'Rocky' devotees set to make tribute run

PHILADELPHIA - Yo, Adrian, Rocky devotees are gonna run now, a grueling tribute to their mythical champ.

Nearly 35 years after Rocky Balboa returned for his first sequel, Philadelphia's favorite adopted son has inspired city runners to go to the distance.

Rocky's faithful followers are set to run a 50K that will end, of course, triumphantly atop the art museum steps.

The fictitious fighter left as a big a cultural imprint on the city as any founding father, and hundreds of runners are expected to follow in his championship footsteps, truly, through the streets, steps and past the statue he showcased to the world through six movies.

Sparked by a story on the Philadelphia Magazine website, Philadelphia's debut Rocky Run kicks off at 7 a.m. Saturday, with a start just around the corner from the house where Balboa lived in "Rocky II."

This is the kind of ultra-marathon that would make Ivan Drago flinch.

The route is set for 31 miles and based on the inspirational montage in the 1979 flick as Balboa trains for his heavyweight championship rematch with Apollo Creed. For even diehard fans, the scene is nothing but 2 minutes, 30 seconds of Sylvester Stallone's character sprinting and sweating through the city, arms raised high and mobbed by children that flocked to him and followed him up those celebrated steps.

For Philadelphia-based writer Dan McQuade, a native and "Rocky" fan, the underdog boxer's disjointed route made little sense.

"Obviously, the montage isn't meant to be taken seriously as an actual workout; it's just a few scenes strung together so 'Gonna Fly Now' can play and Rocky can finish at the top of the Art Museum steps," he wrote in mid-September. "But, I wondered, what if this roadwork were treated as one actual run? How far would Rocky go?"

He pieced the scenes together through two viewings of the film for the story, had some friends help identify locations, and mapped distances off a USA Track and Field distance-measuring tool to come up with the whopping total of 30.61 miles.

"This is one long run," McQuade wrote. "I don't recommend anyone try it."

Not so fast. He may as well have suggested hungry tourists head to Geno's Steaks, order a cheese steak, but hold the cheese.

Philly resident Rebecca Schaefer, an avid runner, read the story and contacted McQuade the day it was published for his blessing to organize the run.

"I could not get it out of my head," she said. "This has to happen."

She set up a Facebook event page and website. Almost 400 people have committed to the race.

There are no registration fees, no T-shirts, or trinkets for finishing.  Not even greasy, fast speed is required. Just a little love for Rocky.

Schaefer, who will wear a grey sweatsuit with a handwritten "Italian Stallion" on the back like Balboa did, said if she pushed her pace, she could finish in about 4 1/4-5 hours.

"It's not a real hilly or technical route, because it's all sidewalks, so there's nothing really too hard," she said.

The route weaves runners through historic guideposts like the Italian Market; and Independence Hall, where Balboa hurdles benches and is followed by a flock of children all the way to the steps.

"Why are all these children following him," McQuade asked, laughing. "That's my favorite part, that we're supposed to imagine that Rocky is so popular that children are going to start following him all across the city."

Stallone's publicist said the actor was unavailable for comment. But at the 2006 "Rocky Balboa" premiere in Philadelphia, Stallone said he owed so much of the movie's success to the city.

"It belongs to Philadelphia," Stallone said. "It's a very unique relationship. It's something no one could have ever planned on."

"Rocky" still packs a pop culture punch decades after it became the highest grossing film of 1976.

The musical "Rocky" will open on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in March 2014, and features a score by "Ragtime" veterans Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and a story by Thomas Meehan, who wrote "The Producers" and "Hairspray."  Stallone plans to resurrect Rocky in the movie "Creed," which focuses on the grandson of the late heavyweight champ.  Before next week's Army-Navy game, the Cadets and Midshipmen will run a relay up the steps, testing strength and speed, and only the winners can say, "Yo, I did it!"

The bronze Rocky statue at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a popular tourist stop, and an eye-roller to cranky citizens fed up with being linked to the fighter.

"If you go to the steps, people are always so happy," McQuade said. "It's such a Philly tradition. Around the world, it's probably Philly's most famous tourist site. People in the rest of the world don't really care about the Liberty Bell."

Only the one that sounds for another round with Rocky.

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