I came to running much later than a lot of people I know. One week before my 29th Birthday, to be exact…in January 2013, when a professional opportunity led me to pick up stakes from my hometown of Toms River, New Jersey and move to Salem, Massachusetts. Little did I know that a place which had become infamous for burning witches at the stake 320 years before would light a far more benevolent fire within me.
Daily runs through the Salem Common led me to sign up for my first race in March 2013, The Celtic 5K in Worcester, Massachusetts. Running gradually transitioned from being this thing that I did to pass time in the frigid New England morning before heading into my office, to something that I genuinely enjoyed. Though circumstances beyond my control led me to leave Massachusetts several months later, my newfound love of running traveled with me…first in a temporary stop back to my New Jersey hometown, before moving to Philadelphia in September 2014.
Though fairly close geographically, my familiarity with the city prior to my moving here was limited at best. An odd trip into Center City or Manayunk here and there, courtesy of close friends who were already living in Philadelphia for a few years before my arrival, but that was about it. And in terms of running, my initial exploration was similarly limited to the River Loop of Kelly Drive and Martin Luther King Drive – mostly because it was within easy distance reach of my new home in East Falls. The River Loop contains some of the most eye-catching natural beauty in our city, no doubt, but running nothing but that path for months on end (and solo, to boot) would leave most people eventually wanting a change of pace. I was no different.
Enter the Holiday Lights Run in December 2015. Besides having the opportunity to enjoy a group run featuring some amazing yuletide scenery in South Philly, I had the chance to speak with several members of Fishtown Beer Runners at the post-run party venue, American Sardine Bar. What I remember most about that night was the upbeat, friendly and hilarious conversation I enjoyed with several of my fellow runners. That, and my confusion in observing an enthusiastic mass toast held in tribute to a professor who, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t in attendance. I was perplexed, but intrigued.
About six months later, an open Thursday night in my schedule led to me the corner of 7th and Bainbridge Streets in South Philly and once again, the Fishtown Beer Runners. I ran with the group to Sláinte Pub & Grill in University City, before taking in my first viewing of the film “Beer Runners” outdoors on the Schuylkill River Trail. Again, the sense of community I felt with my fellow runners was incredible. Since then, I’ve spent the vast majority of my Thursday nights with the group and enjoyed them immensely. I’ve run many miles, seen much of our beloved city, made new friends, enjoyed cold beers and had more fun times than I could possibly begin to count. And somewhere in there, I learned just who the professor was. To him, indeed.
— Nick Malfitano