Pro Tips: 8 Things New Runners in Philly Need to Know
We are officially bumping right up against the busy fall racing season. In the next few weeks, once everyone returns from their fabulous August vacations (not that I’m jealous or anything—hrrrumph), runners-in-training will be hitting the sidewalks, paths and trails in pursuit of a few PRs over the next couple of months.
If you’re new to running—or even new to running in Philly—you’ve come to the right place. I reached out to several runner pals in the city to get their very best advice for newbies: how to get started and stay motivated, how to find running buddies, and (of course) where to run in our region.
Soak it all up below.
STEP 1: Why are you running?
“Over time, a running routine gets, well … routine. It’s easy to fall in love but harder to stay in love with running. Find (or seek) a purpose. Is it the post-run endorphins? Good health? To give back? To run fast(er)/far(ther)? Or to jog the cobwebs from your mind? I haven’t met a runner yet who isn’t motivated by more than the activity itself. Before you turn up your playlist and jog along the path, take a second to remind yourself why. If you’re looking to take your running mojo a step further, read on.
—Heather Falck, Run Club coordinator for Lululemon Walnut Street
STEP 2: Focus on time, not distance.
“I didn’t start running until I turned 30, and it was totally on a whim. In the early days, I remember running for time, not for distance—distance seemed too far in my head—so I would get out on Kelly Drive and try to run for ten minutes, no matter the pace, then walk for one or two and run for ten more. Each time I went out, I tried to increase my run time by two or so minutes and before I knew it I was running the whole time completely losing myself in that runner’s high!”
—Suzanne Allaire, co-coordinator for the November Project Philadelphia
STEP 3: Find friends.
“While the occasional weekend 5K is a lot of fun, there are lots of less formal, more fun opportunities available throughout the week: running groups, seminars, fun runs. These opportunities create ways for new runners to network, learn and run with runners of all levels—because all runners like to learn and have fun. Believe it or not, experienced runners do not always want to run fast and long; they enjoy the relaxed run when they can meet others who love running, showcase their knowledge to a newbie, and rest their muscles (besides, they probably already did a one-hour hill workout at 5 a.m.). Becoming a part of one of these groups or events will get you more in tune to the running community and all it has to offer.” (Editor’s note: Looking for a place to start? Check out our exhaustive list of running clubs in the region, and keep tabs on all our running content.)
— Ken Culbertson, owner of Good Day for a Run
STEP 4: Let the lights guide you.
“One of my favorite things to do when I got back into running was running green lights. It’s as simple as this: If you approach a red light, take a right or a left where the light is green and just keep on running. Have an idea of how far or long you want to run and then just go! I completely rediscovered Philadelphia doing this. An added bonus is that it also keeps you sharp and alert, and each run is a new adventure.”
—Jon Lyons, founder of Run215
STEP 5: Don’t avoid hills.
“It’s no secret in Philly that Kelly Drive is a good spot to run and see other fit folks. But for me, when I want to get out do some hills, the Ben Franklin Bridge is my favorite place to go. The scenery is unbeatable and it’s only few miles out and back. You really can’t beat the fact that each way you think you’re at the top of that hill and there is still more to go. It really forces me to push myself and use all I have in the tank.”
STEP 6: Do track intervals—without a track.
“Finding an open track in the city after 5pm on weekdays can be a serious challenge. A great alternative that’s always open and is perfect for 400 meter repeats to 8 mile tempos is Kelly Drive Path. Kelly Drive has incredibly accurate mile markers every 1/4 mile spray painted on the pavement and labeled from 1/4 mile to 8¼ miles making it a perfect alternative to a track without using a GPS.
“Mile 0 starts in front of Lloyd Hall and ascends every 1/4 mile heading out Kelly Drive across Falls Bridge and back MLK Drive to the Art Museum. A great tip to avoid the crowds of Boathouse Row is to start your first repeat at the 1/4 mile marker at the end of Boathouse Row.
Depending on your ability a few good examples of workouts are as follows:
• 400-meter repeats for a 5K workout: Run four to five 1/4 mile markers at 5k race pace (For example, if your 5k time is 20:00, you would run the 1/4 miles @ 1:35 each). Rest for 1 minute at each 1/4 mile marker (jog in circles so you can start at the marker you finished on) then turnaround and head back towards Lloyd Hall.
• Mile repeats for a half marathon workout: Run four to six 1-mile repeats (that would be four 1/4 mile makers) at a pace you can sustain for about an hour race with 1 minute rest.”
—Cory Smith, founder and head coach of Run Your Personal Best
STEP 7: Commit.
“Eighty percent of experienced runners who finished Philly’s ODDyssey Half Marathon responded that the best way for them to stay motivated with running is to sign up for a race. Once they make that commitment, their motivation is increased and they train better. There is at least one 5K every weekend in Philadelphia from spring through fall. Pick your favorite one and sign up. Once you are signed up, you are in training mode.”
—Carl Ewald, race director for the ODDyssey Half Marathon
STEP 8: Find lots of interesting places to run.
“The rite of passage for every runner in Philly is that first run along Kelly Drive. Do it right off the bat because this will be your sacred running trail 80 to 90 percent of the time. But when you’re ready to get serious and impress your friends, this is what you want to do: Cross the Strawberry Mansion Bridge from East Fairmount Park into West Fairmount Park. Once you cross the bridge, jog about 100 feet and you’ll see a trail to the left. Get on that trail and follow it until it reaches a road. Cross that road and continue the trail on the other side of the road. It leads into one of the best places to run in all of Philly (outside the Wissahickon). The trail is a smooth dirt road through the middle of the forrest. Fantasic year round but especially in the fall. It will empty out at the bottom of Belmont Plateau so if you want to absorb the skyline of the greatest running city in the country, turn right and run up the hill. Once you get to the top of the hill turn around. Put your phone away, don’t take a picture the first time. Just remember it.”
—Ryan Callahan, outreach director at Philadelphia Runner
“By far, my favorite place to run is Wissahickon Valley Park. It really has it all: flats, hills, trails, mile markers, beautiful scenery, including covered bridges, waterfalls, flower and trees. There’s even a water fountain in front of the Valley Green Inn and restrooms along the way. The main trail, Forbidden Drive, is wide and can accommodate side-by-side running with friends. There are countless trails that go off and up into the hills for those who like trail running. It is a great place to get out to people watch and you’ll see it all: people on horseback, bikers, walkers, runners, running teams, families, even people on unicycles. We are so fortunate to have this special place in Philadelphia!”
—Schuyler Nunn, owner of Indigo Schuy
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