Philly Run at Dawn

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the best ways to discover new places—run, cycle or walk. In the piece, I referred to David Byrne’s book Bicycle Diaries in which he shares stories of how cycling the many US and foreign cities he visits on tour enables him to get a sense of the culture and the people. Putting your feet to work on the ground or on the peddles transforms you from a sightseer to a follow-human being. You can touch the walls, smell the flowers and cooking, listen to the accents and inflections in residents’ voices, exchange smiles and read expressions on their faces.

I began to take early morning runs in Philadelphia this summer and for the first time I am seeing many of the sites I’d driven past my entire life. Driving inside the cocoon of a car reduces your surroundings to one-dimensional facades, like the stage setting of the Wild West town in Blazing Saddles.

Thanks to my trusty running shoes, I now see the fullness of the city and its neighborhoods. I pass people on their way to catch a bus, walking their dog or leaving a café. In just these few short weeks, I’ve been reintroduced to the city where I was born and my appreciation has been revived.

Follow along on a run through some Philly neighborhoods:

Mural at 15th and Parrish Street just west of Broad Street.


St. Joseph’s preparatory School at 17th Street and Girard Avenue. The building was once the Church of the Gesu built in 1879 and the towers in 1895.

Mural of hands extended toward one another on side of a house on Ridge Avenue.

Girard College constructed in 1833. The Greek architecture of the roof and top of the pillars peek-out above a high stone wall that surrounds the 43-acre property.

Mural on wall on West College Avenue depicting Brewerytown, one of the many neighborhoods in the city know as, “The City of Neighborhoods.”

Wall of the Eastern State Penitentiary at Corinthian and Fairmount Avenues. The jail was opened in 1829 and housed notorious criminals including Al Capone and Willie Sutton.

I’d driven past the “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest” mural at 31st & Girard Avenue many times, but not until a Saturday morning run did I appreciate its impact.

Sometimes I finish the workout by running up the Art Museum steps where Rocky Balboa trained for his fight with Apollo Creed. When I get to the top, I turn around and look down Benjamin Franklin Parkway at one of the most spectacular sites of any city I’ve visited anywhere in the world.

Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Try it. Get out and run, cycle or walk your town or city. You will be surprised by what you find, and happy you found it.


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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4 Responses to Philly Run at Dawn

  1. Great photos Jim! (I also like the sky blue background on your blog page). It’s funny…that’s the same thing I was feeling when I took the bus photo. I had exactly 50 minutes to dodge orange barrels to the other side of town and was hoping to get a photo of crowd listening to the 1st lady speak. It was in the “east village” of Davenport that I drive through all of the time to get a certain view of lily pads on the river and the area reminds me of our town in Ohio. But…I’d never gotten out of the car. It’s been my go to extra 30 mintues to drive and take a breath, then return to the “real” city and family chores. The crowds were so midwest…just ambling along and chatting. No fireworks. Just another sunny day. I kept touching things. Flowers, signs, and I really wanted to touch the bus but kept looking for secret service. Wouldn’t it be funny if you and I both had this “get out of the car” instinct on the same day? At any rate..yes, love the Philly shots. Am tweeting them to my Philly doc friend who is chief of the global nutrition initiative at CHOP. Run safe 🙂


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Thanks Katherine. I always loved visiting and running Davenport, the river trail alson the Mississippi, the ampitheater and the minor league ballpark. I have close friends who work at CHOP, small world.


  2. Philly is a great town. I spent 3-4 days there a few years ago on vacation with the family. We had a great time, lots to see and a very walk-able city.
    I enjoy running through neighborhoods and checking out the architecture and being a snoop. I figure as long as I am conspicuous, no one will think I’m a burglar.


  3. rachelynne says:

    Great advice! I just went on my first solo-trip as a poor travel student and ended up walking everywhere for about 3 weeks…it was incredible eye-opening. Looking forward to more walking and biking on my travels. You see so much more!


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