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Ultra Philly

Rebecca Barber has Philly's next generation of ultra runner drooling to start training. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop

Though she was born in Washington DC, Philly can claim Rebecca Barber as one of its own, or at least as Honorary Philly Native. After all, would a mere transplant go so far as to establish the Rocky 50k?!? Barber came to Philly some 16 years ago to attend Drexel University and never left. She was an avid runner long before arriving in Philly, having run since elementary school, running competitively in high school, and keeping her legs going with Drexel’s track club. During her freshman year, at age 19, Barber notched her first marathon; she logged 27 more in the ensuing years. She also has 20 ultras to her credit, as well as the completion of two 100 milers. As for her brainchild, the Rocky 50K—not to be confused with the for-profit Rocky Run, which came later—that takes some explaining.

About ten years ago, local [Philadelphia] journalist Dan McQuade had been watching Rocky II and saw that Rocky’s training route was more than a little convoluted. It just didn't make sense—he's in South Philly one scene, north Philly the next, Old City, all over really. McQuaid mapped out Rocky’s route from the movie and wrote an article that showed, if you actually mapped out the locations chronological order, the route would be about 50k. After Barber saw McQuaid’s article she emailed him, “I know your article says no one should run this. But I’d like to put the race on as what the ultra running community calls a 'Fat Ass.' And asked for his blessing to do so.” (Note, Fat Ass is the name given to a series of low key, unsanctioned runs that are frequented by experienced runners & walkers and characterized by the phrase ‘No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps.’)

And thus was born what has become somewhat of a cult race. There's no cost, no bibs, no portajohns, no support on the route. Bring your own hydration. Barber shares that “2022 marked our 10th Annual Rocky 50k, which is really exciting. Every year there's a good group of people that come. We had a guy come from Spain one year. There are a couple of guys that come from Texas most years for it. Some people run one mile. Some people run all 50k.” After the race’s first year, MGM studio sent Barber a cease and desist letter. But nothing ever came of it. “I changed my logo, which initially had Rocky’s silhouette. Now it's boxing gloves.”

Barber, taking change in stride. From ultras to 7.6Ks, and no doubt back to marathons again. Photo: Bryan Karl Lathrop