Off the treadmill, onto the asphalt

Runners take off from the starting line during the 32nd running of the Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philadelphia, Pa., on May 1, 2011. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn is chronicling his journey from couch potato to the Broad Street Run on May 6. In this second installment, he reluctantly exits the gym and takes to the open road.

Hit the roads, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more ... if you think you are going to run 10 miles on May 6.

My road warrior mentors, St. Lucy's grad and marathoner Donna Reid in Tampa, Monica on Broad Street and Laurie Dwyer, the assistant director of the Rowan Rec Center, all said the same thing. Graduation from treadmill to running track is not enough to get you to the finish line. It is time to challenge yourself.

It will be tough. I have found quite the comfort zone on the treadmill. You can vanish in plain sight.

At the Rec Center, I stare out a big picture window and see the seasons and the semesters change in my time-lapse camera of a brain. The orientation students from summer 2010 will become juniors come September. The winter coats become shorts and t-shirts in about a month. And the little red bird will stop flying into the window any day now. 

So I exit the treadmill and its cherished memories and head to the track, which at the Rec Center is 11 laps to the mile from the outside lane. It is easy to get distracted and lose your count, so I make each lap a uniform number. Lap one is Richie Ashburn, lap 7 is Mickey Mantle. I stray at 10 (Bo Derek) and 13 is now Freddie Galvis no matter how he pronounces his last name.

It gets interesting around three miles. Is lap 33, Cliff Lee or Lew Alcindor? Is lap 34 Halladay or Lee.? Cole Hamels has dibs on 35. I need a closer at 36, but it is Joe Nathan, the Stony Brook University grad, my alma mater. Then Casey Stengel makes me laugh at 37. Tug McGraw wins at 45, and I stopped at Joe Blanton at 56.

But I was still delaying the inevitable. It was time. I ventured onto to the roads of Mullica Hill, a seemingly bucolic setting some 28 miles south of our parking lot on Callowhill and 15th Street, via the Ben Franklin Bridge.

No sooner had I taken my first steps when the Canine Alert System was trigered, a wireless network that detects the slightest hint of a jogger. I barely got past my own lawn when it started. Ow-ooooohhhhhh .... ow-wooooohhhh ...

House to house, door to door, the dogs knew I was coming. Homeland Security should be so good. By the time I exited the development, you would have thought they were giving out bacon strips. So this giant behemoth (me) hits the major cross road, and I realized that it was on. Forget Kansas, I was no longer in my old reality. Now the dogs were coming to the road, growling. Then I figured Jed Clampett would be right around the bend with a shotgun, saying, "now keep your paws off Ellie May ..."

This once peaceful two-lane road became the enemy. Cars were flashing by at 50 to 60 miles an hour. You have to face traffic, but you still need to look back every 50 seconds just to make sure. You run five steps on the grass and you realize that the allegedly serene environment is a myth. You don't have time to stare at the blue sky and gentle clouds. You can't listen to the melodies of the songbirds. (Jogger at 5 o'clock, let's rattle his cage ... .)

Not only are the cars scaring the hell out of you, but it gets surreal, too. 

I had mentally cleared a path of about a minute for myself, no trouble ahead, no trouble behind ... and you know that notion just crossed my mind ... when I heard two people talking, and it seemed to be right next to me. Was I losing my mind? And then they whizzed by, two cyclists going about 20 miles a hour, to my four. But for this five-second interlude, we were in sync, Einstein's theory of relativity or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe.

I looked up, looked down, and they were gone, down the road, couldn't hear a word. This would happen three more times on my five-mile journey. This area can be a hotbed for cyclists, especially with the Manayunk Bike Race not far down the road in June.

The signs were telling. Ron Paul led with three, followed by He Is Risen with two. (Santorum hadn't dropped out yet, but this was Jersey.)  Plenty of real estate For Sale signs, in fact, too many. Road kill was sad, too. With apologies to Updike, this one Easter bunny in Glassboro won't be running any more.

The last revelation was a bit disturbing. There was trash everywhere. You don't see it from your car and some of it is vintage ... I was waiting to find a Fresca can (though I preferred Wink, the sassy one from Canada Dry ... ) The Crying Indian waved to me as I hit the home stretch.

I ran five miles with no clock.  Tomorrow will be a 5k at Rowan, and on Sunday, I'm on the road again.

Read John's first entry, Broad Street as a Great White Whale.

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