Ben Simmoneau takes the scenic route along Kelly Drive
Ben Simmoneau looks like an athlete. The Channel 3 reporter and anchor, solidly built but trim, is the kind of guy who makes you think, He must have been working out his entire life. It turns out that is not so.
The Long and Winding Road
“I really was not much of an athlete in school. I just decided to start running after I got my first job,” says Simmoneau, who was at WGAL-TV in Lancaster at the time. “I did not know anyone and lived a bit out of town; what else was I going to do when I came home from work? So I started running a mile, and it took off from there.” Simmoneau, a 1999 alum of Spring-Ford High School in Montgomery County, is, in fact, now well beyond those days of one-mile-at-a-time: In November he will once again tackle the 26 miles and 385 yards of the Philadelphia Marathon, possibly even setting a new personal record in the process. (It will be his third marathon, and he intends to break four hours.) “I want that three in the beginning, even if it is three hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds,” he says.
Simmoneau ran this same marathon two years ago, two years after running Scranton’s Steamtown Marathon on the advice of Runner’s World (the magazine “said Steamtown was a good marathon for beginners,” he explains) and little more than four years after he started running full stop. Though every marathon is the same distance, Steamtown starts up in the mountains above Scranton and then proceeds generally downhill, dropping more than 1,000 feet in elevation from start to finish. “They bus you up to the top, and it is accommodating,” he says of the route. “Still, at about mile 23, when you get into Scranton, there is the winding uphill stretch of seven or eight blocks, and I did not know if I could make it. It was a glorious feeling to finish that first marathon.”
Simmoneau typically runs four or five times a week, mostly along Kelly Drive near his house in the Art Museum neighborhood, although he will ramp up his ordinary five-to-seven-mile treks as the marathon draws closer. His favorite long training runs take him along the Schuylkill bike and running trail, which after traversing the main part of the city mostly parallels the SEPTA train line to Norristown. “The worst thing when you run is that you know when you get halfway, you have to run back,” he says.
“It is the perfect antidote to a hectic life, like the kind we all have in the city.” “This way, it may be 13 miles to Conshohocken or 18 miles to Norristown, but I get to ride the train back. It’s a relief when I get there.”
Preparing for that first marathon, however, was a bit more haphazard. In the course of training with a friend who was running the marathon with him, they decided to find a long trail run one night rather than using the roads around Lancaster. Exelon Corporation, an electricity distribution company, owned a park around a power facility in the rural area south of Lancaster, and someone at the company suggested a “10-mile” loop around it. “One warm August evening, we took off around 6:30, figuring that would take us less than two hours, when it would become dark,” says Simmoneau. At about 8 pm, surely close to the end, Simmoneau’s slower friend encouraged him to cover the final stretch at a faster pace, so Simmoneau ran on alone. Eight o’clock soon became 8:30 and beyond. As darkness fell and the trail went back into dense woods, Simmoneau didn’t know what to do. He started walking and, an hour or so later, finally reached the lone home in the surrounding forestland. “I went on Google Maps later and found it was four miles longer,” he says. “Those extra four miles were pretty daunting, especially in the dark.”
Perhaps emboldened by the extra mileage, Simmoneau finished that first marathon in a respectable four hours and 18 minutes. He cut 10 minutes off his personal best at the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon, and he intends to do the same this time around. In the end, however, running is not about the clock for the anchorman. “I might be the last person who does not run with a phone or an iPod or anything like that. I like to see my surroundings and just like that aspect of it,” says Simmoneau, who swears he worries not about being at a “sevenminute pace” or whether his form looks good. “My wife thinks I am crazy not to carry a cell phone or whatever, so I wear an ID bracelet now to appease her.
“You don’t have to think about anything. You are in your own little cocoon,” he continues. “It is the perfect antidote to a hectic life, like the kind we all have in the city.” The Philadelphia Marathon will be held on November 20; philadelphiamarathon.com.