For those who are interested in running Philly in the future:
The course had a few out and backs (which makes it seem shorter).
The half marathon is also combined with the event, which makes the course more crowded than it should be. As with Yonkers, it is mentally draining to see the half marathoners picking up their pace at Mile 12 and running past you.
The course had been advertised as being flat in the past, but there were slight inclines at a few places, and there was definitely a hill in Fairmount Park around Mile 10.
However, I would recommend the course (it is quite scenic), and I feel it is faster than NYC. Plus, heat will not be an issue. Most of the latter half of the course is run along the Schuykill River, which is pretty, but it can get cold with nothing to block the wind. An early part of the race was run along the Delaware River, also pretty, but can get cold. I'm not sure what the start temperature was, maybe in the 20's?
The start / midpoint / finish were all at the famous Roman architecture-style Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), very picturesque and a joy to run towards.
First Half of the Course
The race began in waves. I was in the 3rd and last wave, which started around 15 minutes after the 1st wave. The race started along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the iconic Philadelphia City Hall. At the circle, we ran along it clockwise and turned onto Arch St (so we didn't run directly next to City Hall, but close enough) [Mile 1], through Old City, past Christ Church around Arch & 4th St, turning left onto 4th St then right onto Race St [Mile 2] towards the Ben Franklin Bridge, then made a right turn onto Columbus Blvd [Mile 3].
Columbus Blvd (a Manhattan Westside Highway feel to it) took us along the Delware River. After that stretch, we re-entered the city area (slight incline until Chestnut St), turning up on Washington Ave [Mile 4], then quickly turning right onto Front St, then left onto South St (cobblestones, see criticism below), then right onto 6th St, and then finally turning left onto Chestnut St [Mile 5]. (Note, the maps they provided us, both hard copy and on the web, are not very good.)
We then had a nice stretch up Chestnut St and over a bridge past the Amtrak 30th Street Station [Mile 7], and turning right onto 34th St through the Drexel University campus [Mile 8], past the Philadelphia Zoo, and into Fairmount Park [Mile 9~11], this is where we encountered a hill (larger than anything in Central Park, but easily surmountable).
We headed back towards the PMA, along the Schuykill River on MLK Drive [Mile 12~13.1], so that the Half runners could finish there.
Second Half of the Course
We ran along the Schuykill [Mile 14~20] on Kelly Dr (slight upgrade) to the suburb of Manayunk, and on its Main St. At Mile 14.5, I was contemplating slowing down my pace and was losing morale because all of the Half runners finishing (5,235 of 12,605 runners). It was at this low point that InnLing spotted me and called out my name and offered me a whole banana. That lifted my spirits and I was able to pick up the pace and continue on. I wasn't expecting to see her, so I was really happy to see her! At Mile 16, I saw Ralph zoom by (he was at Mile 24), then I ran past Betty at Mile 17 (she was at Mile 23). Out & Backs don't bother me, but they do throw me off my concentration as I tend to watch the approaching runners and not focus as much on my portion of the race.
There was limited crowd support along the river, but the town of Manayunk provided enough cheer. There was an Out & Back at exactly Mile 20, then we returned back to the PMA to finish the race. Since I already ran the same exact stretch on the way to Manayunk, I knew how to time the end part of my race, by picking up the pace towards the end.
I knew if I busted butt, I could make a sub-4:40 time. I had been averaging 10~11 min miles, and was able to run sub-9 after the 40K mark, which was to me a sprinting speed. Near the finish, supporters were all bunched up and the course had narrowed. Pretty much at Mile 26.1, I saw and hear Yasu cheer me on. I turned around in joy and told him that I would make a sub-4:40 time. I think he heard me, hahaha.
I heard that the pretzels at the post-race food tent were good. I didn't end up going.
The weather was tricky. Some parts of the race were sunny. Other parts were in the shade, and other parts were windy. I found myself constantly taking off my race cap and putting it back on. Betty said she did the same with her hood.
The aid stations all had both water and Gatorade. They weren't at every mile, but were spaced apart at roughly each 1.5 miles, or at least it felt that way. There were enough aid stations, so hydration was not an issue.
Some minor criticisms about the race
- On Arch St [Mile 1], there were a few parked cars flanking the street. These need to be towed before the race.
- The first water station [Mile 2.5] had very few volunteers, was disorganized, and I practically had to wait for a cup and water at a standstill. This probably also had to do with me having a really bad bib number (8009 for a race with 7280 finishers).
- One portion of Washington Ave [Mile 4] had cobblestone! Most runners (including myself) chose to run on the sidewalk to prevent injury.
- Many of the aid station areas had black ice, which made it very dangerous to run near. A runner in front of me fell hard. I had to slow my jog in order to not slip and injure myself. The organizers should prepare salt to throw on the ground for next time.
- There was no timing mat at the Half Marathon distance (Mile 13.1). It's always good to know your half split, but for this race we'll never know what it was.
- At the Mile 20 turnaround, there was no mat. Ralph mentioned he saw people cheating and turning around earlier. The organizers need to enforce people from not cheating.
- The finish area was very crowded, as supporters were on the course and created a narrow channel that left a running lane of almost 2~3 people wide. I was sprinting at this point and had to weave around people. I think the organizers need to keep a wider path.
- Most of the Mile markers were inaccurate according to my Garmin GPS watch, but I'm sure this is the case with most marathons.
- The medals were handed to up wrapped in plastic. It would've been nice to have them unwrapped and draped on us.
Philly has been my favorite marathon out of the three I've run (2008 Yonkers, 2008 Chicago, & 2008 Philadelphia). I highly recommend it for those looking to run something after next year's NYC marathon, or even for a BQ race. By the time Philly rolls around, you would have had 3 weeks to recover. It's cold, but as I mentioned, once you start pounding the pavement, you'll be fine.
[2008.11.22] Bart Yasso and his wife, Laura, were such nice people and both are avid runners whose passion for running is quite contagious! I enjoyed talked to both of them and hearing about their running experiences.
Bart Yasso & his wife are truly quality individuals and inspirational runners! I highly recommend Bart's "My Life on the Run".