2017 Running Trip – Day 1 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Year 6. Let the annual running trip commence. After months of planning for the trip, it’s always nice to jump right in and begin to navigate the route. This year’s route begins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and ends in Portland, Maine, with stops in between at Brooklyn, Manhattan, Providence, Cape Cod and Boston. Over the week, I’ll be thanking nearly 100 people who graciously donated to my Iron Phi effort. (P.S. – I have five blank signs with me if you still want to donate!) With six years under my belt, I’m just shy of $24,000 raised for the cause, and I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the people who support me each year.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel the Northeast extensively, so a return to some of the greatest cities in the country is always exciting. Dad and I visited Philadelphia on a father-son trip a number of years ago. Both of us loved the long weekend, so I was excited to get back. By my side this year is my pal and fellow Cyclone diehard Ross Roti. Ross and I lived together during our senior year at Iowa State and now frequent Iowa State games together. This is the third running trip in a row that I’ve had somebody by my side, and I’ve determined that it is a practice I will continue moving forward. Ross has never been to any of the cities that we will visit on this trip, so I’m excited to show him around.


Ross and I flew from Des Moines to Philadelphia on Saturday and had an evening to kick around before our first run the next morning. First order of business – Check in to our hotel. We were fortunate enough to be linked up with Michael England, Director of Rooms at The Windsor Suites in Downtown Philly and a Phi Delt from Widener University. Mike is a great friend of my long-time colleague and friend Sean Wagner. It’s been fun to learn about Philadelphia over the years through Sean’s passion for the city, and Sean was kind enough to make the connection to Mike.


Our room had a balcony with an amazing view of Downtown Philly, and the hotel is perfectly located within the city. In between City Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the hotel provides for great views down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a striking thoroughfare lined with museums, sites and the flags of each nation.


I truly enjoyed the Benjamin Franklin quotes throughout the hotel. Franklin is obviously a big deal in the City of Brotherly Love, and his legacy lives on throughout the city. After visiting Philly again, I’m committing myself to read more about Benjamin Franklin. That guy knew his stuff! Thanks Mike for your hospitality during our quick stay in town. The staff was amazing, and The Windsor Suites should definitely be considered by those visiting the city.


A few months ago, I picked up a sponsor for my running trips – Wohven Shirts. As a t-shirt guy, I’ve searched high and low for comfortable t-shirts that are made well, are fun to wear (design), and hold up in the laundry! Wohven has become just that for me, and the t-shirts highlight simple designs submitted by people throughout the world. Wohven is a subscription service, so I look forward to sporting a new shirt each month! Throughout this trip, I’ll be wearing the shirts as comfort is key to this week.


After checking in to the hotel, we needed some energy, and what do you know, The Windsor Suites has a Wawa connected to it. I’m fascinated by regional convenience stores. Weird, probably, but I love how people take such great pride in their local store. As a Casey’s General Store guy myself, I appreciate this pride. An Italian hoagie and a water in hand from Wawa, I thanked my former colleague Jon Rogowski for his donation. Rogo just moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta for his job with MillerCoors. I wish our paths would have crossed, but I made do through his very specific order recommendation from Wawa. Delightful! You’ll see a hoagie/sandwich theme in Philly.


Ross and I spent Saturday evening in Fishtown, an emerging neighborhood northeast of Center City. While researching Philadelphia, I kept coming across mentions of this neighborhood, and it was great. The SEPTA (train) runs directly through Fishtown, so it was an easy ride to get there. Eclectic, young, great food and drink options, artsy, and full of energy, it did not disappoint.


We started at Evil Genius Beer Company, a popular brewery with beer names like none other – Everyday I’m Rustlin, Bye Felicia, Ivana Tinkle, Santa! I Know Him, Purple Monkey Dishwasher, O’Doyle Rules, Stacy’s Mom, Ma! The Meatloaf, and #Adulting. How do you not visit this place!


We visited Frankford Hall, a lively beer garden with German delights, and ended up having amazing duck and gyro tacos at Sancho Pistola’s. We hopped on the SEPTA and headed back to the hotel for the evening.

The next morning, we were joined by Robbie Marsden, another proud Philadelphian and former colleague of mine. Robbie and I have had some fun shared experiences over the years, namely meeting MLB player Curtis Granderson, presenting the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award to him, and road tripping to a wedding in North Dakota. Robbie has a zest for life that is contagious, and I always enjoy my time with him.

We parked at the University of Pennsylvania and began our run. Our first stop was with Benjamin Franklin on a bench just across the sidewalk from the Phi Delt house. UPenn is gorgeous, everything you would expect from an Ivy League school. I thanked Sean and Michelle Wagner for their donation, a very fitting spot to do so! Sean and I now have nearly 14 years under our belt working together for Phi Delta Theta, and it’s been a great ride.


A famous design in Philadelphia is the LOVE statue. We found one on campus.


Before leaving campus, we made our way in to Franklin Field, a historical stadium that plays host to UPenn athletics and at one point, the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a classic old stadium. The last time I was there, Dad and I stumbled upon the UPenn graduation ceremonies, so we watched for a bit. Ross really enjoyed the helmet cart. We both agreed that every football team needs to have one of these.


We ran east across the Schuylkill River, and in front of us emerged this vibrant mural of the hometown Phillies. It must have just been painted, because it was bright and fresh. It is one of the better sports murals I’ve seen in my days. I thanked Joe & Jess Vonsak for their donation. The Vonsaks are friends from Fort Dodge, and I know that Joe is an Eagles fan. I’m not sure if he is a Phillies fan as well, but I enjoyed the Philly sports connection.


Philadelphia’s City Hall is stunning and has an amazing presence within the city. An Octoberfest celebration was occurring this weekend, so the area was filled with people having a good time. I thanked Travis & Stephanie Griffith for their donation. I’m currently trying to convince Travis to join me on next year’s running trip. Travis and I go way back to Kindergarten and grew up across the street from each other. Tillie and I are lucky that we get to see the Griffiths a number of times throughout the years, and it’s fun to watch our kids play together.


If you like American history, Philadelphia is for you. The American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc. Pretty important stuff for our country. Robbie is a history teacher, and there is probably no better place for him to teach it.

Independence Hall is the building where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted. Today, tourists flock to it, and way too many selfies occur. We fought through the crowd to thank Jennifer Morrow for her donation. Jennifer is on my communications team at Phi Delt and is an amazing asset to our organization. Not only does she make stuff look REALLY good, she’s a doer and wonderful person to be around. Jennifer has been a source of inspiration for our staff, and we are lucky to be associated with her.


The Liberty Bell sits across the street from Independence Hall, and you can always find a line of tourists waiting to get inside to take a look at that crack. In order to save some time, we made the decision that we would not be waiting in line, so we peered through a window and then took this picture thanking Scott Lynch. Scott is a volunteer for Phi Delta Theta, a proud Pennsylvanian, and always a generous supporter of my trips. Thanks Scott!


The National Constitution Center sits on the north end of Independence Mall. The Center  is an interactive museum and a national town hall for constitutional dialogue. However, it does not house the original Constitution, which is stored at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.  I thanked Joe & Victoria Kohout just before being waved off the property. The Kohouts live in Omaha, and I get to see Joe a few times a year at Phi Delt events. The two of us prefer to spend our time together at Skyline Chili.


The Betsy Ross House is located in Old City Philadelphia, one of my favorite areas of town. Old City is an area near the Delaware River where William Penn and the Quakers first settled. Old City is home to the oldest continually inhabited street in America, Elfreth’s Alley. Betsy Ross is the seamstress who sewed the first American Flag, and this is where she lived. I thanked Mike & Debbie Purdy, my sister-in-law’s in-laws. I was able to see Mike & Debbie during a running trip through San Antonio, and I look forward to the next time we cross paths. I know they are having fun playing grandma and grandpa these days.


Running south through Old City, we approached the Museum of the American Revolution, a brand-new museum that opened this year. Robbie and his mother Terry are proud members, and we were lucky enough to see a re-enactment upon arrival. Some guy was preaching, the British arrested him, some people booed, and then we admired the cannons out front. Robbie grabbed this landmark during my fundraising efforts and dedicated it to his mother.


The three of us were starving so we made a slight detour to get to Reading Terminal Market. I made a last second swap of landmarks and replaced Franklin Square with Chinatown. Chinatowns are amazing, and I always love experiencing them in big cities. One of my most memorable runs was running through San Francisco’s Chinatown at the crack of dawn before the hustle and bustle had begun. I thanked Joe Dan Beavers, a man with a great name and an even better story. In 2016, Joe Dan used the Iron Phi program to transform his life. He ran 17 races during the year and dropped 40 pounds. I had the opportunity to write a short piece on him, and I’m quite proud to know him.


We all needed lunch, and boy did we lunch. The Reading Terminal Market is always a highlight for me in Philadelphia. A large, indoor, open market, you can find just about anything inside. It’s a great experience, and great eats await.


We ended up at DiNic’s to eat what Adam Richman of Man vs. Food named the country’s best sandwich. The roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s is amazing. Slow roasted pork on delicious bread, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe and some banana peppers. I thanked Scott Lynch again. I’m sure Scott has a true appreciation for DiNic’s.


We processed our food as we walked back to the hotel, took a short break, and then headed out for the final leg of our run. Mentioned earlier, Philadelphia’s LOVE statue is an important piece to Downtown Philly. Unfortunately, LOVE Park was under construction. Thankfully, we found something a bit smaller, but similar on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I thanked Riley Smith, a friend from college, and a six-time supporter of my running trip. You’re the man Riley.


Cue the Rocky Theme song. We did, on Robbie’s phone. If you’re a runner and are visiting Philly, you obviously can’t pass up a run to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a run up the Rocky stairs. Always a magical moment. At the top, I thanked my wonderful parents for their donation. Dad and I visited these stairs during our trip, and I’ll always remember the fun we had in Philly. During my running trips, my parents are always helpful with the kids at home. Tillie and I are lucky to have them so close.


Ross and I took what might be the picture of the trip.


And then I thanked Brad & Mindy Carlson for their donation. The Rocky Statue was the first landmark to go this year. Brad joined me a few years back on the trip, and we had a blast. If you’ve ever been to the Rocky Statue, there is always a line, so you’re being watched by a number of people. When I was done getting my picture taken, a lady asked me who Brad and Mindy were, so Brad and Mindy, there is currently a kind, 70-year old woman, roaming around Philly who knows how awesome you guys are.


Our final stop was Boathouse Row. Boathouse Row houses historic boathouses for rowing clubs and dates back to 1853. It sits along the Schuylkill River. I’d like to get into rowing at some point in my life. This January, I get to have my second shoulder surgery to repair my other labrum. My running joke is that I get to repair my baseball shoulders in my thirties, and I’ll focus on my running knees in my 40s. Rowing seems like it might be a good strategy for regaining the shoulder and back strength. Enough about me, I thanked my nephew Will Davidson on his birthday at Boathouse Row! Thanking Will on his birthday has become an annual tradition is seems. Love that kid.


The highlight of the day came as we were walking back to the car. I was talking to Sean Wagner a few weeks back, and he made a great suggestion – If you’re going to see Robbie, we should surprise him with some cash for classroom supplies. Robbie is in his first year of teaching 8th grade history in Philadelphia. Sean remembered a comment that Robbie made about having to spend his own money on supplies. I know this is something that many teachers have to do, which doesn’t make sense to me. So a number of colleagues at Phi Delta Theta chipped in to present $250 to Robbie for supplies. I wish I could have captured his reaction. It was awesome. A big thanks to Kelly Derickson, Jennifer Morrow, Laurie Rosenberger, Deb Smith, Sean Wagner, Evan Newman, Myra Duritsch, BJ Henderson, Jim Rosencrans, Alex Atkinson, Clay Coleman, Zach Hilliard and Matthew Fritsch for contributing.


Our GPS said a little over 13 miles of walking a running, and we were all starting to feel it. Robbie dropped us off at our hotel, and we rested up for a bit before heading to South Street for dinner.

Walking down South Street in Philly is an experience in itself. Our Lyft driver dropped us off at the Magical Gardens, an attraction like none other.


One of the toughest decisions any visitor to Philadelphia must make is where to eat your cheesesteak. Going into the trip, I was convinced that I had to have Ross experience both Pat’s and Geno’s. Once we got here though, we had Jim’s Steaks recommended to us multiple times, and it fit in with us wanting to go to South Street. The cheesesteaks were incredible, and it was fun to see all the signed photos of the famous people who have walked through their doors. We sat next to a guy who was wearing the exact same Wohven shirt that I was wearing. We exchanged pleasantries. I thanked Joe & Jess Vonsak once again for their donation.


A steak wit Whiz and a Yards my friends.


Ross and I both agreed that we could have eaten two, so we ventured out for dessert. Dessert came in the form of a ridiculously-sized “slice” of pizza from Lorenzo’s on South Street. Ross was overwhelmed. Next stop Brooklyn, New York.


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