Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a great stage for athletes—both real and fictional—to prove their tenacity and grit. While you might not have the strength of Rocky, when you cross through the city during the Philadelphia Marathon, you can count yourself as a champion in your own right.
With a fast course that passes by breathtaking architecture and historic landmarks, the Philadelphia Marathon is hard not to love. Mark Sullivan, the designated “Course Expert” and cofounder of The Philadelphia Marathon LEGacy Runner’s Club, described it well: “It feels like it’s your hometown race, no matter where you’re from,” he told Runner’s World. (Sullivan has completed every Philadelphia Marathon since its 1994 inception and will be returning this year to run his 26th in 2019.)
Race Date and History
The Philadelphia Marathon falls on the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year. The 2019 race will be held on Sunday, November 24.
Although the beginnings of the marathon in the City of Brotherly Love can be traced back to 1954, the race was not officially established as the “Philadelphia Marathon” until 1994. After years of different courses designed by a rotation of organizers, the Philadelphia City Representative’s office worked with Fairmount Park and the Department of Recreation to establish the current marathon, which takes place exclusively within city limits. The inaugural race in 1994 had roughly 1,500 participants.
Founded with the goal to promote health and fitness, the race has grown to become one of the top 10 largest marathons in the country and attracts runners from across the U.S. and internationally.
Past Winners and Prize Money
For competitive racers of the Philadelphia Marathon, there’s more than just internal motivation to push the pace , as the top five finishers earn a solid paycheck for their efforts. The runners who place first through fifth take home $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, $1,500, and $1,000, respectively.
And while all participants will receive medals and finisher certificates upon completion of the race, the top five male and female runners in each age group are recognized with awards for their fast times.
Last year’s race had two record-breaking finishes. Tadesse Yai Dabi broke the former men’s course record by more than a minute, winning in a time of 2:14:46, while Serkalem Abrha set the new women’s course record in a time of 2:32:51.
See below for a list of men’s and women’s winners over the past 10 years.
Men’s Open Division (winners from 2008-2018)
- 2018: Tadesse Yai Dabi (New York, New York) 2:14:47
- 2017: Boniface Kongin (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 2:16:25
- 2016: Kimutai Cheruiyot (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) 2:15:53
- 2015: Teklu Deneke (Flagstaff, Arizona) 2:17:44
- 2014: Dan Vassallo (Peabody, Massachusetts) 2:17:28
- 2013: Abebe Mekuriya (City Falls, New York) 2:17:35
- 2012: Michael McKeeman (Ardmore, Pennsylvania) 2:17:47
- 2011: Folisho Tuko (High Falls, New York) 2:19:16
- 2010: Dan Vassallo (Peabody, Massachusetts) 2:21:28
- 2009: John Crews (Raleigh, North Carolina) 2:17:15
- 2008: Andrey Toptun (Miami, Florida) 2:19:57
Women’s Open Division (winners from 2008-2018)
- 2018: Serkalem Biset (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 2:32:53
- 2017: Sarah Kiptoo (Santa Fe, New Mexico) 2:38:14
- 2016: Taylor Ward (Auburn, Alabama) 2:36:25
- 2015: Gisela Olalde Granados (Hermitage, Tennessee) 2:40:05
- 2014: Leonora Petrina (Bayport, New York) 2:40:00
- 2013: Irina Alexandrova (Hebron, Kentucky) 2:39:04
- 2012: Irina Mashkantseva (Solikamsk, Russia) 2:35:37
- 2011: Mariska Kramer (Drachten, Netherlands) 2:35:46
- 2010: Mariska Kramer (Drachten, Netherlands) 2:38:55
- 2009: Jutta Merilainen (Toronto, Canada) 2:46:44
- 2008: Vera Ovcharuk (Miami, Florida) 2:44:02
Field Size and Composition
The Philadelphia Marathon weekend as a whole (which includes the full marathon, half marathon, and 8K) is capped at 30,000 participants, but the big 26.2-mile event itself is limited to 15,000 runners. Last year’s marathon saw more than 9,500 athletes cross the finish line (5,375 men and 4,147 women).
Qualifying Times and Registration
Runners do not need a qualifying time to enter the Philadelphia Marathon. However, keep in mind that the course cutoff time is seven hours, which means runners must maintain at least a 16-minute pace. You can register for the race here.
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A Rundown of the Course
Beginning at 7 a.m., runners will take off from the starting line, which is located on the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While the course is known for being relatively flat and fast, Sullivan noted that there are two sizeable hills to prepare for: the first is just after the seven-mile mark, going up 34th Street; the second hill begins around the nine-mile mark.
Additionally, runners will traverse a few rolling hills as the course winds out and back through Manayunk, and the final mile of the race has runners going up an incline as they head back to the Art Museum to the finish line. For a full view of the route, view a detailed course map here.
Because the Philadelphia Marathon is a Boston-qualifying race, the route’s relatively speedy layout makes it ideal for participants with that goal in mind. Overall, the scenic route, ideal fall weather, and minimal number of major climbs makes it a marathon that runners of all abilities will enjoy.
As with any marathon, it is recommended that runners train roughly four to five months in advance with the typical combination of long runs, intervals, and tempo runs. Despite the fact that the Philadelphia Marathon is not known for being a hilly race, Sullivan encourages athletes to mix some hills into their training nevertheless.