My last post was based on a race that I’ve historically had little interest in. This one is about a race that I care deeply about.
I ran my first Broad Street Run on May 7, 2000. I’d started running regularly again the year before and by February of that year, I found myself running 6-7 miles at a time and loving it more as the distances got longer. Running had become something I did because I enjoyed it. I saw an ad for this 10 mile race down Broad Street and thought, “that looks like fun, I wonder if I could do that.” That might have been the moment that running became a passion, a step up from a hobby.
Sixteen years and 13 Broad Streets later, it has become something that I can trace my life by. I was a 27 year old single woman with no kids the first time I ran it. I’m now 43 with a family. I’ve finished in the top 5% and the bottom 25%. I’ve run it pregnant with both kids. It’s been hot, cold, sunny, cloudy, windy, although it’s never rained. I’ve run it as a capstone to a 90 mile week during peak marathon training, and it’s been one of only a handful of runs I’d done in the previous month. It’s the only race that I will run every year that I am physically capable of running 10 miles. I don’t think that I can adequately describe exactly what this race means to me. When I turn left from Olney Avenue and walk onto Broad Street and look down the wide empty street toward City Hall, I get goosebumps and smile silently every time. Lots of things change in our lives from year to year and decade to decade. But standing at the start of the Broad Street Run on the first Sunday in May is a consistent ritual for me.
Then one year everything changed.
Independence Blue Cross has been the title sponsor of The Broad Street Run since I’ve been a part of it. It’s also my insurance company. The one which has paid almost $2 million so far in pursuit of a diagnosis and now a treatment plan for Shawn’s cancer. In early February, our team at CHOP brought in a social worker to one of our meetings. I’d been growing increasingly uneasy about how we were going to be able to pay our bills now that I was out of vacation days at work with no end in sight. The social worker put me in touch with an organization called Fred’s Footsteps. They provide financial assistance to families in situations like ours, who were previously doing ok but a child’s serious illness causes major gaps in income. They want parents to be able to focus on their child’s care instead of worrying about money. The organization was founded in memory of Fred DiBona, CEO of Independence Blue Cross, who died of cancer in 2005. There’s a picture on the Fred’s Footsteps website of him presenting the awards at Broad Street. When I saw that picture, my connection with Broad Street got stronger. I knew that this year would be even more meaningful to me.
On February 1st, I registered for Broad Street from Shawn’s hospital room. Technically I entered the lottery, but since I’m considered a veteran runner, having run the race ten or more times, I’m guaranteed entry.
On April 28th, I read this article about the Broad Street race director’s own recent battle with cancer, and how his own father’s cancer inspired him to get involved in the race. Jim Marino is well respected in the running community. I was floored by what I read there and the additional connection that I now felt with Broad Street. I wrote to Jim that night. I don’t know him. We’ve never met. I wrote to him to thank him for what he’s done and to tell him about what Broad Street means to me and why, and the reason that it’s more meaningful this year. I didn’t expect to hear back from him, at least not for a week or two. He had the sixth largest race in the U.S. to put on three days later, after all. But I did hear back from him. Within a couple hours. And apparently I’m still making people cry.
Bill and I talked this week about the logistics of race day. We had both been watching the forecast and saw the rain. Surely that will change, we both agreed. It doesn’t rain on Broad Street days. But lots of things are different this year. Maybe this is one of them.
Then there’s the issue of the shirt color. Each year that I’ve run, the race shirt has been either blue, gray, or white. A few years ago I noticed a pattern. Gray shirt years are terrible. I’m usually unprepared and run correspondingly bad (typically when each kid was a baby). White shirt years are in the middle. Never extraordinary, but not usually bad. Blue shirt years can be magical. I’ve set three PRs in blue shirt years, two of them surpassing my expectations. But great races aren’t always defined by the finish time. At the expo while we were walking to get my shirt, I saw glimpses of people’s bags with blue cloth in them. Is that what I think it is? Is this a blue shirt year? How can that be? I have no chance to run well this year. But I trust Broad Street.
I decided to wear one of my blue wrist bands this morning. I still have almost all of them. I chose the one from the admission when we got the cancer diagnosis. It made sense to do so.
My actual running this morning wasn’t great. It felt like a white shirt race in a blue shirt year. I never felt that spark that comes when everything clicks in a race. But I didn’t expect to, given that I’ve been running less and doing no specific training. I’ve got other things going on.
Some things were different this year – I had to pick up my race packet on Saturday since I couldn’t take an unpaid half day to go on Friday afternoon like I usually do. I teared up while crossing the finish line. I did that only once before, when I ran my best time at this race three years ago after maxing out my training and realizing that I could do much more than I ever thought I could. Today I teared up knowing that Bill and both kids were at the finish. And Jim Marino was at the start making his usual announcements, just like always. But it also rained today, and it never rains on Broad Street days. And our kids don’t get cancer. Nothing is a given.
It felt like the Broad Street Run itself was supporting me this year.