Over 30,000 runners took to the streets of Philadelphia Nov. 19, to tackle the revered 26.2-mile marathon distance. The crowd of neon flooding across the start line at 7 a.m. marked the 63rd annual city marathon, and also a new record number of participants in the race’s history. Watching such a well-executed event take place in the City of Brotherly Love, it’s hard to imagine that the history of the marathon has not always been so successful.
As has become tradition for the Philly marathon, runners faced some challenging weather conditions on Sunday morning, as temperatures hovered around 40 degrees and winds blew up to 23 mph. That didn’t seem to stop the race winners who ran a blistering pace, coming up just short of existing course records. Both race winners hailed from New Mexico; Boniface Kongin from Albuquerque won the men’s race in a time of 2:16:23, and the women’s title went to Sarah Kiptoo from Santa Fe in 2:38:13.
“I really liked the course, but the challenge was the wind,” Kiptoo told Philly.com. “I was saying [to myself], ‘I’m not the only one who has to run here [with the wind],” she said about her race experience.
The route of this race has always been an issue of controversy in the running community. In keeping with last year, the course took participants down the flag-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway and towards Penn’s Landing before looping back through Drexel University up 34th Street. The 2,700 volunteers clad in green shirts did an incredible job of motivating runners while handing out water and sports drinks at three-mile intervals along the way. After a relatively hilly journey through Fairmount Park, runners took a long and very windy trip down Kelly Drive to Manayunk and back. Finishers were greeted at the Art Museum finish line by an exuberant crowd despite the chilly weather, and presented with the official 2017 finisher’s medal, that this year featured a miniature ringing Liberty Bell.
Philadelphia has struggled in past years to reach the same prominence as races such as the New York City and Chicago marathons. Jim Marino, also the mastermind of the Philly Broad Street Run, was brought on board last year as the new race director to make some pretty serious changes.
According to Marino, the decision to split the half marathon and the marathon between the Saturday and Sunday was to make room for an additional 2,000 runners in each race. Marino also kept the traditional 8k and children’s 5k races to make it more family friendly in the spirit of Philadelphia. These changes led to a record number of total finishers across all the events on race weekend.
In previous years, the Philadelphia Marathon has also faced heavy criticism for not being environmentally conscious. While running may seem like a very green activity, if you factor in race cups, energy gels, medals, shirts and space blankets for 30,000 people, there’s an increasingly large footprint. After coming under scrutiny from environmental agencies in 2011, the race director at the time implemented new “green initiatives.” These resulted in the race achieving certification from the Council for Responsible Sport the following year in 2012. These efforts were in full effect at this year’s event, with recycled heat sheets after the race and medals made from melted down metal from the medals at the 2016 event.
Philadelphia was definitely a welcoming host city for such a vibrant and spirited event, and there was nothing but smiles at the finish line as proud runners celebrated months, or years, of hard training and pavement pounding. As crumpled cups and abandoned clothing were collected as the last runner finished in 7:37:06, the city was left wondering whether the Philadelphia Marathon had come one step closer to joining the list of America’s best marathon races.