by marni prichard manko| September 29, 2014 |
Whether you’re a marathoner or a weekend warrior, Philly’s running clubs are the latest way for runners to hone their sport.
Each November, the Philadelphia Marathon takes some 30,000 runners past landmarks such as City Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall.
The 60-year-old Philadelphia Marathon is unlike any other 26.2 miles out there. In which other city do marathoners get high-fived from their mayor at the start of every race? Or handed cups of beer at mile marker 20? Like everything else we do here, the marathon, taking place on November 23, is nothing but true to Philadelphia.
But there’s much more than a slap-happy Mayor Nutter and boozy pit stops in Manayunk fueling its popularity. It could be that entrants—more than 30,000 in 2013—relish the opportunity to run through the streets of Philly. Or, it could be less a result of the race itself and more an emblematic side bonus of the explosive state of running as a sport.
“The physiological benefit of running is obvious,” says Dr. Hallie Labrador, a sports medicine physician at the Rothman Institute (multiple locations) who has completed six 26-milers. “You’re working muscles, increasing heart rate, and, in general, improving the cardiovascular system. In terms of a workout, running is one of the best things you can do. [But] there are also psychological benefits. When you’re running, you get to focus on putting one foot in front of the other instead of everything else going on in your life. It’s the ultimate stress reliever.”
Marathoners passing in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“It teaches you to believe in yourself, try hard, and to do your best. Running is a life lesson,” adds Tracy Shannon, president and co-owner of Sweat Fitness (multiple locations).
But while the physiological and psychological benefits are very real, there’s also another truth at play—running is hard. And often solitary. There’s no bootcamp instructor or gentle yogi leading the way. It’s usually you and the pavement. Which is where running clubs come in.
“I would not wake up to run at 6 am if I didn’t know that others were there waiting for me to run as well. We all push each other,” says Amy Stratton, general manager of The Sporting Club at the Bellevue (224 S. Broad St., 215-985-9876), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Josh Grimes, a longtime member of the Sporting Club’s running club, agrees. “The runners are supportive of each other. We challenge each other and motivate each other.”
Each running club is different, but the general thread is that a group of people get together for choreographed runs. The Sporting Club, for example, meets two mornings a week at 6 am and runs en masse to the Art Museum, does sprints in Rittenhouse, or takes a speedy trek across the Ben Franklin. The Bryn Mawr Running Club (multiple locations), one of the largest in the Philly area with more than 400 members, does longer, more intensive runs of five to 10 miles. Most running clubs associated with gyms are free to members (The Sporting Club’s running club is even free to nonmembers), and dedicated clubs like the Bryn Mawr Running Club cost in the $25-a-year range.
But running clubs aren’t just for physical paragons, says Julie Morrison, president of Bryn Mawr Running Club. “It took me three years of living in Philly to get up the nerve to try out BMRC. We have people of all abilities—everything from five-minute-milers to 12-minute milers. I have definitely become a better runner.”
Whether it’s the social camaraderie or physical confidence gained from the clubs, the payoff can be profound, says Goldthorp. “People go from ‘running is punishment’ to ‘running is my savior’—I love seeing that evolution happen.”