After being canceled in 2020 and postponed in 2021, the 10-mile Blue Cross Broad Street Run returned to Philly on a sunny Sunday with 27,500 runners participating.
But not everything was back to normal for the iconic race. Like last year, the finish line was in the stadium complex instead of the Navy Yard due to construction. The number of runners is still well below the pre-pandemic mark of 40,000. And to limit the spread of the coronavirus, race organizers again discouraged spectators, despite federal guidance saying there is limited risk of transmission outdoors.
Runner Heather Kukla, 46, participated in the “virtual run” during last year’s rescheduled Broad Street Run, and her time was about two minutes per mile slower than it was at Sunday’s race. She attributed the difference to the fans who showed up, even if there were a limited number of them.
”I just was running with gratitude that we can do this altogether,” said Kukla, of Maple Glen.
The winner of this year’s women’s race, Sarah Naibei of Kenya, set a course record with a time of 52 minutes and 3 seconds. Robert Gaitho of Grand Prairie, Texas, finished first in the men’s race in 45 minutes and 41 seconds.
Competing in the wheelchair division, Emelia Perry of Philadelphia set the fastest overall time, at 43 minutes 44 seconds. Matt Helm of Downingtown won the men’s wheelchair division, with a time of 56 minutes and 7 seconds.
All runners over 5 years of age were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and show proof of vaccination. No masks were required.
Only runners, event staff, and emergency personnel were allowed at the start and finish line areas. Families and friends of runners were encouraged to watch the race live on NBC10.
The race started at Broad Street and Fisher Avenue in North Philly and finished at the PIDC Lot on Pattison Avenue, west of Broad Street. Race organizers expect the course to return to its former route, finishing at the Navy Yard, next year.
Spectator attendance was sparse along much of the route, and about 200 people gathered just before the finish line.
Kukla said she thought the benefits of having more spectators would have outweighed the limited risk of COVID-19 transmission.
”We were outdoors. I didn’t feel unsafe,” she said.
The limited number of attendees wasn’t the only notable change in the crowd in the pandemic era, she said.
”All the quarantine dogs were out and about,” Kukla said. “I saw about 200 poodle mixes.”
Terry McGurk, 52, of West Chester, who has been running Broad Street since 1993, said he appreciated the spectators who did come out. He said he sets faster times when there’s a crowd cheering runners on.
”I love spectators. It helps you get through the race, especially at the end,” said McGurk, who finished the race in 1 hour and 13 minutes. “I wish they would bring spectators back as soon as possible.”
Discouraging fans from attending Philly’s iconic race is the latest example of the city standing apart for the aggressiveness of its coronavirus safety policies at this stage of the pandemic. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration drew national attention in April for being the only city to reinstate an indoor masking mandate, only to abandon it days later. And City Council is the only legislative body in the 10 largest U.S. cities that is still meeting fully remotely.
Watching runners cross the finish line Sunday, Kenney declined to comment on the policy advising spectators to stay away.
The city did sanction the classic-rock band Right Turn at 40 to play outside the Union League. It was the five-piece group’s 13th year playing the Broad Street Run.
Lead singer Dave DiProspero said the band didn’t play at the 2021 race, held in October. It was a “bummer” that the run organizers discouraged spectators from attending this year, he said, but he was glad the band had a chance to return to Broad Street.
”The runners appreciate it. The spectators appreciate it,” he said just before the lead runners blazed through Center City. “It’s our favorite show every year.”
Todd Dreby, 45, and his kids cheered on his wife in Center City. He thought more people would show up to support the runners.
”We just wanted to get back to normal,” said Dreby, who lives in Newtown. “I’m surprised there isn’t a lot of people.”