Virtual 5K takes runners on trail of boxing legends

The Boxers' Trail 5K benefits programming at Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion. PHOTO: Parks and Recreation

You can run in the footsteps of Joe Frazier, and, if you do it this week, you can support a good cause.

“Smokin’ Joe” loved to train on a trail that starts in North Philadelphia and winds its way through East Fairmount Park, past creeks and historic mansions.

According to neighborhood legend, Muhammad Ali showed up at the path, known as “Boxers’ Trail,” and waited for Frazier so he could challenge him to a fight. Other famous Philly boxers, including Bernard Hopkins, have prepared by running the trail.

It was a narrow pathway until the early 2000s, when a major renovation took place, the first partnership between the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Then, in 2012, the groups held the first Boxers’ Trail 5K, which benefits youth programming at Strawberry Mansion’s Mander Recreation Center.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s race is virtual, and people can run or walk the 3.8-mile trail on their own time, through Saturday.

Boxers’ Trail was a favorite of ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Frazier and other famous Philly fighters. PHOTO: Parks and Recreation

Some of the participants will be completing the distance remotely, which is allowed under the rules, as long as the 5K is done in one day.

People have registered from as far away as Maine, Massachusetts and even Japan, said Jason Mifflin, of the Park and Recreation stewardship team.

Mifflin said the race was created to encourage people from the North Philadelphia community to explore the park. Residents of Strawberry Mansion can take part at no cost.

The 5K is also aimed at introducing people from around the region to the trail. You can get views of the Schuylkill and avoid the crowds that flock to other riverfront paths, Mifflin said.

“Portions of the trail itself make you feel like you could be on the Appalachian trail or something because you’ve just got these sweeping vistas of these rock outcroppings and the Schuylkill River,” he said.

“It’s an awesome alternative if you’re looking to find a trail that’s a little less crowded than Kelly Drive,” Mifflin added.

A new trail gateway paying homage to the area’s boxing history was recently installed near 33rd and Dauphin streets.

Mifflin believes athletes prefer the trail because there is a mix of terrain and hills.

“You get some grass. You get some asphalt,” he said. “You get some meadow.”

There is a $20 entry fee for the Boxers’ Trail 5K, and all participants receive a T-shirt. Timing is self-reported, so there will be a random drawing for prizes.

More than 100 people have registered so far, and, as of Monday afternoon, 25 have logged their times on the race’s website.

For more information, go to https://runsignup.com/Race/PA/Philadelphia/BoxersTrail5KRunWalk.

This year’s 5K is virtual, so runners can complete the distance on their own time. PHOTO: Parks and Recreation

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