I wrote the first version of this post last year and after running the TCS NYC Marathon for the sixth time, I decided to write an update. As a six time race veteran and New York City local for 19 years, I have a bit of an insider's knowledge and am able to offer some tips and tricks I’ve learned on what to do and how to get around. It’s a long post, but I promise it’s full of useful information!
Here’s what you need to know:
If you can get there on Thursday or early Friday do it! It gets busy and I mean BUSY on Saturday and the last thing you want to do the day before a 26.2 race is to stand in line for hours!
The Expo is at the Javits Center and is about as far west as you can get (34th Street & 11th Ave.) and there is virtually nothing around it. The closest subways are the A/C/E/1/2 into Penn Station – you can either walk (~20 minutes) or take the cross-town bus across 34th – which I think is totally worth it.
If you don’t want to kick down for a Metrocard ($2.50/ride), get yourself to Paragon Sports (18th and Broadway) in the Union Square area. Every year I’ve done the race they’ve offered a free shuttle from the store to the expo and back. Not only do you get a free ride, but they’ll also give you a 20% discount card (or at least they have in past years).
Outside the Expo (or on most major street corners for that matter) you’ll find vendors selling hats and gloves. Treat yourself to a street hat and a pair of street gloves. This is the best way for you to get super cheap throw-away gear that will keep you warm for the start of the race.
Take your time at the Expo, walk around, kick down for that TCS NYC Marathon jacket, this is the largest marathon in the world and you’re going to want to show off the fact that you ran it for years to come!
|My friend Carolyn and I with Bart Yasso at the 2013 NYC Marathon Expo|
If you time your Expo trip right, you’ll get to meet some of the professionals who are running the race. Meb, Kara, Rita, they all do meet and greets. And then at the booths, folks like Matt Long and Bart Yasso are around pressing the flesh, if you’re a running geek like me (and chances are, you are if you’re reading this), it can be a pretty awe-inspiring place to be.
Put your name on your shirt!
Want to hear your name cheered for most of the 26.2 miles? Put your name on your shirt in BIG BLOCK letters! It may sound cheesy, but there’s nothing that gets me up 5th Avenue (mile 23) faster or past that last stretch on Central Park South than some random person looking me in the eye and saying something like, “You’ve got this Eric, you’re almost there.” It can be a huge boost.
Don’t have good handwriting or don’t want to risk messing up that new tech shirt you bought? Go to any hobby store and buy transfer paper. You can print out your name, an image, a quote or anything you want and iron it right on your shirt.
Strategically Place Your Friends and Family on the Course
Have people coming to watch you during the race? Make sure you know where they are. It’ll be relatively easy for you to find them and virtually impossible for them to find you.
I always ask my friends and family to hang out on First Avenue above 100th Street but before The Bronx – the crowds thin out a little there. And if your friends hang out on First Avenue, they can easily walk over to see you on your way down 5th Avenue – it’s just a 15-20 minute walk for them.
What to wear
I’ve run the race for six years and have always worn shorts and short sleeve tech shirt. I’ve been lucky that it has never rained (hopefully I didn’t jinx this year). I usually go to a discount store before the race and for $30 get sweat pants and a zipped/hooded sweatshirt. The hood offers extra warm or rain protection and the fact that it’s zippered makes it easier to remove while I’m running. I take the sweatpants off just before the start and I’ll chuck the jacket when I get warm enough – usually after the Verrazano Bridge. I also wear the cap and pair of throwaway gloves that I bought outside the Javits, but hang on to them a bit longer.
While you’re at the discount store, buy yourself a pack of long athletic/tube socks, you know, the white ones with stripes that you used to wear as a kid up to your knee (if you’re the same age as me that is). Take one pair, cut off the toes and voilà! You have a pair of arm warmers that you won’t worry about throwing away during the race. Make sure when you put them on that you pull the elasticized opening on first, with the elastic at the top of your arm they won’t slide down.
There is no waterfall of urine on the lower level
If you’re running the race and have gotten assigned a Green corral (running on the bottom level of the Verrazano Bridge), you’re probably worried about the waterfall of pee you’ve heard about. I had the same fear at my very first New York City Marathon.
I’m here to tell you from personal experience that the rumors are 100% false. First off, that would have to be one powerful stream of pee to reach from the top level of the bridge – I’m talking about at least 20 to 30 people in a synchronized urination. And it’s virtually impossible for it to happen – there’s the wind blowing in all directions, not to mention people on the top level can’t just hang off the side of the bridge to pee. There are guardrails that keep you a good five feet off the edge. I’ve since run the top of the bridge and have never seen anyone stopping for a “natural break” let alone 30 people doing it together. I can’t say for sure, but there are so many DOT workers on the bridge, I don’t think it would be possible to stop without being told to move on (and you’d probably earn yourself a DQ to boot).
Getting to Staten Island/Fort Wadsworth
By now you’ve already chosen your transportation option. You’re either on the bus or taking the Staten Island Ferry. I can’t comment on the bus since I’ve never taken it. I can tell you that the Ferry is easy, it’s fun and you get a great shot of Lady Liberty as you make your way across New York Harbor. You’ll load onto busses with loads of other runners and get chauffeured to Fort Wadsworth where you follow the color of your bib (blue, orange or green) to your start village.
I save the heat sheets from previous races and use them as blankets at the start village near my assigned corral. I wear my throwaway clothes for warmth and seek out a Dunkin Donuts tea and bagel for some extra calories while I’m waiting to my corral to open. Bring a magazine or some other form of entertainment that you can easily toss. You may be there for a while; I tend to go early since I’m a bit of a freak about getting places on time.
At your assigned wave time, the cannon will fire and you’ll start to make your way up and past the starting line to Frank Sinatra serenading you to New York, New York!
You’re in Staten Island for all of two miles. As you're trotting towards the start line, make sure you don't trip on any of the clothing discarded by runners in front of you (and if you're discarding clothing, please try and throw it into one of the receptacles the organizers put out there).
Once you make it past the start you're in the the Verrazano Bridge - and it's a hill, make no mistake but it’s also the start of the race so the chance of you noticing that fact is pretty slim. Hold your pace. Take it all in, look at the NYC skyline ahead of you. Watch the NYFD Fire Boat with water cannons going full blast saluting the start of your epic journey and gawk at the helicopters buzzing the bridge (some are media, others are security). Enjoy this, you will be feeling great and super excited for what you’re about to accomplish.
Once you get over (or through) the first of five bridges, you’re in Brooklyn and one of the best parts of the course. Keep your head together here. You want to make sure you’re not going out too fast. Trust me, it’s easy to do. Between the crowds, the bands and the fact that the course is practically flat the entire length of the borough means you need to keep a close eye on your pace.
You’re on Fourth Avenue for miles four through eight. Stay to the left side of the divider in the sunlight, it can get cold and breezy and if you stay on the left side, you’ll be a lot warmer. That said, pop over to the right for a huge burst of energy – this is where the bigger crowds are. If you run with your name on your shirt (which I highly suggest you do) you’ll get personal cheers. And, high fiving all the little kids on the course is fun!
Further into Brooklyn you’ll pass through South Williamsburg. Don’t get freaked out! Not only is it home to New York Hipsters but one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the City. Chances are the cheering will be a lot less here and you’ll get some awkward looks (it’s considered immodest to wear form-fitting clothing). Sunday is also a workday for this community and you’ll likely see people darting back and forth across the course while you’re running.
Brooklyn takes you to the halfway point where you cross over the Pulaski Bridge (the second of five bridges) and enter the borough of Queens. This is really the first rise (I won’t call it a hill) of consequence since you crossed over the Verrazano. Just pace yourself and remember to keep a good cadence. Throughout Queens, the course undulates between sea level and ~50 feet above.
You then hit the 59th Street Bridge (three of five bridges). It’s easy to get psyched out. Maybe you’re starting to get tired and your legs are starting to complain a little. This really is a hill. To make it worse, no spectators are allowed on the bridge so it can get eerily silent. For the first time on the course, it’s just you and every other runner plugging away at the miles. But it’s not as bad as you might think. Trust your training, stay out of your head, eat a gel and maybe chat it up with another runner. Or pick someone in front of you and try to stay on his or her tail. It’ll be over before you know and then you hit what has been described as a wall of sound.
You’ve made it to First Avenue. The first thing you’ll notice is that where the 59th Street Bridge was silent – First Avenue is like the second coming of The Beatles. Coming off the bridge you hit an indescribable rush of cheers that doesn’t stop for the next three miles.
First Avenue is the hill that you’ll never feel (because of all the spectators and cheering). Remember to pace yourself here. Four years ago I found myself doing 7:30s for the three miles up to the Bronx – for a guy who was running 8:30s for the rest of the race, I put the back half of my race in jeopardy.
The crowds will carry you from 59th Street all the way up to the Willis Avenue Bridge (four of five bridges) which connects you to:
One of the most enthusiastic areas of the race, it’s almost like the residents know that we’re about to hit the wall. Again, keep your head (stay out of it), eat a gel, take in the Japanese drummers, look for yourself on the giant video screen and remember to move your feet. You’re almost in the home stretch.
The course takes us back over the Third Avenue Bridge (five of five bridges!) and you find yourself on 5th Ave.
Manhattan and the Home Stretch
5th Avenue from 138th Street down to 110th Street is pretty benign. At this point in the race, I’m always just concentrating on getting into Central Park at 90th Street. It can be challenging. From 110th down to 90th is a gradual one-mile hill. You’re climbing about 100 feet of elevation over one mile which give you an average grade of 1.8% – easy peasy, right? If that doesn’t help you get to the top, the crowds will be so loud, you won’t be able to hear any of the negative thoughts in your head.
At 90th you enter Central Park and hit a bit more undulation. Are you using a mantra? Now’s the time to employ it. You can almost smell the finish line.
Shoot out of the Park and onto Central Park South where once again, the level of noise will be about Justin Bieber or maybe One Direction level. Either way, the crowds to Columbus Circle will again carry you up the gradual incline.
At Columbus Circle, you re-enter Central Park. Make sure your bib is visible at this point. If it’s not, you run the risk if getting stopped by Bandit Spotters. You don’t want someone to break your stride when you’re so close to the finish line.
Enter the park, up a slight grade and relax, you’re done. You’ve run one of the most iconic races in the world and you’re part of the 1% – the 1% that are marathoners that is! You’ve earned the tech shirt you picked up at the Expo and can wear it with pride.
Get your medal and take a heat sheet (in fact, take two, one for your shoulders and tie the other around your waist), grab a recovery bag. They usually have Gatorade recovery formula in there. I highly suggest you drink as much of that as you can (I find it too syrupy but try to down as much of it as I can). Regardless of what your hydration plan was on the course, I’m willing to bet you’re going to be dehydrated and this will help.
I can’t comment too much on where to meet up with family and friends after the race, I live about a mile from the finish and usually just walk home to meet my wife and parents (who come into the City to watch every year).
I can tell you that if you chose the No Baggage option, you’re in for a treat. Here’s an excerpt from my race review last year which I think captures the essence of the treat we were subjected to as “no baggage” runners:
So, we're all trudging along, limping out of the park and make it up to Central Park West where they are handing out the ponchos. I reach the area and go to grab one from one of the many volunteers handing them out but she ever so gently pushes my hand away.
In a very soothing voice she says, "please, let me put this on your shoulders." After she draped it on me and secured the velcro, she asked if I wanted the hood up. It was all I could do to nod my head. I was mesmerized by this angel who was taking care of me like I was her child. I half expected her to kiss my forehead as she sent me on my way. There were literally thousands that opted for the ponchos and I only hope they were as well taken care of as I was. Whoever you were, thank you from the bottom of my still-sore toes.
On Monday make sure to pick up a copy of the New York Times. Every year they print a special section with the names and times of all finishers under 4:30:00! And if you don’t have to go to work, head to Tavern on the Green, last year the NYRR offered free medal engraving.
If that wasn’t enough to get you excited about the race, how about this video I made last year? I can’t wait to see what the 2014 edition of this epic race holds in store!