Training in Philadelphia: Where to Run for Endurance, Speed, Hills, and Ease from Morning to Night by Melissa Field
For runners, variety is more than the spice of life; it’s our foundation. Variety in running is important because each run trains your body to do something different. Long runs teach your body to store glycogen and utilize fat as a fuel source. Tempo runs and intervals aid your body in processing lactic acid, which will, in turn, help you feel more comfortable running fast. Short sprints increase anaerobic capacity and oxygen flow, which strengthen your heart. Hill training is often referred to as speed work in disguise and will also help you build anaerobic capacity. And finally, the short, easy run facilitates recovery.
To create a stronger, fitter body, in addition to a successful race performance, you will want to incorporate each of these workouts into your weekly routine. Here are some of the best places to run in Philly when you want to run varied workouts:
The Long Run:
The Kelly Drive Loop is 8.45 miles. For many of us, it is the easiest and most convenient place to run in the city. Still, if you’re training for a half or a full marathon, you will need more miles for your long run. One option is to loop the loop. The advantage of running the loop several times is repeated access to the bathroom and water fountains near Boathouse Row. If running the loop multiple times seems tedious, keep running! After passing the Falls Bridge, you will eventually run into the Wissahickon trails and can link onto the Schuylkill River Trail. Afraid you might get lost? Check out http://www.schuylkillrivertrail.com/ for complete trail maps and a mileage chart. The distance from the Art Museum to Valley Forge is 20.5 miles, which makes it the perfect distance for a marathoner’s longest training run. You can also catch public transportation to get back into Center City.
Let’s face it, when you’re trying to run fast, you don’t want to stand at traffic lights or share slim sidewalk space. You want to run without interruption. There is, therefore, no better place to train for speed than a track. Franklin Field is open to recreational runners when the track team is not practicing. To view track hours, go to http://www.upenn.edu/calendar and select “sports and rec” from the lower left “category” box. As a general rule, you can expect track practice to be in session between the hours of 3-6pm on weekdays.
Philadelphia is not a hilly city. This works in our running favor most of the time, but since hill training will make you a better runner, seeking out hills is actually well worth your while. One option is to run hill repeats on the Walnut and Chestnut ramps as you merge onto Kelly Drive. Another option is to run the small but steep hill under the Art Museum by the Waterworks. If you’d like to break free from Kelly Drive, check out Lemon Hill, across from East Rive Drive and near Boathouse Row. In addition to a great run, Lemon Hill offers an exceptional view of the city skyline. Belmont Plateau, in Fairmont Park (just off the Montgomery exit) presents a number of trails with hills. If you enjoy trail running, be sure to also add the Wissahickon hills to you list.
The easy, short run is reserved for Center City. Being forced to slow down for traffic and people will help keep your run relaxed. It’s also fun to loop through some of the smaller city parks such as Clark Park, Rittenhouse, and Washington Square. Be sure to stick to streets like Pine and Spruce. These smaller streets tend to be less congested and more architecturally scenic. The run from Society Hill to West Philly is roughly 5-6 miles, depending on where you start and finish. This 5-6 mile distance is also a great for a tempo run.
Sunrise and Sunset:
If you like to run early in the morning, run the Ben Franklin Bridge at sunrise. This run offers a chance to combine hill training with a stunning view of the city, and you can even stop for breakfast in Old City! If you need to run in the evening and its dark, stick to the high traffic areas of Center City or University City. The added Penn security in University City, and the lights along Locust Walk, make it a peaceful and safe choice for a nighttime run.
Special thanks to my great running buddies, Kelly April and Nick Freedman, for contributing ideas and suggestions.