This Philadelphia Marathon race review takes an in-depth look into one of the more popular U.S. marathons. Every year thousands of runners run 26.2 miles through historic Philadelphia, and because of its flat course and ideal temperatures it has become one of the more popular races used to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
This evaluation will give you a closer look at the race from start to finish and all of the steps in between. And while I may be a tad biased, as I’m from the Philadelphia-area, I’ve tried to give a objective point-of-view based on my experiences and those of friends & acquaintances that I’ve me along the way.
Below is the Philadelphia Marathon Race Review grade sheet, followed by a mile-by-mile detailed course description that will help you visualize the run so that you can better plan for your big day:
- The Expo: B+
The Philadelphia Marathon Expo is usually held at Eakins Oval in big with flooring and has multiple vendors. There’s not enough to fill your day there, but it’s a fun lunchtime excursion and time to chat with your fellow racers. The race organization is well done and efficient in picking up your race packet.
- Race Start: B
The Philadelphia Marathon uses the ChampionChip system which has diffused most of the stress associated with a slow start, but the Ben Franklin Parkway is pretty wide at the start and the race gets moving rather quick. Also, I’ve spent many race starts in the port-o-john lines?! Get there early, take care of business…and use the last 30 minutes to weave your way to your starting place. If you normally go out too fast, try lining up with one of the pace runners from ClifBar with red balloons…they’ll lead you to a nice steady pace without taking it out too fast.
- Average Temperature on day of run: A+
The temperature on race day is usually between 50-55 degrees F…which is perfect. This is probably the primary reason that the Philadelphia Marathon is one of the most popular Boston qualifiers.
- Course Elevation changes (Hills?!): A
This marathon is one the flatter courses out there. Aside from the small hills at Miles 10 & 20, runners can usually enjoy a flat and smooth course.
- The Crowd: A
Running a marathon in a city with over 2 million residents and multiple college campuses has its perks. The fun and lively crowds can really pump you up and you’re your mind off of your sore legs ;-). Don’t underestimate the impact of a good crowd…they can really give you a lift!
- Race Organization: A
The hundreds of volunteers that work the expo, water stops and finish line do a terrific job. There are multiple water and energy gels stops, large-number time clocks at every mile marker, and the finish line is quick and effective at moving the runners through. These are the types of things that you only notice if they’re not done right. These details are done right at the Philadelphia Marathon.
- The Scenery: A
The Philadelphia Marathon starts and finishes at the Art Museum, runs through historic downtown, along South Street, up into Fairmount Park, and up and down the picturesque Schuylkill River by boat house row…the scenery can’t get much better. And like the crowd, scenery can distract your mind and keep you going. It’s a pretty important factor in my book.
- Race Value: B+
As far as runner goodies go…this marathon is rather skimpy. However, all runners do get a nice “technical” long-sleeve t-shirt which is far better than cotton for practical use. And as far as entry fees go for mid-large sized races, the Philadelphia Marathon is about average (if you enter early).
- Overall Marathon Experience: A
As you don your finisher’s medal and tin foil cape…and possibly even pose for a picture or two with family & friends on the Art Museum steps…it’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. There are limited refreshments in the end, but the ambiance is unbeatable. In the weeks after the race, you’ll forget about the sore legs, the Mile 24 bonk, and the port-o-john line and all you’ll remember is a fun race in a great city!
Mile 1- 4: Starting from Eakins Oval, the Philadelphia Marathon goes down Ben Franklin Parkway to Arch Street, makes a left on 4th Street to Race Street and goes towards the Delaware River (Columbus Blvd.). For this part of the race, the pack is still pretty dense and some runners will spend a lot of useless energy trying to weave their way up.
Mile 5-8: The course meanders up from Columbus to South Street to Chestnut Street. This part of the race can be shady and cool from all of the tall buildings, but Chestnut Street is lined with crowds which makes it a fun stretch.
Mile 9-11: When you leave Chestnut Street you run through UPenn & Drexel’s turf which brings some high-energy crowds, music & fun (the marathon’s just another reason for them to party ;-). After you pass the zoo, there’s a nice downhill as you run towards Memorial Hall and Fairmount Park. Once you’re in the park, there’s a good uphill climb as you approach the 10th mile mark….not a killer-hill…but you’ll notice it. The race pack usually starts showing signs of thinning out and there are portions of miles 10 and 11 that run along a narrower bike path.
Mile 12-14: As you leave the park, the race takes you along West River Drive, past the halfway marker, and back across the Schuylkill River to where you started this 26.2-mile adventure. On a sunny and still day, this part of the race can get pretty warm…even when the temps are in the 50s (F).
Mile 15 – 18: As you run by the huge crowds at the art museum, you’ll feel like you have winged feet as you go around the bend onto Kelly Drive. The crowds taper off as you head to Manayunk, but the views of the Schuylkill River as you run past boat house row are spectacular.
Mile 19-22: The crowd starts to pick up again as you get into Manayunk. There’s a lot of energy along Main Street…locals bands…large crowds…good stretch of the race. And their boost comes in handy as you head up the small hill at Mile 20 to the turnaround point. As you head out of Manayunk around the 22nd Mile, you’ll cross from Main Street back to Kelly Drive…and while that little overpass entrance ramp hill may seem small…I always remember it…as it usually marks the point where I start to feel it.
Mile 23 – 26.2: This is the most challenging part of the race, as you go double-back over the familiar terrain of Kelly Drive to the finish. The crowds line the street for the last ½ mile, but can be sparse for miles 23, 24 and 25. This is the critical part of the race where goals are met or missed. If you can manage to hang tough up through Mile 25, the crowd will help pull you in by shear adrenaline for the last push.
If you’re committed to running 26.2 miles, the Philadelphia Marathon is a great place to do it. If you want a fast and scenic course that will be a memorable experience, consider it for your Fall marathon. If you’re looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon …this is one of the best courses and climates to do it in. Good luck in your training!