Finding My Way: Running in Philadelphia

It’s not like I was starting out totally blind; I’ve run in Philly — many times, in fact — before. There have been visits and weekend getaways. There was even a half marathon, Rock and Roll Philadelphia, which my cousin and I participated in nearly two years ago. And of course, over the last few months as I’ve come down to look for apartments, for jobs and other things like that. I’ve run along both rivers, through several neighborhoods and past many local businesses and native Philadelphians alike.

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The biggest difference is that not once during any of those runs did my journey start and end at home. Now, Philadelphia is where I begin and end my daily morning runs.

In truth, it’s funny for me to word it like that even now.

Home.

Having only truly lived in this new apartment for a handful of days total, it’s hard for me to consider this a home — perhaps it’s a home in progress. I love what I’ve done with the space, but so far, I can’t help but feel as though I’m staying in a swanky hotel. It all feels familiar. There’s my soap. There are my kitchen appliances. I recognize my bed, the sheets, my couch. But none of it quite adds up yet in this new space with these new views. I start and end each run from home, and yet, I’m not completely sure where I am.

I’ve always felt that one of the best ways to get to know one’s surroundings is by going out for a run, so on Monday — my first full day as a Philadelphian, despite jet lag and exhaustion, I forced myself to suck it up and explore. Tired and admittedly lazy, Noah decided to sit Monday’s excursion out. I couldn’t blame him either. I could think of a thousand things I’d have rather done prior to stepping foot out the door than break a sweat, but I threw all excuses out.

Before even starting, I realized that I had a list of unknowns scrolling through the depths of my mind. In my old city — Manhattan — my runs had become second nature after five years. I built a routine. Now, I hardly knew how to start.

Where would I go?

How far would I run?

Are there dollar dumplings nearby?

Is it safe?

Will I see other runners?

What’s the meaning of life? Where will I be in 10 years. Who am I?

A wise man — an ultra-marathoner and author by the name of Scott Jurek — once quoted his father over and over throughout the pages of his memoir to hammer home a mantra I’ve come to really respect. Sometimes, you just do things. And it seemed, now would be one of those times.

I was never really one to use an app like Map My Run or a Garmin or anything of that sort while living and running in New York. At the time, these tools seemed pointless and more trouble than they were worth; I knew the distance to every water fountain in my city, every Starbucks (if you catch my drift) along the run.

Without anything to guide me in Philadelphia, I’ve found a new appreciation for these devices. Over the last three days, I’ve become particularly dependent on Map My Run with about as much enthusiasm as my music, and I’ve used it to inform my every move. A few useful discoveries, for example:

1. It’s approximately 5.5 miles to the first set of bridges along the Schuylkill River and home which, when you don’t have to stop incessantly for cars, pedestrians and raging cabs a la New York City, is completely doable in under an hour.

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2. The Ben Franklin Bridge is about 2 miles from home. I hear it’s a cool run, so if I find myself facing enough time for 7 miles one morning, I can definitely bang that one out.

3. Or, I could just run to Penn’s Landing and call it a day. Screw long run.s

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4. There is a Dairy Queen 1 mile from my apartment, and it’s a straight shot at that. Just saying.

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5. I run abnormally (no really, abnormally — like 11-minute miles) slow when mercury rises above 90 degrees. I also look especially good.

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6. Philadelphia loves America. In fact, I think it is America.

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7. Philadelphia is full of runners. This fills me with so much joy I can hardly explain it.

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All in all, over the last three days and three morning runs, I’ve found myself to be pleasantly surprised with my experiences. Yes, it still feels alien — almost like an out of body experience or a dream — but there are a lot of upsides I could get used to.

For now, we’ll leave it as a work-in-progress. I’m still becoming acquainted to the streets; I almost feel as though each run — each new route — is a blind date. From the little I do know after just three excursions, I like what I see. Will it be happily ever after though? To that, I say that only time will tell.

Have you ever turned to running as a method for getting to know your surroundings, whether moving to a new neighborhood, city or state or simply traveling to an unfamiliar place?

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2 thoughts on “Finding My Way: Running in Philadelphia

  1. First, I want to welcome you to Philadelphia. Make sure you explore running in Valley Green – it’s magical (and much cooler in this heat) but since you aren’t right on the park, save this run for a weekend. Second, I always have said that the best way to get to know a city is to run it. I run everywhere I go. In fact, I hear there is a running tour of the city in Paris and when I get there, I’m going to do that.

    I have enjoyed seeing places I run in NYC in your posts and am looking forward to seeing our shared city, now. Philadelphia is very runner friendly.

  2. I love exploring via running. It really is the best way to go. That’s how I know where we currently live as well as I do. It sounds like you will have a great time exploring Philly and soon it will feel like home 😆

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