The Philadelphia Marathon was a destination marathon for me.
At age 55 I still hold onto the dream of running a marathon in all 50 states. Pennsylvania was my sixth state.
Friends have run Philly and had good things to say about it, so why not? I’m not getting any younger!
The 25th Philadelphia Marathon for 12,985 registered runners. The official results show that 10,061 runners completed the course.
At the Expo Bart Yasso mentioned that he had run the marathon in the 80’s. It had either been discontinued for a few years or held in a different location for a few years. We didn’t get the details on that.
Philadelphia Marathon Weekend
Like all big city marathons, Philadelphia makes it a weekend event.
The Expo opened on Friday with meet and greats with Meb Keflezighi and Desiree Linden. Meb and Desi also participated in discussions moderated by Bart Yasso on Friday and Saturday.
Bart and Bill Rodgers also spoke on Friday and Saturday on “Marathon Running Over the Years.”
Three Olympians with six Boston Marathon wins between them!
Marathon weekend running begins with the The Rothman Orthopaedics 8K and the Dietz & Watson Half Marathon on Saturday for a combined 20,000+ runners. The half begins at 7:30 AM and 8K begins at 10:40, so you can run both races and the marathon on Sunday.
Running all three races constitutes the Freedom Challenge.
You can also run the marathon and the half or 8K for the The Independence Challenge, or the half and full for The Liberty Bell Challenge, respectively.
Also on Saturday morning they had the Dunkin’ Munchkin Runs for kids from 3-12. There are non-competitive age-group dashes and then a 1.5 mile run for kids 6-12.
On Sunday at 7:00 AM The Philadelphia Marathon begins.
The Road to Philly
I registered for the Philly Marathon on June 10th and planned to go with Durm Cahill and Mike Sikkema.
We made hotel reservations and bought train tickets. Then about four months ago Durm got broke.
On one of his long runs he torqued his hip and barely ran all summer. Everything was paid for, including the marathon and he had to take a pass. It just wasn’t going to happen.
About two weeks before the race another friend Jose Viveiros heard us talking about the marathon and Durm offered him his number. It was totally last minute.
Jose has had his own health issues over the summer and wasn’t really in marathon shape. He’s more of an Utra guy and I guess those are quite different than a marathon.
We met at South Station in Boston for the six-hour Amtrak ride to Philly.
Mike put in some good training over the summer but didn’t feel fully prepared. I ran most of the Sunday Long Runs and then used half marathons on most weekends for my long run training. Jose hadn’t really done much distance training in a few months.
Mike was shooting for a 3:05 finish but didn’t feel like that was going to happen. Jose just wanted to finish before the six-hour cut-off. I was hoping for four-hours but knew that 4:30 was more likely.
We had fun talking and watching the cities and towns go by. It was a very comfortable ride.
We stayed at The Notary which was only about five minutes from Union Station. The building was the former City Hall Annex which was built in 1926 and turned into a hotel in 1986(?) by Marriott. In the deal with the city Marriott kept many of the historic details.
It was a great location and not just another hotel.
Hanging and Chillin in Philly
Mike lived in Philadelphia for a few years and Jose had hoped to do some sight seeing.
We arrived in Philly late in the afternoon and took a short cab ride to our hotel.
I made the reservation for three adults and requested a roll-away bed. When we arrived the roll-away was not on the reservation and it took several hours and two requests to get it delivered.
While the guys waited in the room, I got in a much needed 3.2 mile treadmill run. My taper had been quite severe!
After I showered and changed and the bed arrived we headed out for dinner. We were up for an adventure, but needed to save our legs. We ended up eating at a sports bar down the street from the hotel. The food was really good. I had one beer and helped Jose finish his.
On the way back we stopped at a 7-11 for some food for the room.
We got to bed around 10PM but Mike and I woke early. Mike went out for a five mile run and I took a shower. Jose got up after Mike showered and we headed for the Expo after Jose showered.
Philly Marathon Expo
Saturday morning we headed for the Expo. Durm and I had paid the $20 fee to have our packet mailed to us. When we registered travel arrangements were unknown. Mike needed to get his packet.
It was a short walk to the Convention Center in the crisp fall air. Mike got his packet quickly and we started walking around.
The Boston Marathon Expo is packed. Those vendors pay a small fortune to be there and they get about 40,000 runners and friends looking for cool stuff.
The Philadelphia Marathon Expo was more like the Honolulu Marathon Expo. Honolulu had about a third of the vendors of Boston. Philly had about the same space as Honolulu, but there were empty booths!
We got there around 10AM so all vendors should have been in place. The vendors that were there didn’t have many hand-outs. We all love free samples.
We did stumble upon Meb Keflezighi and Desiree Linden’s presentation at 10:35. I really wanted to see them speak and it turned out to be worth it.
Both of them are so humble and normal and they have both reached the highest heights of our sport.
Meb talked about growing up literally dirt poor in Eritrea. No running water or electricity and they ate dirt sometimes. Just to survive.
In six months he learned Italian when they finally made it to Italy. Eventually they made it to The United States and pursued The American Dream.
One day in gym class the gym teacher had them run a mile. The winner got a t-shirt and a medal. Meb ran something like a 5:20 mile and the gym teacher told him that he was going to The Olympics!
Meb didn’t know what The Olympics were, but he wanted that t-shirt and the medal!
Desi talked about loosing The Boston Marathon by two seconds! Instead of being defeated, she used that memory to win the 2018 Boston Marathon.
She told us how she almost dropped out of the 2018 Boston Marathon because she didn’t feel it that day. We all felt the pride when she won the race less than two hours after that moment of doubt!
I have to tell you that when Meb was telling his story, my eyes were not dry! He has such gratitude for what this country has given him. And he gave us Boston in 2014.
The three of us loved their talk.
After the Expo we headed to Reading Market for lunch. We tried to get in Friday night, but they closed at 6PM.
Mike got a Philly Cheese Steak and I got some of the best ribs eva! Jose got a smoothy. We headed back to the hotel to eat and hang out.
When room service showed up we were laying on the beds watching TV with our feet up. We had to explain that we only needed more coffee.
Later we went to Mariano’s for dinner and then went to 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts for race day supplies.
Running The Philadelphia Marathon
We got to bed around 10PM but we all woke up several times during the night. Around 3AM I gave up and started checking my email and the weather.
It looked like the rain would hold off until after or late into the race.
By 5AM we were all dressed and ready to run. Since we were so close to the start, Mike and I didn’t leave until 6AM. Jose headed over after us.
The security seemed tighter than Boston. We had to take off our stuff and walk through a metal detector. I used magnets to hold my bib on and they didn’t set off the machine.
The entire start area was dark and chaotic. We made our way through a lawn of mud to UPS trucks for the bag drop. Good idea for the trucks, poor idea for their location.
Then we looked for porta-potties inside the perimeter, but most of them were outside of the start area! WTF! What genius decided to separate runners from the porta-potties?
We managed to find about 10 tucked off to a side. Fortunately the line moved along. As we got our shot, Mike had five minutes to his start. I was a few corrals back and had an extra 10 minutes.
I didn’t see Mike until I got back to the hotel!
I headed for my corral through the sea of chaos. I found an opening in the barricades and made my way to my group. About five minutes before the start I started my watch.
As the group before us left, we moved up and then they started us. It was freakin cold!
I was on the wrong side of the road, but Meb was on the announcers platform giving high-fives as runners went by! How awesome is that!
The first two miles were packed and wound through the historic district. We passed the US Mint and close by the National Constitution Center. At about 2.5 mile we turned right to run along the river at “Race Street Pier.”
We ran along the water front for about a mile and turned right near the US Coast Guard Station. We looped back and ran about half a mile to “Head House Square” where we turned left onto South Street.
South turned right onto 6th Street. As we ran passed the Mother Bethel AME Church I heard this pumping, gospel, R&B, funk music pulsing through the air.
I was waiting for “Cool and The Gang” to break into “Celebrate Good Times” but it was the church choir with a drum kit and a popping bass line that made me want to dance! They kept repeating “God is in you”.
I don’t know about god, but that popping beat got the groove into me! It was awesome.
Just past the church we hit mile five and my average pace was 8:50. Just where I wanted to be.
At about 5.25 miles we turned left onto Chestnut Street and began an almost two mile run to cross the Schuylkill river. We hit mile seven just before the bridge and my average pace was 8:41. A little too fast.
After we crossed the river we started to hit the hills. Mile eight gained 67 feet and mile ten gained 100.
Mile eight ran through The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. We hit mile nine in The Philadelphia Zoo.
In Honolulu we ran past the zoo but the Philly Zoo had a much stronger odor. And we spent more time in proximity.
After The Zoo we ran through The Central District and hit those 100 feet of elevation gain. It was beginning to feel like a run!
Miles 11 and 12 wound through Fairmount Park. I had finished one of my bottles and was dipping into the second one. I began to take water at the stops and was happy to get a gel out here.
After mile twelve we ran along the river again until we reached the MLK Bridge to cross the river at mile 14.
At mile 13.1 they had a timing mat, but no special signs or anything.
My goal was to hold onto a 9:00 minute pace until the half-way mark and my watch said I still had that pace as I crossed the mat.
I knew that this was an overly ambitious pace and I knew it was going to slip away from this mile on. It was beginning to feel like survival time!
A marathon doesn’t really begin until twenty miles have been run. But on this day 13.1 was where my race began. The care-free tourist miles were behind me. It was time to get down to work.
I had done what training I could and was now paying for too much time at my desk and not enough long runs.
After we crossed the MLK Jr Bridge we headed up the north shore of the Schuylkill River towards the hair-pin turn around. For some reason I thought it was a mile or so up to the turn.
It turned out to be about seven miles! When you think something is a mile away and it turns out to be seven miles away and can really mess you up!
Over those seven miles we had about 200 feet of elevation gain and 140 feet decline. Lots of rolling hills.
I was enjoying the scenery as much as possible. Pennsylvania is different than Massachusetts. The houses, businesses and names on those businesses often are different than what I see daily.
When you run somewhere new you should take in as much as you can. Running is a great way to see a lot of an area, even if your feet hurt!
All the way out to Manayunk, PA I took water and often Gatorade at the stops. I even did some walking!
I tried to keep running until the turn but I wasn’t sure where the hell it was.
At some point the lead runners started passing us and then the lead of the heard started passing us on their way back.
I knew that if I saw Mike he was having a rough day and if I saw Jose, I was having a rough day. I didn’t see anyone!
About a mile before the turn I saw a house under construction with a porta-potty out front. The official ones were blue. This one was brown and white.
The official ones always had a line and for some reason I felt waiting in line would kill my time!
I ran to the left side of the road, saw that the handle was green and went in. It was reasonably clean but I was a stinking mess anyway.
As I sat there I heard people yelling and it seemed like someone pulled on the door. But it was the gusting wind trying to pry the door open.
I pulled myself together and managed to avoid dropping anything. Unlatching the door, I ran back into the race like nothing had happened. I never even noticed if anyone said anything or even looked my way. I was on a mission.
The Second Half of Philly
We hit the turn around in Manayunk at about 20.5 miles. There was a small crowd at this turn. Not as many as I expected. But what was I expecting?
Mike said a guy in front of him had slipped on a man hole cover at the turn and he grabbed a-hold of a sign post to swing himself around!
I just did a sloppy turn and felt grateful to be heading east. Philly was somewhere down that freakin road.
As I ran along I realized that we were now past mile twenty and there was less than a 10K to run. But could I?
I was out of juice. Nothing hurt beyond what one would expect from running over three and a half hours.
I had fueled properly, but it wasn’t enough. My cardio conditioning just wasn’t up to par.
Even though I did not need them, earlier in the race I had been taking deep breathes. When I am out of shape sometimes I experience shortness of breathe.
To avoid this, I do deep breathing.
Now it was an essential part of my finishing this race. The last thing I wanted was to visit a medic station or to get hauled off of the course. A fate worse than death!
I jogged, walked and ran the best I could the rest of the race.
My four-hour race was out of the question. Now it was just a question of getting in under 4:30.
I felt that it was possible, but I had to be careful and manage every step.
After the turn around the thought popped into my head, “I took a dump in Many-yunk” I laughed out loud with the little breathe I had to spare. That pit stop was a necessity and it kept me laughing!
At several places people had Dixie cups of beer. Even just a little beer seems to give me lead legs.
At mile twenty-five my legs were beyond lead. A group of Canadians were giving out beer, so I took one. It only had two swallows in it, but it was some of the best beer I’ve ever had.
The beer didn’t effect me at all.
I was aware of my muscles contracting and swelling with each step. Each step forced more blood into my muscles and my legs felt like they were bulging.
Getting to mile twenty-three was a relief. We only had 5K to go. Anyone can run 5K even a guy whose legs felt like plump sausages could do it.
I just had to do it. I walked some, I ran some and I jogged some.
The world closed in around me and I didn’t pay much attention to anyone or anything. All I wanted to do was put one foot in front of the other and hope that the back foot would continue to come off of the ground and land in front of the other. That’s all I wanted. Simple stuff.
It seemed like all of a sudden the crowd grew and I could hear the finish line announcer. Even though I now knew that the turn around was seven miles out, it still hadn’t clicked that this meant there were only five miles to run to the finish line.
And I had run almost all of them. I was coming to the finish line!
Somewhere near the finish my friend Courtney Koschei took this photo.
When you are this close to a finish, you have to run.
I ran 26.55 miles somehow and my last 0.55 mile was at a 10:25 pace.
Nothing special, but better than the previous six miles!
I just really flamed-out the last five or six miles.
Running so many half marathons lulled me into complacency. There is a reason that half marathons are the most popular distance.
I can probably run a half marathon every weekend for a year and feel pretty good during the week.
As I crossed the finish line, I didn’t feel pretty good. It had been raining the last hour or so, it was getting colder and the wind had picked up. Conditions deteriorated considerably.
A guy rolled out a Mylar sheet for me and helped me get it over my shoulders. A few steps further on a lady put the medal around my neck. Even before this someone gave me a 500ml of water which I sucked down in three guzzles.
I made a B-line for the UPS trucks and got my drop bag. All it had was my fleece which I promptly put on. Then I headed for the Deitz & Watson tent for a hot sausage. They were all out! WTF!
They were a major sponsor of the race and they ran out of food? I was far from the last person to cross the line. I felt bad for the 5,6 and 7 hour runners.
The weather was getting bad and the hot food was gone. Brilliant.
I asked about the beer tent and immediately decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
At this point I looked for a way out of the finish area and headed for my hotel.
Not exactly a festive finish area. I’d say it was more than a bit of a let down. Boston is stingy with their post race food, but this was beyond the pale. A bottle of water? Come on!
As I hobbled back to the hotel the rain turned into wet snow! This went on for about ten minutes, all the way back to the hotel.
Apre Philadelphia Marathon
When I got to the hotel, Mike had already showered and packed. Before I headed for the shower Jose showed up. He ran much better than the six hours he had expected.
We didn’t have a lot of time to be tourists or even get something to eat.
We were checked out by 2:30 and in a cab to the train station.
Normally I can eat and drink all kinds of beer after a race. This time I just wasn’t hungry and had to force my self to drink water.
The train wasn’t full so we had room to get our own double seats and stretch out a bit. Being able to walk around on the train was nice also.
When we got to South Station I called an Uber and the guys headed for The Red line. As I was headed for my Uber they came out of the Red Line. They needed to take a shuttle bus to the ext station. Gotta love The T!
Philly had a few issues in the start/finish area, but I would recommend this race if you are looking for a Pennsylvania marathon.
Run well my Friends,