The City of Brotherly Love
An urban dweller's trail haven
Philadelphia is known as the home of the Liberty Bell, Rocky and historic Boathouse Row ...
Photo by Tammy Leigh Dement
Philadelphia is known as the home of the Liberty Bell, Rocky and historic Boathouse Row, which has sheltered the boats of generations of Schuylkill River scullers. The river parallels Kelly Drive and a path that leads to the trails of the Wissahickon Valley and Fairmount Park, with over 50 miles of technical, singletrack trails.
During the summer, beech trees engulf the runner, and rickety bridges, wooden logs and protruding roots cover the trails. In the fall, the foliage changes from bright green to rich yellows, reds and oranges, while the Walnut Street Bridge overpass provides urban contrast with the vibrant hues of graffiti.
Several trail groups frequent the area, including the Pagoda Pacers, the Trail Dawgs and the Wissahickon Wanderers. Dan Gordon, 60, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded the Wanderers 10 years ago, realizing the Wissahickon's trail running potential. "No one was promoting it," he says, "so we ended up growing into that role. It's a jewel for Philadelphia-area runners."
"Philly is more of a mom-and-pop scene," says Gordon. "You don't have to be a star to run with us. We welcome everyone."
However, Philly's trail racing scene has grown immensely and Pretzel City Sports (PCS) in Reading, Pennsylvania is the leader in organizing events. Founder Ron Horn, 60, of Reading, does not design races to be light, breezy jaunts through the woods. Featuring formidable obstacles such as the "128 Steps From Hell," a series of stairs that lead directly up the side of a cliff, Horn's races are unique and draw upwards of 600 people.
Horn is perpetually late to his events. Last year at the April Mount Penn Mudfest, the weather was still freezing cold, and Horn was over 20 minutes late to the start line. This year, he was on time (barely), and started the race by shooting a children's pig toy out of a cannon. His sense of humor is well known—his aid stations usually include an "alternative beverage," such as beer or tequila. Despite, or maybe because of, his eccentricities and a penchant for wildly inappropriate jokes, Horn has helped elevate Philadelphia's status as an emerging trail-running town.