New York City Marathon Tips, Course Strategy and Info!

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!!


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. You only wear the marathon-shirt before the race if you are a tourist! 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 asics gear will be half off in the nyrr’s website by January!

Set your clock back on Saturday night. If you use a phone like 99% of the population, then you’ll be fine. If you set your Garmin, it will update automatically too.

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 one 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 foot 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).

Gearusually the marathon is in the 40s or 50s, so bring a few options to the start and decide there. 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.

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. 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, 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, see you again and 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 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. You can buy gels at the expo if necessary, but 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, DO NOT just stop or go sideways. Be considerate of your fellow runners who trained hard and could trip and lose their dream! 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 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 a 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 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.

2013 New York City Marathon Negative Splits

Basically: You have to believe in yourself. Onto the race parts then!

2013 New York City Marathon Elevation Profile

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, when you can actually speed up, you will feel tempted to roll with the downhill, get out of your cage and pass people. Hold your horses, don’t ruin your race.

Just remember this: Bank = Bonk! Mile 3 is when the race starts. And make sure you get to Mile 10 feeling as if you haven’t started the race yet.

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.

3 to 8 will be easy and flat, this is when you save your energy, you are definitely going to need it. 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 Queensboro/Ed Koch Bridge

The Queensboro is quiet. Savor this you time a whole body systems check. Focus on the sound of the foosteps of 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 head. 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, 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 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. Cautiously break out your fourth gear and start focusing on the goal. If you have followed a smart strategy 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… 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 110, 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

Mile 24. Fifth Avenue

Fifth avenue will provide you a long straight stretch, so rare in this race. It is going to hurt, there’s an uphill 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 in 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. 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. 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. 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! That’s it, you’re home. The most famous finish line in the world. Cry if you are like me. You can stop now. Just make sure you don’t do right at the clock, or there’ll be a human pile!


Walk, get your medal, take pictures, get your stuff, 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 if you finished sub4 hours, 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, it’s 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

2013 New York City Marathon Medal

Questions?? Anything to add? Anything you want to go over?

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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

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80 thoughts on “New York City Marathon Tips, Course Strategy and Info!

  1. I’ve been toying with the idea of making the jump to the marathon for a while now – this article is darn convincing! I’m going to have to keep an eye out for the lottery this year…

  2. You said it all. While I was reading, I was thinking, “The hill on 5th Ave is sneaky, and the sun will be right in your eyes!” but then you went ahead and said that, too. You thought of everything.

    Thanks for posting this; it made me feel like I was running the course.

  3. (you only wear the medal on Monday if you are a tourist!),
    sorry but that is wrong. After 10 years of doing this race I always wear it the next day under my work clothes

  4. Liz, I LOVE this post. I printed the whole thing out and I’m going to use it as my official guide. I’m mad scared about the negative splits part. I know it works, but it is psychologically tough. What I can promise you right now is that I will go mad slow for the first two miles and that I will force myself to keep my pace on first avenue. PS: I’m gonna make sure I’ll remember to buy waterproof mascara, as you already know I’ll be a crying baby (as per usual) by the end.

  5. Weird question, but my friend and I are both running this and we’re in Green wave, which apparently goes on the lower level of the Verrazano, and she’s warned me about some peeing tradition that happens?? Is that true???

  6. Me encantó tu post. Te respondo en español … Correré el día 3 y seguro que aprovecharé muchos de tus tips. Mi PB es 3:39 y me pusieron en la 1ª wave con lo que creo que seré el más lento y correré, como decimos en España, más solo que la una … Mi idea es 1:47 en el half e intentar ir más rápido en la segunda parte si dan las fuerzas. Será mi 4º maratón y en los dos últimos hice el mismo tiempo en los dos splits… We will see if it Works …. Thank you.

      • Hi Elizabeth, your tips were really, really useful… I just followed what I had in mind based on your strategy proposal and got 3:34:50 (PB). I actually negatively splitted … by just ONE second ;-) … The race atmosphere was amazing and I really enjoyed the whole course. I have seen that it wasn’t your best day … Next time. Abrazo.

        • Thanks Gabi! Wow, that’s amazing, great job!!!!!!!! And a negative split of ONE second is better than 95% of runners there, so GOOD for you!!! Glad you had a great time and really enjoyed it. What’s next?

  7. This is an awesome post! Unfortunately, I won’t be running the INGNYC marathon this year, but I have to keep this article for when I run it next year (hopefully!!) Thanks emaiuolo!

  8. Wow! I’m not even running this race, but I think it will be useful when I do tackle my first marathon next year. I hope to do the NY marathon, but I’m not ready just yet.

    Thank you!

  9. Thanks for all the great tips and the extra knowledge about the course, especially 5th avenue. My training and goal for NYC has been to negative split and I jokingly tell my friends that the only thing I will be saying once it starts is 9 minute first mile, 9 minute first mile even though my goal requires a much faster average pace. I was placed in the green wave so I am a little bummed to hear its not on the top level but if that means less wind…then AWESOME. Also, fantastic tip about being ok with being bunched up in the first mile, I usually try and get to the outsides in races but now I think I will stick with the pack! THANKS for writing this.

    • Thank you, so sweet. Glad you found it useful. Green is usually a lot less windy, so you’ll be fine. and let the crowds restrain you…did you see my splits? it’s very possible to neg split IF you race smart. Maybe that’s the mantra you should write in your hand “race smart” ;-)

  10. Oh my gosh, just reading this blog post got me teary about crossing the finish line! I am going to be a mess on race day. Also, the course specific race bracelets just changed my life! THANK YOU!

  11. You covered everything, including 59th street bridge and last big hill on 5th Ave. That gets many people. I That’s my mantra right now. I have run this course in my head so many times and everything you said is so spot on! Thanks. I am with Dave, Nov 3rd can’t come soon enough!

  12. this was an excellent post, thank you! for runners not familiar with NYC or new to large races with tons of spectators this pt can’t be taken for granted

    ‘Send them with something big: a flag, a sign, balloons, huge funny hat, etc.’

    I ran NYC 10 yrs ago and the group I planned to meet was supposed to be on the east side of 81st/1st Ave, where I lived at the time, but unfortunately they were not able to cross 1st ave and still be there in time so they looked for me from the west side of the avenue. So as I’m running up 1st Ave on the east side of the street I stop at 81st but don’t see them, disappointment :-(, it’s really a sea of humanity on 1st Ave until the 90’s/100’s, so ended up proceeding north after giving it a few minutes. However, on 82 St I see a friend who ran into my family and told me they were on the other side of 1st Ave. on 81st. Turned around, ran back to 81st (totally weird) and hung with the cheering section for a few mins the whole escapade probably took five mins. So be very specific if you plan to meet people, esp in the more crowded ares, and have something that you can look for. Have FUN!

    • yes, I should probably bold that area… i always tell them stuff like northwest corner, if that doesn’t work, keep going north…. (assuming I am going north -so i don’t have to come back!)… it has to be very precise!

  13. This will be my 7th marathon and yet this was still a fantastic post :) I made it to NYC last year for the cancellation, so I am ready to do it this year!! I love your break down of the hills and the great reminder about that first hill because I know large crowds always make me weave as i try to find room. Good reminder to just relax and accept it.

  14. It that a picture of the actual finishers marathon for this year?
    If so it seems similar to the past 3 years style, thin wording in round edge, year in middle.
    At least this seems to include some skyline view.

  15. Wow, this is sooo helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I just ran my first marathon here in Denver, CO on Sunday (Rock’n’roll series). Can’t wait to run NYC. I never thought about bringing my blanket from the Denver marathon for beforehand. Again, thank you for all of the local/expert advice.

  16. Great post. I ran NYCM08, NYCM10, and registered for NYCM14. Just can’t wait! (And i’m a (french) tourist and i wear my medal and my finisher hoodie on monday (and maybe on tuesday too…)

  17. In response to your comment – I dare you not to cry once….reading this brought tears to my eyes. I guess I lost the dare!!! So excited! NYC Marathon! My first marathon! CAN. NOT. WAIT!!!!!

    • So excited for you too!! NYCM was my first too and it was amazing. If you are like me, and do get emotional easily, remember you can’t race and cry efficiently… tell yourself you can cry all night starting when you cross the finish line!

  18. Great information!!!This is my first Marathon ever.. So fortunate to be able to say I ran the NYC Marathon!! 10 days and counting!!!

    • I used to PR every year because NYCM is the only race I used to do… it depends on how hard your PR race was, or in what shape you’re in now. 4 hours? why 4 hours? Just get there 1.5 hours before your wave. the listing on what’s restricted is on the nyrr site.

  19. Merci pour les bisous, c’est très gentil !
    What would be your advices for post race meeting with friends and family, but outside the official family reunion area ? We used to meet on the Museum stairs but i see it’s a forbidden zone nowadays. Of course it’s a bit early for the 2014 race but in fact i’m in New York next week (unfortunatelay after the marathon) and i would like to do some spotting (or scouting). Thanks! And bisous!

    • well, we don’t know yet what the finish line area will look like for next year, but any random corner, with a Starbucks so they can wait indoor would do if they don’t want to be at the family reunion area…

  20. All these tips are fantastic! I’m running this in 2014 (my “rejected three times” bid matures then). This gives me a lot of insight on how to train for this race as well as how to actually run it.

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  23. This is a great post, one of the best NYC marathon reviews I’ve ever seen.
    It tackles a lot of the small but important questions on “how to” get ready and “how to” run the marathon.
    NYC Marathon will be my first marathon ever. I am from a very sunny and hot place (Guadalajara, Mexico) and I am wondering what should I wear for the marathon. I run my 10k and half marathon on a very very light short-sleeved dry-fit T-shirt, shorts and sunglasses.
    I am wondering if NYC gets cold and I should run on a long-sleeved T-shirt or what will I ultimately need to wear when running so I don’t get extra-hot but not freeze either. Any suggestions?

    • Hi J Esteban, gracias!!! Well… what to wear is such a uniquely personalized decision… it depends on how you adjust to the weather. Look at the pictures and you’ll see people in shorts and singlet and others in long tights and jackets… I think you need to start writing down winter temperatures and what you wore. I have, after some years, decided on this (For racing!!! for running it’s an extra layer!!!). Above 42, it’s singlet and shorts, Above 50 is just bra and shorts. Under 40… will depend on the wind! If you’re still not sure, wear layers that you’d be ok shedding during the race.

  24. Late to this party, but great post! Nov. 2013 was my first marathon and I couldn’t imagine a greater one than NYC. Born and raised in Queens but moved to San Diego in 1990. I didn’t become a runner until 2009 so returning to run through my hometown was an incredible, uplifting experience. I didn’t cry which is really surprising since I cry at *everything* but the thrill of crossing the finish line was unreal. I was supposed to run in 2012 and was in NY when it was cancelled. That was a crushing experience but I knew the minute they announced that I would re-train and be back the next year. Thanks for a fantastic column! Jealous you get to run in NY all the time.

  25. Do you have any recommendations on lodging for NYC marathon?
    Great tips! This will be my 5th marathon, but I am awful with logistics! Airbnb, certain areas to stay, or specific hotels? I will be traveling from DC.

      • Wouldn’t recommend airbnb for NYC – they are technically illegal and it can be a hot mess. Personal recommendation is book what you can afford now, make sure it’s fully refundable, and keep checking. I found last year some prices actually went down the two weeks before the race and I was able to switch to a lower rate within my same hotel. Like emaiuolo says, it really doesn’t matter where you stay – subways are fast and it’s easy to get around. Upper West Side, Times Square and Central Park South are all close to the finish line.

  26. Pingback: New York City Marathon Tips, Course Strategy and Info! | RUN SOPH RUN

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