Yesterday I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I did a little over four months of training, and hadn’t been running all that consistently before I started. Those four months were like a roller coaster–a good week, a bad week, another bad week, a few good weeks…by the time November 21 rolled around I didn’t really know what to expect. However, I have to say that even if my run yesterday had been terrible, the experience itself would have wonderful. Why? Because Philadelphia knows how to do a marathon. Now, keep in mind that I haven’t run any marathons anywhere else, but I have run several races. So while I can’t compare Philadelphia to other races of its size, I do think I am qualified to comment on what makes this marathon so great. And now, without further ado, the reasons I love the Philadelphia marathon.
- Organization: I’ve run this marathon three times, and even though there was a delayed start during the second one and my toes got so cold I couldn’t feel my feet for about a mile (it was a weird feeling), I have to say that this race runs like a well-oiled machine. Packet pick-up at the expo is quick and easy; baggage drop was extraordinarily well-organized, with UPS trucks set up alphabetically, and then shelves that corresponded to bib numbers inside the trucks, for additional order; there are water stops about every mile along the course, and there’s also Gatorade available at each of them; the start/finish area is laid out in a way that is easy to navigate; and the start itself is done in waves so that even though you’re in a huge group of people, you’re spread out enough that you are tripping over people for the first several miles.
- Volunteers: The people who volunteer at the Philadelphia Marathon are some of the most amazing people on the planet. When you pick up your packet at the expo, they’re really helpful even though you know they’ve repeated the same thing about filling out the contact info on the back of the bib 1,000,000 times already. The volunteers doing the baggage drop were efficient and smiling. The ones working the water stations seemed like they were born passing cups of liquid to runners, and were really focused on getting you your water or Gatorade. The ones working at turn-around points or other turns were helpful and cheered non-stop for the runners. When I finished, feeling emotionally overwrought (when I hit my wall at 22 miles, I hit it pretty hard, and it was more emotionally taxing than physically difficult), exhausted, and rather achy, I took a mylar sheet from the first person I saw and walked a few feet with it dangling from my hand. A volunteer came up to me with a sheet he had opened up and readied to put around someone’s shoulders. “Here,” he said to me, “I’ll trade you that one for this one.” He kindly took the sheet I was holding and wrapped the one he’d been holding around my shoulders, making sure I took it in my hand so that it wouldn’t fall off. I really think that in everything they do, this group of volunteers goes above and beyond. I don’t know if it has to do with the briefing they get about what is needed of them, or just the simple fact that they’re great people, but they really are amazing, and they have been every time I’ve done this marathon. Even though I thanked every one of the volunteers I interacted with (even when just grabbing a cup from them), I really wish I could thank them all again.
- Spirit: There are a couple places along the course where you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to cheering, but I have to say, people really come out in droves to cheer on the runners and they seem tireless in their enthusiasm. The bibs are printed with your first name on them, so spectators frequently cheer you on by name, especially in the later miles when you need it most. People make really great, funny signs that make you smile (examples: “Chuck Norris can’t run better than you”, “Toenails are overrated”, “Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too”), bring noisemakers, boom boxes, orange slices, and their own cups of water to hand out to people who need them. In certain areas, like Center City and Manayunk, the sidewalks are almost overflowing with people. My nineteenth mile (this is as you’re approaching a turn-around point in Manayunk) is always one of my fastest second-half miles because the people cheering in that area are so enthusiastic you can’t help but start to feel really good. When you’re in University City, Drexel students come out of their fraternity and sorority houses to blast music and cheer you on. Even the mayor of the city comes out to cheer people on.
- Course: Philadelphia is a great course. You start at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then you get to run through historical parts of the city, really pleasant park areas, along the Schuylkill river, and up and down Main Street in Manayunk. It’s a great way to see the city, and you really do get to see some beautiful parts of it, especially when you’re in Fairmount Park. The major hills are all in the first half, so for the most part, as you feel like you’re losing steam in the second half, you don’t have any hills to contend with, which is really nice. It’s also a fast course, and (I think, anyway) great for someone doing their first marathon.
- Camaraderie: Among the runners themselves, everyone is supportive of each other, and happy to be there. I know this is part of the spirit of the marathon, but I think it also has to do with the fact that they’ve had a pleasant experience overall.
I’ve had a few people ask me whether they should run the Philadelphia Marathon, and I’ve always enthusiastically encouraged them to do so. This is a great race, which is something every runner should experience.