New York City Marathon Route Guide

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Jon running the New York City Marathon in 2014

By Jon

This year, That Class Couple chose to sit the NYC Marathon out, but lots of Friends of TCC are running, so we thought that we would share the email outlining the marathon course that we sent to our friends running the NYC Marathon for the first time. To all of you running–GOOD LUCK, run fast, run safe, and, most importantly, have a blast!

 The marathon itself is an incredible experience, but the New York CityMarathon is especially incredible. I’d be shocked to find another city that treats the marathon with so much respect and awe. You’re going to see New Yorkers and visitors of all types out on the course to cheer you on. There are spectators for roughly 95% of the race (with two notable exceptions that I’ll discuss in a bit), and most of them are going to make you feel like you’re Mariano Rivera running into Yankee Stadium.
Here’s what marathon day is going to look like:

You won’t sleep a lot the night before. You’re going to be nervous that your alarm won’t go off, that you forgot to pack something, that you’re going to be too tired to run. That’s ok, you’ll be fine. No one sleeps the night before. My suggestion is to try and do anything to NOT think about the marathon the day/evening before. Go see a movie, get some work done, watch TV, have a drink (ONE drink), etc. You’ve spent plenty of time preparing for the marathon; there’s no need to obsess about it right before (you’ll have plenty of time do to that the next morning).
Write a schedule for yourself for the morning of the race. You’ll think I’m crazy, but I do it to the minute (i.e. 4:50, wake up, 5:00, drink coffee, 5:35, get dressed, etc.). If you do this, you’ll know exactly what you need to do, and you won’t forget anything. Also, definitely lay all of your clothes/gear out the night before. In short, have everything done/planned out that needs to be done before you go to sleep the night before.
So in terms of what to bring with you, well, that really is a personal choice. But I’ll tell you what I bring with me. Each year, I buy Amazon’s cheapest sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear to the start line (there are bins to throw them in before you enter the corral; they’re donated to charity, which is nice). I wear sunglasses, my Garmin watch, and an armband with my iPhone, drivers license, MetroCard, credit card, $20, and apartment keys. I’ll also carry with me, in my shorts pockets, several tissues, chapstick, headphones (for the start area only; I’ll talk about this later) and sport beans (I like these better than Gu, but do whatever you usually do, of course). I’ll also bring a garbage bag to sit on, a newspaper/magazine to read while waiting to enter the corral, a couple bottles of water, and possibly a Power Bar (they say that they have these at the start area, but you never know what the line will be like).
So about food–this is complicated. You’ll wake up at 5 (or earlier), and won’t start running until 10. How you digest your food is a personal matter, of course, but I’ll say this–you’ll need to have two separate “meals” before starting the race. How you do that is up to you. I’ll likely have my usual pre-run meal (multigrain bagel with peanut butter and banana) and a cup of coffee before leaving for the bus, and then a Power Bar about an hour before the race. Obviously what you eat and when is up to you, but I urge you to make sure you are well-fueled for the race, because you’ll need to be. It’s not like a typical long run.
And then there’s the issue of headphones. Again, this is a personal thing. I personally don’t run with headphones. But I recognize that many people do. What I’ll say is that, in my opinion, it’s a waste to listen to music during the marathon. Half of the fun of the NYC Marathon is engaging with the crowd. People will shout your name (you should DEFINITELY write your name on your shirt), marathoners will talk to each other, there will be bands playing, people yelling at the crowd, etc. The key is that you won’t be able to fully experience what it is to run the NYC Marathon if you are listening to music.
At roughly 6 am on Sunday, you will get onto a bus and head to Staten Island (that is, unless you take the ferry, but I highly recommend the bus). The ride will take about an hour, and you will sit in traffic for a good deal of the time. That won’t matter. My bus last year was fairly social–a lot of people talked about the race, running, etc., but there were also plenty of people who slept. There’s definitely a nervous energy in the air. Once you get to Staten Island, it’s an organized mess. There are tons of signs and volunteers to help direct you to the appropriate area. You’ll get into your waiting area, and, well, wait. There are port-a-potties (if you have to pee at all, do it as soon as you get there, as the lines only get longer), an area to get coffee/food, and a bunch of terrified people waiting. Try to do your own thing and not pay attention to anyone else. Last year, I got a lot of reading done, listened to music, and, before I knew it, my wave was getting called. Once your wave is called, you’ll be led to a staging area, where you’ll get into your corral. From your corral, you’ll be able to hear the start of the first wave–the professional athlete introductions, the national anthem, the cannon, New York New York, etc. Once the first wave runners leave, you’ll be led up to the start line, and will go through exactly the same thing.
So now you’re actually running. It’s funny, you spend so long going through the preparation that morning that you forget that you’re supposed to be running a race, so when you start running it feels slightly strange, like “oh yeah, I’m running today.” That’s one reaction you may have. The other, is to get very, very excited that “OMG, I’m actually doing this, I’m running the NYC Marathon“, and start way too fast. Don’t do this. Seriously, be very careful about monitoring your pace for the first couple of miles. I made sure last year to run way slower than I wanted to, almost painfully slow, and you’ll be shocked how quickly you’re still running despite trying to slow down. After all of that time waiting in the cold and building up anticipation, it’s too easy to start too fast.
The first two miles are over the Verrazano, the first–and hardest–bridge. The incline is real here, and long, but you probably won’t feel it, since you’ll be so excited to have started the race. The views are pretty incredible. To the right you have, literally, the ocean, and to the left, you have the Manhattan skyline in the distance. When you get to the middle of the bridge, the incline turns into a decline, which is also relatively steep. Try and resist the urge to speed up here. The wind on the bridge can be scary; the bridge is pretty exposed, so expect the wind to be at least somewhat of a factor. Your bib will probably rustle around a bit, and you may feel as if you’re getting jostled a bit. To mitigate this, try and run towards the middle if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
At the end of the bridge, the waves will disperse, and take different exit ramps into Brooklyn. But the experience should be the same regardless of which wave you’re in. For me, getting to Brooklyn was one of the coolest experiences of the race. For the first time that day, you’re not just amongst runners, but also spectators. This is cool. The spectators are totally different in every borough. In Brooklyn, they’re all about interaction. They’ll yell at you individually, especially if your name is on your bib. You’ll see all types of people in Brooklyn, and you’ll really be able to get a good sense of each neighborhood as you run through it.
First up is Bay Ridge, which is one of the last middle class neighborhoods remaining in New York. This will almost feel like running through a small town, which you should savor, because the rest of the race is very much not like that. After a couple of miles, the waves will run alongside each other up Fourth Avenue, which you’ll be on until the Barclays Center, at Mile 8 or so. Fourth Avenue is a really good time to get into your stride. It’s long, it’s straight, and there’s not a whole lot going on. There are plenty of spectators, but there’s not a whole lot to see, and you’ll find yourself looking for the next water station/mile marker.
A quick word on this–I personally walk through each water station to a, make myself drink water every mile, and b, to reset my stride and make sure I’m not going too fast. Obviously do whatever works, but I find that this is useful for myself. Going up Fourth Ave., you’ll pass through under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and into Sunset Park (working class neighborhood, big Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern populations), Greenwood (cemetery on your right, industrial zone on your left), under the Gowanus Expressway into Gowanus (your first taste of Hipster Brooklyn), under the subway and into Park Slope, which is when the character of the race starts to change. Here, you’ll find much larger crowds as you head towards the Barclays Center and Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, looming in the distance.
When you get to Flatbush Avenue, the crowds will be ten deep, and the noise deafening. This was probably the loudest part of the course, and you’ll want to run fast. You’ll make a left, then a quick right, then another quick right onto Lafayette Avenue, and you’ll be on a shady, leafy street going through Fort Greene on a slight incline. This is a really nice part of the course–it’s a pretty street, and it’s a nice break from the scenery up until that point. The crowds in Fort Greene were really good last year, lots of young families and others from the neighborhood, which has become really nice recently. Fort Greene will turn into Bed-Stuy, and you’ll notice a change in the crowd, which will become louder, and much more diverse. This was fun last year–there was a lot of energy here, and a lot of music (there’s music everywhere on the course, actually, bands, choirs, DJs, etc., a little bit of everything).
You’ll make a left onto Bedford Avenue, and everything will change, quickly. The next mile or so is probably my least favorite of the race. South Williamsburg is a very religious neighborhood, there’s almost no crowd support, and people seem really more annoyed than anything else that you’re running through their neighborhood. Oh well, nothing you can do, and it doesn’t last too long. You’ll cross the BQE for the second time, and then you’ll start getting into Hipster Williamsburg (the long sideburns and beards will be ironic, not religious). After passing by the Williamsburg Bridge, you’ll be in Williamsburg proper, and now the race gets fun again. Williamsburg is hipster heaven, and spectators will be loud, drunk, and fun. I laughed a lot through this portion of the race last year. You’ll pass by a lot of awesome bars and restaurants, by the Bedford Ave. L train stop, and then will exit the madness as you run through McCarren Park, which is a welcome quiet stretch.
Exiting the park, you’ll make a left on Manhattan Avenue, and run through Greenpoint, which is a neighborhood in transition from a Polish enclave to North Williamsburg (Girls is filmed here, on India Street, which you’ll run by). The crowd support here is very good, less frenzied than Williamsburg, but still enthusiastic. You’ll make a right turn on Greenpoint Avenue, then a quick left on McGuinness Blvd., where the crowd will thin out considerably. This is just a quick stretch though, as you’ll soon climb onto the Pulaski Bridge and pass through Mile 13.1 as you look to the left at a straight shot of the Empire State Building. Be mindful of this bridge–it’s a short but very steep incline, and often takes runners by surprise.
You’ll then leave Brooklyn and enter your third borough, Queens, to a large crowd waiting at the bottom of the bridge. You’ll make a couple of quick turns and wind up on Vernon Blvd., running through a neighborhood that is still trying to find its way from industrial (on the right) to yuppie (on the left). The crowds here should be pretty good, although maybe less enthusiastic than in Brooklyn. You’ll make a couple of right turns, and run through a more industrial part of the neighborhood, before making a left on Crescent Street at the Citi building and staring right at your nemesis, the 59th Street Bridge.
A word about the bridge–you should keep it in mind, but not fear it. It’s a long incline, but it’s relatively shallow, and as long as you’re mentally ready for it, you’ll be totally fine. The bridge is the last part of the race that will belong to just the runners, so savor it. Runners will talk to each other here, and some will stop to take pictures of Manhattan, which looms in the distance. I typically break the bridge into three segments to make it more doable. The first 3/4 of a mile is straight uphill. I lock my eyes onto a lamppost in the distance to give myself a landmark to run towards, and focus on that. Once you crest the top of the hill, you’ll have about 1/2 mile of flat bridge, and can exhale a bit (some runners cheered/screamed last year here). Once you pass over Roosevelt Island, the downhill starts, and here’s the coolest part–now you can hear the crowds on First Avenue, waiting for your arrival as you descend rapidly into Manhattan.
Now this is one of the most exciting parts of the course. You’re in Manhattan, you made it, and things look familiar (you’re actually still ten miles from the finish, but details…). The crowds are ten deep, there are helicopters overhead, noise everywhere, and you want to sprint. Don’t. Savor the moment, look around at everything, and take it all in. The crowd here is enthusiastic, but less interactive, as many people are looking for their particular runners. At 68th Street, make sure to take a minute to acknowledge the pediatric cancer patients in front of Sloan Kettering, supporting Fred’s Team. This is incredibly emotional, to say the least.
After crossing 86th Street the crowds will be thinning a bit (we’re talking maybe 5 deep instead of 10). Once you cross 96th Street, you’ll be entering Harlem, and the character of the race changes again. The crowds in Harlem are great. Spectators will encourage you, and will yell your name a lot if it’s on your shirt. It’s a lot of fun, with lots of music, and is basically a giant block party.
At 125th Street, you leave Manhattan, and cross a short but steep bridge into the Bronx. People will warn you about the Bronx, and what a supposed letdown it is after running through Manhattan. Don’t listen to them. The Bronx is a lot of fun. You’ll only be there for 1.5 miles, and spectators know this, so you’ll hear a lot of “welcome to the Bronx!” along the way. There will be bands, cheerleaders, and lots of cheering. Oh, and bananas. A couple of the later aid stations have bananas, and, trust me, banana peels really are quite slippery, so be very careful here. I almost fell last year several times.
Soon enough, you’ll leave the Bronx, and cross the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan. This is where I hit the wall two years ago, big time. Know that once you’re back into Manhattan, you’re almost done. It seems like you have a long way to go, but it goes very quickly, I promise. You’ll run south on Fifth Avenue and will see a park–but it’s NOT Central Park, it’s Marcus Garvey Park. This throws some people off, so just be aware of it. Once you get around the park, you’ll continue through Harlem as you approach the “real” park. As you approach 110th St., get ready, you’re about to tackle the last challenging part of the course, the 5th Avenue Hill. I’m not going to sugarcoat it…this hill sucks. It goes from about 110th St. to 90th St., with a couple of breaks in the middle. It’s not the steepest hill you’ll ever run up, but it’s long, especially at Mile 22/23. The best thing to do is to know to be ready for the hill, and that, when it’s over, you’re so close to being finished.
When you do crest the hill, at 90th Street, you’ll make a right into Central Park, and then a quick left onto East Drive. For local runners, this is a special part of the race, because many of us train here . The park is the last leg of the race, and it’s packed. This part of the race will probably be a total blur, but I’ll walk you through it anyway. After entering the park, you’ll run about 1/2-3/4 of a mile on flat ground before descending down Cat Hill (look to the right as you run down the hill to see the statue of a panther on the rocks). After getting to the bottom of the hill, you’ll have a couple of small rolling hills to deal with (you probably won’t even feel them at this point), before (briefly) leaving the park at 59th Street and making a turn onto Central Park South. At this point, you’ll see the Time Warner Center looming in the distance. Run there, as quickly as you can. The crowds will be large, and will be making a lot of noise, but you won’t care about anything but getting to the finish line ASAP. When you get to Columbus Circle, you’ll make a right and re-enter the park. This is where you let it all go, and use every bit of energy you have in reserve to finish strong. With flags lining either side of the path, you’ll run past the Sheep Meadow, up the final hill of the race, and across the finish line, where you’ll get your medal, a heat sheet, a bag of food and drinks, and the incredible satisfaction of having completed the New York City Marathon.
From there, you’ll exit the park at one of three exits depending on whether you are running with a charity (first exit), not checking a bag (second exit) or checking a bag (third exit). As far as meeting up with people goes, you’ll want to do so in a place that’s a little off the beaten path (I’d recommend as far north as possible), as things get very, very crowded. Make sure to hydrate, eat (you’ll be ravenous, so not a problem), and wear your medal around the city for the rest of the day (seriously, do this, it’s pretty awesome to have people congratulating you). Also, it’s good to shower at some point.
Most importantly, have the time of your life running through the greatest city in the world!
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