Anyone getting ready to run the Philadelphia Marathon needs to read this post! It’s everything I wish I’d known in advance to have the best day possible. Even as a running coach there were lessons to be learned and each race is a little different.
Hopefully these few key pieces to help make life easier! Once you start to realize how long it takes to train for a marathon, I hope you’ve started looking at the right plan!
And then you started thinking…should my training be any different for a flat marathon? Yes. Is there anything different about the Philadelphia Marathon Course that I should prepare for? Yes.
I’m so glad you’re thinking ahead and hope these tips will help you have a great race whether it’s your first or you’re out for a Personal Record.
Philadelphia Marathon Tips
This is one of the marathons that I recommend most frequently when asked. It’s a great fast course, usually with decent weather and wonderful spectators.
With any race, I have a few standard recommendations for our athletes:
- Try not to walk around a ton before the race
- Have your pre-race dinner and morning of meal with you or planned out, so you know it’s food you tolerate
- Don’t get sucked in to driving the course :) you should have been training for whatever the elevation looks like and that’s all you can control
Thanks to RTTF Coach Stacey Gross for jumping in with some additional tips, as this is her hometown race!
#1 Train for Rolling Hills
If you’re avoiding hills during your long runs to make them feel easier, it’s going to bite you on race day. While this course is not hugely hilly it will have over 860 feet of gain, compared to just 243 feet at the Chicago marathon.
Doing hill sprints in your training, will also help you develop the power to keep pushing up those hills later in the race.
You’ll be getting an equal amount of downhill, so remember to focus on keeping a consistent effort on the up and down, to even out pace.
#2 Plan for getting to the Start Line
We want to minimize time on feet before the race. So look up exactly how you’re going to get there.
We opted for Public Transportation and it was a pretty smooth process for those who aren’t staying near the start. My preference is generally to be in a hotel near the start line because that 1 mile walk is a great chance to warm up and shake off the nerves.
Philly does offer shuttle buses from the official hotels! These are often busy, so you may need to go earlier than you’d like. But it’s one less thing to think about.
#3 Plan for Race Morning
A few things you need to know specifically around the Philly Marathon Starting area.
You will go through a security checkpoint, like most of the other major marathons. Assume this could take a little time, the lines can be very long. But if you walk past the first lines you’ll find some shorter ones.
You want to be early enough to get through, check a bag and use the porta potties.
ONLY bring the clear bag you receive at registration.
Unlike some of the other majors you CAN use a hydration vest! So grab your vest, your belt or your handheld bottle to make sure your nutrition needs are all lined up.
If you do get there early, sit down. Don’t waste tons of energy standing around. (I made the mistake of doing this, plus shivering… serious waste of energy)
You’re about to run 26.2 miles and standing is taking energy, and making your legs sore. Sit. Wait. Then get up do some dynamic moves and get in to your corral.
One of the reasons I recommend this race is that if often has ideal weather conditions for a fast marathon. But that also means being cold while waiting at the start line.
Bring a mylar blanket or old sweatshirts, gloves and pants that you can toss. Clothing is collected and donated to charity.
I am almost ALWAYS overdressed for these races, so once again I was handing off a hat at mile 2 to my husband. Do better than me folks, just start cold.
Once you get in to your corral, know that it could still be awhile before you cross the start line. Try to contain your nerves and energy. If you’re bouncing around, well again you’re wasting energy.
#4 Philadelphia Marathon Course Strategy
The course has changed slightly due to construction, so while it starts flat after that I’d say expect rolling hills.
It’s possible your watch will be off in the city, so be prepared to use your manual lap button when you see the mile marker signs. Ensure that you are running on effort and not freaking out about your watch pace swinging high and low.
Settle in to your pace. This section doesn’t have any major hills and you”ll be all amped up so it’s easy to over run your goal pace.
But doing that will result in struggling to maintain your goal pace later. So try not to spend a lot of time weaving in mile one, just try to dial in to your goal pace and how it feels.
Remember weaving adds distance and energy to your race.
Some recommend starting 10-20 seconds slower and this is a good option. We know that even pacing from start to finish is the best way to have a PR, so don’t try to bank time or make up time.
Cobblestones are going to happen. These are harder on the feet and the legs because it’s a bit more like trail running.
Keep your eyes focused about 5 feet in front of you so that your brain can process what’s coming and prevent tripping. This is far more effective to maintain your pace than looking down at your feet.
You’re now starting to get in to the rolling hills.
Remember that with hills our goal is to maintain an even effort level. That means you might slow down a little going uphill to prevent your HR from climbing extra high and burning through more energy, but then you’ll pick up the pace coming back downhill.
100% you need to have been on top of your fueling before you hit this point. But also, try taking a quick swig of carbs or an energy chew because that will help tell your brain it’s got energy.
Good news for all of you, no longer is the half marathon on the same day, so no worries folks aren’t peeling off. But this the point where crowds are going to slowly start dropping.
However, you are doing a gorgeous run along the river and if you can take that in it will boost your spirits. The closer you get back to the city center, the more the crowds will pick up again.
Without the crowds it’s actually a great time to check in on your form, your fueling and your effort level!
This section is out and back, so you’ll be seeing runners both ahead of and behind you. It can actually be a big boost to give people a high five or a wave or just a “we got this”. Seriously, it’s crazy how these things can shift your mindset.
This section also has small rollers, so keep going with trying to hold that steady effort.
ABSOLUTELY take that last gel if you haven’t. It will help with that final bit.
**NOTE: Watch for potholes miles 13-18 and try not to run on the side of the road. It’s cambered and that will aggravate the IT Band.
**Bonus Miles 19-21 are a PARTY!!! Soak it in, take all this energy and let it pick you up.
This is it. Time to give it everything you have left. Hold on for dear life if you’re feeling a little low or try picking up the pace if you realize you have some energy left.
The course does finish on a slight uphill, but the energy of the crowds and the “OH MY GOD” I’m done will make it feel like nothing compared to all the hill repeats you did in training!!
Philadelphia Marathon Course Review
I know I love getting the pro’s and con’s before picking a race, especially 26.2 miles. So hopefully this breakdown of the Philadelphia marathon will be helpful.
- Fewer turns than many marathons, which makes it easier to maintain pace
- Course is beautiful along the river (I loved seeing the rowing teams on the water!)
- High five with Bart Yasso at the start line!
- Running past a lot of amazing historic sites(hello Rocky steps!!)
- I have never seen so many spectators throughout an entire course
- Perfect marathon weather with a cool start, never getting too hot or too cold
- Generally easy course with only a couple of hills
- Great course for spectators with bike! A path runs alongside most of the course, so they can get to the far points of the course. Or can simply stay on foot around downtown.
- Long sleeve finisher shirt (seriously stellar)
- Lots of beer on offer during the course for those who are just having a fun day
- Lack of porta potties…HUGE lines at the beginning and then miles without one or huge lines again
- Road is cambered in many places, so for IT Band folks this race could hurt
- Post race food was almost non-existent the year I did it. But I’ve heard now there is chicken broth and pretzels, so I hope that’s the case!
- Shirt sizing was way off. The small looks like it should fit a linebacker…darn it I want to wear my shirt!
All of that aside, I would recommend this course and potentially run it again! It’s still one of my favorites of the 9 marathons that I’ve run, even if it wasn’t my fastest.
Looking for more marathon training information?
- Post marathon recovery plan
- Marathon Checklist
- Marathon Pace Chart
- Marathon gear ideas – for all weather!
My Race Recap
Not that most of you care about this, but in some ways this crazy blog is like a journal of my running life. So I wanted to have this place to look back on it!!
This has been MANY years ago now, so it’s been a lot of fun to coach athletes through it since then and learn so much that I wish I had done better.
Goal: Start and finish with a smile
Outfit: Slightly overdressed in my fear of the cold, but luckily I found David to pass off my hat and gloves around the three mile mark. I tossed my lovely Odwalla jacket as we go started (thank goodness for throw away clothes!).
Welcome to the necessary blurry, dark, pre-race selfie. Finish Time: 4:34
Avg pace of miles run: 9:48
Avg pace of miles walked: 13 something…there was shuffling happening here
Weirdest Sign: “Worst parade ever”
Best Outfit: Lots of spectators in animal costumes, a little bizarre but fun
Aid Stations: Plentiful and if you are a beer fan there were some lovely folks providing that too
Money spent at expo: $42
I made two unfortunate mistakes in this race:
A. Assuming my shoes could be trashed post race…they were done before I started. This resulted in my knees just really hurting because the shoe was well past it’s use by date.
B. Downhill – I practiced hills on the treadmill since there are none in Florida so I powered up those like I always have, but the downhill running hurt.
By mile 6 I knew I should probably turn off at the half because my knees were so sore, but I also knew I would be frustrated with that decision and I was really enjoying myself. At the 12 mile point where folks were turning right for the half I stayed left and kept on truckin’, what’s another 14 miles anyways.
I was able to see David so much more during this race because Abby’s husband Brent showed him around on the bike! This made it a lot of fun for both him and me…honestly it always makes me smile to see him out there. Let’s play Where’s Waldo, can you find me?
Besides that I was just enjoying the course and when I hit 22, I stuck to my mental agreement and allowed myself to walk. Those last 4 miles were long and my knees were really sore, but I felt bad because speedy folks were waiting on me, so I started to shuffle every 5 minutes or so…literally I didn’t even know I was capable of a 12 min mile, but that was all the legs had in them.
I’m immensely proud of myself for being able to enjoy this race without the pressure of worrying about time.
My Garmin also chose to die about mile 25, so I had no idea what my actual finish time was. It didn’t matter much because training run or not, I had just finished marathon #5! Me with my inspirational running pals Abby and Laurie.
After meandering through the never ending finishers chute, I said hi to Emily who was rockin her tutu and crutches; then we walked about a mile to brunch where the fast folks had been waiting for awhile. What can I say, I warned everyone this wasn’t a PR day. :)
Thanks to everyone for all the well wishes on race day! I truly appreciated it even if I knew it wasn’t a “race” for me. Hopefully recovery is speedy and we’ll see what I can do at the Houston marathon.
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