator, they are amusing. As a fellow runner, they not only annoy the goo out of me, they hold the unique danger of being in your general proximity when you come upon the race photographer. That could mean you are forever enshrined as the guy just behind the Big Bird, or running side-by-side with a Hot Dog.

I am officially a faster marathoner than The Batman.

This Sunday, my villain was a superhero. All I heard for a couple miles as we came upon waves of spectators was “HEY BATMAN!” and “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nah – Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nah BAT. MAAAAN!” (And then I had to sit here and sing the theme song and count out the “na na na’s” for this post. Ugh.) Happy to say that I eventually broke free of The Batman on Walnut St, passed the Teletubby at about mile 10, scoffed at the guy juggling as he went by in the slow lane of a switchback, and ran down and blew right past The Guy In the Full Suit and Tie with about 2 miles to go in the race. Fingers crossed that I don’t appear in any photos with them.

Leaving It All Out There

One of the mental pictures I’ll take with me was on Kelly Drive on the way in to the finish. After traipsing out to Manayunk for several miles into the wind and uphill, the final 4.5 miles come back the same way, but this time slightly downhill and with the crosswind mostly at your back. By then, I was pretty sure I was going to make it without the kind of crash I experienced on the hills of Boston at about the same point in the race.

And, perhaps unlike the hundreds and hundreds of my fellow runners who now looked like they had gone out too fast earlier in the race, I was feeling as strong as I did all day and started passing them bunch-by-bunch like grapes at a vineyard.

At one point, the road kind of opened up, such that there wasn’t anyone in front of me in my immediate vicinity, and there the wind starting swirling low to ground. The dried leaves that lined the route along the Schuylkill River were now in full dance. Nature’s crunchy litter being whipped around and foaming sweetly like a wintry cappuccino, a spiral that promised to draw me in and transport me up, up, and away into my own Super powers. I ran through the whirlpool like a rock star coming onto the stage through the fog machine, dead set on finishing the race at my fastest pace of the day.

When I looked back up again from the leaf fog, I was surprised to see the 4:45 pacing group that I had tried to keep up with for half the race, but whom had disappeared out of view as I slowed down my pace as the miles had mounted. But here they were. As I finally caught them, I was content to sit in behind them, knowing I could make it in 4:45 if I could keep up with them the rest of the way, only a few miles to go.

That contentment lasted about 12 seconds, as I realized they were going too slowly for me now. I had graduated to a faster pace and was past them before I could even decide if I should slow down. Instead, I chose to ignore my watch, not worry about hitting any specific time, and just let it go. Enjoy going full speed and at full strength, without feeling the need to force myself into utter exhaustion.

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.
Look, up at the finish line, it’s NOT Batman.

To trust my training. To trust my body. To trust divine timing. To run free. To finish strong. And let the numbers, like those swirling leaves which will transform into the spring’s new soil, fall where they may.

When I heard Bart shout my name after I had punched across the finish line later, I didn’t even realize it but I had cut 33 mins off my Boston Marathon time from 6 months earlier. And, according to the age-graded charts that compare a runner’s time to where they are relative to others of their age cohort, had run the fastest marathon of my life.

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