Next to Christmas, the first Sunday in May is my favorite day.
I get up before dawn to board an over-packed SEPTA train heading to the Broad and Olney stop. After arriving, I and about 40,000 other runners head to assigned waiting areas, where we stretch, hydrate, and listen for the sound of the horn signaling that it’s our group’s turn to make its way to the starting line.
Then, as the theme song to Rocky blares, we take off, whooping and tossing aside old sweatshirts as we head for the finish line 10 miles away at the Navy Yard. A handful of diehards have run the Blue Cross Broad Street Run every year since it started in 1980 with 1,500 participants. It’s addictive like that.
But come Sunday, for the first time in 40 years, the Broad Street Run will not take place on its usual day because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers were smart to move the race to Oct. 4. Too much is at stake right now. Too many lives have been lost.
Still, it will be missed. During this time of uncertainty, running can be a big stress reliever. I try to get out as often as I can. With warm weather expected on Sunday, many of us who have been mostly self-isolating inside our homes will be pining for the annual race.
“My advice is not to go to Broad and Olney and try to run it,” said Leo Dignam, the Broad Street Run’s executive director. “Go out … on Sunday and think about how nice it’s going to be Oct. 4, when we run again.”
Studies show the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, typically released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Runners do an awful lot of spitting and heavy breathing, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in anyone’s slipstream. It will be next to impossible to practice social distancing with thousands of runners on one street, so I wonder if it will even be safe to participate in the race come fall.
“We — along with every other race director in the country — are hoping that we can,” Dignam told me. “The news comes in new every week. Almost every hour.”
What’s certain is that we can expect new normals.
Race officials meet weekly to discuss various possibilities, such as having runners cover their mouths with buff-style masks, which are more comfortable than surgical or cloth masks. There is also talk of making changes to the race expo, where thousands of runners go to pick up their bib numbers, and of eliminating the finisher festival, where participants pick up their medals and post-race refreshments.
“It could be postponed, but I would worry more beyond the Broad Street Run if we’re in this same situation come fall. Then we have a lot more things to worry about,” said Ken Beran, a 65-year-old Voorhees resident who has run the race every year since 1980. The race “should be the least of our problems.”
Roy McManus, 71, who also has run it every year, said at first he was skeptical about the decision to postpone but is on board with it now.
McManus is hopeful that by October, many of us will have the antibodies that scientists theorize may be helpful in protecting against the virus. Meanwhile, the Springfield, Delaware County, resident is planning to go on a 10-mile run with his 38-year-old daughter on Sunday.
“I run to inspire myself and others,” he said.
Whatever the situation come Oct. 4, McManus plans to be out on Broad Street once again. “You’ll see me even if I have to drag myself across the line,” he told me.