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'Rocky' Ran Here… Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

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Runners are huddled under blankets. Some wear garbage bags to keep warm. It is 6 a.m. near the Schuylkill River in downtown Philly, the brisk fall air buzzing before the race start.

Marathon morning in Philadelphia. I’m hopping up and down to keep the blood flowing and also to release some nervous energy as one of 30,000 runners cued at the line.

Dawn breaks, sending purple-pink rays into the city, and the race gun goes off. I take the first step of so many, a clean 26.2 miles to go.

Early morning light over the marathon pack

The GORETEX Philadelphia Marathon is sponsored by an appropriate brand — the late-season date, where November gales and gray clouds are always a threat, is befitting for a company that makes fabrics and apparel for all weather types.

Our race, on November 23rd, saw temps hovering in the 40s. It proved chilly at the start but about perfect for the high-heart-rate task. I got some cool-weather apparel from the Gore Running Wear brand to test.

For the race, I wore the long-sleeve synthetic X-Run Ultra. The shirt is cut for the arm-swinging motion of running with UV-deflecting fabric and cuffs with thumb-holes that convert sleeves into ad hoc mittens.

Gore Running Wear apparel chosen for the race

On my legs, three-quarter-length tights did the job. The Gore X-Run Ultra tights are not quite shorts, but not quite pants either. They are made of a stretchy fabric and equipped with mesh pouches on both legs.

Shoes came from Under Armour, the company’s UA Speedform. They are super light and flexible (the style of shoe I prefer), but I like them for long road runs because of their thicker sole, which cushions the pavement as the miles take a toll.

(See our review of the UA Speedform shoes, which, incidentally, are designed with a seamless heel cup made in a bra factory.)

Under Armour Speedform

The course bee-lined east through the city’s core, a race toward the Delaware River then neighborhoods, parks, campus grounds, and scenic roads snaking back to the west and far beyond.

After months of training, I was gunning for a personal-best time. Huge crowds cheered at every turn. The miles ticked off as the sun rose past the trees.

Philadelphia is the town of Benjamin Franklin, of course. But more appropriately for this day it was the city where a fictional boxer ran up 72 stone steps in a famous movie scene.

The ghost of Rocky Balboa was all around, on posters and pumped from speakers by fans playing “Gonna Fly Now,” the triumphant brassy theme in the films.

Even Rocky wore a marathon shirt

Gotta admit I pumped my fist a little crossing the halfway mark. At 1 hour 30 minutes, I was on pace exactly and with a personal best in sight.

The miles got longer. My legs were cramping up. I ate energy gel and looked far ahead, a mass of runners stretching back along the Schuylkill River out of downtown.

The finish line was a few miles out of sight still when I knew my goal — 2 hours and 59 minutes — was going to be impossible to meet. But I felt strong, and I tried to pick up the pace.

At 3 hours and 9 minutes I crossed the line. My legs were numb, but I was smiling. Philadelphia and its scenic city course did not disappoint.

The author, a bit beat up post-race

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