Whether you’re running, spectating or volunteering, the New York City Marathon is a joyful life-affirming celebration in a weekend party of fun.
All along the race day course you’ll witness and be inspired by the best of humanity in high density.
- touching scenes of joyful reunion such as you’d find in airport arrival halls
- the funniest home made motivational signs of humour and satire straight out of comedy clubs
- the selfless commitment of thousands of hardworking volunteers making your marathon real
- tens of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds striving, inspiring, and hurting through 26.2 miles, each with intensely personal stories of bravery, determination, and tribute
The 2016 race was the largest marathon ever held with a huge 98.8% completion rate and 51,388 finishers. It is rightly one of the most spectacular and best supported marathons run through one of the world’s most iconic cityscapes. This post has some of the great tips that were given to me and I share my experience running two NYC marathons.
The spectators make the NYC Marathon what it is with neighbourhood communities across the five boroughs turning it into one large street party. The city is alive and buzzing as thousands of people fly in for this premier race.
There’s one million spectators and more than fifty thousand runners. Finding the right face in the crowd, in the right place, at the right time does not happen by chance. If you want to see friends and loved ones you have to plan.
- As a runner, it’s far easier for you to find your supporters than it is for them to find you. It’s all down to you.
- Plan down to the street block and which side of the road your supporters will be.
- Estimate based on your race plan when you’ll pass that point
- Spectators, use the mobile app tracker to get a sense of where the runner is.
- Spectators, know what kit your runner is wearing. Anything that can help them stand out to you is good.
- Spectators, make yourselves stand out. Having a flag to wave, or cowbells, or a sign – anything that the runner can look out for as they approach your meeting point
- For multiple stops, plan around the subway map and check on timings between stations
- Runners, get onto the correct side of the road early – runner safety is important and sudden changes of direction should be avoided
- Runners, if you’re gonna go in for a hug or a kiss look over your shoulder first – before you cut in front of a runner coming up fast
When you eventually cross the finish line you have a long walk through the exit pipeline. The exits from Central Park and the the surrounding streets are restricted with barriers. Follow the advice on the NYRR marathon website and pre-arrange a meeting spot away from the park to hook up with friends and family. Study the exit map.
For some (me included) the hardest part of the marathon is getting to the start line ready for the race. Almost 4 months in training accumulating around 400 miles of running is a big commitment. Carving out that time, avoiding injury, balancing work and home life, while pounding out the miles is a significant investment of your finite time in this world.
Training programs are typically 16 weeks though 12 and 20 week programs are also common. There are programs for novices and there are programs for veterans and everything in between. A common thread running through them is to build the intensity (distance) slowly and to establish a sound base of mileage in advance of starting the program. A golden rule is to not increase weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. Working backwards from that you can figure out what base you need in place. You’ll need a number of weeks running that distance for your body to have made the physiological adaptations needed to safely embark on your program.
Do not neglect strength training and cross training. Core work and strengthening the kinetic chain are important.
Some good resources are:…
- New York Road Runners (nyrr.org) have good programs based on tons of finisher data with good coaches and a virtual trainer program.
- Jeff Galloway’s famous run-walk training program
- The Run Experience.com (how to start running faster without injury)
Frankly, the thing I found hard was picking a program from the sea of options and trusting in it enough to stick with it. The NYRR program served me well on my first marathon. For my second, I found “Run Less, Run Faster” and feel it worked well for me given my injury prone past though there is clear criticism of the method too.
The Start Village
It’s an early start to a long day as over fifty thousand people head to Staten Island. If you hate Christmas shopping on crowded streets you’re not going to like this. You either make your own way there on the Staten Island free ferry (and then a short bus ride) or you’ve signed up to take one of the many buses from mid-town. You’re now faced with several hours chilling out in the start village trying to conserve energy, stay warm and focus on the task ahead. Oh, and use the port-a-loos. Once you move into your starting coral, there are toilets there too and the ratio of people to potties at that point is more favourable.
With Sinatra’s ‘New York’ blasting out and an artillery gun blast starting you through the line there’s no question you’ve just started the NYC Marathon.
Verazzano-Narrows Bridge (Miles 1-2)
It’s the biggest hill on the course. Mile 1 is all up hill to the midpoint of the bridge, mile 2 is all down hill. You’re not going to feel this hill so don’t sweat it.
A lucky two thirds of people run on the top deck, whilst the other third set out on the bottom deck. Beware the latter if you rely on your GPS watch to know your pace over the first 2 miles. GPS signal can be poor on the under deck and you’re likely going to be on your own.
Brooklyn (Miles 3-13)
It’s easy to go fast in Brooklyn. It feels like there’s a lot of gentle downhill and it gives you the longest straight on the course. The energy of the spectators here is amazing. They are out in force and have brilliantly funny signs.
Queens (Miles 13-16)
Expect a short uphill on the Polaski bridge that transports you from Brooklyn into Queens. To the left you’ll catch the Manhattan skyline. The uphill is short, but you’ll likely notice it more than the V-N bridge.
You don’t spend long in Queens and I find it quieter than Brooklyn. Perhaps you’re just settling into the run now or the novelty of the crowd is wearing off.
You exit Queens through the Queensboro bridge. This one hurts. It’s half the length of the V-N bridge and not as steep but the uphill feels so much longer and just keeps going. It’s also eerily quiet. You run in an enclosed space for the first time over the East River with no spectators. For the first time on the course you’re left to your own company. You’ve put down some serious miles now and you’re going to feel this part.
Manhattan 1 (Miles 16-19)
The usual advice is to prepare yourself as you leave the bridge, and turn onto 1st Avenue, bracing to hit a wall of noise. Many people will blow their race plan here by going too fast. The excitement of being on Manhattan, and the huge numbers of cheering supporters, is the ruin of many a race. Stick with it. You have to leave Manhattan, run another borough, and then come back again. There’s a long way still to go.
1st avenue is long. It feels really long. Though it’s shorter than Brooklyn there’s less to distract I feel. Perhaps I know the street numbers too well. But you’ll be here for a little while.
Bronx (Miles 19-21)
You’re in the Bronx for a mile with 2 short bridges and a lot of 90-degree turns. It’s well represented by the community and there’s usually a whole bunch of calf rollers on offer to the weary.
Manhattan 2 (Miles 21-26.2)
You’re close. You’re looking for Central Park now but don’t be fooled as you circumnavigate Marcus Garvey Park first.
You’re on the 5th avenue climb now as you head south looking for Central Park. If you’ve run a sound race plan this is where you can overtake the people who haven’t. It’s a steady and dreary climb, not steep, but now you’re feeling every incline.
Turn into the Central Park at Engineer’s Gate on East 90th street. This early part of the park is the one place where you’ll get bottlenecks as crowd barriers are non existent. Be mindful about zig-zagging around people as you’re upping the effort level and running further. Mentally you’ve got good downhills now and you’re just that last small incline away from the finish line.
First Marathon Suggestions
- Put your name on your shirt. Complete strangers will shout encouragement at you all day.
- Add your flag of origin to win over that subset of the crowd
- High five the crowd – they are there for you and are willing you on
- Ask the crowd for noise and cheers when you are low
- Listen to the crowd and use their energy; they make a lot of noise and it can push you forwards
- Find the thing, the mantra, that will keep you going when you’re tired and hurting (Queensboro bridge and 5th Ave)
- Look for the pro photographers along the course and try to smile and wave for your picture
How To Enter
For 2017 entry check out the NYRR marathon site for dates, lottery info, charity partner announcements and qualifying time entries. In general you’ve got several options. In ascending order of effort they are:
Lottery (0 out of 2 for me)
- “Thanks for applying to run the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon. Unfortunately, your name was not selected through our entry drawing, but there are still several ways to gain entry to the race of a lifetime.”
- The lottery is good test of your true intent. If you get the the “not this year” email then observe in the moment how you feel. Happy? Relieved? Or bummed out? This will tell you how much you want to run New York.
- A great many charity partners offer guaranteed entry and all have minimum fundraising commitments.
- Some have good perks like heated tents and dedicated team buses to the start line.
- Supporting a cause that’s close to you is very fulfilling
Volunteer 9+1 Program
- The NYC marathon is the premier event of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) organisation. NYRR run a full annual schedule of races and offer a 9+1 program leading to guaranteed entry to the marathon. Simply run 9 of the NYRR qualifying events and volunteer at another. This is great opportunity for locals and has helped build an enormous sense of community that is part of the New York psyche.
- If you’re using this option you’re not going to learn anything new here. The time-standard qualifying window is typically the calendar year prior to the year you want to run, and the qualifying times by age category are listed on the NYRR’s website.