When I moved here a few years ago, people talked a lot about the Barnes moving—well back then, they talked about it not moving, actually. They talked about the new mayor, Michael Nutter. They talked about whether the Phils would ever go all the way, they talked about the new Comcast Center, they talked about the latest cab fare hikes, and they talked about … well, you know, just life and stuff.
Nowadays, they talk about Broad Street. As in the run. And this is all they talk about, seemingly, from the check-out guy at Trader Joe’s who wonders if I’m getting that whole-wheat pasta to carb-load for the run (no) to the myriad coworkers who discuss Hal Higdon between meetings (who?).
Evidently, 98 percent of the human beings I come into contact with are running Broad Street—or training for something bigger—and they all converse with each other in the secret language of PRs and tempo runs. As one of the last members of that dwindling Philadelphia tribe known as the non-runner, I have to ask: When did everyone start caring so much about this sport? When did it get harder to score a spot in the Broad Street run than to get seats behind the Phillies dugout?
Needless to say, I’m not running Broad Street. (Yep, I’m the one!) I like almost all other forms of exercise just fine, but I avoid running, partly because of knee injuries from my youth that make it painful and partly because I just detest it. And while I’ve always sort of enjoyed watching the various races that happen in this city and showing up to cheer on friends, this year feels different: I recently realized that I might not have any friend to watch races with because everyone is actually participating. I mean, for a city that’s allegedly the least healthy in the country, we sure are awfully gung-ho about wind sprints, in my opinion. It’s like junior year of high school, when after years of avoiding school functions, everyone in my class suddenly decided en masse that Homecoming was cool, and I somehow didn’t get the memo and ended up doing homework while all my pals were out shopping for dresses. Fast forward 15 years, and I feel similarly isolated: Friends that used to insist on cabbing five blocks to dinner are suddenly getting up at 5 a.m. to “train.” It’s hard not to feel betrayed.
But since it’s tough to say which I hate more—feeling like an outsider or running for more than 20 minutes at a time—I don’t see my existential plight here dissipating anytime soon. I think at this point, I have a couple options. One: I can grit my teeth, get a Cortisone shot in the knee and take up running just to be a part of this collective Philadelphia conversation happening now. Or two: I can wait for the moment when, say, speed walking or impact jazz becomes the cultural touchstone for our city and in the meantime, cluck sympathetically at all those poor suckers in line for the treadmill at the gym, and secretly be glad that it means more free ellipticals for me.