The Philadelphia Marathon
Running Strong After 20 Years

BY DAVID BLOCK

PHILADELPHA, PA--The 20th running of the GORE-TEX ® Philadelphia Marathon (November 17) and its two additional races--the Philadelphia Half Marathon (November 17) and the Rothman Institute 8K (November 16)--had a huge turnout. The total number of entrants for all three events surpassed 30,0000. Over the years, the number of entrants increased from its scanty total of 1,500 back in 1994—its inaugural year.

Some things about the event have changed while others have remained the same: Since 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter would stand by the starting line and high five all the runners who would pass him. It was a spontaneous initiative.

“I do it because I enjoy it, and the runners enjoy it,” said Nutter. “Once you start doing it, you can’t stop.” He said that numerous trainers prepare him for the marathon weekend. “It’s a secretive and personal program, I can’t disclose that info.”

One big change the marathon underwent was increased security. If people needed to bring bags to the marathon, the bags now had to be clear see-through. Mayor Nutter explained that this past Spring’s Boston Marathon tragedy played a part in the new decision, but not entirely. Nutter said, “It’s an accumulation of a variety of things that happened over time. The Boston incident was a part of that evaluation, but we’re seeing this all across the United States [like in] professional football. Now we’re seeing clear bags. These incidents, wherever they have happened, have caused all the cities and different leagues to look at a variety of different safety measures. Everyone needs to be safe. You shouldn’t have anything inappropriate in the bag in the first place. If you don’t need a bag, don’t carry one.”

Another thing about the marathon that has not changed is the presence of two dedicated runners:
Mark Sullivan and Bob Koen. They ran the Philly Marathon for all 20 years. For them, skipping a year would be unthinkable.

At the 20th running of the Philly Marathon, Sullivan finished in 2:50:51. He was the 123rd overall male finisher, and the third in his age division (50-54). Koen posted 4:58:06 to be the 25th in his division, male 60-64.

“They (the race committee) do a great job here,” said Sullivan. “That’s why I keep coming back every year. They do everything right.”

Sullivan remembered the marathon’s inaugural year. “The race hasn’t changed a whole lot since 1994,” said Sullivan. “There were 1,500 people and that was a good sized field. Over the years, the field grew larger, slowly. The course is largely the same. Maybe some directions or roads changed.”

The Philadelphia Half Marathon and Rothman Institute 8K resulted in shattered course records and repeats.Kenyan born Elijah Karanja, 32, who trains in Hebron, Kentucky, won the Rothman Institute 8K in 23:02 and the next day he won the Philadelphia Half Marathon, 1:02:59. He collected $1,000 for winning the 8K and $2,500 for winning the half-marathon. Diriba Yigezu earned $500 for his second place finish in the 8K and $1000 for his second place finish in the half-marathon.

The lead half-marathon pack started slow. They hit the 2-mile mark 10:04 at 3rd and Race Street. “Nobody wanted to push the pace,” said Karanja. He said that everyone was waiting and seeing what the others would do.

The lead pack eventually sped up, as they hit the 7-mile split 31:33 at 30th and Chestnut St.

By 11 miles on the Martin Luther King Drive, Karanja felt confident he could win the half-marathon. “I was feeling strong,” he said in broken English. He did not see his 52:56 split. He pulled away unchallenged. At the 12-mile mark on Kelly Drive, near the Girard Avenue Bridge, his split read 57:42. He was by himself and had no doubt that the race was his.

Karanja said that it was tougher for him to win the half-marathon than the 8K because he initially thought that the field would be more competitive. He said that he was not tired from the 8K. At a glance it looked as though the 8K was a tougher challenge because he won by one second. “We were both running (the 8K) very fast, but I was one step ahead,” said Karanja. That edge gave him the confidence to win.

In the women’s field, Rkia El-Moukim, 25, easily won both the 8K, 25:29, and the half-marathon, 1:10:53. Both of her winning times were new course records.

Misiker Demissie set the previous half-marathon course record last year in 2013, 1:11:56, while the former 8K course record of 25:37 set by Svetlana Zakharova back in 2001, which stood untouched for 12 years.

El Moukim earned a total of $5,000: $1,000 for winning the 8K and $500 for setting a new course record; $2,500 for winning the half-marathon and $1,000 for a new course record. She hails from Morocco and trains in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Her manager Hicham El Mohtadi said, “She (El Moukim) did not expect to set a new course record (in the 8K) because the roads were slick because of rain.” It rained several hours before the 8K. Although the rain stopped by the time the race started, the roads were still wet. “After 3K she was able to push it,” said El Mohtadi.

Finishing second in the 8K for a second straight year was Amy Van Alstine, 26, who clocked 25:55. Last year her place finishing time was four seconds slower; 25:59.

“I expected the front girl to go out hard, but she stayed at that pace,” said Van Alstine. “My first mile was under five minutes. It wasn’t smart [of me] to go out that hard. I planned to speed behind her, hoping she’d come back to me by 3 miles, but that didn’t happen. I will not go out that hard with the lead girl if she’s going to go out that fast.”

In the half-marathon, El Moukim won by two minutes and six seconds as runner-up Adrienne Herzog, 28, finished in 1:12:59. By six miles, El Moukim found herself running alone and ahead of the other women. “I was happy,” said said.