Getting slap-happy at the Broad Street Run

    Sunday is the annual Blue Cross Broad Street run, and my wrists are ready. I spectate every year, and I hoist my arm for so long that it really, really, really hurts. To me, that simple hand-out is insignificant. To racers, though, it is a supportive, sympathetic shot in the arm — or kick in the pants — encouraging them to keep on keepin’ on for another thousand steps.

    Stick your arms out straight to the sides. Farther, now, as far as they’ll go. Good. Now twirl your wrists forward, making little windmills. Do this for 10 minutes.

    Now rotate in the opposite direction for 10 minutes.

    Do these exercises three times a day between now and Sunday morning so you can participate in the Broad Street Run — as a spectator, not as a runner. If you stand along Broad Street, waiting for your friend or ex-sister-in-law to streak by in a flurry of sweat and frowns, you need to be ready. Your principal assignment while spectating is to cheer all 40,000 runners, screaming “Go!” until your throat hurts and sticking your right hand out for, what, 7,659 slaps?

    I spectate every year, and I hoist my arm for so long that it really, really, really hurts. At one race, my young granddaughter, laughing when I got hit, actually held up my arm for me.

    Dozens of runners veer slightly to the right to hit my right hand, each one muttering, nodding or smiling in gratitude. For just standing there. To me, that simple hand-out is insignificant. To racers, though, it is a supportive, sympathetic shot in the arm — or kick in the pants — encouraging them to keep on keepin’ on for another thousand steps.

    Sunday is the annual Blue Cross Broad Street run, and my wrists are ready. I asked my friend Ruth Stoolman, 55, of Center City, what runners want from spectators. She loves the high-five. “I know where Ed Rendell stands,” she says, “and I always reach out to slap his hand.” For her, hitting the outstretched hand of a watcher makes up for the training and extreme effort she expends.

    Stoolman, anticipating her eighth annual run, happens to handle public relations for Blue Cross and helps promote this race. She recommends that you and your preferred jogger know what colors each other will wear so that you can identify each other. Four relatives wearing matching lime-green shirts and hovering at a pre-determined corner make it easy for runners to see their besties.

    Kimberly Siejak, of Berwyn, loves spectators. “Philly is such an amazing running town. It brings out amazing crowds. You get amazing strength from the energy of the people.

    “The best part is the signs people hold up, like ‘Worst parade ever’ or ‘Run faster. There’s a Coach purse at the end of the race.’ One said there was beer at the finish line. And another one said, ‘Shut up, legs!’ The funniest one said, ‘Run faster. Channing Tatum is at the finish line with puppies.'”

    Heading out for her fourth Broad Street run, Siejak has seen fans holding huge photo enlargements of the runner they’re hoping to see. “It’s so cool when people yell your name,” She says. “It’s cool to see someone you know and run over and give them a quick hug.”

    Chris Major, a Malvern runner, also loves the reliability of a high-fiving former mayor and governor. He appreciates the efforts of a group from the retailer Lululemon that typically displays laugh-worthy signs, such as “Your pace or mine.” And he remembers a person wearing a horsehead costume, carrying a sign that said, “If you’re thinking about quitting, say neigh.”

    When Major ran his first marathon, his mom showed up to cheer — but she couldn’t find him. The next year, “I vowed to stand out. I wore a rainbow Afro wig and tie-dyed shirt. Mom saw me.” He wore that get-up for several years, stopping only after it caused heat exhaustion.

    Siejak, repeating her love for Philly crowds, wraps it up: “My cheering section is 40,000 random strangers.” Hope she slaps me five.

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