Anyone getting ready to run the NYC Marathon needs to read this post! It’s everything I wish I’d known in advance to have the best day possible. Even as a running coach there were lessons to be learned and each race is a little different. The NYC marathon course in particular has some really key points to know!
Hopefully these few key pieces to help make life easier. Once you start to realize how long it takes to train for a marathon, I hope you’ve started looking at the right plan!
Going in to the NYC Marathon, I had a lot of questions about logistics surrounding the start and the finish and everything in between! It turns out many of you have the same questions, so while I can still remember all the details I thought I would share some answers and some NYC marathon course tips to help you out.
This has been updated since I ran in 2013 to reflect any changes I’ve noticed when our athletes run, but most of it remains the same! That’s part of why we love this race right? Tradition! It holds steady.
NYC Marathon Tips
With any race, I have a few standard recommendations for our athletes:
- Try not to walk around a ton before the race. Save it for post race
- Have your pre-race dinner and morning of meal with you or planned out, so you know it’s food you tolerate
- Don’t get sucked in to driving the course. :) It’s going to take forever and absolutely freak you out.
Following are addition tips and tricks from all of the Run To The Finish coaches.
#1 Train for the Finishing Hills
While it’s great to have rolling hills throughout your long runs, you absolutely want to be ready for the final set of hills. This means:
- plotting out long runs that finish with hills
- including both short hill sprints and long hill repeats at the END of moderately long workouts
- utilizing varying inclines if treadmill training
- practicing how you control yourself on the downhill running to not burn out the quads
You will only gain 810 feet over the course of 26.2 miles, BUT that can feel like a lot when you’re working so hard (or haven’t trained for hills). Luckily you get an equal amount of downhill running.
#2 Marathon Expo
Many expos are not like they used to be.
BUT NYC seems to buck that trend which could mean a lot of extra time on your feet. We don’t want that remember? Which means if you want to enjoy it all (and I do), try to go on Thursday or Friday! Then you can grab your New Balance themed shoes, talk to some of the cool folks on hand like Bart Yasso and go back to your hotel to rest.
Right now you must schedule a time slot to pick up your bib. But know the expo is open to the public and will be very crowded.
The NYC Marathon Expo is held at: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Halls 3B and 3E, 11th Avenue at West 35th Street.
#3 Plan Well Ahead for Your Start Line Arrival
Nothing is worse than the nightmare that you’ve missed the start…other than actually missing it.
One of the very cool and frustrating things about the NYC marathon is the starting area on Staten Island. It’s incredible sharing the area with so many fellow hyped up runners, but it takes a little work and planning to get there.
This is one time where staying near the start isn’t the big win we often look for.
Transportation to the Start Line
One of the things you want to consider is total time on feet. I saw many runners at the London marathon on their feet walking for a lot of time pre-race between the train, finding the right stop, then walking through the large start area.
- Staten Island Ferry to buses – roughly 90 minutes
- Midtown Manhattan bus straight to start line – roughly 90 minutes
- New Jersey Bus from Metlife Stadium – roughly 60 minutes
- There is NO start line parking
- Private drop offs can be done – roughly 1/2 mile from starting area and must be done by 7AM
No matter which option you selected or which departure you are going to have a lot of time on your hands once you arrive.
The first wave isn’t until 9:10AM and you’ll like be there by 7:15 at the latest.
#4 Start Line Area NYC Marathon Tips
A few key things you may not know and tips to utilize the time well.
Bags cannot be checked at the start line! You must pre-register and drop your bag off the day before the race.
You may only bring in things in the clear bag provided at the expo.
You’ll go through security to get to where the corrals are. The lines move very quickly, but this is where they are checking for hydration or bringing in bags other than those allowed to be checked.
Don’t waste tons of energy standing around.
You’re about to run 26.2 miles and standing is taking energy, and making your legs sore. Sit. Wait. Then get up do some dynamic moves and get in to your corral.
Take Throw Away Clothes
The likelihood that it’s going to be chilly is very high. So remember that if you now need to sit around for hours, you are going to get chilled. Shivering again is going to waste energy.
- Bring throw away gloves so you can even wear them the first few miles
- Reuse a mylar blanket from a previous race
- Bring hot hands!
- Absolutely cover your head to keep in the heat
- Bring an old blanket and old clothes – things get picked up and donated afterwards
Bring Your Food
While there are some supplies from Gatorade to bagels available in the starting area, we don’t want you do be stressed about finding it or ensuring there’s still enough left.
With such a long gap between the time you wake up and the time you run, you must continue fueling.
- Keep sipping on electrolytes
- Eat a bagel and nut butter, especially if you have a later start
- In the final minutes before you start take in an energy gel or waffle or some high carb, quick sugar energy
I love this chart from Featherstone Nutrition as a reminder that with the late start you’re going to need breakfast, a snack and your start line gel.
Once you get in to your corral, know that it could still be awhile before you cross the start line. Try to contain your nerves and energy. If you’re bouncing around, well again you’re wasting energy.
NYC Marathon Course Strategy
NYC requires it’s own special strategy when you are thinking about pacing. It’s not just the massive bridges or the late hills, but the energy levels from crowds that can throw you off your planned pace.
Know that the course is going to feel very crowded from start to finish. That means a lot of holding yourself in check to not weave around people and add a lot of distance to your race, as well as not getting caught up in anyone else’s pace.
You’ll be starting going up a bridge that’s a 3-4%, so embrace this as your time to take the first mile appropriately slow! Know that you are saving energy for later in the race. If you are even 60 seconds slower than goal pace it’s ok.
If you start out too fast on an uphill you are expending far more energy than starting out fast on a flat. Control yourself.
We call that a warm up, which leads to feeling stronger for longer.
You will find that time back on some downhills.
Now you’re in the heart of the course and will start to hit some of the BIG crowds. I am one of the many who let that excitement push me way past my goal pace…it hurt so bad by mile 20.
Do NOT be that person. Stay right at or just slower than your goal pace.
When running the bridges think about maintaining the same level of effort on the up and the down, this evens out pace without overtaxing you.
- Fuel early and often is the motto of sports nutritionists. Take that first gel 30 minutes in and keep going
- This section is quieter and rolling hills.
- Keep checking in with yourself on total effort and stay close to your goal pace, no overshooting it or trying to make up time later
- Remember to smile – it legitimately changes your body response and helps
Miles 16- 20
First you’re going to get a downhill and then a long straight path. Without all the turns this allows you to dial in to goal pace and just keep focusing on maintaining the same effort level.
Coming off the Queensborough bridge you’ll suddenly hear the massive crowds and this is where you must keep yourself in check. I mean the energy is PHENOMENAL.
But overrunning at mile 16 is going to cost you at mile 20 when you start hitting some additional hills.
This is why you’ve been saving yourself. There will be hills in the final section and if you haven’t over raced, you’ll have the power left in your legs to hold on to goal pace.
Mile 23-24 is almost all uphill. So the goal here is to maintain your effort and remind yourself there’s a nice downhill reward once you reach the top.
Then you’ll be making the turn in to Central Park. These are going to be rolling hills that will feel a bit harder on tired legs. But you’ve got the crowd and the knowledge that the finish line is close to keep pushing you onward.
NYC Marathon FAQs
Answering the top questions I received from you over the years and especially as we have seen things shift around other marathons.
Do you really get peed on if you start on the low bridge???
I swear this has to be myth. I was one the lower bridge and you don’t enter it until everyone is running.
The likelihood of anyone stopping within the first 10 feet of the race to pee, particularly with tons of cameras and helicopters flying by them is very unlikely.
Now right after the bridge, put on your blinders unless you want to see a mass of men whipping it out along the walls.
What was the start security like?
When we arrived to Fort Wadsworth for the start there was a VERY long large line for all runners to go through before getting to any corrals.
Cops were checking for bibs, ensuring you had only the clear plastic bag and winding everyone who passed through. Lots of discarded bags, blankets, bottles and such outside because they were on the not allowed list.
- Wear throw away gear because the whole security and then waiting around will have you cool down.
- Sit down as much as you can instead of standing for hours on end (think about how that wastes energy).
- READ the guide so you know what’s not allowed.
Are Hydration Packs allowed at NYC marathon?
NOOOOOO. This caught a lot of people by surprise in Chicago.
Running belts and handhelds are ok.
You may not bring in liquids over 1 liter. In Chicago, they were asking us to pour out ALL liquids at the start, so my recommendation is to wait to mix any of your nutrition until you are in the starting area. If they make you pour it out there will be a water station somewhere.Prepping for the #nycmarathon - here's the answers to common questions! #runchat Click To Tweet
Are face masks required?
Not any longer.
Why do they say allow 30-60 minutes for the finisher’s area?
It’s not because you are hanging out having a party. You end up walking at least another mile to get through the entire finishing area and then back out to where you can meet up with family and friends.
It’s simply a lot of people to move through and it’s a slow march past medical, the photo line, heat blankets, a bag with water and snacks then much farther to any bag pick up area.
What are the VIP tents?
There are a number of VIP tents and entry is given for a lot of sponsors, elites, celebrities or awesome people who are running it for the a millionth year in a row. I think maybe some tickets are sold, but hard to find.
The primary benefit is NO waiting for porta potties, which is a huge deal.
Additionally you are out of the cold and able to sit on a chair, so if you arrive to the island hours before the start this an help to conserve a lot of energy. Worth it 100%.
What’s the expo like?
Definitely one of the better expos, if you like expos…and I do! A lot of the sponsors go all out with cheer stations, places to make signs, videos and of course all kinds of gear with NYC on it.
Not a lot of “specials” or deals that I could find though.
- Do plan extra time since they are checking vaccinations
- Do not spend too long just walking around the day before the race
- Do keep sipping lots of water ALL day long
- Do enjoy every freaking second of this experience
Here’s a little throwback NYC marathon love.
Advice from the elites?
I was lucky to attend NYC with Asics, which meant that I once again got to do a warm up run and breakfast with some amazing athletes.
Here are a few marathon words of wisdom from Ryan Hall, Deena Kastor and Pete Jacobs.
Happy to answer any other questions you come up with! These are just the big ones I heard a lot!
More marathon day tips:
- Marathon Fueling Strategy
- Marathon Pacing Strategy
- What to wear on marathon day (for all different temps)
Other ways to connect with Coach Amanda
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