While most of your running friends in other cities (NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, AC, DC) have already finished their big races and are resting comfortably on the weekends—no more long training runs, no more tapering, just kicking back and looking forward to some Thanksgiving face stuffing—you still have some work to do before that heavy, glistening Philly Marathon “Finisher” medal gets draped around your neck.
I’ve been thinking about the race a lot lately so I thought I’d wrangle up a quick check list/guide to help the first-timer breeze through the Philly 26.2.
First off, I’m a big fan of the race and I really love the course. It’s mostly-flat, fairly fast and very scenic with top-notch crowd and volunteer support. Overall, the event is less-intimidating than other big marathons and has a mellower vibe. There’s not an abundance of corporate sponsors plastering their ads and logos everywhere. Kudos to the main sponsor GORE-TEX® for keeping it pretty low key. The organizers and crowd generate just the right amount of excitement to encourage you without stressing you the hell out. Maybe I’m just being a homer but I always tell people the Philly Marathon is the best first marathon to run.
Okay, before we stretch those calves and lace ‘em up, let’s do a little prep.
Health & Fitness Expo
I really like this marathon expo, it’s big and friendly and there are lots of smiling people to help you get your bib and goodie bag quickly. There are also many vendors—big and small—hawking their wares (high-end running headphones, energy drinks, affordable sunglasses, ergonomic socks!) and related and unrelated services (massages, gait analysis, financial advisement!). It’s a good time traipsing about and sucking it all in, it’s like a funnel-cake-free carnival for healthy people. Most importantly, this expo has good quality Official Marathon Apparel (stylish designs, nice colors).
I always get a cap and a long sleeve cotton shirt to put on after my post-marathon shower. I need to look good as I lie on the couch and devour bagels and potato chips all day long. I usually wear the shirt every day (with the medal) for at least a week because I’ve earned it and love to talk about it (kidding, kind of).
Try to get to the expo on Friday if you can, it’s much less crowded than Saturday. Plus Reading Terminal Market is next door, a great way to kick start your carbo-loading weekend.
Cheap Sneaks! If you are in need of new gear, especially sneakers, definitely check out the various vendor booths. There are some impressive deals. I usually pay about $120 for my Brooks Adrenalines, and I have gotten pairs here for about $60! Also make sure to pick up some cheap, disposable mesh running gloves. Speaking of gear…
It might be a little chilly on Sunday so here are some of my race day necessities:
- Body Glide – Put it all over your body—upstairs and downstairs—to prevent chafing and bleeding. It really works well protecting your body, for your face…
- Vaseline – Once the temps hit 40ish and below I always slather petroleum jelly on my nose, lips, philtrum and cheeks. Like the Body Glide, it really works well and keeps the nasty red wind burn off your precious face.
- Bag Check – While many people like to wear an extra layer when starting the race and tossing it away during the race, I think you should just suck it up and check your extra clothes with your bag about 20 minutes before the gun. The Philly Marathon uses UPS trucks for bag check and they are extremely helpful and easy to find before and after the race. Make sure you bring your bag check number with you; it is connected to your bib. Don’t take it off until you get there.
- Clothes – I usually wear a lightweight hat or cap, a tee, a long sleeve shirt, shorts and gloves. Your body heats up pretty quickly even on cold runs, so I like to underdress a little.
- Stuff! – Do not forget your: headphones, phone/iPod, fuel packs, fuel belt, water bottles, keys, gloves, sunglasses, lip balm and some form of ID just in case you need help along the way.
Tip! Lay your clothes out and pack your bag the night before so you’re not a groggy spaz stumbling around in the morning.
Stick to what you eat before long runs. Race day is not the best time to experiment with your body! Pasta the night before is always a good choice. For the morning? My faves:
- peanut butter and jelly on wheat (super food!)
- granola bar
- Tofurky slices
Race Day Morning
The race starts at 7:00am so get your butt there by 6:00am so you have time to stretch, check your bag and of course, go to the bathroom! Even if you don’t have to go right away, get in the queue ASAP, the lines get very long quickly. Sadly, I have written about the importance of pre-race pooping.
I don’t like carrying much when I run, I just take advantage of the fluid stations where they hand out water, Gatorade and GU packs.
Pace Groups – If you have a good idea what pace you want to run or a time you want to finish, running with a pace group is not a bad idea. Pace groups have a leaders who are always super nice people who hold little yellow flags with “3:30 Pace” or “4:10 Pace” the entire race. Follow that person the best you can and you won’t have to stare at your dumb, nagging GPS every five minutes.
Beginning – It’s a little crowded once your corral makes its way to the starting line but after mile two or so you’ll find some breathing room. You run through lots of great Philly neighborhoods in the first 7 miles, including South Philly, Olde City, Historic District, Center City and University City. The crowd support is insane, especially down Chestnut Street.
Inclines – Miles 7.5 to 9 there is a gradual incline as you run up 34th street from Drexel campus, pass the zoo and climb into Fairmont Park. Once you’re at Mile 9, you are greeted with the steepest incline on the course but don’t worry, it’s only about a ¼ mile tops and you come out near the Please Touch Museum where there is water, GU packs and a couple port-a-potties. Then it’s a nice downhill jog onto MLK drive where you run along the river until you get to the halfway point (and bid adieu to the half-marathoners). Around Mile 21 you’ll also hit a slight incline coming out of Manayunk, where you’ll be offered a beer. I recommend a sip to be polite and to say “Hey, I drank a beer during a marathon!” but only a sip. Do not derail your last five miles because of beer!
Photography – Every few miles you will see photographers who are taking official race photos to sell to you for and extravagant amount of money. So pay attention—this is VERY IMPORTANT—keep your eyes peeled and when you see a camera, pick up your pace, smile and give TWO THUMBS UP no matter how crappy you feel—it’s a lot of fun after the race to see if you can get an All Thumbs Up gallery. I’m getting good at this. It’s a nice diversion.
Signs and High-Fivers – Many people hold up signs. Most are funny and good! Little kids and college students LOVE to high-five, definitely do not leave them hanging. Again, nice diversions.
Courtesy – Be polite to the staff and other runners! If you need to spit or do something else gross, give a quick look behind you and pull over to the side before you do. Thank everyone who is handing you drinks and cleaning up your cups. They are all volunteers and the majority of them are smiling and insanely supportive and fun.
The Philly Marathon has a really awesome ending. The last mile wraps around the Schuylkill River, past historic Boat House Row and the Philadelphia Art Museum and finishes a couple hundred yards down the Ben Franklin parkway. It’s really majestic and inspiring (tons of people cheering) and gives you just enough motivation for that last kick. I always sprint in the last fifty yards no matter how horrible I feel. And boy oh boy, have I felt horrible a couple times.
Lastly, don’t forget to high-five Mayor Nutter at the finish line, grab your medal, get your bag and enjoy some much-needed hugs (walking support).
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Written in 2014, updated for 2015