You know the “don’t wear anything new on race day” and all the basics… now, let’s do NYC Marathon as right as we can. I write things down because I forget, but I’ve done this one before and I keep running into people who haven’t and are nervous. I just compiled a lot of my emails, and here we go! Let me know if you have any specific questions!!
PRE RACE LOGISTICS
Make a marathon list of what you’ll need a week or two before and sort it all by stages, here is an Marathon Packing List to start with. Get everything in the list ready as soon as possible.
The expo is big (probably the biggest one in the US after Boston!), so please bring some patience, cash (there WILL be a few things you’ll want), and comfortable shoes. Don’t forget to bring a printed copy of your registration card and photo identification. Don’t wear the marathon-shirt before the race (come on!). Note: running stores all over the city have amazing gear and discounts too (organized list HERE), and if you can wait, a lot of the official asics gear will be half off in the nyrr’s website by January!
Set your clock back on Saturday night. If you use a smart phone like 99% of the population, you’ll be fine. If you set your Garmin, it will update automatically too. Sleep!
Bring a lot of cheap or throwaway clothes to the start. Find a mylar blanket from your last marathon (and don’t throw away the blanket or poncho you’ll get at the finish here!). You will need them until the last minute in the corral (I wear one as pants with tape and one as a cape). I wear my throwaway cardigan or a sweater (cut in the front for easy peeling, kept it in place with a safety pin!) during the first mile too! Go to the dollar store and get knee-high socks, cut the toes part and you’ll have throwaway arm warmers! I keep half of it on until Mile 3, it can be windy on the bridge, mostly if you are on top (blue or orange waves).
Gear… usually the marathon is in the 40s or 50s, so bring a few options to the start and decide there if you’re checking a bag. Be smart, and make sure you can peel off layers comfortably. If you don’t want to carry your phone, at least carry a $20 bill, a metrocard, and an ID with you, just in case.
Ferry, you can hop on ANY of them, but don’t go too early or you’ll wait out in the cold unnecessarily. Get on the ferry that leaves 2.5 hours from your wave start (10 am wave, 7:30 am ferry). As soon as you land in Staten Island, go to the bathrooms in the terminal, and stay in the terminal if it’s too early.
Athlete’s Village. It’s HUGE. If you’re planning to meet up with people there, good luck. Tell them to wait right off the entrance or have a cell phone with you. Did I mention it’s huge? There’s not much cover but you’ll find food and drinks (bagels and coffee and gatorade and bananas!). Head up to your village and camp close to your corral, and pay attention to the instructions. You do not want to be looking for your corral or getting to it as the wave deadline is done. I’ve been locked out of my corral TWO times just because I was socializing and not paying attention… If you checked the marathon packing list, you are dressed warmly, have food, water, the paper etc so set up camp next to your corral.
Write your name on your shirt, do not even question this. If you don’t want your name, write something funny you’ll want people to scream to you all over the course (Speedy?). It will make your race 100 times better. If you don’t want to ruin your gear, cut the letters our of duct tape (like I do!) and voila, they’ll peel right off!
Headphones? If you are used to racing with headphones, bring them. I like to leave them on, and turn them on only when necessary. Sometimes I need a distraction, and though the crowds will carry you through everything, you might need an extra oomph, like on the quiet Queensboro! When you want some quiet time, you pump the music up and move to the middle of the street when you won’t be engaging with people. Big disclaimer: the spectators ARE the marathon, and if you use your music you will miss out on a lot. They can push you so much more than you can on your own, so use that energy up. You’ll have tons more fun than you expected. And no one will let you slow down or walk here! Disclaimer 2: if the music is on, make sure you can still hear what is happening around you!!!!
Place your spectators in spots where you’ll need them. I usually set 4 spots. One in Brooklyn around mile 5 or 9, and then really high on First Avenue, past 118 where the crowds thin out, so then they can cross over to 5th avenue, the third spot, and see you again and then zip over to the finish line (4th spot!)! Know exactly on what side of the street they’ll be so YOU can spot them (they won’t be able to spot you!). Send them with something big: a flag, a sign, balloons, huge funny hat, etc. Here is a great tool that estimates where/when they can see you and all the train stops closeby! Tell them to get comfy shoes, really warm clothes and to bring food. It will be a long day for them too!
If you need an extra push, ask for help!! FORCE all your friends to come watch you. Ask them “where are you going to be?” or/and use the tool above to see where is easier for them to get to. Then tell them a time you’ll go through there, give or take 10 minutes, and decide if they’ll be runner’s Left or Right. Then make a little-tiny list you can carry in your pocket (Example: 74th st, John, left / 32nd st, Mike, right, etc.) in order or appearance, put clear tape all over it so it won’t get sweaty and basically go from John, to Mike, to etc… Let them pull you along the course and that’ll break the course in parts, instead of think “AH, I gotta go 26.2, ugh” you’ll think: “I am just going to 74th, mile 5, to see John, then we’ll see!“
Get yourself a course specific pace bracelet, this one is the BEST! And it has way more information than you could ever need. Hill info, spectator info, all. Print a few different options and decide that morning!
Plan your nutrition way ahead. For the race: try to practice in training with what they’ll have at the race: water, yellow Gatoraded and Powerbar Gels (water and G at every Mile and Gels around Mile 17 only). You can buy gels at the expo if necessary. But for race morning, get bagels/oatmeal and whatever you need the day before as there will not be a lot of delis open at 6 am.
If you need to move around, go to Central Park. You’ll see many of your race-buddies and get to enjoy the best place in the world as a runner. There’s a 5K early on Saturday, go watch/cheer if you can. The parade of Nations and fireworks Friday night are fun too to get in the marathon weekend spirit.
Find a mantra, or two, you might really need them. I write them in my hand where I am sure I will see it.
The race WILL be crowded, so PLEASE, if you need to stop for a walk or move over another lane for water, please please please signal with your arms, and look around behind you before you make any moves. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, DO NOT just stop or go sideways. Be considerate of your fellow runners who trained hard and could trip and lose their dream race! On the other hand, you’ll always have someone to run with, pace of, or follow when you’re tired. Pick them up when you feel strong, encourage them when they need it, and keep your eyes peeled for anyone who might need help!!!!
If you are in the GREEN corral and you’re scared you’ll be peed on… don’t! There *might* be someone peeing on top of the bridge but IF (BIG IF) it happens, you’d only feel it if you’re in the outsides of the crowd, and if the wind is going in your direction. I’ve been green once before and saw/felt nothing. I’ve also been on top a few times and saw very few people peeing. The odds that you get peed on are about 0.0003. Okay? If you’re scared, just stay in the middle, with the roof over you.
Break the race in parts, so you will know how to tackle each segment. Device a plan and stick to it no matter what. A smart plan is to aim for even effort. Still, I always go for negative splits, as hard as that seems in this course that has many uphills/bridges in the second half, but if you keep it strong and conservative throughout the race, it is possible. I am an average runner and have negative split in all my NYCMs but my first. Ask Bart Yasso and he’ll tell you: “NYC for sure is a 100 % negative split course. Hold back in those early miles and it will pay off later in the race.”
If you are still not sure, check a few of my NYCMs. Again, I am just an average runner! Check how the faster I went through the 13.1 mark, the slower my marathon was! This is quite telling… Check 2009 and 2010 where I only PRed by 3 minutes. Check how in 2010, I started a LOT slower… my first 5K was 1:30 slower! By 13.1 I was FOUR minutes behind… and I still ended up PRing by 3 minutes… Unbelievable, right? It happens! (you can also see how this starting-slow works at the end of this post)
Basically: You have to believe in yourself.
Onto the race parts then!
Mile 1-2. The Verrazano
Don’t go out too fast. You will be tempted, resist with all you can. Let people GO. I promise you: sooner or later, they will come back to you. They will. LET. THEM. GO. Enjoy the excitement of the first 2 miles, and relax. If it feels annoyingly slow, you are doing it right. If it’s crowded, DO NOT WEAVE. They’re doing you a favor by keeping you tied up, relax. Biggest mistake most people do is going too fast on mile one and as soon as they get off the Queensboro on First Ave, don’t be one of them! Mile 2, you will be forced to speed down the bridge, you will feel tempted to roll with it (and everyone around you), get out of your cage and pass people. Remember: hold your horses a bit still, don’t ruin your race.
Just remember this: Bank = Bonk! Mile 3 is when the race starts. You need to make sure you get to Mile 10 feeling as if you haven’t started the race yet.
And more thing, which applies to the whole course. It will be crowded and you’ll notice the stream of runners going around obstacles (curbs, signs, markers) in the middle of the road. You’ll really have to pay attention, look ahead, at least for the whole Brooklyn section (with the curb in the middle of 4th avenue), or you can easily hit something and go down. When you run on the sides to be close to the crowds, you are more likely to have gutter/drain cover/footing issues. It’s not lethal but be aware that there’s a tradeoff.
Miles 3-15. Brooklyn
Your goal for the first half of the race is to get to the Queensboro in one piece, feeling strong to climb over the bridge and to get yourself in the city in fighting shape. Exercise all your patience here and keep yourself in good checks to not let yourself go. If you are running comfortable, you are doing it right.
Miles 3 to 8 will be easy and flat, this is when you save your energy, you are definitely going to need it later. There is a little hill at 8.5 and the Pulaski Bridge right at the halfway mark which might seem like a mountain if this is your first time. Slow down and go for even effort and not even pace on the bridges for now. It’s not the time to break out your sword.
There will be water/Gatorade in every single mile, so if you miss one, don’t stress. Don’t go for the first table as everyone will do that. There’s many tables, go to the last one. Portapottties are also at every mile so keep an eye out and don’t dart sideways!
Mile 16. THE Almighty Queensboro/Ed Koch Bridge
The Queensboro is quiet. Savor this you time while doing a whole body systems check. Focus on the sound of the foosteps or take out the music if you prefer. This will be the quietest time on the whole race and it’s a long bridge… I like to embrace the solitude of this mile, savor it and prepare for what’s ahead. Back down on the pace a bit so you can get to the top of the bridge with enough strength to take on the downhill! Rolling down the 59th st bridge onto First Avenue is surely the most exciting moment in the whole race (well, to me), and maybe, in all marathoning. Also, the best pit stop is at the bottom of this bridge!
Mile 17 to 19. First Avenue
First Avenue is where a win is made or lost. Many an elite runners broke their strategy here and paid lots for it. Don’t get taken by the really loud crowds. Keep in mind there are still a few bridges and long uphills ahead of you. The marathon starts at mile 20 and we are not there yet. AT ALL!!
Plan to set on a steady pace here so you can start making up some time. Do not force a lot of speed, and if they crowds are getting you too excited, make sure you hold back. Move to the sides if you need cheering or to the middle of the road if you have to focus. Cautiously break out your fourth gear and start focusing on the goal. If you have followed a smart strategy up to here, you should be right on goal pace by Mile 20, or maybe 30 seconds behind (which is always a LOT better than 2 minutes fast!). Gels will be around Mile 18, so start checking if you need one for the last miles, and think what color/flavor you like!
Mile 19 to 23. The Bronx/Harlem Experience
This is when you will use up your training and start working hard… and it will get REAL fast. Not only you’re hitting twenty, but there will be a few bridges and in some areas the crowds will be gone. Dig deep and stay focused on your pace, ease up on the uphills and bridges but make sure you don’t get too distracted or discouraged. This is a really nice stretch to start pushing the pace when you can. Focus on getting to 110th st, where Central Park starts! If you see trees ahead, keep in mind the Marcus Garvey Memorial Park will intersect the course on 125, and then you’ll be back on 5th ave. Just focus on getting back into the city in one piece to face mile 24.
Mile 24. Fifth Avenue, the ninja hill.
Fifth avenue will provide you a long straight stretch, so rare in this race. It is going to hurt, there’s a long uphill (you won’t see it coming!) and you’ll be tired: use your mantra here. There will be enough spectators to help but this is when you have to start digging deep and see how many gears you have left. Keep in mind you might not notice the uphill at first so don’t go all out crazy just yet but keep focusing on the finish line pulling you. If you start on the first wave, you might find some pesky annoying sun blinding you, and it can get a little crowded, but just focus on getting to 90th, when you go into the park! Fred Lebow won’t be there to salute you as always, so all you can do is recover ALL those people who went out too fast at mile one, you’ll spot them easily. You might even have a little chuckle if you run it smartly. Pick a bright target 20 feet ahead and don’t let them go. One at a time!
Mile 25 to 26.2 Central Park
If you did things right, you will pick up a LOT of people in this stretch. A LOT. Ondulating hills all the way to the uphill finish, you’ll be able to change biomechanics often that you won’t be too set on one form, which is great. Find your fifth gear and ram it home. Enjoy those last two miles, they go by fast and you’ll be stopping soon so USE ALL YOU HAVE LEFT! Make sure your bib is visible when you get to the turn on Columbus circle or you might get tackled down! The hill at the finish is the steepest of the whole race so just ride it as hard you can, as long as you can still finish with a smile! Pose for the finish picture!!! That’s it, you’re home. The most famous finish line in the world. Cry if you want (I always do!). You can stop now. Just make sure you don’t stop right at the clock, or there’ll be a human pile on top of you ;-)
Plan on it taking a LONG time between finishing and exiting to find your friends/family – 30-45 minutes. It’s crowded, there might a line at your truck, and you will be moving slowly even if your body is capable of moving more quickly.
Walk, get your medal, take pictures, get your stuff or your poncho, meet your friends, get drinks and clothes on, eat, enjoy, celebrate, stretch, ice bath, rest, eat more, sleeeeeep! Go to the finish line store early Monday morning, tell everyone about your race, eat some more, walk around (you only wear the medal on Monday if you are a tourist!), go downstairs backwards, have a congratulatory donut, look for your name in the NY Times on Monday, tell people you won’t act crazy anymore, and won’t be doing another one of these ever. Sign up for another marathon right away and celebrate some more. Celebrate the whole week if you want. You earned it. If doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done this race, or any, finishing NYCM is always amazing. I dare you to not cry once. This marathon is our victory lap through the city, after all our training. ENJOY YOURSELF.
2013 New York City Marathon Medal
Questions?? Anything to add? Anything you want to go over?
—-Comment happily: you won’t be asked to create an account!
The official New York City Marathon Course Map. More info on their course page, including a video of the course.
Love this: Toby’s Essential Last Minute Tips for NYCM