Philadelphia Marathon Recap: A Spectator’s POV

By Janelle @ Run With No Regrets | race recap

Nov 18

Sunday, November 17 marked the Gore-Tex Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. 30,000 runners and over 60,000 spectators flock to this event, which is now in its 20th year.

I had 3 people to cheer for in this race.  My two oldest running buddies, Mark and Tom, were running the half and full marathons respectively.  And lastly, my boyfriend Bret was running the marathon for the second time.

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Health and Fitness Expo

Saturday afternoon, Bret and I went to the Expo at the Pennsylvania Convention Center so he could pick up his bib and I could pick up some free goodies!  Everything went pretty smoothly, but the expo itself was very low-key.

There was a seminar going on about barefoot running while we were there, but we didn’t attend.  My boyfriend thinks that’s “for hippies”, haha.  I got a few freebies and almost bought a Spibelt, but I was generally underwhelmed.

Bret went to bed before 9:30 pm and woke up around 4:45 am…eep!  I did my best to sleep a bit longer, as he got up to get his coffee and some light breakfast.  We’re fortunate to live within walking distance of the start and finish of the course, so I let him head off before 6 am to the start.

Morning of the Race

The security was enhanced this year due to the Boston tragedy earlier this year.  Only clear bags were allowed through several security points.  The race bags this year were clear too, so I carried my things in that and got through security a little too easily…

The forecast was high 60’s, so I thought everyone would have perfect running weather.  But it was cold at 6 in the morning!  I wore a hat, sweatshirt, and some gloves as I knew I’d have a full day of spectating!

Bret and I were supposed to meet at 6:30 so I could carry his hat and zip-up jacket, but he didn’t make it to our meeting point.  So I walked down to his corral and hoped that I’d find him.  I started panicking as it got closer and closer to the 7 am start…but finally, I found him!  He had a potty break, and you know how long those lines get. Phew…I hung out with him a little bit before it was time for him to go!

Bret in the corral. Chilly but excited!

The Spectating Life

This is the second time that I’ve spectated at the Philly Marathon, but it’s the first where I went to several points in the race to cheer my friends on.  There were SO. MANY. PEOPLE.  It was really overwhelming and difficult to get out of the area where the race started.

I made my move to 20th and Chestnut, which was between miles 6 and 7.  I wanted to catch Tom who was running with the 3:25 pace group.  As I walked up towards Chestnut I could see the super fast runners sprinting by.  I quickly realized this wasn’t the best place to watch the race…everyone was so packed and it was impossible to see anyone.  So of course, it was Tom who saw me and grabbed my arm as he flew past!  He looked great!

My view on 20th and Chestnut

Then I made my way to the finish and just KNEW that I’d be able to see Mark near the finish line.  I had a great spot and saw him, but he didn’t hear or see me when I cheered for him!  So I texted him a congrats and he told me he was “in the zone”.  I made my way to try to see Tom around mile 25, then finish up with Bret at the finish.

Watching my friend Mark running to the finish line

Here are a few more pictures while I was watching the race.

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Wheelchair competitors heading to the finish
Wheelchair competitors heading to the finish

So I went to Mile 25ish and I just KNEW I’d see Tom properly.  Somehow I completely missed him again!  But I did end up seeing Bret!  Bret told me he was hoping to be under 4 hours, so I was shocked when I saw him right with the 3:45 pace group!  I didn’t get to snap a picture and while I cheered and shouted, he didn’t hear me.  I felt like an awful spectator, I had the worst luck!

Funny Race Signs

I always admire people who can come up with creative, memorable race signs. A few of them that I enjoyed include:

  • “You’ve done dumber things than this when you were drunk!”
  • “Watch out for velociraptors!  Stay out of the high grass!”
  • “Don’t poop your pants (Dad)”
  • “Justin Timberlake is at the finish line!”
  • Random heads of the runners, including characters from Breaking Bad

After the Race

After I saw Bret, I tried to make my way to the finish line so that I could greet him and congratulate him, but things started to get really congested.  There were so many barricades and he didn’t have a cell phone so I had no idea where he could be.  In the meantime, I heard back from the other guys.  Mark finished the half in 1:59 and Tom finished in 3:26…I’m so happy for them!

I walked up and down for a while and then eventually took a seat near where our original meeting point was in the morning.  I wondered if maybe Bret walked home and waited for me there since I had the key…but then I didn’t want to leave if he was still there…

Eventually, I gave up and started walking towards home, and then I finally saw him!  I started running towards him to give him a hug but he was pretty beat.  We didn’t have that romantic moment I imagined, where we’d run into each other arms…I’m pretty sure he said, “You don’t want to touch me right now”.  But he was still happy to see me, and mission accomplished…Bret finished in 3:41:58!

Bret's HUGE marathon medal - 3:41 time!
Bret’s HUGE marathon medal – 3:41 time!


We had no post-meal special meal, since Bret was pretty beat.  I ended up ordering pizza and we later went to a bar to watch the Chiefs lose to the Broncos…

I had a great time spectating this event.  The first time I did it was back in 2011, where I coincidentally watched Mark and Tom do the same race.  I didn’t know Bret then but he ran that race too!  Everyone made such an improvement from 2 years ago!

I would definitely have a better game plan next time.  I was all over the place, stood in areas that were way too congested, and walked at least 4 miles just trying to go here and there.  We never discussed how we’d meet at the end of the race…duh!  And for some reason the race tracking I signed up didn’t work!  So I had no clue where anyone was at any time.

What I really appreciate was that attending this race was not as bittersweet as I thought it would be.  Last year I did the Half Marathon and it was my personal worst.  I was so slow and unprepared for the race and finished around 2:38.  I am really proud of myself that I didn’t make this thing about me.  I lost one of my gloves, my sneakers were super uncomfortable, my calves and my lower back hurt as I stood and walked around all over the place.  But despite that, I was able to be a fan and be full of excitement for my favorite running pals.

Were you at the Philly Marathon, or have you raced it before?  What tips do you have for being a better race spectator?

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