So long as I reach the start (and finish line), this will be my 4th NYC Marathon in 5 years. It’s been a dream of mine to run ever since my high school track days. I even wrote my final high school essay on Fred Lebow, the founder of the NYC Marathon. Whether I’m on the sidelines or running, it’s a day I look forward to all year. I wanted to share with you my experiences with this race as you prepare for yours.
What to Wear
This is personal and depends on the weather that day. It’s looking like it will be in the 50s/60s, so I’ll likely wear a singlet and shorts. If the start is a bit chilly, I’ll also wear removable sleeves, a headwarmer, gloves, and some fabric thing around my neck – I am not quite sure what it is called. I also wear plenty of Vaseline – your body will always find new places to chafe and it is best to be prepared (there is also Vaseline along the course given out near medical tents).
Many people choose to have their name on their shirt (whether screenprinted, with Sharpie, tape, whatever works for you!). Before my first marathon I read how someone regret doing this and I thought how ungrateful they were to not appreciate the cheers they received. Then I realized with each cheer, you want to share gratitude, and sometimes it is just too exhausting. Nonetheless, I continue to write my name on my shirt. Actually, I write my nickname, “Moni.” This had an unexpected perk. Most people cheered for me screaming, “Mo-knee,” when it is actually pronounced, “Ma-knee.” This helped me to differentiate strangers cheering for me versus people I actually knew.
Be sure to bring extra layers for the start. Even if you’re bringing baggage, you should have warm clothes you don’t mind disposing of (they’ll be donated!) because you’ll still have a long wait after checking your bag. Again, you know yourself best – more layers is better than less. Maybe you’ve saved some of your heat wraps from previous races or have some spare cardboard boxes laying around. Last year I got to the start late and it was so warm that I just stripped to my running singlet and shorts and didn’t even wear my headwarmer or removable sleeves.
Getting to the Start
The NYC Marathon is always on the day that daylight savings time ends – which means we get an extra hour of sleep that morning! For the late finishers, it is also means you’re likely to end in the dark.
I’ve only taken the Staten Island Ferry to the start. Traditionally, they haven’t checked what time ferry you are signed up for, but it is advised against taking a different one. This is because once you’re off the ferry, you’ll have to board a bus to get to the starting village – NYRR arranges for buses at certain times based on the number of people signed up for each ferry.
The Staten Island Ferry leaves promptly at the assigned departure time and takes 25 minutes. It may be crowded before boarding, but there will be space for you. What’s tricky is when you get off the ferry. My first 2 experiences I took an earlier ferry and barely had a wait time to get onto a bus to the start village. Last year I took a later ferry (maybe 6:30am?) and had to wait what felt like forever (could it have been an hour? I’m not sure) to just exit the ferry station, and then finally get on a bus. The bus only has to drive a couple of miles, but it moves extremely slowly. I’d say you’re safe if you give yourself two hours to get to the start.
At the Start
After getting off the bus, you’ll have to walk through security and go through a metal detector, you’ll then have a bit of a walk through the start village. If you have a bag and depending on how much time you have, you’ll need to be mindful of dropping it off with the UPS truck that coordinates with your bib number. Note the timeline for baggage closures, as well as when corrals open and close for the different waves. Last year I ran in a wave later than my assigned – I did not take this into consideration and made it to the baggage check area literally as they were shutting the doors to my truck. It would have been miserable had I missed it because I imagine they then just throw it in a random truck of leftover bags and it takes extra long to sort through – I already had that happen once after a half marathon and certainly didn’t want to deal with that after a full marathon.
Before you go to your “color” section – there are religious services and charities in the general open area (click here to see the start village map). When you’re ready, make your way to your “color.” It is apparently possible to run in a different “color” section depending on your bib number, but again, NYRR rather you not. You can also run in a later wave/corral, but not an earlier one.
There you will find therapy dogs, breakfast (usually bananas, bagels, and coffee provided by Dunkin Donuts), and porta potties – what more could you want? There are also toilets once you enter the corral area – where ever you do your business, there are likely to be lines, so consider getting in line before you actually need to go.
Entering Your Corral
At a certain time there will be announcements to start lining up in your corral – make sure you do it for your wave and not an earlier one! A fence will then be opened and you’ll get to do some more waiting, but in a different location. Eventually, you’ll make your way to the starting line. Be sure to shed any of your last layers and throw them to the side. You’ll hear the Star Spangled Banner and likely Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and then you’ll be off! The moment you’ve been waiting for all year will be here. You’ll be running the NYC Marathon.
And so it Begins!
You start at the base of the Verrazano Bridge, so your first mile is a climb. You won’t even notice it, but it’s there. You probably already know this, but you really should start a marathon conservatively. You’re fresh and excited, but you know going too fast will catch up with you soon enough. Pick a pace and try to stick to it.
If you’re planning to catch friends and family along the course – you must plan ahead. Pick an exact spot for them to be (intersection and which side of the street). If you have an idea of your marathon time, you can give them an estimated time of when you anticipate being there. It will be much easier for you to spot them, so be on the look out when you approach that area. They’ll be able to track you on the TCS NYC Marathon app – which gives updates every 5k and anticipates your finish time. This will be my first year running with my phone, so I’m going to have iPhone’s “Find My Friends” activated – I’ll share my location in advance with my iPhone friends and they’ll be able to get updates of exactly where I am on the course. Finding friends along the way is my favorite part of running NYC and is what keeps me motivated.
Some areas are trickier to navigate than others. On 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, if you are orange, you will run on the left/west side of the street. If you are green or blue, you’ll be on the right/east side of the street. It will be impossible for spectators to cross the street, so be sure to plan ahead. There is a subway that runs along 4th Avenue and some stations will allow you to walk underground to get to the other side of the street (but not all – so check in advance!).
It is also very crowded on 1st Avenue in the 60s and 70s, with barricades lining the street. Occasionally you can cross at an intersection, but you’ll need to be ready to run so you don’t get trampled.
Central Park is another fun area! If you’re going to spectate in Central Park, do not plan to cross through the park to get the finish/family reunion area – only runners are allowed and you will be turned away. You’ll either need to walk north of 85th Street or south of the park in order to reach the west side. Here is the finish area map.
And so it Continues!
Here you can find all the course information you’ll need. There is Gatorade, followed by water, at nearly every mile after the 3rd mile. The tables are long, so no need to go to the first one. At mile 18 there are gels, and miles 20-23 have fruit. Strangers will be giving out treats along the way too. There are also toilets and medical stations at every mile after mile 3.
The crowd will be pretty thick throughout much of the course. Of course, mile 15 on the Queensboro / 59th Street Bridge is empty and the Bronx is often quieter than one would like. Depending on how late you’re running, the crowd is also likely to thin, but there will still be plenty to cheer you on at the finish.
Many say a marathon truly begins in the last 10k. As you reenter Manhattan after the Bronx, you’ll notice a long slight uphill as you run down 5th Avenue, and then the rolling hills of Central Park. For me, miles 23-25 feel endless. Despite between so familiar with the park, it is like foreign territory at that point. And just like the race begins on a hill, it will end on a slighter hill as you finish out the last .2.
This is where things get really hard. You think you’re done, but you’re not. You’ve still got 30-60 minutes before you can fully exit the park. I always want to cry and never do– I can only guess I’ve used up all my energy by then.
First, you get your medal. Then, you may want to collapse. You’ll be revived by a ton of wonderful volunteers congratulating you and encouraging you to keep walking. They do not want you to stop, which can feel like a real nasty trick given how you may be feeling. I usually take a bunch of stretch and sit breaks, praying that I’ll make it to the exit. Last year, a fellow runner saw me struggling and offered to help stretch my legs.
If you’re doing the poncho option, you’re in luck, you get to exit the park first. This year will be my first time doing this and I’m so excited. If your bib number is 31,000+, you’ll get to exit at 81st Street. The rest of you will have to exit at 85th Street.
My first year, my bib number was 18398. The first truck with bags you see is the highest number bib (something over 70000), and with each truck the bib numbers go down. When you’re walking from the 70000 to the 18000 truck after a marathon, it can feel like you will literally never reach your bag. But eventually, you do. I always change my clothes right away to prevent chafing. Keeping the heat sheet wrapped around you, while taking off your shoes and trying to keep your balance as you swap out spandex while not wearing underwear is extremely difficult. Eventually when that is all done, I meander my way out of the park and toward Columbus Avenue, where I am eventually reunited with my family. This is always fun because I am a child of divorce and while I’m lucky enough to have two loving and local parents come to support me on the course and at the finish, it doesn’t always make for a seamless experience. Especially that year my dad conveniently forgot his wallet when my parents were meeting my then-boyfriend for the first time and the year (actually, two years) mom surprised us by saying she was wearing a diaper because it was a free sample and she didn’t know if she’d have access to a toilet while cheering (she claims to have not used it). Good times.
This is the first year I got active in NYC Marathon Facebook groups and what fun it has been! Imagine how much more our partners would have to listen to us obsess about the marathon if these groups did not exist? I also imagine our work productivity will go up significantly after the marathon is over.
I typically ease up running in the winter, and since I recently joined a gym, I’m planning to start taking strength training classes. My dad ran about a 5:37 mile (I need to double check that time) when he was 31. So I do have a mini goal that I do the same before I hit 32 at 12:48pm on May 4th. Haven’t run that quickly since my half age ago, so we’ll see 🙂