Rocky II: It’s a knockout!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

 

Haddonfield, N.J.  – Last Sunday morning, fifteen members of the South Jersey Athletic Club gathered in front of the Haddonfield Running Company for the start of Rocky II, a point to point run from Haddonfield to the finish at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It was a perfect day for this type of run.  It was bit chilly at the start, around 37 degrees F, with the sun just starting to peak over the buildings on King’s Highway.  The runners stowed their gear in the bag carrier’s car and prepared to get going.  The bag carrier, Craig,  was the son of the organizer, and had offered his time in exchange for his Dad’s gratitude and the promise of brunch with the group.

The club, known as SJAC, has a usual Sunday run which is a loop of about 13 miles.  Every once in a while, though, a different run is proposed to add some variety and challenge.  The first Rocky Run was just about a year ago, so it was time for the sequel.  The route this year was very similar to last year’s route.  It follows the usual Sunday morning route up to Route 130, which is a busy highway on the edge of Camden.  This year, we went across 130 and past the Camden County Golf Academy, formerly known as the Cooper River driving range.  This has a sixty station, double-decker driving range where one is expected to hit the ball into the water.  Once merely a driving range, it is now home to Rutgers Camden’s golf program.  Moving on, we ran along Admiral Wilson Boulevard, where the memory of strip clubs and cheap motels, torn down for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 is fading.  Now, it is a rarely used park, with pretty rose bushes lining the boulevard, and a wide paved curving path along which few bikes or runners pass.  The park ends on a narrow sidewalk at the edge of the road, which takes one in to Camden City proper.

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

As we did last year, at the 7 mile mark we again went right through the main floor of Cooper Hospital, stopping for a restroom

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

break and water.  Then it was on to the Ben Franklin Bridge.  The road through Camden goes past the Rand Transportation Center.  Here, the PATCO line into Philadelphia, the River Line to Trenton, and the New Jersey Transit buses all come together.  It is a busy place, even on a Sunday morning, and we got a few amused stares by the locals as we ran by.  Nearby is the Walt Whitman house, where the famous poet spent the last eight years of his life.  We did not run by his house, but may on future editions of the Rocky Run (Rocky III, the Leaves of Grass edition!

 

 

The first real challenge of the run was the stairs up to the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.  Three flights one must ascend to get to the walkway, and there were a few groans from our group, although nothing too serious.  As mentioned, we had a beautiful day for this run, and the sky was deep blue, a perfect backdrop for the cityscape of Philadelphia.  The bridge rises for three fourths of a mile before it turns down again.  We stopped as a group near the apex for a photo, and got a nice passerby to take the shot.

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

At the base of the bridge on the Philadelphia side we took a sharp u-turn down to “Old City”, and made the second change from last year’s route.  This was to take us by another landmark, the Betsy Ross House.  We took another brief stop to document our run.

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

Then, it was on past other landmarks in the city, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, the Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and, of course, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  We continued down Sixth Street all the way to Christian Street in South Philly, home of the Italian Market.  Rocky Balboa made this spot famous in several scenes in his movies.  We didn’t try to replicate his movie runs.  In fact, to that, one would have to have magical powers.  If you’d like to see what it would take, writer Dan McQuade published an article in Philadelphia Magazine exploring the theoretical route.

After passing my favorite pizza and steak place in the Italian Market, Lorenzo’s, we kept on running to 16th Street, where we headed north all the way to the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The goal of the run was finally in view.  The Parkway is a great stretch of road, flanked by various museums, and lined by the flags of 109 Countries.  At the top of the Parkway, the Philadelphia Art Museum is a beautiful architectural achievement in its own right.  Situated where it is, braced on either side by Kelly Drive (formerly East River Drive) and West River Drive, and at the base of Fairmount Park, it is the epicenter of weekend outdoor activities in Philadelphia.  West River Drive is closed to automobiles on weekend mornings during daylight savings time.  Kelly Drive has Philly’s iconic Boat House Row, not just pretty to look at, but the base of a very active rowing community.  Every weekend, some type of race or organized activity is going on, centered around the Parkway and the art museum.  This day was no exception.  The first running of the Hot Chocolate 15k run was wrapping up as we finished our run.

We ran straight up the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway to the art museum.  Starting at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, along the way, we passed the Parkway’s most famous fountain, the Swann Memorial Fountain, or the Fountain of the Three Rivers.  As we got close to the museum, we got funneled through the staging are of the Hot Chocolate race, and had to clamber over the barriers to get to our final goal.  I found an open barrier so I didn’t have to embarrass myself trying to climb over, but others in the group were much more agile.  Finally, it was up the steps to the art museum entrance.

 

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the "Rocky Steps"

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the “Rocky Steps”

Everyone made it to the top!

Everyone made it to the top!

Of course, what would a trip to the venerable art museum be without a stop at the statue of one of Philadelphia’s most famous citizens, Rocky Balboa himself.  Well maybe he wasn’t really a “citizen”, and I guess, maybe  he wasn’t “real” but he sure brings out people from everywhere to pose by his statue.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

After we finished the run, we reconnoitered with a plan to have brunch at the famous Sabrina’s Cafe on Callowhill Street, about a mile from the art museum.  When we got there, the place was teeming with people with the same idea, many of whom had run the Hot Chocolate run that morning.  We wound up heading over to Friday’s on the Ben Franklin Parkway, not a unique Philly experience, but we were hungry.  As it turned out, breakfast was over, and they were serving lunch.  We were also almost their only customers.  We had a very nice lunch of burgers, a some had beers, and all were quite happy.

SJAC runners at Friday's after the Rocky II run.

SJAC runners at Friday’s after the Rocky II run.

After lunch, it was back to Haddonfield.  We had just enough room in a couple of cars to haul everyone back home across the bridge.  Now, we’ll need to start planning next year’s sequel.  As one of our runners, Brian, put it, the sequels really went down in quality after Rocky II.  Let’s hope the Rocky Run’s don’t suffer the same fate.

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

Rocky Run

h-rockyprofile

Haddonfield Rocky Run profile.

Who, according to the Philadelphia Commerce Director, did more for Philadelphia than anyone since Ben Franklin?  Who put South Philly on the map?  And, who ran up the art museum steps in one of the most recognizable movie scenes of all time?  Right, Rocky Balboa!  So, to dedicate a run to our Philadelphia (fictional) hero, we came up with a Sunday run which would celebrate Rocky.

This was to be a point to point run, starting in our home base of Haddonfield, NJ and finishing up the steps of the art museum, with a total distance of 14 miles.  Our choice of this weekend was a bit of a problem for a few of our usual Sunday runners.  Some are running Boston next Monday, and didn’t want to do a challenging long run this close to their marathon.  Some felt they weren’t ready for that distance.  And some were doing a longer run readying for a May marathon, wanted to get in 20 plus mile runs, and finish close to home.  That left seven runners ready to take on the Haddonfield-Rocky Run challenge.

Steve, Dave, Dan Brian, Rich, Frank and Keith, at the start of the Rocky Run.

Steve, Dave, Dan Brian, Rich, Frank and Keith, at the start of the Haddonfield-Rocky Run.

The route started off as our usual Sunday run does, heading west to the Cooper River park.  Then, though, we kept heading west.  Crossing route 130 may have been the most dangerous part of the run.  It’s a busy highway with the crosswalk shut down for construction.  In a marvel of broken field running, we all managed to cross without a single loss of life.  Then, we headed down Admiral Wilson Boulevard.  This road once was home to several notorious stripper bars and hourly rate motels.  When the Republican National Convention came to Philadelphia in 2000, then Governor Christie Whitman had the buildings demolished and the whole area turned into parkland.  While this returned the good name of Admiral Wilson to honor, it also removed sorely needed tax paying businesses from Camden’s base.  We ran down the curvy, paved, path along the Cooper River on one side, and Admiral Wilson Boulevard on the other, towards the City of Camden.  We then headed into the center of Camden, and to Cooper Hospital.  Two of us, Steve and myself, work at Cooper.

Steve and Frank at the entrance drive to Cooper Hospital.

Steve and Frank at the entrance drive to Cooper Hospital.

We had the audacity to run right through the hospital, starting at one entrance, heading through the lobby to our new Pavilion building and out the other entrance, with a quick restroom stop in the middle.  From there, the route went past Rutgers in Camden and on to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

At the high point of the walkway on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, with Philadelphia in the background.

At the high point of the walkway on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, with Philadelphia in the background.

After crossing over the bridge, we headed south down to the Italian Market.  This is where a local shopper tossed an orange to Sylvester Stallone as he ran through the market in an unscripted moment in the first Rocky movie.  The scene was Rocky on his famous run, and was kept in the movie.

Did the orange come from this vegetable market?  Maybe.

Did the orange come from this vegetable market? Maybe.

Alas, there were no fans cheering us on through the streets of what was once called The 9th Street Curb Market.  It is by no means only Italian, although the Italian immigrant presence is strongly felt, in places like D’Angelo Bros.’, purveyors of meats and game, and Lorenzo’s Pizza, my personal favorite for a Philly cheese steak.  There are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Mexican foods, stores selling every kitchen utensil and appliance one could imagine, and a fine cubbyhole of a shop selling all manner of spices from around the world.  As much as I would have loved hanging out here and visiting my favorite shops, we shot off farther west across Broad Street to 15th.  We then headed north to the Ben Franklin Parkway, and the last stretch of our run.  By this time, the group had splintered a bit.  Steve, Keith and I hit the beginning of the BFP first.

Keith and Frank in front of the Swann fountain in Logan Circle, symbolizing the three major rivers of Philadelphia.

Keith and Frank in front of the Swann fountain in Logan Circle, symbolizing the three major rivers of Philadelphia. The art museum is in the distant background.

From here we shot right down the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway, and made it to our goal, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  This is a hot spot for tourists, and this beautiful Sunday morning was perfect for the run up the steps.  There were several tour buses in front of the museum, and as we approached we could see a couple of hundred enthusiastic visitors vicariously living Rocky’s finishing sprint up the steps.  Rocky collapsed on his first run, but these enthusiastic young people jetted up the steps like they were in a Red Bull commercial.  For us, we were at the end of a long run, but still had a nice adrenaline kick to make it possible to hit every other step on the way to the top.

Looking back at Philly from the top of the Art Museum steps.

Looking back at Philly from the top of the uppermost Art Museum steps.

It did seem a little anticlimactic once we had hit the top.  Now what, was my thought.  Partly, the day was so nice that we didn’t have the cold, the heat, the rain or the wind that I thought would make this extra tough.  But then, as I looked around and saw the city, it felt we had accomplished something.

Keith, amidst the columns of the museum entrance, rehydrating.

Keith, amidst the columns of the museum entrance, rehydrating.

Brothers Brian and Dan on the steps.  The statue behind is Prometheus strangling a Vulture, by Jacques Lipchitz, his take on Hercules taking on the Eagle.  It represents conquering adversity.

Brothers Brian and Dan on the steps. The statue behind them is Prometheus strangling a Vulture, by Jacques Lipchitz, his take on Hercules taking on the Eagle. It represents conquering adversity.

Having reached our goal, we had one more, very necessary task to complete.  We needed a photo with Rocky, the statue, that is.  The statue was commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for Rocky III and initially placed at the top of the “Rocky Steps” in 1982.  But museum folks objected and it was relocated to the Spectrum sports arena.  It was brought back to the museum again in 1990 and 2006, and finally found it’s permanent spot on the grounds outside the museum.  It is one of the most photographed sights in Philadelphia.

Keith, Steve, Brian, Frank and Dan with Rocky.  Dave helped Rich get to the finish a bit behind the rest of us.

Keith, Steve, Brian, Frank and Dan with Rocky. Dave helped Rich get to the finish a bit behind the rest of us.

After a good run, what could be better than a good breakfast.  We all headed over to Little Pete’s on Fairmont Avenue, to scarf down some pancakes, eggs, sausage and coffee.  We were joined by a few of the others in the club who had gone cycling this morning or run a shorter distance.  Now, we are planning for Rocky II.

Outside Little Pete's, a fine place for a delicious breakfast.

Outside Little Pete’s, a fine place for a delicious breakfast.

Route of the Haddonfield Rocky Run.

Route of the Haddonfield Rocky Run.

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