Many runners describe being in a happy and euphoric state after completing a run, which is commonly known as a runner’s high. As you push your body, it releases endorphins, a natural painkiller, to override the discomfort it is feeling. Well folks, my endorphins must have been on overload after my first half marathon, because I signed up for a second one within days of returning home from California. Clearly I had already forgotten about the pure agony felt the last few miles of the race, let alone my not being able to stand up on my own or get up and down stairs without crawling like a toddler in the days following.
Since I had just spent a ton of money flying across the country for my first half, it seemed like a wise decision to find one closer to home this time. I hadn’t yet discovered the local running club or joined the zillion and a half groups on Facebook to get ideas, but had heard about the Philadelphia LOVE Run Half from a high school friend who was already signed up. They had held their inaugural event that spring.
I checked out their website and all of the swag that they gave out, as well as the course that is partially in the city and partially in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River, and decided why not, let’s go for it! The timing was perfect, as it was only a couple of months after my half in California, so I just needed to maintain my training during that time.
To keep me motivated, I also signed up for a local 5K and a crazy local adventure race that involves a 5 mile run and 2 mile canoe.
Just one major issue with this plan! My shins were not on board with this re-gained love for running. I was barely making it half a mile from my house and was in so much pain I would need to turn around and go back home. This was later diagnosed as Tibial Stress Syndrome from over striding. My training for this race was borderline non-existent though and when race weekend rolled around I made the hard decision to not run. How on earth was I going to make it 13.1 miles, if I couldn’t make it one mile away from my house. I messaged my friend and apologized and said I was going to bail.
I made the trip that Saturday in the pouring rain down to Philly to at the very least pickup my shirt and mug that I had paid for. I was in and out as quickly as possible, not stopping to check out the gear for sale or take photos in front of the big backdrops. Not running was already painful enough for my ego, having to just politely say thank you to all the “Good Luck”’s from the volunteers and watch all the happy runners enjoying the event was just torture.
Later that night, my friend messaged me and said why don’t you just come down in the morning anyway, and see how you feel. You could at least start and do the first four mile loop around the city and if you are in pain it’s a short walk back to the start/finish area and you can drop out before you do the longer out and back along the river. I reluctantly agreed, got my gear ready and went to bed.
Being insanely nervous and not really sure of how traffic would be, I was up and out the door MUCH earlier than was necessary. What would normally have been a good 40 minute drive into the city took at most 25 minutes. We agreed to meet at the parking garage that is a short walk from the art museum and not affected by the closed off streets of the course. So I sat in my car to stay warm and waited for her to arrive.
Mother nature, despite it being spring, decided to bless us with 27 degree temperatures that morning. A big change from my half in California where I was able to run in shorts and a tank top in November.
We both bundled up and headed towards the start area at Eakins Oval to run a little warm up and file into our corrals.
Knowing my legs were hurting and I wasn’t going to be running fast, I opted to move back a few corrals with a slower pace group. I may have moved back a little too far though. The gun went off for our wave and the pace was borderline a walk, and was an actual walk around the first turn because it was so crowded. I was slightly annoyed by this feeling of being crammed in like sardines, but it actually worked in my favor. It gave my legs a chance to warm up and my shin muscles to loosen up without overdoing it.
Not having run in the city before, I was doing my best to enjoy the scenery as we ran down around Logan Circle towards City Hall and the famous LOVE statue! A few people running near me were not from the area and were trying to pick out various landmarks along the way, making me realize how lucky I am to live near such a historic city.
We continued on our way past City Hall and weaved down Filbert to 20th Street and around to Market heading all the way down to Independence National Park where the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the newly built Constitution Center are located before looping back towards the Art Museum via Arch Street and Chinatown with the colorful Friendship Gate.
At this point, we were now just over three miles into the race and while my shins weren’t great, they didn’t feel like someone was hitting them with sledge hammers. I had one more mile to decide if I was going to keep going or drop out at the Art Museum and call it a day. The next part of the course was an out and back totalling nine miles. If you got four miles out and decided you couldn’t finish, the only way back was a four mile return walk or a ride in the sweep van that picks up any runners who are injured or unable to finish in the required time limit.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am stubborn, so I rolled the dice and kept going!
Despite this part of the course running directly next to I-76 aka the Schuylkill Expressway aka the Surekill, the view to the right is actually quite pretty! You have the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fairmount Water Works and the famous Boathouse Row.
Don’t get too distracted looking at the sights though, as not long after you head into the more wooded area of Fairmount Park, you will come to the one and only major hill on the course just shy of mile eight. It’s a sneaky bugger, especially if you failed to review the elevation map for the course and also managed to completely block out your days of High School Cross Country meets there running up Parachute Hill at Belmont Plateau.
There you are, just minding your own business, watching the much faster runners who have already made the turn around and are heading back towards the finish line, when BAM, 100 feet of elevation on a single short hill, hiding off behind the trees, comes and smacks you in the face! This is basically just the ramp from the trail up to the Strawberry Mansion Bridge but at mile eight feels like Mount Everest!
Having made it this far along the course and not yet stopping to walk, I was determined to get up this thing without stopping, despite the very tempting water stop that is setup halfway up the hill.
At this point, the race was like an episode of The Walking Dead (or so I imagine, I am the 1% of the population who has never seen a single episode). People were dropping like flies. If the race had put a swear jar at the top, the Race Director would have been taking an all expense paid trip to Hawaii once the day was over. It was bad. In my pure state of exhaustion though, I overheard someone who appeared to be a coach or trainer lovingly yelling at the person next to them that no, they were not walking and to just focus on the back of their shirt and keep moving up the hill behind them. I decided to hop on the back of this train and followed them up, weaving through and dodging other runners as they came to a complete stop with zero warning.
Holy moley, we did it! We made it to the top of the hill without stopping! Thank you random strangers for pulling me along! Phew, now I can catch my breath!
Wait. Why is the road still going up hill??
I really should have studied that elevation map better! What I thought would even out to a flat loop instead was a long gradual uphill, that looped up around Strawberry Mansion bringing you back to the bridge. From here, you make your way back down to trail level for a short out and back before the return trip down MLK Drive towards the finish line.
Don’t worry, it’s pretty much flat for the remainder of the race, until the final sneaky but short hill that connects you from MLK Drive up into Eakins Oval where the finish line awaits.
This final stretch along the river seems like an eternity, because you can see the Art Museum that sits behind the finish line for well over a mile before you get to it. Thankfully you have Boathouse Row and the Water Works as well as a good view of the Zoo Balloon going up and down to distract you again.
It was happening though, I was finishing this race! I made my way up the little hill and into Eakins Oval, down the final stretch across the finish line, stopping my watch after crossing over the timing mats.
Wait a second. Does that say 2:22:50?? Why yes, it does! Not only did I manage to actually run the entire race, but I ran without stopping AND got a new personal best in the process!
The moral of this story, don’t get discouraged and let a little setback crush your goals!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another race, or twenty, to sign up for!
(Note: It appears the race directors may have modified the course since this review was posted and removed the crazy big hill at mile 8).
Official Race Website: Philadelphia Love Run Half Marathon
Weather: I have run this race three out of the five years it’s been held and the weather has sucked every single time. Not anything the race can control of course, but be prepared! The first time it was in the 20’s on the start, the second time it was only slightly warmer but with heavy winds making it unbearably cold and the third time it was nice and warm…but pouring. Just come prepared for all weather possibilities and you will be fine!
Hotels: I live close enough I usually stay at home and drive in the morning of, so check the race website for hotels offering discounts. Book early! Hotels in Philly are not cheap and the few that are walk-able to the start and finish line fill up quickly!
Closest Airport: Philadelphia International (12 miles to the start area or 25-35 minutes depending on the time of day). You can take a taxi, Uber or Lyft or ride the SEPTA line in if you prefer the train and want to save a little money.
Transportation: A rental car is not needed for the area unless you plan to venture out beyond the city. There is a bus, train and subway system (SEPTA) but you are better off taking a taxi or Uber/Lyft. If you do choose to take the subway for some reason, please be aware that the majority of both lines do run through some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, so ride with caution.
Safety: Like any major city you should be aware of your surroundings at all times when walking around, especially at night. Center City is fairly safe but not without crime. Generally try to avoid the subway lines at night (The Broad Street/Orange Line from City Hall heading South to NRG Station at the stadiums is generally safe) and avoid any of the below street level tunnels around city hall during all hours. Stop signs are more of a suggestion for locals within the city. If out running, be very careful crossing streets, as most locals will just glance and keep rolling through. Err on the side of caution and assume they won’t stop!
Places to Eat:
Reading Terminal Market – It’s directly across Arch street from packet pickup at the Convention Center!
They have anything and everything you could dream of for food options. It’s quite frankly hard to make a bad choice there, unless of course you opt for the boring salad bar, in which case we can’t be friends anymore. Fair warning, it can be a bit overwhelming, especially on a weekend with a big event in town. Be prepared for wall to wall people and long lines and don’t be afraid to politely push your way through the center of the aisles to get around, or you may end up living there for ever. Which let’s be real, wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.
Even as a local, I have eaten my fair share of Pat’s and Geno’s Cheesesteaks (usually when guests are in town and insist I take them there), and trust me, you can find better, without the attitude or the parking nightmare! Instead go to any local pizza shop around town for a much better tasting cheesesteak…and probably better customer service. If you do make the trek to Pats or Genos, they are cash only! Also, be sure to check out the ordering etiquette on Pat’s website linked above before you get in line. I have seen a lot of miss-information floating about social media of how to properly order. The “wit” or “wit-out” refers to the onions, not the cheese.
(Mostly) Historical Things to do:
This is a self guided tour with a lot of neat information on the history of the bell. Admission is free (no tickets are required) but you will need to go through a security screening to enter.
Located in Old City, you can tour the home of Betsy Ross who sewed the first American Flag. I have been through this home many times and have always enjoyed it! The house is fully decorated still and shows what life would have been like in those times. Tours are a super affordable $5 for adults ($8 if you choose the audio version). Please be aware, due to the nature of the old home, it has many tight narrow stairwells and is not accessible by wheelchair or stroller.
Also located in Old City, this national historic landmark is America’s oldest residential street and it’s super tiny and adorable! Be sure to check out the museum which is only open on weekends and a steal at $3 for a self guided tour!
While I won’t 100% say don’t go to Independence Hall, I personally was not a fan of the experience. The majority of your time is spent in a classroom prior to entering the actual hall. Once inside though, you are very quickly rushed through the two rooms on display and back outside. If you have some free time, go ahead. If not, there are plenty of other worthy historical attractions to check out. If you decide to go, you will need a timed entry ticket which can be obtained on site that morning or online/via phone. Tickets are free if you obtain them the day of at the Independence Visitors Center or are $1.00 if obtained ahead of time online.
I know, I know, you JUST ran. But seriously, it’s SO pretty there! Even if your legs can’t handle any more running, at least go take a leisurely stroll along the main trail called Forbidden Drive to stretch out your legs. It was an actual road back in the day but is now closed off to all vehicle traffic (with the exception of a short section where cars share the trail to get to the parking lot at Valley Green Inn) hence the name, Forbidden Drive. You will find a red covered bridge, a few stone bridges, the historic Valley Green Inn and the occasional horse trotting past from the stables at the north end. If you go, be sure to check out Cedars House Cafe and tell Jenny I sent you! You can easily get there by Uber/Lyft.
There are honestly so many things to do in Philadelphia my list could be longer than my race review! Instead here is a link to the Visit Philly website so you can explore additional options! Feel free to reach out via the contact form if you need help planning or additional info!