The New York marathon is, undoubtedly, one of the most famous and desirable 26.2 miles for any long distance runner. It is neither the oldest, nor the hardest, marathon but it is as iconic as the city itself. Fred Lebow, a Jewish tailor of some repute and a keen runner, was the unlikely organiser of the first marathon in 1970 with just 127 runners. In those early days it circuited the required distance around central park which must have made keeping a tally of the runners’ laps a logistical nightmare. By 1976, with growing interest and eager to unify an almost bankrupt city, a marathon route was designed to include all five boroughs of New York. In an age where this sort of thing just didn’t happen, it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. The neighbourhoods came together, regeneration occurred wherever the route traversed and the forces donated their time for free to make this a real success. A little over 2000 runners competed. 45 years on from the very first race, the New York marathon is as vast as it is prestigious. With 50,000 runners, it is certainly a spectacle worth marking in the New York calendar – a day to see the whole of New York unite to celebrate the endeavours of all those participating. Whether you want to run, or to watch other people run, this blog will hopefully give you an insight into how to go about it.
Applications for the New York entrance lottery open in January. There are several provisos to this lottery (in addition to those who happen to be running a 2:10 marathon pace), so check here for details of who can get a guaranteed entry
You should find out if you are successful by the end of February. If you haven’t made it through the lottery, your options are still pretty good. The marathon reserves hundreds of places for charity runners. The NYC official website provides lists of all the registered charities, (I’m including the link but, depending on when you are reading this, the charity list may not be up). Find a charity that really means something to you. It will mean so much more and make training so much easier. Each charity will have a required donation amount – the amount you have to raise, but with figures starting around $3500 it really isn’t so hard, and don’t forget, you have to pay for standard lottery entrance anyway.
I personally believe that the charity route is the best option for running the New York marathon. Not only do you raise a good amount of money for a cause that means something to you, but it helps, whenever things are getting tough, to remind you why you are doing this! One of the most poignant sights you will see, both before and during the marathon are the Team Achilles runners. Able bodied runners who give up their time and energy to help (sometimes severely) disabled participants to complete the course. How ever hard you are finding it, yelling your support for these guys will give you a burst of energy!
On the day: Expect an early start – you need to get to Staten island, either via the ferry or organised coaches well before the start of the race. Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes – November can be mighty chilly here. The clothes are abandoned before the marathon starts, unless you are leaving baggage with the organisers, but don’t fear, it all goes to charity. Restroom queues can be long, so plan ahead and don’t try to go just before your time slot for starting the race. Make sure your T-shirt has your name clearly visible on the front. I cannot stress enough how important this is. With your name showing you will have hundreds of thousands of people cheering you on – pretty good support when you are feeling low. Everyone heads out too fast, despite their best efforts, and GPS signals can be sketchy if you are on the lower level of the Staten Island bridge so don’t rely on that in those early stages. First avenue is another hot spot where the noise from the crowds can again lead people to speed up. Enjoy all the different neighbourhoods – each will have its own personality and make sure you take in the atmosphere . This leads to another no no for me – the wearing of headphones. Music may make things easier for some people, but you won’t hear all the crowds shouting your name if you are in your own bubble. It can also lead to accidents if you have no idea who is approaching from behind (such as a fast moving wheelchair).
The marathon is as fantastic to watch as to take part in (and without the months of training!) This year 2 million people lined the streets of the city to yell their support for friends, loved ones, and total strangers.
It is entirely possible to see your friends in more than one location on the 26.2 mile course. You simply have to treat it like a military maneuver. Plan in advance, with your runner, where you will be (to within a few blocks). Be clear on which side of the street you will be standing (or need to be standing – at the start the runners’ routes are split). Ensure you have something large and obvious to wave (it is much easier for a runner to spot you than for you to spot a runner). Use the marathon mobile app to track your runner (but be aware of possible lag – make sure you keep an eye out both before they should arrive and after).
Test case: Having formulated a plan, I did a test run route, the week before the marathon, to make sure it was physically possible to reach all the spots before my runner did. I had decided to try to fit in 4 locations – Fourth avenue in Brooklyn (near 59th street), Atlantic avenue (near the Barclay center), First avenue on Manhattan (around 77th street) and then in central park. This was chosen based on ease of subway routes/ walking distances and Duncan’s expected running pace. To ensure visibility, I held aloft a large Union Jack (which was very popular with all the British runners) plus a large banner with Duncan’s name. We successfully saw him at all 4 locations which, having spoken to many people who totally missed their runners, makes me feel pretty smug.
The end of the race: Having collected your medal and snacks, runners are spat out of central park at either 67th or 81st depending on whether they have chosen to have a bag pick-up or not. As a result, the restaurants around the Upper West side can get rammed with space blanket clad runners and their families. Many won’t accept bookings. I would suggest arranging an easy meet up spot in advance (somewhere near to the finish line in case your runner is in pain) and then travelling away from the immediate area to find a quieter spot (just a few blocks can make all the difference). A cold bath (just for the runners) and plenty of calories (you all deserve it) will definitely help. Our choice? We celebrated Duncan’s success at our favourite margarita establishment which pleased both our tired runner and the amazing band of people I had accompany me on our own mini-marathon.
The New York marathon gives everyone, participating, the chance to feel like an Olympian for a day. Enjoy every moment (even when you are struggling). The people of New York, its very “lifeblood”, will be with you every step of the way, willing you on and wanting you to succeed! The spectators are what make this particular marathon so very special. So whether you run or you watch, you are making this marathon what it is. Enjoy!!!