The inaugural Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon (Love Run Philly), held on March 30, 2014, with its torrential, wind-driven rain, sub-50º temperatures, and sold out crowd, stands as a testament to the hardiness of Philly’s runners (and Philly’s grit in general). It ranks among the top inaugural half marathons in the country, boasting the rare distinction of selling out as a first time race. For running fanatics in Philadelphia, and even beyond, it’s hard to imagine our city without Love Run Philly because, in just eight years, the race has become a veritable institution, as well as a crowd favorite. The race originated around nine years ago, when Michele and Larry Redrow found themselves asking “Why doesn’t Philly have a half marathon in the spring!?” And thus were sown the seeds for the Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon.
Both Michele and Larry have competed in distance runs and triathlons for decades; and their love for the sport led them to start CGI Racing in 1991, over 30 years ago. They’ve been managing half marathons and triathlons—including the NJ State Triathlon and the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon—ever since, adding Love Run Philly to CGI’s race roster in 2014.
“It was one of those situations where the idea just came to us and we were like, that’s it! We went to the City and secured a permit—which was extremely difficult to get—for a specific date in the spring. We sat down and started brainstorming ideas for names and the Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon came to us. We thought that’s the perfect name…perfect for the City…perfect kickoff to the Spring. It’s everything you love about Philly and running.” says Michele, letting her genuine passion for Philly show. Love Run’s numbers bear this out. In its first year, the Love Run Philly sold out at 10,000 participants. It has sold out every year since—with the exception of 2021 when the race was canceled, thanks to COVID.
Sold out races are a great thing, especially when race directors, like the Redrows, are socially conscious and feel a responsibility to give back. And that they have. Over the years CGI has made more than $500,000 in donations to charitable causes. More specifically, Michele understands the importance of funding projects to research and find cures for cancer, because her mother passed away from breast cancer some 30 years ago. She mentions the amazing evolution and effectiveness that has occurred in cancer treatment since her mother passed, stressing that “we need to keep that going and moving forward.”
Love Run's connection with Legacy of Hope goes back to the race’s inaugural year, before Legacy of Hope was even formed. Michele states “One of the biggest things we’ve encouraged with Love Run Philly, and something that has really taken off, is teams. Teams bring energy to the race. Mike Rowe was on one of the very first teams—11th Hour Racing—and I got to know him very well.” Rowe had started 11th Hour Racing as a non-profit when he was working at Jefferson Health in the ER. 11th Hour Racing was fiscally sponsored by Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and was doing work similar to what Legacy of Hope does today, but on a much smaller scale.
“Mike came to us a lot for direction on building teams—the teams get a lot of great perks. Since he was new, he was bouncing a lot of ideas off us, which we loved; we shared his ideas with other teams.” Within a few years, Rowe fine tuned his efforts and had formed Legacy of Hope. Then he met with Michele and Larry again and told them about his idea for Philly Runs Free.
Michele recalls, “We’d had national charities wanting to partner with us, but we thought it was important to do something locally that would impact Philadelphia and our community, and Legacy of Hope feels more like home to us.”
Rowe, who has run in every Love Run since its inception, feels much the same way. “Love Run is my favorite race, it’s all about Philly, and so is Legacy of Hope.”
Consequently, 2019 marked the official start of Philly Runs Free—the partnership between Love Run Philly and Legacy of Hope. The idea is simple and effective: runners raise $250 or more for Legacy of Hope and they race for free. Rowe cites the $250 mark as an incentive “because it’s a low threshold, as far as fundraising for races goes. Once a runner raises $250 for Legacy of Hope, their entire registration is refunded. The major difference between Philly Runs Free and other race/charity partnerships is that you can be part of whatever team you want, and still race free. That’s an important factor because over 150 teams were registered in the first Love Run. Other races force you to join their designated charity team and wear their colors to race free. The most important part of our partnership is how easy we make it for folks to help cancer patients avoid losing their home or going hungry.” To date—even with the havoc wrought by COVID for two years—Philly Runs Free has raised over $260,000 to help fulfill Legacy of Hope’s mission that no family should lose their home or go without food because a loved one is fighting cancer, and no promising cancer research should go unfunded.
2022 was a big deal for the Love Run Philly, marking its long anticipated comeback from the pandemic, which tempered their team with the knowledge that, if they can make it through this, they can make it through anything—very similar to that character-building inaugural Love Run. Michele shares that “We always say we’re blessed that through the years we’ve been able to change so many people’s lives every day. Some people think it's just a race, but it’s not really. When you see people finish and you hear some of their stories, you realize that this is bigger than running.”
Michele’s sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. Love Run Philly is about much more than just running; and Philly Runs Free is an easy, healthy vehicle to bring positive change to our city. Let’s set a new record in 2023 for the most Philly Runs Free participants: 1000! Register to run the Love Run Philly in 2023 for free - sign up today at Philly Runs Free.