Broad Street as the Great White Whale

Runner Martin Fagan runs through the spray of a fire hydrant during the 32nd running of the Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philadelphia, Pa., on May 1, 2011. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

A year ago, Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn, overweight and feeling it, would never have dreamed he would be competing in the Broad Street Run on May 6. Yet, here he is, a month away from hitting the starting line, nervous but determined. As part of our coverage of the race, John will be sharing his story on this blog leading up to and after his date with destiny.

I felt like a beached whale that fateful morning, around 7:30 a.m., when my wife dragged me off to the Rowan Rec Center in Glassboro, N.J. to sign up for a health club membership. It was May 20, 2010 and we had just dropped my son at his school bus stop. I weighed 316 pounds and gravity confirmed every ounce. Little did I know that almost two years later, and 76 pounds lighter, the words Broad Street would go from the place where I work every day to my personal Moby Dick.

After a year of treadmill-only walking at the Rec Center, I decided I would run in the inauguraI Phillies 5k last year. I no sooner crossed the finish line, practically falling into the arms of Inquirer columnist Monica Yant-Kinney, when she said … “so, you should think about running Broad Street … ”

I barely broke 40 minutes for the 5k, and the sweat that soaked my shirt and jacket made me feel even 10 pounds heavier than the 275 I hit on the scale that morning. “Yeah, sure, I’ll think about it … How far is it?”

She replied, “10 miles.”

Ten miles? I’ve never been on SEPTA for 10 miles.

OK, right. Ten miles. The thought quickly faded. A few months later, she ran Broad Street, and I was so oblivious because it was the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby and my son’s birthday that I missed it completely.

Then a few months went by and she started to prod me again … “you really should think about Broad Street …”

Only now, it started to seem real. Highly unlikely, but at least real.

I started to run on the treadmill instead of walk. I got up to two miles a day and the prospects of running another 5k seemed possible. But 10 miles? Forget it. And then I’d see Monica in the hallways … “you should think about Broad Street …”

As usual, I would smile and say, sure, I’ll think about it, only now I actually started to think about it.

I signed up for the Rothman 8k in November. Cold as hell, same as the Phillies 5k was in March. The route was nice, watching the ice form by Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill. I trudged and trudged and trudged … getting to the finish line in one hour and five minutes.

So far, two races, two grueling paybacks of penance for all my venial sins of the past 58 years.

I finished and never stopped running, which was my goal. The only downside was that the brunch line at Sabrina’s was out the door, looking like an hour wait, minimum. So no spoils of war this day.

But five miles is a lot closer to 10 miles than a 5k and I started to get my arms around it. Maybe, just maybe, Monica …

The next time she said it, it came with a caution … “Registration closes up quickly, better remind yourself, Feb. 15 …”

So, on Feb. 15, I signed up and will be a part of the Inquirer/Daily News team that will trek past our building at the halfway point on May 6. I will be wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap in honor of my father.

I ran the second annual Phillies 5k last Saturday in just under 36 minutes. My training has increased, but it is all new territory for this 6-foot-3 Irishman who ran track in high school and never went beyond 440 yards in any race. (Yes, yards, not meters, and it was cinders and asphalt, not the fancy poly-whatever orange stuff it is now.)

Broad Street is only a month away, and I am no fool. There is plenty of work to be done. But for now, it’s time for Ahab to go to Starbucks and get his café mocha. Venti, please.

Check out all of our coverage of the Broad Street Run.