New York City Half Marathon Tips, Course Strategy and Logistics

You know the “don’t wear anything new on race day” and all the basics… now, let’s do the United NYC Half Marathon as well as we can. I have done this race 9 times so far -since 2006, its first year, to last year, 2019, and I keep running into people who haven’t raced it and have lots of questions (post in the comments section below if you have any questions not covered here!). If you just want to see RACE STRATEGY scroll through to the section in green.

And in case you want to see photos and read my race reports, here is the 2019 race report, the 2019 race video, the 2017 race report, the 2016 race report, 2015 NYC Half report, here is 2014 NYC Half and 2013 NYC Half.


Make a race prep list of what you’ll need a week or two before and sort it all by stages, here is a Marathon Packing List to start with. Whether you’re traveling or not, get everything in the list ready as soon as possible. Start prepping 2 weeks out.

Plan your nutrition waaaay ahead. You can buy gels at the expo if necessary, but get bagels/oatmeal/bananas and whatever you need for race day the day before as there will not be a lot of delis open at 4, 5, or 6 am. Some may be, but not a lot.

If you need any last minute things, you can buy most stuff at the expo/bib pickup (don’t forget to bring your reg form –download it from or bring your NYRR profile they will be ready early March, and photo identification) or here is an organized list with all the running stores by area.

I promise you this look is totally normal at the start!!!!

Prep some cheap or throwaway clothes for the start. Find a mylar blanket from your last half or 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 I warm up, it can be windy and cold at the start!

Gear/What to wear… the weather can be anything from 50s to 30s so prepare (aka, train in) a few options and decide the day before. Or that morning. 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. My rule is if it’s over 40 degrees, I do just singlet and shorts.

This is what the weather looked like the last few years:

  • 2019: 34 DEGREES, 46% HUMIDITY, WIND 6 MPH. (what I wore)
  • 2018: 28 DEGREES, 31% HUMIDITY, WIND 9 MPH NW
  • 2017: 34 DEGREES, 70% HUMIDITY, WIND 18 MPH (what I wore)
  • 2016: 34 DEGREES, 35% HUMIDITY, WIND 14 MPH (what I wore)
  • 2015: 42 DEGREES, 60% HUMIDITY, WIND 10-18 MPH (what I wore)
  • 2014: 31 DEGREES, 40% HUMIDITY, WIND 18 MPH (what I wore)
  • 2013: 30 DEGREES, 64% HUMIDITY, WIND W 7 MPH (what I wore)
  • 2012: 47 DEGREES, 90% HUMIDITY, WIND 3 MPH.
  • 2011: 37 DEGREES, 41% HUMIDITY, SUNNY
  • 2010: 53 DEGREES, 55% HUMIDITY, SUNNY

The temperature has been pretty consistent… but, you should assume it’ll feel 10 degrees under that temperature (hey wind!). So, depending on the wind/humidity/lack of sleep/whatever, you can add a hat, arm sleeves, leg warmers, etc. Always add things you can get rid of easily and won’t miss. If you’re not sure about a layer, keep in mind that once you leave the park and get to the Manhattan Bridge or de FDR, it can get a little windy there. Also, check the wind direction in the morning!

Headphones or not? If you are used to racing with headphones, bring them. I sometimes leave them on my ears (with the music off), and turn them on only when necessary.

Have your spectators download the NYC Half mobile app (will probably be ready to download a week or two before the race) where they can track you and a few more runners at a time and see you on the course.

If you need a short run 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.

Find a mantra, or two, you might really need them. I write them in my hand where I am sure I will see it.


Memorize your Start Schedule (or write in your hand like I do).

Getting to the start/Baggage Check. The easiest way to get there is to take the train, but make sure you check the website because your train or stop will depend on your wave. Also, check the Start Map carefully. Give yourself ample time (as this is weekend schedule) and check MTA for weekend alerts, or try any subway app: make sure your train is running! NO RACE BEFORE THE RACE. Also, if you are not sure where to go, I am 100% confident that if you just head over to the closest train stop, you’ll see someone you could follow to the race start.

During the race, please please be careful, stay alert and keep the music down. If you need to stop for a walk or move sideways 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 could trip! The good side of having all these people around is that you that 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!!

There will be Water/Gatorade around every mile or so, 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. You’ll find the portapotties where the water is, so keep an eye out and don’t dart sideways!

Think about joining an official pacer from the NYRR Pace Team, they’ll be wearing a green and white biofreeze sponsored singlet, and will run even splits through all 13.1 miles of the United Airlines NYC Half.


Here is the official 2020 course map

The easiest way to tackle this race is to divide it three parts:

  1. start comfy and relaxed -the first 2.5 miles are a roller coaster of a warm-up.

  2. at mile 5.3 pick the shit up

  3. at 53rd st, hit the gas and light the torch

Because this is not your typical half, where you can actually pick it up and finish fast, you have to pick your battles and do the best you can. I would race part 1 at 70% effort (or heart rate), part 2 at 85%, and part 3 at 95% and up. Obviously, adjust as you please.

Here is the overall course elevation:


You start in the middle road of Prospect Park: it will be SUPER crowded and downhill so please be careful. Also, ppl won’t be ready and still looking for GPS signal and discarding layers, a recipe for disaster, look out and keep your ears attuned. Stay to the left and once you turn, HELLO BATTLE PASS HILL. Yeah, that is the Prospect Park hill.. the one and only. You’ll be done before mile one so please don’t overtake it too quickly. Mile two is mostly downhill and flat so it’ll be fast. Don’t be scared. This is a great out and back where you can see your friends!!

Those out and backs always get me super psyched. Keep yourself in a hard check. A nice turn around Grand Army Plaza and there we have a straightaway on Flatbush for a couple of miles towards the bridge.

Mile three is also up and then down, so it will be another average mile but now you’re out of Prospect Park, finally, and heading towards the Manhattan bridge thru Flatbush, which is, quite, and literally, FLAT.

Mile four will go SOOOO quickly with the excitement of the bridge coming towards you, that you won’t even notice the climb. It’s uphill for about a mile, 4.3 to 5.3, pretty brutal but so amazing and worth it. I can’t even tell you how insanely scenic Mile five is. 



The top of the bridge actually happens at about 5.3, and you start dropping quickly. Into Manhattan. That’s when we come face-first into the second part of our plan.




This is when we pick things up. HARD. Mile five, the downhill from on the bridge, is going to feel like SO amazing, ride it hard. There is going to be a very hard right turn off the bridge at Mile 6, brace yourself, but also, take it and keep your eye out for gels, they’re right there, along with some AMAZING views of the bridge and Chinatown you don’t want to miss out.

Beautiful, right? But FOCUS.

This is when you can bang out some really fast miles on the FDR. Miles 7 and 8 all the way to 9 and a half are flat, use them up, you’re going to miss them later.

You might get bored. Find someone 20 meters (yards?) ahead and chase them down.

Focus on the United Nations Building ahead, because that is where we turn left. That is where we start climbing again, at mile 9.5. This is when things will start getting tough. Hold the pace. Stay right there, same effort. Mile 10 at 42nd will start feeling hard, but enjoy the views and the crowds. It’s quite special.

Also, it might feel windy here, a tunnel from the east river to the Hudson so tuck between people if you can and stay in your rhythm.

At 7th Avenue, we turn onto… TIMES SQUARE. A few blocks over, it’s Mile 11, and now you’re just really close.

and what happens now…?


At 53rd, we MOVE. Why 53rd? Well… it’s a combo of reasons, there’s a downhill and we are close enough to take into account the bumps along the road and the amount of time we have left. This will obviously depend on how much gas you have left in you. But if you paced yourself properly, this is the moment you waited for, so go for it. Last year, I had my friend Whitney waiting there to signal the start of the end: 

We turn onto Central Park South and there’s Mile 12. 

Another left onto the park, more rolling hills all the way to the 72nd transverse and IF YOU TRAIN IN CENTRAL PARK, I’D RECCOMEND YOU RAN THIS BIT ONCE OR TWICE BEFORE THE RACE. I promise it will make a huge difference to know exactly how it will feel. The transverse is also an uphill, it will be hard and I want you to be mentally prepared for it. 

If you see this man at the finish line, that is Jim Heim, the Race Director. He is awesome. Give him a High Five.

Get your medal obviously.

and walk to get your bag if you left one

Here is a map of the finish area. Then brunch, shower, ice bath, rest, eat more, sleeeeeep, all the stuff, you know!

For more, definitely check out the 2019 race report, and the 2019 race video.

Questions?? Anything to add? Anything you want to go over? Lmk in the comments below!

—-Comment happily: you won’t be asked to create an account!

11 thoughts on “New York City Half Marathon Tips, Course Strategy and Logistics

  1. Thank you! First NYC half…opinion question. I’m bringing a credit card, $20, license and phone (all will be in zipper in pants or on my leg pocket). Why check a bag? Will be going straight out for a drink and food so? Appreciate all the tips!


  2. Thank you so much! So helpful. Does the time limit for the cut offs start once the last person crosses the start line like other races? I’m a slower runner and my fear is missing all the good stuff and having to board the sweeper bus.


  3. Hi Emaiuolo, love your blog and the race strategy! Thank you so much for all the helpful informations❤️ I‘ll be running the NYC Half 2020 and looking forward to finish it like a girl😀 🏃🏼‍♀️Love from Kiel, Germany


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