The air had a winter bite. As I drove down Kelly Drive towards Philadelphia with the heat blasting in my face, I noticed only few runners and cyclists using the Schuylkill River Trail on this Sunday morning. Hardly any cars were on the road. Even the sun took its time rising. I had no problems finding a parking spot just off of Kelly Drive and didn’t even have to parallel park.
We left the warmth of the car, keeping our heavy sweatshirts on, as we walked the half mile to Lloyd Hall for packet pick up. I swung my string backpack over my shoulder and kept trying to stick my hands in pockets I didn’t have: that’s why I brought gloves even though it took me awhile to come to that realization. We planned to arrive early to check in, pick up our bibs and t-shirt, and see where gear check was located, but it was almost too early. The two port-o-potties looked lonely without a line, and the restrooms for Lloyd Hall were practically empty. There was also no line for packet pick up.
The Schuylkill River Trail Loop Race is a no frills race that attracts a few hundred local runners to run the oldest ongoing race in Philadelphia in its 44th year. At a price of $25, how could I not sign up for this race? I asked my friend to run it with me too. We didn’t plan to race it, but to use the race as a much needed long run on one of our favorite trails with a few hundred other runners and a free t-shirt that we technically paid for. The t-shirt is cotton, a rarity in the $50 or more half marathon racing scene. I love cotton t-shirts because I can wear them with jeans, adding to my casual wardrobe that is becoming more sporty by the year.
This race begins near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passes the famous Rocky Steps, and then crosses over the Schuylkill River to follow Martin Luther King Drive up to the Falls Bridge before passing over the river a second time, taking runners down Kelly Drive to finish at Boathouse Row. The whole race is an even 8.4 miles with one water stop at mile 5. There are no mile markers are along the course, there are no cheering crowds, there are no bands, there’s just the trail and a pack of a few hundred runners all doing the same thing.
After about a mile, the pack thins out. A few rowers brave the river, and a few cyclists ding their bells to clear a path on the shared trail. That’s it. As Deb and I chatted, I noted when we reached mile 4 since we were about half way finished. Another runner slightly ahead of us, thanked us and started talking. She was young and wore Rainbow Dash socks, which I remember admiring at the starting line. She admitted only running a few 10Ks, so if she ran the whole distance of the race without walking, it would be her farthest distance ever.
Deb and I encouraged her to keep going as we swapped running stories. I used to despise running, and I told her that running was more of a punishment during soccer season, but I’ve come to love running because it’s the only way I can really feel like myself. If I don’t run, I’m not the same person. It wasn’t like a “come to Jesus” talk or anything about running, but more of a mutual agreement that running is beneficial. And you know what? She finished the race without walking and ran farther than she ever did before. To see the smile on her face at the finish line after she found her running friends was all we needed.
I plan to keep my eyes open for more local races like this one because they’re all about running and supporting the local community. And, I’ll probably meet some interesting runners on the trail too while enjoying the run with a friend.