Polly Math became a runner on the Schuylkill River Trail

Polly Math
Favorite Spot: Schuylkill River Trail
Neighborhood: Center City

I am: A Central Jersey transplant who is happy to call Philadelphia home. When I’m not out exploring the city, I can usually be found putting things together such as furniture, food, parties, and words. I am healthysapien. I am also ridiculous.
Years in Philly: Part time starting in 2003. Full time since 2007
Current Home: Grays Ferry


My Love Note:

My Trail,

Or at least my part of it, was an introduction made by foot and a relationship cultivated by the same over time. Six years ago, not knowing a thing about the trail, I bought a tiny condo off Grays Ferry to make it easier to finish my degree at Penn. I’m not sure when or how I first learned about the trail. Maybe it was from looking down onto it over the north side of the rickety old South Street Bridge as I rushed back and forth to class.

I have no natural sense of direction, so it took me a while to figure-out how the trail snakes through the city’s grid of streets. Leave it to me to be amazed to learn I could get to the Art Museum from my house almost entirely by trail. All I had to do was walk a few blocks to its entrance at 25th and Locust, and as long as a train wasn’t rolling through, I was on my way. At least, this was where my part of the trail used to begin prior to its extension. As of last year, I can now cross over the train tracks and new dog park via a footbridge installed closer to Pine, and never have to wait for a train to pass again.

For years I yielded to the runners on the trail, and then in July of last year, I became one of them. With so many marathoners and triathletes as friends, it was only a matter of time, and where better to run than the trail, where there is no concern for cars or traffic lights. All I have to do is run. When I first started running, I used to top-out at five kilometers (3.1 miles), turning back for home at MLK Jr. Drive/West River Drive, that was until I decided to run The Rothman 8K (approximately five miles), which meant I needed to stretch beyond the length of trail I got to know well.

This new goal put my first steps onto Kelly Drive where I found the oasis that is the water fountain at Lloyd Hall, a popular sip stop for all the trail’s athletes. Running up to Lloyd Hall felt like entering a bustling town after driving miles of country road. It’s a community place where activities are held and people can grab a bite to eat. Out-of-towners share the trail with walkers, runners, skaters, and bicyclists, peddling their rented surreys while enjoying Boathouse Row and the sculptures along the water.

I had one resolution for 2013 – The Independent Blue Cross Broad Street Run. Broad Street, as most people call it, is a ten-mile race down the eponymous street, from North to South Philadelphia. Committing to this meant real training, since my longest run at that point had been the 8K that previous November. What I didn’t know then was this would bring me into what ultimately became my favorite part of the trail. It gets quiet past Boathouse Row, and greener the further you get into Fairmount Park. Here, I could run to the rhythm of crew teams cutting through the river or lazy geese floating without an agenda. Once I got comfortable out this far, it felt like a reward for pushing through the first few noisy miles.

With my focus on Broad Street, my first new turn around was Fountain Green Drive, then Columbia Bridge further out, and finally St. Joe’s Prep’s Boathouse, the halfway point I needed to reach to be prepared for Broad Street. I had a great time running Broad Street and was likely still high from it when I decided to register for The ODDyssey Half Marathon, scheduled for three weeks later. It was also around this same time that Paine Park opened on the trail, a new skate park made of smooth concrete, tucked into a previously unused section of the trailin the shadow of the Art Museum. I loved looping through there during my half-assed half marathon training, seeing happy Philadelphians practicing their tricks.

When I was nervous about Broad Street, I religiously followed a training program, but suddenly and inexplicably, with 13.1 miles staring me in the face, I didn’t. That fact dominated my thoughts as I laced my shoes for my only long run before the quickly approaching race. I knew I would need to complete the Kelly Drive Loop that night after work, something I’d never attempted before. It is about eight miles, but that wasn’t enough. Thankfully, starting and finishing at my house brought the total overall distance to about 10.75 miles, which would have to do. Ready or not, Sunday was four days away.

Running the trail as usual, I now had a decision to make at the Paine Park curve. Do I go Kelly and return MLK, or vice versa? I decided to hop across to MLK, figuring a familiar return would be comforting in my last few miles. The MLK side surprised me. I felt unexpectedly exposed to the traffic rushing by, but after a bit I was suddenly running through tall trees and under a beautiful canopy of leaves. Having the river on my right made things interesting, but I didn’t have the benefit of known milestones to help me gauge my distance, until I saw it.

Falls Bridge. It was the halfway point I’d been waiting for. It spans the river, connecting MLK to Kelly, thus creating “the loop.” My heart leapt and I felt a huge sense of pride as I hooked that right to step-up onto the ornate metal walkway. I was tired, but this milestone gave me a surge of energy. I was only halfway done, but I knew that if I had gotten this far, I could finish. I ran past St. Joes, Fountain Green, Columbia Bridge, the sculpture park, Boathouse Row, Lloyd Hall, Paine Park, under the JFK bridge, under the Walnut Street bridge, and up the ramp over the dog park. I was running and smiling as I zigzagged the final few blocks home, where construction to extend the trail from the new South Street Bridge is underway. Apparently, I can cry and run at the same time.

How lucky am I to be a runner in Philadelphia? How lucky am I to have the Schuylkill River trail?

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Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in Art Museum 6 Comments

6 Responses to Polly Math became a runner on the Schuylkill River Trail

  1. Emily Beck

    Beautiful tribute! And photos are gorgeous.

  2. Sunny

    Nicely written, even though I ran most these trails, still feels great to see these pics in your blog. Awesome shoots!

  3. Polly Math

    Thank you, Emily and Sunny!

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