#whyilovephilly — Running through the streets of Philadelphia

     Philadelphia-area runners participate in an April 18, 2013, community run in support  of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

    Philadelphia-area runners participate in an April 18, 2013, community run in support of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

    As a student, I had little time or money for exploration, and I visited my family on the weekends. Philly never felt like home. But that was before I began running.

    Love isn’t always at first sight.

    Stating that my love for Philly was eventual — developing over five years — may not have the nostalgic charm of an instant connection, but it’s true: My first few years here were not noteworthy. Philadelphia merely provided the backdrop for my commute — dutiful treks up and down South Broad Street, to and from my university design studio, where I’d spend long days and nights.

    As a student, I had little time or money for exploration, and I visited my family on the weekends. Philly never felt like home.

    But that was before I began running.

    Finding a path

    When I signed a lease after graduation, I wasn’t sure what role the city would play in my life. Most of my friends from college had left town, and I spent many summer days alone, beginning a traditional journey: starting a career and wondering how to make new friends. I hoped Philly would be kind.

    And Philly was kind, which surprised me. The city exceeded my expectations by providing a path for me — not just a rite of passage, but an actual, physical path I would spend my days crossing: the Schuylkill River Trail.

    I began running that summer after I graduated. At first, I could only run a few blocks. The “real” runners effortlessly breezed by me, a wheezing, sweaty mess standing sheepishly beneath the Chestnut Street pedestrian bridge — hoping I could disappear under its shadow.

    Philly was sweltering that summer, and every approaching sign felt like an enemy. But those landmarks soon became small victories. One day in August, I hoofed my way from beneath the Walnut Street bridge, all the way to the art museum without stopping: one mile. And that day, I discovered that the river trail continued, connecting to Kelly Drive, going for miles and miles outside the city.

    By September, one mile became two, and two miles became three. My heart healed even farther up the river trail, that October, after a bad break up. The only time my head felt clear was when I ran up past Boathouse Row, beneath the gorgeous fall foliage. On Kelly Drive, I felt at ease and loved approaching Philly’s skyline, as I’d trot back toward Center City. Despite the dozens of other runners surrounding me on the trail, I felt like I had found a place of my own.

    To boldly go

    The following spring, I laced up my sneakers and took to unexplored terrain: running through the streets of Philadelphia. My favorite days were the ones where I’d find myself somewhere new and unexpected.

    As my mileage increased, so did my knowledge of the city. I often found myself in new neighborhoods. I sprinted down Spring Garden Street, through shady, residential Fairmount, dodging stinky, slippery Ginkgo tree seeds on the sidewalk. I weaved through the crowds around Pat’s and Geno’s on East Passyunk and eventually climbed the (surprisingly hilly) streets of Spruce Hill in West Philly, where I’d admire the beautiful old homes and circle the green of Clark Park.

    A year later, I signed up for my first Broad Street Run: a 10-mile race through Philadelphia. My heart swelled with joy as I continued through the main vein of the city. The smiling, cheering crowds seemed to externalize and celebrate the same feelings I had inside me, as I passed each intersection. When I crossed the finish line, I burst into happy tears.

    I knew I was home.

    Bianca Cevoli spends her days as a creative web professional for a non-profit organization. When she isn’t training for marathons and triathlons, Bianca ventures across the U.S. (and sometimes a bit farther) as a competitive air guitarist, under a colorful moniker. She is a longtime contributor to Geekadelphia.com.

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