Get ready, runners/spectators/inconvenienced motorists: The annual Philadelphia Marathon Race Weekend is upon us.
And be prepared: the event, now in its 23rd year, will be noticeably different from previous years.
In late April, organizers announced that this year's Marathon and Half Marathon - events traditionally held on the same day - would be spread out over Saturday and Sunday. On top of that, the courses for both races were revamped, leaving many new and veteran runners with questions.
Fortunately, we have you covered. We spoke with running coach Mark Sullivan, who has participated in all 22 Philadelphia Marathons since the race's inception in 1993 (and 171 marathons overall), to walk you through it.
Sullivan previewed the new half marathon course, and also shared his personal marathon cheatsheet, to help us create an unofficial course guide.
What to expect: Half Marathon
To start, Sullivan wants to put half-marathoner runners at ease.
Though the changes are significant, Sullivan, 54, said, rest assured: the new course isn’t any harder than previous years.
The first several miles are flatter than previous years, a nice perk, he said.
The uncharted territory for veteran half marathoners starts after Mile 6. As runners make their way toward Strawberry Mansion Bridge, they will be rerouted through Fairmount Park for a five-mile trek.
For those worried about a lack of spectators along this stretch, Sullivan said they will be occupied in other ways.
“I think what you lose in spectator support, you make up for in the beauty of the course,” said Sullivan, of Freebird, Pa. “Getting to run past so many historic places out in Fairmount keeps things very interesting. “
And Sullivan notes that the new elevation will work in favor of runners.
“The course profile is very deceptive,” he said. “It shows three hills but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re running it. I wasn’t even aware of the hill that came before Mile 9 when I did my preview.”
Compared to the old course, the majority of the hills are finished earlier in the race.
“Your highest point comes right around Mile 8 and you peak at around Mile 9, so the last four miles are downhill or flat,” Sullivan said.
Coming out of the park, runners will face a steep and long downhill stretch at Fountain Green Drive just past mile marker 11, “which is great because it puts you on a fast pace to get back on to Kelly Drive,” he added.
The good news: the separation of the two races translates to fewer people using the facilities.
“There will be more room at the water stations and port-a-potties along the way,” Sullivan said. “It should be a better race experience overall.”
What to expect: Full Marathon
For full marathoners, the changes to the new course are more subtle.
And for many runners, some changes are welcome, including the elimination of the dreaded out-and-back on Falls Bridge. And, Sullivan added, this change wipes out a small hill.
One of Sullivan’s favorite spots along the 26.2-mile course comes just after Mile 5 as runners make a left turn onto Chestnut Street from Sixth Street.
“It feels narrow at times because of the big buildings and the heavy crowds but there’s something very fun about that,” Sullivan said. “It makes you feel like you’re really flying through that section.”
But don’t get too caught up in the excitement. Sullivan warned that this is a common spot where runners overextend themselves too early in the race.
“It’s very easy to feed off the energy and pick up your pace on that stretch,” Sullivan said. “But then you see your first hill when you turn right onto 34th street and it hits you hard because you’ve been going too fast for the last two miles. You don’t want to run out of gas early.”
The second half of the marathon is very different from the first. You’ll head out on Kelly Drive, where it’s a much quieter race with a major drop in spectators.
Fortunately, the crowds appear again on a two-mile stretch on Main Street in Manayunk.
“Manayunk is a great place to get your energy back,” Sullivan said.
You also get to size-up the competition, as it's an out-and-back route between Miles 19 and 21.
“If you passed someone a while back and now you’re turning around on the course, you get to check to see where that person is in relation to you,” Sullivan said.
After Manayunk’s Mile 20 turnaround, runners head back onto Kelly Drive for the homestretch.
“I always tell people that the halfway point of a marathon is Mile 20,” Sullivan said. “If you run a smart race, then it’s going to take you as much energy to run the last six miles as it did for the first 20.”
Friday, Nov. 18:
Health and Fitness Expo: pickup race packets between noon and 9 p.m at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Sullivan will be hosting a course preview talk at the Expo on Friday at 5 pm and again on Saturday at 3:15.
Saturday, Nov. 19:
Philadelphia Half Marathon: Participants are expected to gather between 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Wheelchair/handcycle racers should arrive by 7:25 a.m. Runners should arrive by 7:30 a.m.
Rothman Institute 8K: Participants are also expected to gather between 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Wheelchair/handcycle racers should arrive by 10:40 a.m. Runners should arrive by 10:45 a.m.
Kids Fun Run: Participants are also expected to gather between 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Registration is at 10 .m., and the race will take place on 22nd Street at 12:20 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 20:
Philadelphia Marathon: Participants are expected to gather between 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Wheelchair/handcycle racers should arrive by 6:55 a.m. Runners should arrive by 7 a.m.
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