In the days leading up to the New York City Marathon, I found myself reading a lot of New Yorker’s blog posts that gave course and logistic insight on the race, as well as some general NYC tips. These posts were so helpful for me, and made me think I could pay it forward and provide the same for the Philadelphia Marathon.
I ran the Philadelphia Marathon half in 2008, and the full in 2012.
My recap of the full is here (my previous blog). I think the City puts on a great race and the course is an awesome way to see Philadelphia, the new and the old. One thing to note about last year’s run for me – you’ll see in my recap how disappointed I was about missing a PR – it turns out I had a 20-second PR!
Held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Philadelphia Marathon Expo is pretty impressive. There are some great vendors and it’s a nice layout. If you are driving in, the parking garages in the block immediately around it are typically full, so what I often do is take 12th St beyond Market St and park in the garage on the left side. It’s an extra block to walk, but it’s better than driving around in circles. If you hit Chestnut Street you’ve gone too far. Before or after you go through the Expo, make sure you walk across the street to Reading Terminal Market and grab lunch. It will be crowded, but the selection is incredible and it’s a historical site.
P.S. I will be volunteering at the Expo on Saturday from 3:30 to 7:30, handing out runner bibs. If you are there at that time say hi!
I have no insight on race day parking because for my previous Philly races I’ve stayed in a hotel the night before and walked to the start. It will be dark as you make your way to the start line. There are porta potties in the grass on the western side of Ben Franklin Parkway, and I believe there are some closer to the Art Museum on the eastern side. The bag check is close to the Art Museum steps. I was a little late getting into my corral, and wound up walking through at least two that were ahead of mine before settling in with one corral ahead of my own. I think there were volunteers checking to make sure you were in the correct corral, so my experience is an exception. I would bet that they will be diligent in checking bibs this year.
The first six miles are relatively easy, with some moderate ups and downs. You’ll pass the LOVE sculpture at mile marker 1, Penn’s Landing around mile marker 3, Fat Tuesday on South St between 4 and 5. Just before mile marker 7, there’s a little climb leading you into University City. Frat houses will be out to cheer for you (LOUDLY!), possibly still partying from the night before! Going into mile 8, 9 and 10, be prepared for some hills. They’ll start as you pass the Zoo, and you’ll go up and down a couple times until you pass Memorial Hall (where the Please Touch Museum is). You’ll be relieved to get through those hills! MLK Drive will be quiet, with fewer crowds than anywhere previously. As you pass in front of the Art Museum, say good bye to the half marathon-ers, from this point on, only the full marathon runners will be out. You’re going out Kelly Drive to Manayunk and back, with only a brief branch-off after the Falls Bridge. Lots of crowds line most of Kelly Drive, especially in Manayunk! Between 18 and 21 there are a couple rolling hills, but nothing like what you saw from 8 to 10. There is an orange station in this section, if you are fast enough! Sadly, I didn’t make it there in time. From 21 until nearly 26, the course will be pretty flat. The last half mile you’ll have a gradual climb, that will pinnacle when you reach the front of the Art Museum, at which point you’ll see the Finish line!
What to see in Philly
If you’re a history buff, take some time to visit the Old City section of town, where you’ll find Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Shrine, and the National Constitution Center. If you like science and technology, check out the Franklin Institute on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, or for some medical oddities, visit the Mutter Museum. If you like animals, the Philadelphia Zoo is a must-see – it was the first zoo in the country! If you want to see a show, check out Walnut Street Theatre or the Academy of Music. Walnut Street is currently putting on a production of Elf which sounds so fun! If you have kids, I’ve heard the Please Touch Museum is great to visit. For art-lovers, the Philadelphia Art Museum is more than just a bunch of steps you’ve seen in a couple Rocky movies. The collection is impressive. I can never explain why, but I like the Armory exhibit in particular, as well as the Pennsylvania collection. There also is The Barnes, with a nice collection of post-impressionist and early modern paintings.
Where to Eat
Philly has an abundance of outstanding eating establishments. If you want an authentic Philly cheesesteak, Pat’s, Geno’s and Tony Luke’s are the places to check out. In China town (roughly 9th and 10th streets between Cherry and Filbert) there is a plethora of Asian dining. If you are looking for celebrity chefs, Iron Chef Jose Garces has several restaurants throughout the city. I’ve been to Amada and it’s amazing! Also check out the Starr restaurants – there are fine and casual dining options, and a variety of cuisine types. Personally, I like Jones, partly because I feel like I’m in the Brady Bunch when I’m there. Also good is Buddakan and the Continental. If you are staying near the airport and sports stadiums, you can also drop by Chickie’s and Pete’s, where I recommend the Crab Fries (no crab meat in them, it’s seasoning). On Walnut Street you’ll find Marabella Meatball – with all types of meat (and non-meat!) meatballs – really good! I also LOVE Cuba Libre, so if you’re near Penn’s Landing and looking for something check it out. My final food recommendation is Luke’s Lobster – I love their lobster rolls!
Where to go if you forget anything
In Center City Philly, the Gallery at Market East has a Modell’s, a Kmart, and a mix of other typical mall retailers. You can also peruse Walnut St, where you’ll find stores like Urban Outfitters, Lululemon and Barnes and Noble. Philadelphia Runner and City Sports have multiple locations in the city and the suburbs.
Where to drink some celebratory beers
McGillin’s Olde Ale House is said to be the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia. Mac’s Tavern is owned by Rob McIlhenny of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (sidenote – there’s a deal for Mac’s Tavern on Amazon Local right now). I can’t even list all the bars you’ll find on South Street, but Philly 2 Night has a list. Moriarty’s on Walnut has a nice draft list. Triumph Brewing is in Old City. If you are in the suburbs, check out Iron Hill (several locations). Also, if you are out and see any of these breweries, they are local – Yards, Philadelphia Brewing Co, Victory, Flying Fish, Dock Street Brewing Co, Manayunk Brewery, Sly Fox, Appalachian.
Best of luck on Sunday! And if you’re a Philly local, what would you add to help people enjoy their run on Sunday, and also their visit to town?