Race: Independence Blue Cross Broad Street Run
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 16.0 km (10 miles)
Date/Start Time: 6 May 2012, 8:30am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 11.6 km (7.2 miles)
Weather conditions: Low 70s, mostly cloudy with some rain.
Course conditions: The course is mostly downhill leading into Girard and Fairmount but increases slightly and then another drop after City Hall. Starts at Olney and the Albert Einstein Hospital and finishes at Broad and Farragut Streets, at the Navy Yard.
Preview: First race of 2012, first ten-miler and first time doing Broad Street Run after nearly 11 years living in Center City Philadelphia. The crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 will stand the largest challenge due to severly high demand as well as my relatively poor track record with collisions in crowded races.
Normally I wouldn’t post anything about registration process in my blogs since in most cases, possibly with the exception of the high-demand MCM, I have been able to register for most races very timely, very smoothly, without incident. Even last year’s MCM, it took me three tries to access the site, but eventually did I land a coveted spot in the race. This year’s Broad Street Run exceeded demand like no other race, and with a new race registration system vendor, only compounded the issue.
To my understanding, the BSR had used active.com, a very reputable registration system. This year, they used a much smaller vendor, which may have been problem #1. Even though registration started at 10am on a Wednesday, I was able to be online, ready to go. And thank goodness I was. If you were fortunate to have IBX as your primary insurer, you had a window to register before the official registration window to the public. (While I had a Blue Cross insurance plan, it was a different one from IBX, so I was not eligible.)
So 10am came, and I had significant trouble accessing the site. Finally I was able to pull the initial page, and every page loaded entirely too slowly. I checked Facebook on my phone and sure enough the lot of people were complaining left, right and centre regarding how slow the process was, why the orgs changed processing vendors and so forth. Not to mention when some people registered they got OTHER people’s confirmation. That must have been a nightmare.
As for me? Took 2 hours to access the site. Took another 40 minutes for each page to load every step of the registration process. By 11am, it was confirmed, I was in. I had both my site email from BSR and my confirmation receipt email for having purchased a slot in the race.
So in that respect I was lucky, but it made me wonder what else could influence my decision to sign up again for BSR.
Just when you thought the organizers had enough issues with the registration, I had heard more complaints regarding the expo and packet pick up. The expo hours were 4 May from 10am-6pm and 5 May from 9am-5pm. IMO, not having after-work hours is a problem in of itself, but given the venue, I’m not sure how much choice they had. The expo was at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, in the West Club Level. Due to my work and travel commitments I was unable to attend the expo on Friday. I would be forced to push myself first thing on Saturday as I had afternoon class. This I didn’t like being rushed at all, but I had no choice.
In the end, it turned out to be a very good thing.
The comments I saw on Twitter regarding packet pick up during the train ride and my lunch break were pure insanity. On Facebook, a fellow high school classmate slammed the organization on Facebook:
“Worst expo setup and I’ve seen some bad ones but really? Walk me to one side for the bib then walk me to the total other side for your t-shirt? Geez! I can’t wait for the race though. Should be fun!”
Another high school alum of mine commented, blaming excessive publicity and social media:
“5 years in a row [running]. Might be my last after that insanity today. The race is great. It’s my favorite race ever. It’s always been set up that way but has NEVER been a problem. They obviously need to adjust. 4 years ago I walked in on Saturday and signed up. Social media has blown the entire thing out of control completely.”
My colleague Sergio was forced to withdraw due to a serious injury he incurred in February whilst running the Myrtle Beach marathon. He had transferred his bib to a friend of mine but he had dropped by and subsequently blasted the poor organization:
“F- to BSR organizers. You have to wait in line outside the Linc then go up 4 levels at the Linc. Unreasonable queue.”
A co-volunteer for the exchange student program we both help out at posted on my Wall that the queue piled up badly at 11am. 11am on a Friday? Don’t people work? This didn’t bode well for me at all going on Saturday.
So my plan? Take the BSR shuttle at 8:30am and get in the door at 9am. It was my original plan due to my schedule but now hearing how bad the crowds were, I really was up against fate now as my final Saturday class was at 1pm, but my group wanted to meet at noon, and because this was a key presentation I did not want to be late.
On Saturday, aware that I was in a time crunch for school and class, I boarded the first expo shuttle out of Love Park at 8:20 am and it left shortly thereafter. We reached Lincoln Financial Field at 8:40am, where a queue from the gate entrance had already formed; thankfully it was short enough. However by the time the gates opened a much longer line had formed around the block. Geez.
Luckily for me, we had at most a 5 minute wait in line. And in another 5, we got in.
Inside layout was as horrible as I expected. The space allotted at the Linc was VERY tight and cramped; I feel organziers REALLY underestimated the amount of space needed. I was constantly bumping into people and it was a piece of work trying to avoid running into people. Even worse, the bib pick up was on the OPPOSITE side of the narrow hall from the t-shirts. Wow.
I picked up both Sergio’s and my own bib and then wandered all the way to the other side for our t-shirts. After that it was chaos trying to dodge people as I bought two sweaty bands for my father and checked out the rest of the tables. There were a decent amount there, although not as large as MCM or Rock and Roll Half Marathon. For the number of people there, they could stand to include more vendors if they could have done so.
After about an hour, I headed home, back on the shuttle bus to my neighbourhood.
Given that bursitis had struck my knees one week ago, I left nothing to chance having stretched like insanity, used a rubber band to stretch my inner quads, went spinning to keep myself in shape.
Sunday morning, we left at about 6:45am to head to the subway so we could take our express train to Olney. The express train soared northbound, and it still took us close to 30 minutes to reach Olney. Once we filed out and up from the subway station, our next order of business was to find the schoolbuses to check in our bags.
When we checked in our bags, they gave us a tag on our bib and the corresponding tag for our bus number and luggage number both on our wrist and on the bag itself.
I then shuffled over to the medical section on Somerville Avenue to get some baby aspirin to stave off any possible pain in my knees through the race.
Mile 1: Olney The horn went off. A loud roar erupted from the crowd in front of Albert Einstein Hospital. And then…the dreaded Rocky theme song. The infamous images of Rocky climbing the steps of the Art Museum danced in my head for what must have been the millionth time. I don’t have a problem with Rocky or Philly but I will admit I just am not into the Rocky movies that much and it gets somewhat old after hearing it awhile. Then again, that’s what makes it so Philly. I can’t remember exactly what I heard when I started my races in Lancaster, PA, Virginia Beach or Arlington, VA, but I know it was nothing close to the Rocky theme.
After what must have been close to half an hour, our corral finally made its way to the start line. And then…the horn. We were off.
I started slow and allowed my friend Caroline to pace ahead, as I was worried about my knee. Then I saw the safety divider “dips” in the middle of the pavement, and fearing I would trip on them, I moved over to the side. Avoiding collisions was key but as I had learnt from a previous error made last year (link) in Virginia Beach, I stayed as far right as I could and when the pack was too thick, I trailed over to the sidewalk. As long as I wasn’t past the police fences which kept the runners separate from spectators, I was okay. I eventually fell in a groove as I churned past the eerie North Philadelphia neighborhoods and mom-and-pop stores. We passed a Q-102 tent playing Lady Gaga, which kept me plowing along.
And like that, the first mile was soon history.
Mile 2: Tioga Without incident we made it to the next neighborhood south, where a slight hill started to form; we could see the pack ahead rise, and I had no issue here. To our left was the North Philadelphia subway stop where a local was standing on the rails yelling “Ladies lift your knees up! LIFT THOSE KNEES!”
“Sounds like he has the right idea,” said another female runner to my right. After another crest, I felt another downhill coming on, and onward we plowed. Temperature was on the cooler side with a high of mid-50s and the wind was slightly against our backs.
Mile 3: Allegheny We continued downward. Then I heard someone call my name. It was Laura from high school, who had taken up running recently. She was running the race with one of her friends in her area, Meghan, who also worked with her. We caught up briefly as we discussed race options and marathon decisions as she had posted soliciting advice on Facebook. She was aiming for a few triathlons in the summer and was still debating her fall marathon decision. I told her that I was definitely in for a triathlon but it would have to wait until I was completely finished with graduate school. Laura had finished her masters degree at least 2 years ago.
Finally, we split as our first water station came upon us. I took in one glass but thankfully because the temperatures were low, I was not losing as much water as I had feared. It was also the first stop with Gatorade, but I didn’t need Gatorade as I had a PowerBar Gel that I had planned to pop in at this time to give me a little bit of a kick.
Little did I know that I would not be able to secure much-needed Gatorade until much closer to the end, and much later than I would have ever hoped. But that’s another story…
Mile 4: Temple University We came upon Temple cheerleaders to our left and a student band to our right. That was one thing the first three miles were sorely lacking: music. Music helps my morale, but I am also one to go insane running with a music player in my ears due to lack of awareness of other runners. So I take in the live sights and sounds and am hopefully aware enough to avoid collision accidents, critical in a nearly 40,000-runner field.
A second water stop appeared but I did not see any Gatorade. Which was okay, the gel was keeping me going and I was picking up the pace. I passed Alter Hall, where I took classes on my left and the Liacouras Center on my right. The sights and sounds of campus was helping a little with morale and plowing into City Hall followed through my own neighbourhood would only help.
Mile 5: Fairmount The masses of crowds were picking up and at this point the cheers were becoming even louder. Bands were playing a variety of music as we passed Brown Street, then Fairmount Avenue, then Green Street, then further south. I then saw another water stop. But again, no Gatorade. Now my patience was starting to wear thin, I needed Gatorade but I figured it would have to be another mile that I could get it. But I could survive without it I suppose, though I wasn’t entirely happy. Wearing my hydration belt would not have helped as I had water in my bottles and not Gatorade, but it’s something I would have to consider next time.
We continued down to City Hall where we made a right around the loop, closer to Suburban Station and then back left towards the Ritz-Carlton, and then continued south.
Mile 6: Theatre District/Rittenhouse Nothing feels better than home, and it was all too true today. The all-too familiar sights of the Belleve and Capital Grille to my left were accompanied by more music, throngs of screaming spectators and music blasting in the background. I started picking up the pace feeling a lift with all the music being heard. It was one big screaming party in Center City and I was taking it all in.
We hit Lombard Street, and then I saw Alvin, another friend of mine.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “You should be ahead of me!” I said, as he was much faster than I was. He told me he had been pacing Eli, another friend of ours, who was a beginner runner and much slower than I. Arvind had pulled ahead of her two miles ago as they started at nearly the very back where the walkers were. Geez.
And then it was, a Gatorade stop. Muddled in the middle of the pack, I struggled to push myself right but it was too late. By the time I had gotten myself closer to the right of the road, I was way past the Gatorade tables and there was no turning back. There was water, which I took two cups, but I was definitely annoyed as I knew I would need the electrolytes very soon.
Miles 7 and 8: South Philadelphia We proceeded deeper in the course, with the crowds staying relatively populated through South Philly, though not as much as Center City. At this point, not sure what it was, but I felt my legs just starting to slightly tighten up and now it would be critical to get some Gatorade, which meant that if I missed this next stop or if I didn’t see electrolytes in the next mile I would be in serious trouble. Somehow I continued to pick up speed until we hit Tasker Street. It was then another group of people were blasting music and of all the songs it was one of my favourites, Cee Lo Green’s “(Forget) You” (or F You).
The song alone amps me up when I run but what even made the moment sweeter was where we were. After I passed the group blasting the music, we came upon the street where my ex-boyfriend lived – McKean Street. It was a bad relationship and running made me think positively – how happy I was once he was out of my life. I just had to get it out of my system as I continued to pick up speed. I threw my fists in the air with the rest of the pack around me singing the lyrics to Cee Lo Green’s hit, continuing to lift my spirits.
It felt good to be myself, it felt good to run, and good to take the actions needed to make myself happy.
And as if on cue, FINALLY. A Gatorade station, at which I helped myself to two glasses of Gatorade.
Mile 9: Sports Complex We were greeted by Mummers playing songs to our right and that helped even more. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Mummers as I was used to only seeing them at Philadelphia’s New Year’s Mummers parade. The closer we got to Pattison Avenue, the crowds were starting to thicken again with more spectators and those runners who had finished WAY ahead of the pack waiting at the grandstands at the very end.
We hit FDR Park, and I took in my last few cups of water. At this point, my muscles were quite tight and I knew that any sudden stop and I wouldn’t be able to pick it up again. To boot, I was on pace for a negative split, which I had not achieved in a while. So I had to keep going, either maintain or pick up speed. The Gatorade I had the mile before would keep the muscles from completely cramping; at this point it was all mental.
Mile 10: Finish at the Navy Yard This was it, the final mile. The crowds grew louder and we went through the two underpasses adjacent to the sports complex. The skies were clearing up and more than anything, I was feeling great. I saw a construction sign in lights saying “Only 1/2 mile to go!” and like that, we crossed the blue gates into the Navy Yard.
The road was narrowing and then, finally, the grandstand. I saw the finish line, and I picked up with ease, seeing all the sponsors’ signs highlighting the finish. The crowd grew louder and I saw the clocks. I was going to hit the negative split and the strongest pace I’d ever done and this was all on what I had thought to have been shaky knees.
And in powerful fashion, I crossed the finish line. 2012 was off to a fantastic start.
After the Finish Line
We funneled through the finishers’ chute and through the food tent, relatively in an orderly fashion. Volunteers were everywhere, handing out the medals, and they were distributing bags in the food tent. In the food bag were the typical Philly treats, not my cup of tea for a post-race snack admittedly, but still all gravy nonetheless. Two Tastykake fruit bars, a pair of Goldenberg candy chews, an orange, a banana, a bottle of water, and volunteers were handing out a large pretzel from Philly Pretzel Company.
I took in the pretzel immediately to stabilise myself as my stomach was growling. I took in more Gatorade to my left as I recovered catching my breath. Once we were out of the food chute, I made my way over to the Dunkin Donuts cart as they were serving bagel bites and iced coffee. Then I trudged around in vain looking for the busses to pick up my checked-in bag. There were NO signs whatsoever telling us which way the busses were so I had walked around nearly for half an hour before I found the bus.
I got my stuff and headed westbound. No sign of Caroline. Then I ran into Alvin and Eli who took me to Caroline, where we all regrouped. I eventually got a massage, which was badly needed before we recovered and went home. It was a 5-10 minute walk to the Pattison subway stop but it would sure beat the time needed to wait in an ungodly long queue for the shuttle busses to take us back to the sports complex. Yes, it was that long.
As for the race, it was the strongest I’ve felt particularly with injury wavering. The volunteers were very cheerful, but I wish the organizers would have been more prepared for a larger crowd. Registration, Friday at the expo for those who went then, and issues finding the busses, plus the 4 mile stretch (5 for me) without gatorade, and considering who I saw hurting on that course…I dunno how many people will come back of those who ran. A number of people on Facebook have said this will “be their last” Broad Street Run, and it may well be my only experience, partially because I wanted to compete in other races traditionally held the first Sunday in May, such as the New Jersey Marathon/Long Branch Half Marathon.
I will admit I got very lucky with registration and was fortunate that work kept me away on Friday’s expo day. My real anxiety however was race day and not seeing the Gatorade signs and finally the lack of signs telling us which way the busses were in the massive crowd.
However I had a splendid time with Caroline and seeing my friends on the course and these are the memories that I wouldn’t forget.
The sheer size of the race made avoiding things a challenge but another plus was no collision, so I’m getting better at navigating large participant fields.
Verdict: This was probably a huge learning curve for the organizers in terms of a sharp and unanticipated increase in participation. You hope they didn’t turn too many people off, but this should be a huge lesson on how to run a race if they want to have close to 40,000 finishers as opposed to the 25,000 or so they had last year. If they can acknowledge the bumps, perhaps the running masses will be more forgiving.
As for me, maybe I’ll come back, although I feel this will be a full out lottery system by the time I do.