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TCS NYC Marathon Course Description

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The second article in my series for getting ready to run the TCS NYC Marathon focuses on the course description – when to expect hills, when to expect crowds, when you need to dig deep and when you can just relax and enjoy the run (spoiler alert, the entire time).

The first article focused on pre-race tips and if you missed it, you can check it out here.

Check out my other posts on the TCS NYC Marathon here.

So picking up where that article left off . . .

Staten Island

Once the gun goes off, you’re in Staten Island for all of two miles. Make sure you don’t trip on any of the clothing discarded by runners in front of you as you make your way up to the start line after the cannon (and if you’re discarding clothing, please try and throw it into one of the receptacles the organizers put out there – they donate all the discarded clothing to local charities).

Once you make it past the start you’re on 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 the hill 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.

TCS NYC Marathon
At the start on the Verrazano Bridge

Brooklyn

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.

TCS NYC Marathon
Running down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn

Queens

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. The bridge is really the first rise 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) at mile 15.5. 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.

TCS NYC Marathon
The 59th Street Bridge

Manhattan

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. Six 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 The Bronx. Getting up and over this bridge can be a chore, but once you do, it’s nice and flat for a while.

The Bronx

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 musical entertainment provided by the organizers, 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 Madison Avenue Bridge (five of five bridges!) and you find yourself on 5th Ave.

TCS NYC Marathon
Coming off the last bridge and back into Manhattan

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 Pearl Jam 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 and pulled off the course. 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.

TCS NYC Marathon
Central Park South where you can almost smell the finish line

Post Race

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 choke 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 son.

I can tell you that if you chose the No Baggage option, you’re in for a treat. Here’s an excerpt from my 2013 race review 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 a volunteer 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 the Marathon Pavilion in Central Park, last year the NYRR offered free medal engraving.

Any more questions? Ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer or get the answers for you.

And remember, if you’re looking for pre-race tips, check out this post.

Check out my other posts on the TCS NYC Marathon here.

Happy running!

TCS NYC Marathon
My son (at age 1) transfixed by my medal and holding his first pair of running kicks (that still don’t fit at age 2)

35 Comments

  1. Wonderful reading thanks. I was thinking about how fast or slow takes to get in into the corrals? I heard that you can spent a lot of time waiting for your wave

    • It really all depends when you get there. If you’re three hours early, you’ll wait that long to get into your corral. It’s difficult to time it, your best bet is to be early and ready to sit around for a while.

  2. What a wonderful write up. As I prepare to run my 7th marathon and 1st NYC marathon in November 2016, it helped to know what to look for. Just one question…I was trying to plan my journey home after the marathon but was told I would need to return to Central park on the Monday after to get any finisher’s merchandise. Is this true? Just wondering. Any help would be great. thanks so much and great article.

    • Hi Shanna, thanks for your kind words. Last year the NYRR sold finisher gear at the Pavilion in Central Park – near Tavern on the Green. They haven’t announced plans for it yet, but I think it’s a safe bet that it will be the same as last year as it seemed to be a success.

  3. Did the Times change their policy on including all Marathon finishers? I ran 4:53 in 2014, and had my name and time included in the supplement the next day…

  4. As a newbie to the NYC Marathon, coming across your blog today was just what I needed. Nervous and scared, I need someone to map everything out just like you do about the course. I’m not ready and I don’t know if I could ever prepare to be fully ready, but I will finish the race, no matter how slow I am. Thank you again, I’ll definitely be following along from.now on!

  5. Thank you SO much for this wonderful review of the NYC Marathon. This year is my first NYC Marathon, and I am excited, and scared to death!!! It’s not my first-ever marathon, but it’s been 12 years, and it is a bit daunting. Your write-up was super helpful!! I am definitely looking forward to the whole experience, and I intend to enjoy it thoroughly, no matter how long it takes me! As long as I finish before they close the course, I’m happy!! Thanks again for your most helpful words of wisdom!!

  6. Wow, reading this gave me goosebumps! I can’t wait to run this race (will be my first time) and will thankfully have mental notes to reference as I approach each bridge, hill, and borough. Thanks for writing this!

  7. As I do my prep for my first ever marathon in my birthplace of NYC this write up was just what I needed!! I lost 250lbs and completing a marathon has been on my bucket list forever. It’ll take me a while and I’m running for Fred’s Team so I just want to finish it for all those who can’t. This post gave me just the right amount of wind and excitement to fuel the next 30 days!!

  8. Thank you for this, it was just what the doctor ordered. November 6th is my first marathon, and NYC to boot, and yes the jitters are there. I have been picking the brains of my marathoner friends to help with my game planning, and this did wonders for my prep, thank you. Pace pace pace.

  9. Thanks for the this. ‘A Race Like No Other’ had great detail and stories, but too much as we are getting close. This was much more concise. Perfect. This will by my first time running NYC. 5th marathon overall, counting tomorrow in Detroit. Can’t wait.

  10. Sir, will it be appropriate to walk a minute or so here and there on the course? In the past have you seen people doing this? I’m having concerns about my calves around the 15mile mark. Thank you in advance.

  11. Hey Eric, thanks for a great read. I’m travelling to New York from Ireland for my first NYC Marathon, so excited. Some really useful tips in your article, thanks. Looking forward to a pint of Guinness in the big apple after to celebrate..

  12. Thank you for a wonderful read! I am from a small town, not too savvy when it comes to the “City” and directions. From what I understand, there are 3 exits (73rd, 81st, 85th). I am staying at Hilton Midtown so it looks like I should exit 73rd street, but not sure where to go from there. As I recall three years ago, there were several roads closed and it took over an hour to find my way back. Brrrr! Can you help me?

  13. I am 66 and this will be by first NYC marathon. Although I ran two other marathons in last two years, I’ve been worried about this race. Your article was a great encouragement and inspired confidence in me. Thank you so much !!

  14. Thanks for your articles Eric! This will be my 18th marathon and my first in NYC! I am very excited to go and all your posts have helped alot regarding the practical preparations – especially before the start. I have done Berlin and London so this is my last of the big 3!

  15. I didn’t see anything about coping with near-vomit-inducing anxiety.

    This is my fourth marathon but first time in NYC. I’ll be running with my daughter, who is a veteran. But the anxiety during the run up is making me crazy. I really appreciate your words.

  16. I ran my first NYC Marathon last Sunday, on my 46th birthday, and boy, was it a killer! I ran my first ever marathon in April this year, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and looking back on it, that was an easy race. Even though I was extremely exhausted at the time.
    I wanted to quickly comment on your course description, especially the part where you call the course ‘flat’. Let me correct that: there is hardly any flat part on the NYC Marathon course, there is almost always a couple of percent up or down, making it exhausting (and hard to train for) for anyone from an area where really flat courses are the norm – aka The Netherlands. I had expected to improve my time by 20 minutes, but was actually 25 minutes slower. Partially due to going off too fast (and even thinking: I am going too fast, I should slow down, soon) but in part because of the tough course.
    The audience, though, is fantastic from start to finish, making it a unique experience!

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