Lorraine Cephus read about the first-ever Broad Street Run in the Daily News. It was 1980, and she’d been running for a few years at that point, entering the many 5Ks and 10Ks that were popping up around Philly in those early years of a national running boom. So she clipped out the registration form from the paper, mailed it in with the registration fee—two dollars—and showed up at the start line alongside 1,575 other runners. Well, almost alongside them: Her train stalled just before the Olney station, and she had to sprint to make the run. She missed the starting gun by five minutes.
“I was fast,” she laughs, “but not that fast.” But she ran anyway, tracing the path down Broad, right through City Hall, and finishing at the old JFK stadium in about an hour and 45 minutes.
This month, she’ll be at that start line again, one of just six runners to have made the 10-mile trek down Broad Street every one of the race’s 35 years. She’s 84 years old.
“I don’t really have a goal anymore,” says Cephus, who averages about a three-hour 10-miler these days. “I’m just thankful I finish at all.”
Cephus has seen a lot more than her time change in the past three and a half decades. Today the trains (mostly) run smoother; JFK is gone; the Navy Yard (site of the current finish line) is chic; and some 40,000 runners clamor to win a spot via lottery (and then pay $43 for the bib). This month, the stretch of North Broad by Temple will be packed with spectators up at dawn with their cowbells; back then, it was just the runners and the urban grit. “There was hardly anyone watching,” remembers longtime organizer Steve Goldman.
The initial race was the brainchild of then-Parks and Rec commissioner Bob Crawford, who was inspired by San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers 12K. He decided Philly needed its own point-to-point race, a straight shot through the heart of the city. Only … Broad Street in 1980 was no beach.
“Without a doubt, there were some tough neighborhoods back then,” admits current race director Jim Marino, remembering the first couple miles of the race. “There were no businesses and a lot of empty buildings.”
But still, he says, “the uniqueness of the whole race being all one street captured runners’ hearts in the beginning.” And since then? “Runners are seeing the change in the city,” Marino says. “They’ve seen the modernization of Broad.”
As Center City bloomed into the 21st-century urban hive no one could have imagined in 1980, the Broad Street Run evolved in tandem, growing into a boisterous celebration of Philly itself. Longtime runners come back each year to clock their own progress along with that of the city; newcomers continue to reflect larger societal changes. That first year, Cephus was one of just 122 female finishers. Today, women make up the majority of finishers. (Last year, there were 17,286 of them at the finish line.) The number of 20-something racers is also at an all-time high.
Cephus, who’s run the hard-core Marine Corps Marathon 30 times and the Rock N’ Roll half marathon every year (including its time as the Philly Distance Run), still counts Broad Street among her favorites, and says trekking through Philly every May makes her proud. “I’ve stopped running as many of the real long races now,” she says, “but I’m going to keep doing Broad Street for as long as I can.”
Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
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