After a year off because of the pandemic, runners returned to Broad Street on Sunday under a gray sky and a cooling mist.
For the first time, the 2021 Blue Cross Broad Street Run was a hybrid race. About 17,000 racers who submitted proof of vaccination were expected to run the 10 miles in person, and 1,500 would participate virtually. In past years, runners have numbered nearly 40,000.
“It was a lot easier to get to the starting point without all the crowds,” said runner Scott McQueen, 42, a project manager from Warrington who was participating in his 10th Broad Street Run.
The finish line was oddly quiet when the first runner, Dennis Kipkosgei, crossed with a time of 46:13. Distance runner Allie Kieffer was the top female finisher at 52:56. Spectators had been “strongly discouraged” by the city from attending the race. Cheer zones and other activities along the route were suspended, and masks were required at the start and finish lines.
“I missed the spectators, and I missed the Temple band,” said runner Jennie Sortino, 50, a special-education teacher from Phoenixville. “But it was good to see the people who were there. Having smaller crowds had a good and bad side to it.”
Along Broad Street at Walnut, a handful of race fans lined up early to lend their support. At 8:32 a.m., the first cheers rang out as the runners sprinted by.
Bruce Luckman, a lawyer who lives in Society Hill, said he comes to the race almost every year.
“I think it’s great for the city,” he said. “It brings people from all over. It’s a nice post-COVID event, if we are post-COVID.”
Before the race, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “Having the Blue Cross Broad Street Run back on Broad Street this year is a much-needed sign that Philadelphia is returning to normal. ... Thank you to everyone who got vaccinated so we can do this race safely.”
Several participants, including Rebecca Donahue, 30, of Roxborough, praised race organizers for the detailed instructions on how to keep safe during the pandemic.
“They did a good job letting people know where they had to be and what they needed to do,” said Donahue, who was running with her husband, Michael, 37.
Sunday was the 41st Broad Street Run. It started about 8 a.m. at North Broad Street and West Fisher Avenue in the city’s Logan section. The middle part of the course was slightly altered around City Hall, and the finish line was moved to Pattison Avenue because of planned construction at the Navy Yard.
Runner Chris Puccio, 30, of Bryn Mawr, liked finishing at Pattison Avenue. In the past, he said, “you hit the Navy Yard gates, and there’s a sign telling you there’s still 0.1 mile left to run. That’s kind of demoralizing.”
Spectator Stan Ware, who lives near 13th and Walnut, stood on Broad Street, wearing a flowery skirt, a hat topped with a flower, and waving two enormous flags, with orange, white, green and black colors.
Ware, 64, a nurse, has been coming to the run for at least five years. He said he wasn’t going to let the advice from the city to watch the run on television discourage him from showing up in person.
“The runners need us,” Ware said. “I’m just here to cheer them on. I know a lot of my coworkers, doctors and nurses who will be running, and they will see me in my colors, supporting them.”
The loudest cheers erupted a block or so away outside the Academy of Music at Broad and Locust, where maybe 100 people were scattered on both sides of Broad Street.
Among them was Kathy Keehn, of Havertown, who was there with her husband and son’s girlfriend to cheer on the Keehns’ son, Rob, 25, of New York City. The Keehns parked their car at the stadium and rode bikes down Broad Street to watch the race.
“This is his first run,” Kathy Keehn said. “We used to run it, and now our kids are running it.”
Bill Wert, of Berwyn, stood in the median on Broad Street, at Locust, ringing a red cow bell. He was there to support his wife, Dana Clarke, who was running her first Broad Street Run, although she has run in other races, including a half-Iron Man in Maine, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 54-mile bike race, and a half-marathon (13 miles).
At Broad and Pine, outside the University of the Arts, the music made a comeback. A young man set up a booming DJ stand blasting empowering beats. The song lyric “Whoomp (There it is!),” accompanied by cheers, boosted the runners while a couple folks on the sidewalk danced.
Runner Ron Allen, 47, a social worker who lives in West Philadelphia, said that although there were fewer people along the route, it still felt like a crowd because of the cheering.
“Believe it or not, the energy the people give you keeps you going,” he said. “When you hear people cheering at mile seven and your legs feel like lead, their cheers give you hope.”