The New York City Marathon is coming up this weekend, which means that over 40,000 people will be making the long trek out to Staten Island in the morning in order to make the long trek back to Manhattan by foot. New York is known for being a challenging course, but it has produced some fast times over the years (Alberto Salazar famously set the World Record in New York in 1981; the current course record is 2:05:06, held by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya). More than anything, the race is a logistical challenge and an exercise in being patient, from a running and non-running perspective. Here are my tips on how to approach the race to enjoy the experience as much as possible.
Hurry Up and Wait
Because of the size of the race and the fact that it’s a point-to-point course, along with the fact that the race is a World Marathon Major held in New York City, you have to get to the starting area early and spend a lot of time waiting. Plan ahead. Even if the weather isn’t cold by your personal standards for race day, you will be nervous before the race and you’ll feel colder than usual. Get some inexpensive clothes that you can throw into the donation pile just before starting the race, and dress in layers. Bring one more layer than you think you need, in fact. This way, you can save your energy once you get to the Athletes’ Village and just relax. Spend that time recalling your race plan, chatting with other runners, or doing whatever else you need to keep your brain occupied. But, save your physical energy for the race.
No Space to Warm Up?
As I mentioned in a previous post, the warm-up for a marathon should be relatively minimal. That said, you need to get yourself warm before the race so that you can perform your best. In New York, there is little distance between the holding areas and the start, so you can’t really jog from one area to another. When it’s time to get warmed up (plan to finish the warm-up just a few minutes before it’s time to get in the corrals), spend about 5 minutes jogging around the perimeter of your holding area. Then complete your dynamic moves and a couple of short strides if you can find some space to do so. If it’s really cramped, make sure you at least complete your active isolates stretches, leg swings, and a few gentle lunges and squats wearing all of your warm gear. Wait until the last possible minute to remove your extra clothing, even waiting until the corral if the race marshals will allow it.
There are a few places where people tend to get themselves into trouble in New York. Remember, it’s a marathon, after all, so you have to be patient with your effort. And, New York has bridges throughout the race and then hills in Central Park, so it’s a challenging course even without all of the encouragement to run too fast, too soon. It’s the other people–the big group of runners with you and the hundreds of thousands of fans lining the course–that make it hard to stay smart.
- Starting Uphill: The biggest hill on the course is the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Take it easy to start the race and save the racing (and your energy) for later on.
- Brooklyn: Once you get onto 4th Avenue, you’ll encounter your first big crowd cheering you on. It’s important to stay calm and not let the rush of excitement get you going too quickly. Also, 4th Avenue is notorious for being a wind tunnel if there is a breeze coming from the North. Find a group to work with so you don’t have to face the wind all by yourself.
- Entering Manhattan: If you’ve played your cards right, the first half and then some will have been chill out time. When you cross the Queensboro Bridge, you’ll likely be struck by how quiet it is, but as you near Manhattan, you’ll begin to hear a rising wave of sound. You will need to really be careful not to take off up First Avenue, buoyed by the crowds. You still have 10 miles to go! You will, no doubt, get another shot of adrenaline from the crowds. Keep yourself calm and check your pace to be sure you’re not ruining your race.
- The Bronx and Back to Manhattan: Usually, I tell my runners to wait until about 18-20 miles into a race, then they can start to very slowly increase the effort if they are feeling relaxed and comfortable. In the case of New York, you want to make sure that you get through the final bridges before seeing how you feel. Wait until you get to 5th Avenue, then take stock of how you feel. If you’re really relaxed, you can begin to work on moving up in the field. It’s OK to continue running a steady pace. In any event, keep your focus on getting to Central Park.
- Central Park and The Finish: You’ll first see Central Park at about 22.5 miles, but it will be another mile or more before you turn into the Park. Once you hit the right turn into Central Park, it’s time to empty the tank and give the race whatever you have left. The hills in the Park are not huge, but they are tough because they come so late in the race. Keep your focus on form and turnover, and increase the effort each time you crest a hill and have a small break before the next one. You’ll again here loud cheering in the distance as you run through the Park. Once you hit the south end, focus on the crowds, this time feeding off of the energy to slingshot yourself to the finish. As you round Columbus Circle, the 26-mile mark is just around the corner, and the finish line awaits.
Among marathon experiences, New York is in a select group of races. No other race assembles an international field like New York, and no other race provides a city tour quite like New York. With the right approach, you can soak up all of the excitement, and run a fast marathon at the same time. Just remember: Be very patient, don’t get ahead of yourself due to the crowds, then use all that energy around you to finish the race strong!