You know the “don’t wear anything new on race day” and all the basics… now, let’s do the New York City Marathon as right as we can. I’ve done this race every year since 2008 (minus 2012 of course…!!) and I can see how logistically heavy it is for someone from out of town or doing it as their first marathon. So, here we go! Let me know if you have any specific questions in the comments section below. I promise I will answer. Also, at the end, you’ll find a list of free race week events to attend (updated).
PRE RACE LOGISTICS
Make a marathon packing list (even if you’re not traveling) and sort it all by stages, here is my Marathon Packing List to start with. Get everything in the list ready as soon as possible. I’d start one month out with this.
The expo is big (probably the biggest one in the US after Boston!), so please bring some patience, credit cards/cash (there WILL be a few things you’ll want), and comfortable shoes. Don’t forget to bring your confirmation form 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 gear will be half off in the nyrr’s website by January! Also, if you have time for fun, here is a list of all the Free Events to do on race week (this will be updated on the minute for 2017, bookmark it).
Set your clock back on Saturday night, the night before the race. 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! Also, no worries if you don’t sleep Saturday night (no one does) but make it a point to go to bed early all week, mostly Thursday and Friday.
As you know, in NYC races, in some parts of the city, the GPS can go haywire and then you’ll think you’re doing 4 minute miles, or 17mm!!! GPS can be sporadic in some spots (like in the Verrazano, if you’re in the green corral, or the Queensboro, or crowded areas like First/Fifth Ave, or Central Park). So I set my GPS to manual lapping. Basically, I lap a mile every time every time I see the Mile Marker, and I know exactly how long that last mile took. You don’t have to do this, but at least keep in mind that some miles might be “shorter/longer” than others (actually, if you set your Garmin to lap a mile at 1.01 that matches the mile markers quite well, when the GPS is accurate).
The night (or week) before, watch Run For Your Life, for inspiration. Best movie about the NYC marathon. I weep like a baby every time. Hail to the Fred!!!
Bring a lot of cheap or throwaway clothes to the start, you WILL need them. 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 cherish 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 while running, 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). Don’t worry about looking like a weirdo, everyone will look like that!!! Or they’ll wish they did. Really: pile it up!!!
Gear/What to wear… usually, the marathon is in the 40s or 50s (the average temp historically is 54). If you’re not checking a bag, layer with things you’ll be happy throwing away. My rule is if it’s over 40, I do short sleeve/singlet and shorts. But depending on the wind/humidity/lack of sleep/whatever you can add a hat, arm sleeves, etc. Always wear things you can get rid of easily and won’t miss. Be smart, and make sure you can peel off layers comfortably. Even in 2014, with the marathornado, I didn’t need extra. I had leg warmers and hated them, I was so hot. Make sure you can peel the layers easily and throw them out if you are not sure and bring too much, ok? If you don’t carry your phone, at least carry a $20 bill, a metrocard, a credit card, and an ID with you, just in case. Better ready than sorry.
Ferry/Bus Transportation, NYRR will assign you a specific transportation or you might have picked one when you claimed your spot. There is a reason why you have to get on your bus/ferry a bunch of hours early, I promise it makes sense.Your transportation would usually be 3 or 4 hours before your wave start. This leaves ample time to get everything done, even a long line at the portapotty. This is the breakdown of what would occasionally happen on race morning if you chose the ferry, for example:
7:00 am ferry, takes 25 minutes to get to Staten Island. Get some pictures of the Green Lady, you’ll love the ferry ride.
7:30 am. You are in Staten Island!! When I land on the Staten Island side, I usually like to go to the bathrooms IN the terminal, they’re WARM, then just follow the crowds out of the ferry, you’ll do a right and a left, walk outside, do a block or two, and board the buses to the Athlete’s village, it can be 10 or 20 minutes, let’s assume 30 for traffic so you don’t stress.
8:00 am. You get to the village. Go straight to the UPS truck to leave your bag if you have one, trucks “close” about an hour before your corral closes so get there first. This timing is different for all so check your timeline. Walk to your corral (green/blue/orange).
8:30 Find a portapottie line in your corral, you’ll need at least 30 mins to pee. Lines can be long. if you want to grab a banana, tea, coffee, etc., pick that up before the line and eat in line.
9:00 get to your corral, sometimes they are hard to find so don’t wait until the last minute. They close 40 minutes before your start. In there you can finish your nutrition, rearrange your gear, all that.
Athlete’s Village. It’s HUGE. If you’re planning to meet up with people there, you’ll need a plan. Tell them to wait right off the entrance or maybe at a particular UPS truck, or have a cell phone with you. Did I mention it’s huge? There’s not much cover from the elements but you’ll find food and drinks (bagels and coffee and Gatorade and bananas and tea and stuff!). 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, even though I got there early… If you checked the marathon packing list, you are dressed warmly, have food, water, toilet paper, etc, so set up next to your corral. If you are going with a friend, and you are in different starts (colors), you might have to separate here.; unless you decide to run together. If that is the case, you can both start in the corral of the highest bib number.
What the Athlete’s Village looks like: it’s big -and hard to meet up with someone. And we all look like weirdos!
Write your name on your shirt. If you don’t want your name, write something funny you’ll want people to scream to you all over the course (Speedy? SuperMan?). It will make your race 100 times better. If you don’t want to ruin your gear, cut the letters out of duct tape (like I do!) and voila, they’ll peel right off before you wash your shirt.
Headphones? If you are used to racing with headphones, no need to stress about this. I like to keep them around, 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 bridge, though I’ve learned to crave that moment alone in the bridge. If you’re in pain or need to recalibrate your pace and need quiet time, you can move to the middle of the street where 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. A lot, a lot. A LOT. They can push you so much more than your music could, so use that energy up. You’ll have tons more fun than you expected if you get lost in the crowds cheering. 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, people might need to pass you or stuff like that. There are athletes with disabilities on the course, or any kind of stuff happening so you have to keep all your senses peeled. Be alert, cautious, and really really really careful!!!! Be in the moment, don’t miss out or space out.
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 close by! Tell them to get comfy shoes, really warm clothes and to bring food. It will be a long day for them too!
You will need/love the extra push, so ask for help!! FORCE all your friends to come watch you. Send an email a week before and 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 of 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, to see John!” Use the sheet, so your fans can find you easily.
Get yourself a course specific pace bracelet, this one is the BEST! It’ll adjust your pace per mile, given the uphills and downhills. And it has way more information than you could ever need. Hill info, spectator info, Plus, you can set it for your particular racing style: negative vs positive splits, big or small fade, etc.
Plan your nutrition way ahead. For the race: try to practice in training with what they’ll have at the race: water, yellow Gatorade and Powerbar Gels (water and G at every Mile and Gels at Mile 18). 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 4/6 am.
If you need to move around the days before the race, 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 course WILL be crowded, so PLEASE, if you need to stop for a walk or move over to another lane for water, please please please signal with your arms, and look around behind you before you make any moves. Also put your hand up when you are slowing down if you have someone slowing down ahead of you. 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 off, 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! That is just a myth. IF (BIG IF) there is someone peeing on top of the bridge, you’d only feel it if you’re in the outside of the crowd, and if the wind is going in your direction. I’ve been green twice before and saw/felt nothing. I’ve also been on top a few times and didn’t see 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 bridge right over you. Ok?
I am gonna 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. 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: what goes up, must come down
Tricky tricky part if we have to pick just one… the anxiety, fun ahead, the cold, the thousands of runners around you, it’s almost impossible to not let yourself get swept away in this wave of excitement and start too fast!! Well: STOP IT! Force yourself to go slow with everything you have. You will be tempted to match everyone around you, 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. The biggest mistake most people make is going too fast on mile one and as soon as they get off the Verrazano, they’re done. Toast. 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), and pass people. Remember: hold your horses a bit. If you start too fast, your race is ruined. The first two miles should feel easy, on the hard uphill (3% grade for 8/10 of a mile) and easy on the downhill (3.4% grade for a whole mile).
Mile 1 should be about 1:30 over your avg pace, and Mile 2 will be your fastest, 20 seconds under pace.
Just remember this: Bank = Bonk! Mile 3 is when the race starts. The main goal is to get to Mile 17 feeling as if you hadn’t started the race yet.
And one more thing that 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) and First 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 trade-off if you want to see the crowds.
Miles 3-15. Brooklyn: the 4th Avenue Party
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 check 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. The climb is a 4.3% grade for about a quarter mile. 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 are many tables, go to the last one. Portapotties are also at every mile so keep an eye out and don’t dart sideways!
Mile 3 to 15, should be at your avg goal pace or maybe 5 to 10 seconds faster than avg goal pace. Remember bank = bonk
Mile 16. THE Almighty Queensboro/Ed Koch Bridge: this part is for YOU
The Queensboro is quiet. Savor this you-time while doing a whole body systems check. Focus on the sound of the footsteps or take out the music if you prefer. This will be the quietest time of 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! The climb (3.4% grade for a mile) is way longer than the downhill, which is steeper (half a mile at 4.3% grade). Rolling down the 59th st bridge onto First Avenue is surely the most exciting moment in the whole race (well, at least to a lot of us), and maybe, in all marathoning. Get ready.
Mile 16: around 20 seconds over avg goal pace
Mile 17 to 19. First Avenue: Hello New York City
First Avenue is where a win is made or lost. Many elite runners broke their strategy here and paid hard 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 will start taking its toll on you 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 the 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 so you’ll be ready to grab it!
Mile 17 will be about 30 seconds under avg goal pace, M18 will be a bit slower, about 10 seconds over avg goal pace and by M19 you should be back on avg goal pace
Mile 20 to 23. The Bronx/Harlem Experience: there is NO Wall (without graffiti!)
This is when you will use up your training and start working hard… and it will get REAL HARD fast. Not only you’re hitting twenty, but there will be a few bridges and in some areas, the crowds will be thin. 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. Just focus on getting back into the city in one piece to face mile 24. Once on Fifth Avenue, 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 125th, and then you’ll be back on 5th ave.
Mile 20 to 23 should be right on avg goal pace or maybe about 5 seconds under
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 of 0.90 of a mile at about 2.5% grade (you won’t even 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. Don’t let it win!
Once you have the park on your right, at 110th st, focus on getting to the entrance to the park, just one mile away at 90th st. Fred Lebow won’t be there to salute you as always, so all you can do is catch up to ALL those people who went out too fast at mile one and two, you’ll spot them easily. Sad but sure. Pick a bright target 20 feet ahead and don’t let them go. One at a time!
Mile 24 will be slow: about 20/30 seconds slower than average goal pace
Mile 25 to 26.2 Central Park
Once you make that right into the park, you just have just about 2.3 miles to go, all undulating with steep/short ups and downs.
If you did things right, you will pick up a LOT of people in this stretch. A LOT. A LOT LOT. Undulating hills all the way to the uphill finish, you’ll be able to change biomechanics so 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!
There is a looong 3-avenue stretch up Central Park South (5th ave to 8th ave with 3.3% uphill grade) that seems to last forever though it’s just a half mile…. focus on the Columbus Circle towers at the far end. Make sure your bib is visible, very important here. The hill at the finish is the steepest of the whole race (very short, but almost 5.5% grade!) so just ride it as hard you can, as long as you can still finish with a smile!
Mile 25 should be a few seconds under average goal pace and M26 maybe 5 seconds over average goal pace. The last point2 will be slower, about 20/30 seconds slower than average goal pace.
Pose for the finish picture!!! Smile, arms up, you got this. DO NOT HAVE A FINISH LINE PICTURE OF YOU PAUSING A WATCH, I warn you!!!!! We have official results, ok? Stop your watch a few seconds befor or after the finish, just not there.
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 – 30-60 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 at the Pavillion, tell everyone about your race, eat some more, walk around, get your medal engraved, buy get some finisher’s gear, wear the medal on Monday if you are a tourist or if this is your first mary, 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. It 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.
Questions?? Anything to add? Anything you want to go over? Comment below (it’s a lot faster than me replying to an email, trust me!)
My Race Reports with tons of pictures and more info:
2014 EXPO pictures here
Apparently, I didn’t bother writing one in 2008 and 2009!
Love this: Toby’s Essential Last Minute Tips for NYCM
HAVE THE BEST RACE!!!!!
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