Fall is the time for a grand Philadelphia tradition: The Philadelphia Marathon, which since 1954 has been held on the third Sunday of November. This year, that date is the 24th.
For weeks, marathoners have been rising before dawn to squeeze in those last miles before tapering back their workouts to be in prime shape for the 26.2-mile race.
As 30,000 runners line up for the event (sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research), they’ll no doubt be buzzing with chatter about two recent running milestones:
On Oct. 12, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, 34, broke the two-hour barrier with his 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 40 second run in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, a special marathon distance event. About 24 hours later, fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei, 25, won the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 4 seconds to break that event’s 16-year-old world record.
No running organization is more excited about the historic times than members of the Philadelphia chapter of Black Girls Run (BGR), a national group that encourages women to make healthy living a priority and that caters to both new and experienced runners. (The group’s Philly chapter has expanded to include women of all ages and races.)
Here’s what some of them are talking about as they lace up for Philly’s big race.
Michelle Rivera, 51, Northeast Philadelphia
Rivera was competing in the Chicago Marathon when news rippled through the crowds that Kosgei had broken the world record.
“Everyone was so excited — oh, my goodness!" said Rivera. “Everyone was talking about it. That is a major deal.”
Rivera said she believes more records will fall as runners allow their own mental walls about running milestones to tumble away, and they realize what’s possible.
Rivera competed in track and field in middle and high school but didn’t run in her adult years. That changed in 2012, when she took part in BGR’s “Couch to 5K” training program: Over eight weeks, participants go from sedentary to running 3.1 miles. Since then she has completed five marathons, including one in New York with Back on My Feet, a national nonprofit (founded in Philly) that helps the homeless develop independent living skills and find housing and employment. And she has been an ambassador and a run coordinator with BGR.
What Rivera loves about the running community is how it unites runners of every race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and age. And how, on race day, the crowd also gets into the game.
“You hit mile 25 and think, ‘I don’t have anything else,’ and then you have these people cheering you on, and you think, ‘I can do this!’ ” said Rivera.
Personal best: The Delaware Monster Mash Half Marathon, with a time of 2:04:37. Favorite running toy: Garmin watch. Pre-race meal: Bagel and banana. Post-race meal: A nice steak. Number of times competed in the Broad Street Run: Six. Goal: To keep running — and complete the Broad Street Run in 1:30:00. Favorite place to run: The Kelly/Martin Luther King Drive loop.
Nafisah Ali Lewis, 57, Frankford
Lewis was thrilled by the energy that surrounded the sensational runs of Kipchoge and Kosgei.
“How could they run that fast?” she said. The work that goes into racing on any level requires proper sleep, healthy diet, and a rigorous training schedule, she added. “It takes a lot of discipline to do what they did.”
Lewis, a business entrepreneur, has been running all her life but didn’t start with longer distances until seven years ago.
“I don’t know how to keep still,” she said.
A volunteer Ambassadors for BGR, Lewis organizes and leads runs at the local level. Her philosophy is to “get up and move something." People don’t need to have a fancy gym membership or even have to run to get fit — just vigorously walking around the block will do the trick, she said.
Still, “I love the rush of running, and the rush of working out,” said Lewis. “It is a way of life and I will do it until the day I die.”
Personal best: The Chicago Marathon in 5:36. Favorite running toy: Brooks running shoes. Pre-race meal: Plain pasta. Post-race meal: Pizza. Number of times competed in the Broad Street Run: Seven. Goal: One more marathon. Favorite place to run: Kelly Drive.
Shelly Jones, 53, North Philadelphia.
About seven years ago, Jones, a SEPTA senior project leader, saw a group of women running along Kelly Drive on a bitter winter day.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “Who’d be running when it’s cold outside?"
But the scene stuck with her. Jones, who had always been a walker, decided if those women could run in chilly weather, she could, too. She started walking, then added some running until gradually she was doing the entire distance as a run.
“I never knew it would get me to the point I would run numerous 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers and eight marathons,” Jones said of her epiphany that day. “I can’t even count the half-marathons I’ve done.”
Jones finds her inspiration in the never-give-up BGR runners and triathletes who are older than she is and still crossing finish lines.
“If they can do it, I can do it, too,” she said.
Races have taken her across the country and to Jamaica, she said. She plans to end her racing season with a 10K in Hawaii.
Personal best: The PHL 5K in 27:43 minutes. Favorite running toy: Garmin watch. Pre-race meal: Peanut butter on a croissant. Post-race meal: Potato chips. Number of times competed in the Broad Street Run: Seven. Goal: Run a half-marathon in less than two hours. Favorite place to run: Her neighborhood near Temple University.
Yolanda Anderson, 43, Overbrook Park
Anderson, a program analyst for the city, wasn’t interested when two friends tried to get her to join a gym, but she relented in 2012 when one suggested signing up for the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10K. She joined the gym, trained hard, and finished the 10K, exhilarated. She has been hooked ever since.
“I’m kinda competitive with myself,” said Anderson, who, to keep runs interesting, works to beat her previous race times and is always on the lookout for something to change up her routine. For example, she has recently begun participating in trail races “for something different,” she said.
Challenging herself also comes in the way of travel. Anderson has raced in 23 states, as well as in Niagara Falls (the Canadian side), Paris, and Berlin.
“It’s fun to be in new places and meet new people. I enjoy it,” she said. Running helps reduce her stress, keep her healthy, and maintain a healthy weight.
Anderson has run the Philadelphia Marathon four times but won’t lace up for this year’s race. On Nov. 3, she completed the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, N.C., and is giving herself a rest.
But “I’m volunteering this year, so I wish everyone luck,” she said.
Personal best: A time of 4:15:12 at the 2017 Chicago Marathon. Favorite running toy: Garmin watch. Pre-race meal: Two hard-boiled eggs and a plain bagel. Post-race meal: “Whatever I want.” Number of times competed in the Broad Street Run: Four. Goal: Run either a marathon or half-marathon in all 50 states (she has 27 to go). Favorite place to run: From home to Kelly Drive and back.
Jareina Nichols, 42, Abington Township
Nichols ran for fun in elementary school and in high school. But after her father was killed by a drunk driver, running became her therapy -- a way to deal with her emotions.
“I used to run 10 miles a day,” said Nichols, a senior business system analyst in IT.
Nichols would run three miles in the morning, before her three young children awoke. She got the kids off to school and went to work. Once back home there was dinner, homework, and bedtime for the kids -- and then she’d leave for a seven-mile nightly run.
“It was a ritual," Nichols said. “If I didn’t do it, my day wasn’t right."
Now that her children are in college, running is a way for Nichols to maintain fitness, achieve personal running goals, and have fun on “race-cations.” She’s halfway through her goal of running half-marathons in all 50 states.
Nichols, who has done the Philadelphia Marathon three times and just ran the Berlin Marathon in September, plans to be in the “cheer squad” this time around. The course, which winds through the city’s historic landmarks, is a favorite with all runners and especially those from out-of-town.
"It is such a nice marathon for tourists,” she said.
Personal best: A time of 4:34:25 at the Chicago Marathon. Favorite running toy: Garmin watch. Pre-race meal: Peanut butter on a half bagel, one boiled egg, and a banana. Post-race meal: Pancakes, eggs, and turkey sausage. How many times competed in the Broad Street Run: Five. Goal: To complete all six world major marathons: Berlin, Chicago, New York, London, Tokyo, Boston. Favorite place to run: On the Horsham Township trail.