My love note:
12 years and about 50 pounds ago, I was a pretty decent runner.
My times were never great — I won a few cross country dual meets, I never got hurt — but I was hardcore. By senior year of high school I savored every minute of every run. I loved running in the woods in Philadelphia and Bucks County, on streets near the Northeast Airport and on tracks all over. Unfortunately, running competitively for 10 or so years killed my spirit. I fell out of it in college. I found new interests. I dropped my favorite hobby for reasons I still don’t understand.
A few years ago I got fired, got dumped and, most importantly, saw an incredibly unflattering photo of myself. I’m pretty vain, so it wasn’t hard to get back into running. But even though I was running every day, I never found that perfect place to run. I don’t own a car (so no Belmont Plateau) and I live east of Broad (so the Schuylkill River trail is a bit far, too). I thought I’d be running big loops around South Philly streets forever.
Then one day I ran the bridge.
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is gorgeous, but I never realized how great it is until running over it. It opened on July 1, 1926 to rave reviews as the Delaware River Bridge; the chief engineer, Polish-born American bridge maven Ralph Modjeski, was born exactly 122 years before me. The view of the skyline from the middle of the bridge is the best in the city, but the scenery from the bridge is great, too: The backsides of buildings, a baseball stadium and nicer-than-you-think Rutgers-Camden campus in New Jersey.
I’ve been running the bridge almost every day this summer. I dread it a little every day; my shins do even more. I only have to go through Washington Square, past Independence Hall and down Fifth Street to get there, but some days I step onto the walkway and already feel defeated. It’s steep. The first incline on the Philadelphia side goes up forever. Unlike running on streets, though, there’s no opportunity to slack. It’s a straight shot to the top, no stopping. And, yes, the runner’s high from going up and down and up and down is unmatched.
The Ben Franklin Bridge is this city: Beautiful and formidable, underrated and unmatched. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s really nice out today and I’m headed out.