Philadelphia Marathon Course Strategy
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Philadelphia Marathon: The Worst is in West Philly
Fallback Point: Mile 9 (the hills in West Philly will take everyone out)
Note: The 'Fallback point' in a race is the point when the crowd starts breaking up and the people who have gone out too fast start 'falling back'. You will start passing people and it can feel empowering...or disorienting. Be aware so you don't inadvertently pick up the pace or waste energy dodging people!
It's important to note that Philadelphia Marathon is 2 weeks after Daylight Savings Time ends, so be prepared for shorter days and colder nights. For some, this is uncomfortably late in the season when most of the bigger marathons are over; be sure you have a training buddy for those final long runs before you register.
I LOVE PHILADELPHIA. This isn't a popular opinion, but I really and truly LOVE Philadelphia, so I'm totally biased towards this race. It has a few hills, but you NEED those- the 'flat and fast' logic falls apart beyond the 10k distance because the rate of muscular fatigue increases at an increasing rate beyond the one-hour mark. You WANT a few hills here and there in your races just to keep your muscles fresh, give the bigger chains a break.
Every uphill has a downhill, and downhills are FUN. They feel GOOD. They are little breaks peppered throughout the race, so when faced with an uphill tell yourself, 'YAY! downhill coming right up!" and get ready to glide!
The toughest parts of this course are the bigger hills that will slow you way down in West Philadelphia, and the rolling hills on the out-and-back to Manayunk. Those flatten out around the 21-mile mark, save your energy for that! Any time you 'lost' on the hills you can claw back here if you were conservative and banked energy earlier in the race.
Section A (Miles 1-8): PHILLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The race starts near the house I lived in during grad school (21st and Walnut St), and the first section winds through downtown and all my familiar stomping grounds. Rather flat and uneventful unless you happen to LOVE Philadelphia as much as I do. When we cross the Chestnut St Bridge and approach the dogleg right turn on 34th, look left as this is the closest the course will take you to my alma mater UPENN.
Section B (Miles 9-13): Killing Time in West Philadelphia
Before 2010 the only way you’d be safely running in this part of town is in a marathon. The zoo was *sort of* safe, and there were (still are!) some cool privately-owned museums, but no joke it was dangerous here.
Going back to the turn on 34th st, we will run through Drexel’s campus then through the heart of “West Philly”, including the housing projects that gave Philadelphia its bad reputation. This will be the hilliest section of the course, so take it as a gift, lock your cage and bank as much energy as you can for the later part of the race.
Section C (Miles 14-19): Out to Manayunk
Around the halfway point look left and you’ll have a great view of Boathouse Row. You’ll pass the sculpture gardens around Mile 15, and Mile 16 you’ll see the crew finish line for rowing races on the Schuylkill River.
The last thing you’ll see before the turnaround is the Manayunk Bridge, a cute little old rock bridge that stands out (all the others are iron). Prepare yourself for the race to the finish!
Section D (Miles 20-26.2): BACK HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!
I love this section so much, I cannot begin to tell you. I lost my way as a person and as a runner for a few years, then found myself again on this exact trail. I ran out and back on Kelly Drive nearly every day I was in grad school and never got tired of it. The view won’t be quite as nice since you will have runners on your right between you and the water, but by this point the fatigue is setting in and the only view you want is that of the finish line. Lock your cage, settle in and GO. After the 50m uphill bump at mile 21, it’s downhill coasting all the way to mile 25. The final 1.2 miles is uphill, unfortunately, so be prepared for that. NO HEART RATE CAP!!!!!!!!!!!!
Be sure to get a photo with the Rocky Statue! It’s at the bottom of the stairs at the Art Museum, YAY!
Coach MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she trains her runners for $30 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her Marathon Selection Guide!