Philadelphia Marathon Course Preview
A flat, fast course where PRs happen
Once you’ve run the Philadelphia Marathon or Half Marathon, you’ll have no doubt that this city is about more than just cheese steaks. With weather that’s (almost) always perfect, a reasonably flat course and tremendous spectators, the Philadelphia Marathon makes PR’s happen – and still gives you a great experience when they don’t. It’s been a special favorite of the Clif Bar Pace Team for years – and for more than the cheese steaks.
The start of the race is at 17th and Arch Streets; just look for the avenue lined with international flags. As always, we’ll be lined up along the right hand side of the street with our finish time signs and balloons about 30 minutes prior to the start. The Philadelphia starting area is very crowded and therefore critical for your safety, and everyone else’s, that you line up in your assigned corral. Be prepared for a chilly start; though Philadelphia almost always delivers ideal running conditions, it takes a few hours to get there. Have plenty of throwaways to keep comfortable, and hold on to at least one of them for the first several miles.
After the traditional remarks from Mayor Nutter and Runners World’s Bart Yasso, you’ll be headed off into Center City Philadelphia, toward the iconic LOVE statue and fountain before turning onto Arch Street. Be careful in your first mile. Not only is it crowded, but as you approach the statue and fountain, there are some challenging turns and medians. Watch yourself, and those around you.
Your first three miles will take you past many famous Philly sites: the Terminal Market, Independence Hall, Constitution Center and the US Mint. From there, you’ll head down toward Penn’s Landing and the pier as you approach the mile 3 marker. Here’s the reason for hanging onto those throwaways – it’s often chilly down here by the river, and in colder years, best to wait until you’ve passed this area to officially toss those throwaways.
Past the river, you’ll make your way into a residential neighborhood. The terrain will remain flat to mildly rolling, but the streets will narrow significantly, presenting another opportunity to be especially careful of your footing. Coming out of the residential area, you’ll spend the next several miles working your way towards and through downtown Philadelphia. This area is a BIG DEAL, and is definitely going to present your first big challenge of the race: there are huge crowds, loud music, high energy and flat to downhill pavement.
Your inclination is going to be to FLY through this section – all signs will be screaming GO! Instead, you’re going to tuck in behind your pace leader and follow their lead. That’s likely going to mean slowing down, and that’s okay. Remember, this is supposed to feel good the first ten miles or so!
So go ahead and tuck in, relax, and enjoy everything going on around you. You’ll have plenty of chances to work hard later – and you’ll actually get a chance to practice in just another mile or so.
Another highlight of the Philadelphia course is up next: Drexel University. It’s enough that the campus is beautiful, but we also have to give a huge shout-out to the fraternity houses on campus, because they throw a marathon party unlike any other. Yes, it’s 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, but these fine lads are up and ready to cheer you on through campus – and they do it well. Soak up that energy, because you’ll be climbing through most of Drexel, running on a moderate hill from mile 7 through mile 8. The climb includes a bridge crossing, but it’s worth it - as you come down, you’ll be treated to amazing views of the zoo and the river, fog permitting.
The climbing fun has not stopped yet, though; you’re facing a long climb through a beautiful part now until mile 9. It’s an absolutely gorgeous section of the course, tree-lined and picturesque, but you may find yourself wishing for a little extra oxygen. Once again, tuck in behind your pace leader, and let their pacing, energy and encouragement pull you through this section of harder work. Bonus: you’ll get to run down the other side of the hill from about 9.25 miles until 10, so you don’t need to worry if you lose a little contact on the way up. Open those legs up just a little bit as you head down towards mile 10, and get ready to fuel up – this is where you’ll find our first Clif SHOT energy zone!
At mile 10, we’ve got a good news/bad news situation for you. The terrain is going to level out, and your legs will have a few miles to recover from that climbing. Your mental skills, however, are going to get their own workout now, as we head into the two and a half most challenging miles of the course – a boring straightaway run along the Expressway. This is an especially difficult challenge for our half marathoners, as they are reaching their maximum exertion here, with only sparse crowds and minimal scenery. Your pace leader will take over here, and do their best to entertain and drag you along these next two miles until you see a beautiful sight – the famous Art Museum! The half marathoners are headed to their finish(!) – and the full marathoners have got half their race in the bag with a major cheering zone straight ahead.
As the half marathoners break off for the finish line, the full marathoners will be treated to a huge boost of energy, with music and cheering crowds lining the streets as they head out on their second half. It’s not without challenges; almost immediately past the halfway point, marathoners face a STEEP, lung-searing climb. Your leader will adjust the pace appropriately here, and if we lose anything on this short but steep climb, we’ll make it up gradually over the second half.
You’ll twist along the road on the far side of boathouse row now until mile 17, steadily climbing. For an added bit of motivation, you’ll get to see the front runners – and those behind you – on the opposite side of the street. Be careful about doing too much cheering though, and remember that YOU need your energy for the second half.
After a mild but steady climb to mile 17 and the Falls Bridge, you’ll veer left on a second out-and-back (within the out-and-back you’re on), over a second bridge and out to a cheer station. You’ll reconnect with the main out-and-back course at about 17.3 miles, and face another mild but steady climb for three more miles to Manayunk. While spectators will initially be sparse, your pace leader will work hard to keep you engaged, motivated and entertained until we get to that little town called Manayunk, because that little town throws a HUGE party!
As you run through the Manayunk mile and turnaround, which goes from about 19.75 to 21, soak in all the energy you possibly can. This party, this energy, this music, is what’s got to carry you through those final five miles back to the Art Museum. It’s slightly downhill now – but the problem is, the downhill never seems as steep as the uphill was. Just tuck in behind those balloons and draw on the energy of the group. Find one or two people within the group to work with and then just hold on. Out of Manayunk. Past the second Clif SHOT zone at mile 22. Back to Falls Bridge. Along the river. And on the near side of Boathouse Row, with just one and a half miles and a slight climb to go.
Finally, at last, you’ll hear the music and see the Art Museum again – and this time, you get to stop there too. Raise your head high, sit just a little deeper in your quads, and push up that final hill before sprinting to the finish, arms raised high in honor of yourself and the city’s iconic hero, Rocky. And don’t forget to hobble over to the Rocky statue for a special finisher’s photo: he’s almost always wearing his very own Philadelphia Marathon race shirt.
Congratulations on your very own Rocky moment! You did it!
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