Saturday, November 15, 2014

Does the Philadelphia Marathon need fixing?

Excellent piece yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer by high school friend Jen Miller:

It should be noted that I love the Philly Marathon.  I've run it five times and set a PR every time.  It was my first marathon back in 2005, and my most recent.  I love it for the memories I have, I love it because it is my hometown race, and I love it for its size - big enough to feel special but without the insanity and logistics of races like in New York and Chicago.  So I was unaware that it needed fixing.

But Jen makes some excellent points.  The half and full should be separated and run on separate days. The half was only introduced in 2009 and has since begun to dilute the experience of the full, so it's time to return to the basics and give the full the attention it needs.

Jen also mentions that the race is run out of the Mayor's office, and there is no reason what should be the premiere event of Philly's racing season should not have its own staff and race director.  There is no reason this race should not be selling out well in advance after years of doing so, and when so many marathons around the country continue to do so.

So how can it return to "sell-out shape"?  Concentrate on the runners.

If you want to attract more runners, start with the elites.  The winner of the Philadelphia Marathon receives a mere $3,500.  For comparison, the Houston Marathon, mentioned in the article, doles out $40,000 to its winner.  Money talks, and the more prize money offered, the better the elite field.  With a more varied elite field of high profile runners, including speaking and signing engagements at the expo, it's possible this will energize the middle and back-of-the-packers.

The course could definitely use an upgrade.  There is a little nub around mile 17 that detours across the Falls Bridge, down a hill, hangs a complete 180 in the middle of the street, then back up the hill and across the bridge again.  Completely unnecessary.  And the stretches up and down the Kelly Drive do get pretty lonely (though without the twists and turns of downtown, it does let runners settle into a consistent pace and essentially run on cruise control for a bit).  In order to increase crowd support, they should keep the course in the city's residential areas allowing for easier access to the course.

Finally, runners need better amenities.  I hate finishing the marathon and finding nothing more than a green banana, some pretzels and chicken broth.  Make the finish line a celebration of the marathon itself and give me a reason to stick around.  Provide a post race beer and/or a concert, and I'll hang out around all afternoon.

At the end of the day, I've never run a big city, world class marathon, so it'll be interesting to gain some comparison once I run Boston this spring.

Have you run Philly?  What would you change?

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