See how they run

Heather McDanel talks to her group, Students Run Philly Style, before a run on Kelly Drive. More than 60 students will take part in the marathon; 100 in the half marathon.
Heather McDanel talks to her group, Students Run Philly Style, before a run on Kelly Drive. More than 60 students will take part in the marathon; 100 in the half marathon.

About 23,000 athletes will pound the pavement in the Philadelphia Marathon and two allied races.

Posted: November 19, 2010

Personal struggles propel some runners, others love the thrill of competition or view races as paths to self-discovery and accomplishment. This range of inspiration is what the 17th annual Philadelphia Marathon brings to town.

This weekend, 23,000 athletes will participate in several races: 11,000 are expected in the marathon, 9,000 in the half marathon, and 3,000 in the Rothman Institute 8K.

If you wanted to really stretch your legs for 26.2 miles, it's too late. The full marathon is closed to competitors, selling out every year since 2007. Last year's best times came from John Crews (2 hours, 17 minutes and 15 seconds) of Raleigh, N.C., the men's winner, and Canadian Jutta Merilainen (2:46:44), the women's winner.

But there are other ways for people of all ages and skill levels to enjoy Philadelphia Marathon Weekend.

Heather McDanel is the protective mother hen of Students Run Philly Style, a six-year-old foundation that offers marathon mentoring and other training to help students succeed in life. McDanel works with students from difficult family situations or who need to improve their physical health. The organization helps build students' confidence and goal-setting abilities, giving them hope that they are able to "accomplish goals beyond their dreams, including the completion of a marathon."

McDanel recalled Alisa Footes, 18, from West Philadelphia, who joined the program when she was only 13. She describes Footes as excelling since then, having completed three marathons with the organization and now attending college.

"You could see it really changed their lives," McDanel said of her student athletes. "We're changing a generation and how they navigate the world."

Volunteers with Students Run Philly Style are mostly teachers, with more than 200 volunteer mentors running side-by-side with the students, encouraging them throughout the marathon. Before the run, mentors spend time training with the young people.

More than 60 students, ages 12-18, will be participating in the full marathon, 100 students in the half marathon. Students Run Philly Style is the premier charity partner of the marathon.

While some runners spend 16 to 20 weeks mentally and physically preparing for the marathon, organizers work year-round. City Representative Melanie Johnson, executive director of the Philadelphia Marathon, is proud to be a part of the energetic and healthy event.

"It's the heart of the runners that makes the race," Johnson said. "They're absolutely dedicated to running."

Johnson said the participants can expect Mayor Nutter's traditional involvement: blowing a horn to start the event.

The 26.2-mile course winds through the city and up Chestnut Street through Fairmount Park and along the Schuylkill.

Among the marathoners will be Kathleen Boyle Wrigley, sister of slain Philadelphia police Officer Danny Boyle. She will run to celebrate her brother's life.

Some schedule changes were made to accommodate the steadily growing number of participants. The Rothman Institute 8K, previously held on Sunday, is now Saturday, allowing gung-ho athletes the possibility of participating in more than one race. Moving the 8K also opened up more entries for the full and half marathons.

The Health & Fitness Expo will be held Friday and Saturday at the Convention Center. There will be more than 100 exhibitors, including running clubs and experts on fitness and nutrition, providing information and seminars about the sport. It is also where runners can collect their race packets - tags, bibs, and race guides outlining the course. A Kids Zone at the Expo will offer crafts and face painting. Visitors can pick up a complimentary Fan Pass at the expo for discounts to local businesses.

Warwick Ford, 62, will give a seminar on the marathon during the expo. Warwick and Nola Ford are Australian-raised Canadian American running enthusiasts, having published a series of Fun on Foot guidebooks for running. Their latest book, Philadelphia Running and Walking: A Guide for Athletes and Fitness Seekers, published this year, features the Philadelphia Marathon course.

Ford has been running competitively for 10 years, mainly to keep fit and to fulfill his desire to get outdoors more often. He likes being part of a growing community, stressing the importance of joining running clubs and having a regimen.

"I enjoy this lifestyle," Ford said. "In terms of fitness, the more you run the better."

There are more than 25 designated spectator Cheer Zones along the course, spots for volunteers, family members, and friends to encourage the athletes.

"Everyone is going to hit a point that they can't push through it," Johnson said. ". . . We take pride in having those cheer zones. You need something to keep you going."

Ford adds that overcoming the weak moments gives runners the "greatest sense of accomplishment" at the end of the race.

An accomplished wheelchair rugby player, A.J. Nanayakkara, 37, of Roslyn, will be a first-time participant in the half marathon. He was a member of the 2005 Team U.S.A. Wheelchair Rugby Squad.

"It is a grueling test of individual determination," Nanayakkara said. "It is easy for the thought of running the race to overwhelm you."

In 1994, at age 21, he suffered a spinal cord injury while training at a martial arts school in Ambler. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, leading to a long period of depression. Since discovering wheelchair sports in 2002, Nanayakkara has been active in all sports. He says he takes on challenges because it helps him grow.

"Participating in wheelchair sports didn't just improve my physical and mental health," said Nanayakkara. "It gave me my life back."

2010 Philadelphia Marathon Weekend Special Events

   The Health & Fitness Expo will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. A Verizon Kids Zone at the Expo will feature interactive games, activities, and musical entertainment. The free event will be at the Convention Center, Hall D, 12th and Arch Streets.

   The Rothman Institute 8K will start at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at 22d Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wheelchair and handcycle users can check in at 7:25 a.m.; other participants can check in at 7:30 a.m. The entry fee is $45.

   The Verizon Kids Fun Run will start at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at 22d Street and the Parkway. Onsite registration begins at 9 a.m. at the Convention Center Hall D. The entry fee is $15.

   The Marathon and Half Marathon will start at 7 a.m. Sunday near 22d Street and the Parkway. Wheelchair and handcycle can check in at 6:55 a.m., others at 7 a.m. This event is sold out.

Information: 215-683-2122 or

Contact staff writer Rachel Gouk at 215-854-2244 or

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