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TCS NYC Marathon

TCS NYC Marathon – Pre-Race Tips

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As an eight-time race veteran and New York City local for more than 20 years, I have a bit of an insider’s view on the TCS NYC Marathon. Below is my take on the pre-race festivities. There’s a second post (they’re too long to post as one combined article) that goes into my course description.

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

This is a long post, but I promise, it’s worth it to learn what you need to know leading up to the race.

TCS NYC Marathon Expo

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 and 11th Ave.) and there is virtually nothing around it. The MTA just opened an extension to the 7 train which is less than a block away. Bring a loaded MetroCard with enough for everyone in your party and ride the subway in style just like a local.

If you don’t want to kick down for a Metrocard ($2.75/ride), get yourself to Paragon Sports (18th and Broadway) in the Union Square area. Every year they offer 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).

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!

If you time your Expo trip right, you’ll get to meet some of professionals from our sport, 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.

And bonus you can come meet me if you’re there on Thursday. I’ll be fulfilling my 9+1 volunteer requirement to get into the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon by doing bib handout on Thursday until 3PM. I don’t know what number range I’ll be working, but look for the bald guy with the big head (most likely with a GoPro recording his bib handout duties).

TCS NYC Marathon
TCS NYC Marathon Pavilion in Central Park

Last year the NYRR opened the Marathon Pavilion in Central Park near Tavern on the Green about a week before the race. The Pavilion housed the TCS NYC Marathon Hall of Fame, a gear shop, played host to professional marathoner meet and greets and the media center. As of this writing, they haven’t released details for the Pavilion for 2016 but I’m betting it will be similar. I’ll update when details are out.

The day before the race, the NYRR hosts the Dash to the Finish Line 5K. It’s a super fun and chill race from right outside the United Nations building to the finish line in Central Park and a great way to see some iconic spots in NYC (the the U.N., NYC Library, Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall to name a few). This race is not only a great shakeout the day before the marathon but a great way for family and friends you’ve traveled to NYC with to take part in the weekend festivities. I made a video from the race last year (surprise, surprise).

Race Day

TCS NYC Marathon: Getting to the Start

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 (although I’ve heard from people who have used it that it’s fast, comfortable and easy).

Every year I take the Ferry, it’s easy, it’s fun and you get a great shot of Lady Liberty as you make your way across New York Harbor. I caution you to get to the terminal early. It can get crowded and you don’t want to be late getting to Staten Island. I shot the below video a few years ago at 6AM and I’ve heard that later in the morning the lines are out the door.


Once you’re on Staten Island, you can hop on one of the provided busses and make your way to the start village at Fort Wadsworth. Once there, follow the color of your bib (blue, orange or green) to your start village.

TCS NYC Marathon Start Villages

You don’t want to get to the start village too early, keep in mind it’s November in New York. The weather can be anything from 60 and sunny to 40s with wind and rain. I like to get there about an hour before my start time. Dunkin Donuts usually has a station in each start village and offer tea, coffee, hot cocoa and bagels. I usually hit them up for some last minute carbs and hot tea to keep me warm while waiting.

I try to get into the corral as soon as it opens so I can find a spot to sit (they can get crowded). I save the heat sheets from previous races and use them as blankets. I wear my throwaway clothes for warmth and get into the bathroom line as soon as I get there (there are port-a-potties in all the corrals). And once I go, I get back in line because I’m usually so hydrated that I’m peeing every five minutes. If you don’t want to wait in line, wait until the corrals “collapse” and people are making their way to the start and duck into one. Just don’t take too long or you run the risk of getting blocked out of your start 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!

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

TCS NYC MarathonHave people coming to watch you during the race? Make sure you know where they are. It’ll be easier for you to find them and virtually impossible for them to find you. Let me repeat that, because this is the question I get more often than any other: It’ll be easier for you to find them and virtually impossible for them to find you. Don’t rely on the app from the NYRR. It’s a great way to get a general feel for when a runner will be at a certain place, but it is far from perfect.

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.

TCS NYC Marathon: What to Wear

TCS NYC Marathon
Wearing all the clothing at the start of the TCS NYC Marathon

I’ve run the race for eight years and have usually worn shorts and short sleeve tech shirt. In 2014, there were high winds and the temp had dropped significantly on race day. I wore heavy arm warmers and tights and I regretted it almost as soon as I stepped off the Verrazano. I would have been much happier had I paid attention to my own advice.

I’ve been lucky that it has never rained on race day (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 (more on that below), 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.

On almost every major street corner 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 throwaway gear that will keep you warm for the start of the race.

There is no waterfall of urine on the lower level at the TCS NYC Marathon

If you’re running the race and have gotten assigned a Green corral (running 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 very 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).

Check out my TCS NYC Marathon course description here.

And my other posts on the TCS NYC Marathon can be found here.

And for inspiration, here’s my video from the race last year:

25 Comments

  1. Super helpful advice before my first marathon – thanks! How does your bib fit in with the layering? Is it okay if the bib is not on the outside layer when you cross the starting line? Or do you just remove and re-pin as you shed layers?

    • Good question. I leave it on the layer that will be outside for the majority of the race. You need to show it a few times at the start (getting into Fort Wadsworth, corral) but you don’t really need to show it again until close to the end. That said, if you want pictures from the race, it needs to be seen by the photographers.

  2. Thanks for the tips (and for the reassurance about the lower level of the VZB)! How hard is it to get water at the mile points? I know it’ll be there, but the course seems so packed with runners that it’s hard to imagine getting to the water except in final miles of the course when the pack has thinned out a bit. How far into the course can someone realistically get water/Gatorade?

    • Hey KB, the water and Gatorade tables are REALLY long, I’ve never had a problem getting liquid when I needed it. Pro Tip: aim for the center of the water stop, not the start as a lot of people will slow down and even walk (this isn’t unique to NYC, I find this happens at most races). Good luck on your race!

  3. Thank you very much for the informative (and very reassuring) reply and the good wishes, ER — and good luck with your race, too!

  4. I ran the 5k back in 2010 when it was the Friendship Run. People dressed up then in all the nationalities colors etc. Do people still do that or has it become a more serious run than a shakeout? Thanks for all the info.

    • I’ve seen a lot of flags, but not a lot of national costumes. In the past few years the race has been close to Halloween so people have dressed up in Halloween gear. It’s pretty mellow from my POV, seems to be mostly families and shake outs. But there are professionals who run it too, so . . . I guess it depends on where you are in the field.

      Have a great race!

  5. This is so helpful but I’m still freaking out about getting to the start. The whole ferry process seems overwhelming! If I’m on the 8:15 ferry what time should I plan to arrive at the terminal and what time would you think I need to leave my hotel (in the Times Square area)? And will I make it in time for an 11:00 start??

    • My advice is to get there earlier rather than later. I’ve always been on the 6:30 ferry, but as I mentioned, I’ve heard that later in the morning, the line is out the door to the ferry terminal.

  6. This will be my first marathon and couldn’t imagine doing any other than NYC! I have had a million questions and I have to say, your site answered every single one. Thank you SO much for all of the valuable information, and for getting me even MORE psyched!!!!

  7. Thank you for this information! I am coming from Seattle to run the marathon and feeling overwhelmed. Your information is so helpful. So excited!

  8. AWESOME write ups Eric! LOVED the video also! I ran it in 2009 to celebrate my 50th birthday (#5) and am SO excited to be running it again this year (#25)! And, having been fortunate to run on top of the Verrazano Bridge last time and being in the Green Corral this year I am happy to hear your reassurance on that. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to post this info and the course description. SO awesome for you to live so close to this epic-ness! Cheers to a great run again this year!!!

  9. Thanks,Eric for your helpful information.
    I find as I get closer, I keep returning to your tips and helpful bits to reassure myself.
    This is my first ever race and I’ll be 61 a few days after. It has been a long training process here on my country roads, but I’ve learned a lot.
    Best wishes for a successful run. From Texas.

  10. Question: My time to load the Ferry is 7AM. My race start time is 11AM. My hotel is in Long Island City and is one block from my subway train to the Ferry (about 30 to 45 min subway ride it says on Google Maps). How do I manage getting to the Ferry in time but not out in the village more than an hour before my start time? Thank you for your help.

    • A train leaves NYC traveling 60 MPH heading north and another leaves Boston traveling 90 MPH heading south. At what point will the chicken cross the road?

      What you’re asking is relatively impossible to figure out considering the crowds and the race day train and ferry schedules. You’re going to have to resign yourself that you’re going to be at the start village for a while. Bring warm throw away clothes and enjoy the camaraderie of all the runners. Enjoy your race!

  11. Hi thank you so much for this information… its great… one question do I need to reserve I’m space on the ferry in advance?

    • My pleasure Stephanie. If you chose the ferry as a transportation option, no need to do anything further (except get there early).

      Have a great race!

  12. Hi! Great tips, thank you! I won’t be getting into NYC until around noon on Saturday and plan to go straight to Javits to get my number. You mentioned really long lines…I have a 5 and 7 yr old and wanted to bring them to the expo w me but if I’m just waiting in line for hours it could get dicey with the little ones. Any advice in terms of whether going right at noon or later in afternoon is better, or perhaps not bringing them? Thank you so much!

  13. This is very helpful. But I just picked my my bib today and I wish I read this ahead of time. I saw this post after coming home from nyc today and there were things i missed . i wish it was posted way earlier.
    thanks though. this is very helpful

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