I just thought some friends would get a kick out of it, honestly.
I had been batting around the idea of mapping out the route Rocky ran in Rocky II for a while, but I never got around to it. It’s not that I thought it was a stupid idea — if you’re a regular reader, you know many of my ideas are stupid — but that I didn’t think anyone would be that interested. Would a map of Rocky’s route be better than a thorough recap of Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, my previous magnum opus? I thought not.
I wrote it, of course, after seeing two men dressed as Rocky — one a foreign tourist, one a guy who hangs around the Art Museum steps posing for photos with tourists — while doing a run up and down the Art Museum steps. (They posed for a photo together, and I’m surprised the world didn’t explode at that very moment.) I bought a cheap copy of Rocky II at The Gallery. With the help of some friends, I mapped out the course. I was pretty happy with the result, but I didn’t think anyone would get a kick out of it as much as I did.
Needless to say, the piece tracing Rocky’s route in Rocky II is by far the most-read piece of my writing career. (People have asked me if I’m embarrassed my most famous article is something so silly; I usually reply that I literally can’t remember any serious article I’ve ever written.) It was written up around the world. “Just send a 2013 Pulitzer to Dan McQuade’s house right now,” Grantland‘s Bill Simmons wrote. Chris Hayes talked about it on MSNBC. It was some “Number of the Day” in the Wall Street Journal. I got notes from people I hadn’t talked to in years. When you’re a writer of stupid shit like I am, an audience reaction like that is as good as it gets.
But most curious was the email I got from Rebecca Schaefer. The article went up around 9 a.m. Literally three hours later I had an email in my inbox from Schaefer. “I saw your article about how long Rocky runs in Rocky 2 and it’s freaking fabulous,” she wrote. This was a good start, obviously, but what she wrote next was even better. “It gave me the idea of putting on a fatass 50k race, which would cost nothing or next to nothing (price would cover costs and that’s it) and just essentially be a fun run that covers the course, making it a solid 31 miler.”
I had literally never considered anyone would actually want to run this course. I actually suggested that no one actually try it in the article. But no less than three hours after my article was posted, Schaefer was already planning the race in its eventual form. It takes me three hours to decide how to get out of bed. She asked for my blessing — which was not necessary, but I was happy to give it like the head of a family (Don McQuade?).
And so that’s how I ended up waking up at 6 a.m. on two hours sleep Saturday morning. I got up to head to South Philly with a trashbag full of old running sneakers to donate to Back on My Feet. I got to the start at Wolf and Lambert streets and was astounded: 150 people, many dressed as Rocky, all ready to run 31 freaking miles on a cold December morning. (Also: It was a meeting of 150 ridiculously in-shape people who had read an article of mine. Neat!)
And what do you know? The race went great. People had an incredible time running it. Runners went up the Art Museum steps while “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger” played. Everyone was so happy. Sure, people were happy partly due to all the endorphins produced from running 31 miles. But it’s amazing: An idea conceived almost instantly three months ago became another wonderful, unique part of Philadelphia. I thought of it as a gimmick run for ultra-marathoners: Only instead of running lit up like a neon sign or with people shooting color at them, these runners just traced the course a character sort of ran in a movie. Of course people were going to love it!
When I was a senior in high school, I joked with my cross country coaches that we could alter our course so it didn’t cross through so many smelly ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba, which sounds like a Rocky knockoff). My coaches didn’t change the course, so this was my first foray into road race course design. I suppose it could be a new career. Not that I deserve any of the credit, really: Schafer took my article and made it way cooler, turning it into something I could never have imagined. For that, I can only thank her. My stupid article became yet another ridiculous, unique, wonderful Philadelphia event. I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition. Sorry, Rebecca; I wrote “Inaugural” in the headline to sort of force you to make it one.
Below are 10 of my favorite photos runners posted to Twitter on Saturday. Also check out Be Well Philly’s 13 Best Instagram Photos from the Rocky 50K Run.
— Caitlin Giddings (@caitlingiddings) December 7, 2013
— ededic (@ededic) December 8, 2013
— Liz P (@lizziep03) December 7, 2013
— joey (@jronbigstackz) December 7, 2013
— Jose Magos (@jmagos) December 8, 2013
— Hannah McGoldrick (@byHannahMcG) December 7, 2013
Follow @dhm on Twitter.