This is the first of two separate posts about the 2014 Rock n Roll Philadelphia Running Festival Weekend, which is something new that Competitor Group started this year – Running Festival Weekends (aka Remix Challenges) consist of a shorter race on Saturday (usually a 5K but not always), followed by a longer race on Sunday (either a Half Marathon or a Full / Half Marathon Combo) and participants can do either one or both of them… and if you do both, you get a third medal after the second race. I did both, but since they were two separate races, I wanted to write about them separately. So I’ll start with the 5K –
I have to say that this was one of the more enjoyable 5Ks I’ve done this year… and at first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the trip to Philadelphia at all because getting to my hotel to drop everything off and then heading to the expo was a miserable experience. I’ll add a disclaimer here though to say that this had absolutely nothing to do with the race or the race organizers and everything to do with the traffic in Philadelphia and the fact that it took me close to two hours to drive a total of about 20 miles. Seriously, if anyone on the Philadelphia City Council ever reads this – you guys need to do something about the timing of your traffic signals. I get it it was rush hour on a Friday evening when I got in, but cars that stay within a couple miles of the speed limit shouldn’t have to get stopped by a red light every half mile. You know your city has a problem with traffic when someone from Chicago tells you it’s bad. But that being said, that was really the only bad experience that I had throughout the entire trip. Everything else was amazing.
The race expo was at the Philadelphia Convention center and it was typical for Competitor Group – well organized with some official merchandise in one section and a variety of different vendors, sponsors and guest speakers in another (if you’ve done a Rock n Roll series race before, you pretty much know the drill). Technically you can do race day packet pickup for the 5K, but there is no race day packet pickup for the half marathon, so if you’re doing that one, you have to go to the expo either way, and if you’re doing both races, then as long as you have the time, it’s easier to just go on Friday night and pick up both packets. The other added benefit of going on Friday is that the expo is a lot less busy than it is on Saturday. With the traffic though, make sure to give yourself enough time to get there before it closes at 7pm.
The 5K and the half marathon both start and finish in Eakins Oval, which is right across the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ll get to the reason why I liked this in a minute, but before that, I want to also mention that if you haven’t heard of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, aside from being a world class art museum, it’s also known for being where the steps are that Sylvester Stallone ran up during Rocky. In fact the steps are actually called the Rocky Steps and there’s a bronze Rocky statue at the base of them. So if you want… you can run up the steps yourself either before or after the race. I did them before the race as a warm up and was kinda glad that I did since the steps were packed with other runners after the race. Regardless of whether you want to run up the steps or not though (there are 72 of them altogether in case you were wondering), you should still at least walk up to the top of them and check out the Philadelphia skyline – the view is breathtaking.
So onto the race itself – the course is fairly straightforward. It’s an out and back course that has runners start off to the side of the art museum, head northwest for a little over a mile and a half along the Schuylkill River and then turn around and head back south and finish in front of the art museum. It’s fairly scenic and it’s also nice and flat and fast – there’s a really steep downhill drop right at the beginning of the course (which means that there’s also a steep hill right at the end since you’re essentially running back the same way you came) but it’s really not that bad – it’s steep but also less than 1/10th of a mile long so it’s over quickly and fairly painless. Afterwards, there’s a big post race party in Eakins Oval.
One of the biggest benefits of doing the 5K the day before the half marathon (other than the fact that you get an extra medal for doing both races) was the fact that both races start and end in roughly the same place, so the second half of the 5K on Saturday follows the exact same course that the last mile and a half of the half marathon follows on Sunday. I’ll add more details about this when I write about the half marathon but as a quick overview – the turnaround point for the 5K is right around mile 11 1/2 for the half marathon… which is when a lot of people are starting to look for that little extra bit of motivation to help push them to the finish line. I don’t know if the race organizers specifically planned it this way or not, but I liked knowing exactly what to expect for the rest of the half marathon when I got to that point. I knew that right after I ran under the overpass that I saw coming up, I would see the 12 mile marker, and then I knew that the path I was running on would curve a little bit, head around the side of the art museum, up the short but really steep hill (which I knew was coming so I could prepare myself for it) and then across the finish line. I didn’t have to play any mental games to remind myself that the finish line was coming up soon even if I couldn’t see it because I knew exactly where the finish line was since I had run in that same spot a little over 24 hours ago.
Aside from that, the weather was perfect for running, the finisher’s medal was awesome looking, and by the time I finished the race, I had all but forgotten about how annoyed I was with the traffic around Philly the night before. With the course being so flat, I also know a couple other runners who set PRs. I would say that for anyone that’s planning on being in Philadelphia around the end of September, even if you aren’t interested in the half marathon, you should still sign up for the 5K if you’re looking for a race to do while you’re in town – it was a great experience.