In our opinion, a half marathon is the best way to familiarize oneself with a city. A 13.1 mile race allows a runner two hours (give or take) to learn a city's streets and see its sights at a pedestrian pace. While we have traveled to Philadelphia many times, running the Rock n Roll race was an opportunity to see the city anew...and we did.
The race expo was held at the massive Pennsylvania Convention Center. Because this location hosts so many events at a given time, there are plenty of hotels located within quick walking distance. For us, the mere block and a half from our hotel to the expo meant that we not only made two separate trips to the expo, but we also loaded up on freebies and had no problems lugging them back to our room.
Like all Rock n Roll events, runners must complete the confirmation sheet and arrive with a photo ID in order to pick up bibs and race shirts. The massive number of volunteers ensured that this process was quick and easy. One of us utilized the t-shirt exchange, and got lucky enough to trade the bright green half marathon shirt for the way more awesome, sweatband-clad, Ben Franklin 5k shirt.
Circumstances were such that we wandered this expo three times in one day, the last trip having been made with non-running family members. Each time we found something different to enjoy or take advantage of. Some vendors that we particularly enjoyed:
Toyota - had an entire experience which included a station with fun race signs (and the only Sharpies at the expo for sign-making) and a station manned by representatives who were custom making iron-on decals and adhering them to runners' race shirts.
Geico- runners who filled out a form requesting a name and email address were given access to a giant slot machine where they played to win free shirts. The sign-making station was free for all. A photo op station was set up and manned by a volunteer snapping photos for runners.
KT Tape - anyone who filled out a waiver was treated to a complimentary KT tape job.
Altra - open box shoes were for sale for $59 and reps were generous with assistance in matching a runner with the right shoe.
Lara Bar and Emergen-C - both were generous with their samples.
Transamerica - had runner Drew Thomson in their booth. Drew began the half marathon as the last runner, and for every runner he passed, Transamerica donated a dollar to American Heart Association. A sign-making station was also available.
Our last trip through the expo was particularly lucrative as vendors who didn't want to carry home products were even more generous with the freebies.
One advantage of participating in a big-city race is the massive amount of hotels to choose from, and all within walking distance to the start. For just under $200 a night, runners could stay at the Marriot Courtyard, which was located one mile from the race start. Runners who register early for the race should utilize the Rock n Roll room rates available through their website. It is possible to stay within a quarter mile of the start, you just need to plan ahead (and be willing to pay anywhere between $175 and $300 a night).
Places to Eat
Within a two block range of our hotel room, there was a place to eat for everyone. A Philly local recommended we eat lunch at the Terminal Market, which is housed in the convention center or under it (we couldn't figure out which). While it was a packed madhouse on Saturday afternoon, it's market stalls included a place to eat for every taste. To make up for all those calories you'll be burning at the race, order a cannoli at Termini Brothers bakery.
Anyone wanting to carb load the night before the race should check out Cafe Aquila. If you're willing to take some risks the night before a race, you can eat your pasta with meat like wild boar meatballs, or pulled, slow-cooked beef, chicken, veal, and lamb served on a bed of wide, flat pasta noodles. Make reservations for Cafe Aqulia, and make them early. We were lucky to score a table for our party of seven at 5:30 pm. All time slots after that were booked.
Another neat place to visit while in Philly is the Spruce Street Harbor Park. This urban park borders the Delaware, and is lit at night with thousands of rainbow icicle lights, making it a magical place to be. There's plenty of food to be had here with vendors serving everything from funnel cakes to pulled pork.
Rock n Roll Philadelphia began and ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home to the famous Rocky stairs. The first four miles took runners downtown, past landmarks like Philadelphia City Hall (which, according to Wikipedia, was the tallest building in the world from 1884 to 1908). The remaining miles led runners along the scenic Schuylkill River which afforded all of us views of the water and all that came with it (rowing, anyone?) While the race took us on the roads bordering the Schuylkill, the river's multi-use paths (on both sides) would make for a scenic run any day of the year.
Fan support was everywhere, even the four miles north of the art museum at mile 9 of the race. Rock n Roll, per it's philosophy, had bands playing every two miles along the course (or more).
The race was mostly flat, with some slight hills between miles two and three and again at mile thirteen. After cresting the final hill, the finish line was just around the corner.
The massive steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art overlooked the race finish, and after stocking up on more freebies at the finish line, it was the perfect place to sit and pretend to be just a spectator (albeit, a very tired one). The spot is much like views down the Mall in Washington DC, and standing at the top of the art museum steps lets runners gaze a mile down Ben Franklin Parkway and into downtown. If your weary muscles can stand it, run up the steps a la Rocky Balboa, and then pose with the Rocky statue when you come back down.
Down the steps and along Spring Garden Street, runners could enjoy the official Finish Line Festival. The race's main stage was here, along with Toyota's Celebration Station, the family reunion area, and gear check pick-up.
If you've only driven through Philadelphia via one of its interstate highways, use Rock n Roll Philadelphia as an excuse to stop and see the city. The race will proudly showcase some of the city's most scenic areas, but there will be plenty to do when not racing. Visit Independence Hall, see the Liberty Bell, check out Terminal Market and Spruce Street Harbor Park.
Tips for Running a Successful Rock n Roll Philadelphia
- Be prepared for any just about any temperature. September in Philly is a beautiful time of year with average lows being in the 60's. With that being said, the record high in Philadelphia in September is 102 degrees while the record low is 35 degrees. Anything can happen!
- Take advantage of city living and Uber. Parking can get expensive, especially over night. For those flying in, Uber from the airport to Center City and avoid having to drive yourself anywhere while in town.
- This race is so big, and there are so many cheering fans it may be easy to miss any friends and family there to support you. Make sure you know what they are wearing and vice versa. Additionally, spectators holding signs are much easier to spot.
For more information on running the Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half marathon visit http://www.runrocknroll.com/philadelphia/.