The Blue Cross Broad Street Run is the largest ten-mile race in the country, and one of the most popular road races in Philadelphia. For the past 22 years, the race has been organized and directed by Jim Marino of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department.
I recently sat down with Jim Marino to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to pull together a race with more than 40,000 runners. I was curious about what his race day looks like (including what time his alarm goes off!), and how he keeps calm amidst the chaos.
IBX: What makes the Blue Cross Broad Street Run such a beloved Philadelphia event?
Jim: The Blue Cross Broad Street Run is a great Philadelphia event, put on with an amazing field of runners, great staff and volunteers, and the support of great sponsors for an extremely wonderful charity, The American Cancer Society.
IBX: How many people does it take to plan a race of this size?
Jim: Leading up to the race, we have about 15 Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff members working on the Blue Cross Broad Street Run. On race weekend, that number balloons to 150.
IBX: I was surprised to hear you say that many people think you work one day a year!
Jim: (Laughs.) The reality is there are many, many months of planning that go into a race this large! And an extremely dedicated team that I couldn’t do this without.
IBX: Walk me through a race day. Let’s start with the night before. What are you doing on the eve of the Blue Cross Broad Street Run?
Jim: I usually attend the American Cancer Society Team Determination pasta dinner and give a speech. After that I usually go to the Navy Yard to double-check all of the race set-up. I drive the routes that the shuttle buses and the emergency vehicles are scheduled to use and I fix signage as needed.
IBX: What time do you wake up on race day?
Jim: About 2:30 to 3 a.m.
IBX: Yikes! Where are you when the Blue Cross Broad Street Run starts?
Jim: I assist with the start of the wheelchair participants and then I get into the lead vehicle for the start of the main race.
IBX: Where are you during the race?
Jim: I am in the lead car for the entire ten miles.
IBX: What goes on after the race?
Jim: I check different areas of the Navy Yard to make sure that things are running smoothly. I stop in the medical tents to discuss any issues that may have occurred, and I give press interviews as needed.
IBX: Do you have a favorite part of the race?
Jim: I have two: Seeing the anticipation on the runners’ faces as they line up to start the race, and seeing the Students Run Philly Style kids and Back on My Feet members crossing the finish line with a look of sheer joy on their faces.
IBX: What’s the most challenging part of the Blue Cross Broad Street Run?
Jim: During race day the most challenging part is trying to keep everyone safe and calm. (Staff included.)
IBX: What’s the most unexpected situation you’ve dealt with over the years?
Jim: About 15 years ago, there was a fire in the subway in Center City 15 minutes before the start of the race!
IBX: On race day, I’m sure there are issues constantly popping up. In your opinion, what’s the best way to handle the unexpected?
Jim: Trust the staff to do the job they have been doing successfully year after year. Let them do their job and do not step in unless there is a major problem.
IBX: Anything in particular that surprises you after all these years?
Jim: Yes, one thing that always surprises me is when the runners enjoy running in the pouring rain!
IBX: Any favorite stories from your 22 years as race director?
Jim: I love the constant dedication of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff, as well as the retirees that continue to come back to work the race year after year. I also love the stories of the runners who have participated in all 39 years of the Blue Cross Broad Street Run.
IBX: Do you work on any other races for the city of Philadelphia?
Jim: I am excited to be part of a forthcoming Philadelphia running series, called Philly Runs. The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department has partnered with neighborhood organizations and local charities to offer a variety of Philadelphia runs that will encourage folks to get out and explore the city more. We want to encourage folks to get active and healthy and see more of what this great city has to offer.
This series of Philadelphia runs, anchored by the Blue Cross Broad Street Run in the spring, and the Philadelphia Marathon in the fall, will include a variety of races for you to get involved in. Stay tuned for more information about Philly Runs.