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The New York City Marathon

The New York City Marathon is for many runners, the holy grail of marathons. If you’ve been running for any length of time and have marathons as a goal, then you’ve probably researched the NYC Marathon. 

Some marathons are organized in cities around the world, and most will have several distance races to choose from. If you’re starting, conquering 26.2 miles won’t be the best option for your first race. However, if you have spent time racing smaller distances and you’ve had a good experience in at least one or more half-marathons, then the full marathon is probably next on your to-do list. 

You don’t have to be an elite runner to race in the NYC Marathon. Although, unlike many of the smaller marathons, you can’t simply sign up to race it. You either need to qualify or be running for a charity. But these are details that we will get back to later on. For now, let’s begin with some history. 

What is the NYC Marathon? 

The NYC Marathon is an annual marathon that is set across the five boroughs of New York City. These are Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan’s Central Park. 

Out of the five World Marathon Majors, which take place in various cities across the globe (NYC, Boston, Berlin, London, and Chicago), the NYC Marathon is the largest. The first NYC Marathon was in 1970 and had 127 runners entered. Only 55 crossed the finish line. Since then, the NYC Marathon has been held every year since on the first Sunday of November. Nowadays, both professional competitors and amateur runners alike race the NYC Marathon. Its popularity has grown significantly since its beginnings in 1970. So much so that participation is assigned by lottery or through an association with a charity. 

An exciting aspect of the NYC Marathon is that unlike the smaller city marathons, there is also an official wheelchair and handcycle division. In 2018, there were 50,000 runners and approximately two million spectators lining the course. Thus, making the NYC Marathon by far the largest in the world. It is broadcast across multiple local and national newscasters as well internationally and online. 

What to Expect Across the Course 

Running through the five boroughs of New York City is an opportunity to see this iconic city in a way unlike any other. Filled with incredible views and inspirational cityscapes, it is truly an experience of a lifetime. The same is true for a spectator. Watching a race like the NYC Marathon live and in-person on the course can be an emotional and motivating experience. 

Borough #1: Staten Island

Miles 1-2 

Staten Island is where it all begins. Miles one and two are short and sweet from the starting line on the Verrazano Narrows bridge and across Staten Island. Here you’ll see stunning views of the New York Harbor and the skyline, along with the Statue of Liberty. The excitement of the race will get that adrenaline pumping and propel the runners forward on their journey. The first mile is mostly uphill on the bridge, and the second is downhill as the runner's exit the bridge and head into Brooklyn. 

Borough #2: Brooklyn

Miles 3-12 

Brooklyn is relatively flat, and this makes for an easy section to run through. It’s also a trendy and quirky area with lots of restaurants, boutiques, and established areas lines with trees and park benches. The crowds are typically lively and exuberant in Brooklyn, which is great as it keeps the runner's spirits high. So, if you are in the crowd, be sure to do your best to encourage and cheer on the runners.  If you’re running, you’ll want to settle into your pace, stay relaxed, and fuel up for the harder miles with some snacks. 

Borough #3: Queens

Miles 13-15 

Here is where the half marathon mark is crossed. It’s important to have run a few half marathons before ever attempting a marathon. Once you have, you’ll notice that keeping a steady pace and being able to have a lot in your reserve tank still as you cross that half-marathon mark is crucial to running a successful full marathon. 

At mile 14 of the NYC Marathon, the runners cross the Queensboro Bridge. This is a beautiful vantage point with stunning views. However, the climb up the bridge is quite tough, and it’s precisely at the halfway point of the race. It’s also an area where there aren’t any spectators. These factors make this section of the race, both physically and mentally very difficult. Not to mention the surface of the bridge is very spiky, so it’s important to run only on the special carpet that the race organizers have laid down. The best way to get through this section of the race is to enjoy the views, feed off the energy of the other runners and reflect on your reasons for entering this race. Running a marathon is a mental game as much as it is a physical one, and in deserted and steep sections like this one, you need to dial into your mental training. 

Borough #4: Manhattan (part one)

Miles 16-18 

The descent from the Queensboro Bridge will take the runners into the massive crowds that gather along Manhattan’s First Avenue. This is an area that is flat and wide for about three miles long. It’s an excellent area to pick up speed both due to the flat surface and the cheering crowds. 

Borough #5: The Bronx

Miles 19-20 

Here again, is a quieter stretch of the race where the mental mantras and physical refueling are crucial. Although there are bands playing in one particular area (aptly named the Entertainment Zone), the reality is that runners will need to use their training skills to make it through this area with ease. The quieter the course, the harder it can be to keep that motivation going. Crowds are amazing, but because the course is so long and covers so much ground, some areas will be quieter than others. This is often where runners can begin to hit that proverbial “wall” and mentally check out. Once that happens, the physical follows closely, and many runners can risk forfeiting the race. This is why when training, you’ll want to work on pushing yourself through tough runs. That way, when you encounter similar sections on race day, you’ll have plenty of skills and tricks to pull from. Mainly because the hardest part is yet to come. 

Borough #4: Manhattan (part two)

Miles 21-26.2

After all this hard work, it’s finally the last few miles of the marathon. But don’t kid yourself, adrenaline won’t kick in just yet. This may be the most painful section of the race yet. Yes, you’re back in Manhattan, and yes, the crowds are back in full force and will be cheering away. However, Central Park, which is an area that the race finishes up in, is physically grueling. 

Staring with a small uphill run after Harlem, the northern edge of Central Park comes in around mile 23. Runners are generally told to speed up here because it is the last flat surface they will encounter before the hills of the park take over. Fortunately, the crowds are at their thickest here and at their finest. If you are a spectator, this is the time to give it all you’ve got. Cheer, yell, scream, and let those hard-working runners know that they are appreciated and honored. 

Runners, this is your time to shine! These last few miles are when you can buckle down and truly give it everything you have left. After the months and many hours of training, running the last few miles should feel exhilarating! If you’ve paced yourself correctly, you’ll be able to enjoy these final few moments of your NYC Marathon race. 

Who are the NY Road Runners? 

The NYRR is a non-profit organization that has a mission to help and inspire people through running. They started as a local running club, made up of forty people over sixty years ago. However, over the years, they have grown into a huge running group that organizes all different kinds of races -including the NYC Marathon. This is the group to get involved with if the NYC Marathon is on your marathon goal list. With programs for all kinds of runners, they are a hub of information that can help you prep for an event like the NYC Marathon. 

How to Prepare to Run the NYC Marathon 

Well, you can’t run a marathon without preparation. This is especially true for the NYC Marathon. So, what are some good tips to help you be ready on race day? Well, let’s dive right in! 

Use a training plan

This is needed to get through such a long distance. However, there are many different training plans out there. It’s essential to find the right one for you. The one that will fit your lifestyle and your running quirks. Some people like early morning and longer runs on weekends while others are all about the evening run and long run days mid-week. Your plan should be easy for you to follow. Otherwise, you will slack, and you won’t be ready on race day. 

Complete a few smaller races first

If you’ve never run a race, then starting with a full marathon -much less the NYC Marathon is not a good choice. Start by conquering the five and 10k and then a couple of half marathons before leading up to 26.2miles. Many people run the NYC Marathon as their first marathon; however, if you have had the chance to be a finisher at other races in smaller settings, you’ll be even more prepared. 

Test out your gear

This is 101 information for any runner. Yet still, it needs to be repeated. Too many runners pull out a new item on race day and think it won’t be a big deal. The NYC Marathon is probably the biggest of your running journey (unless you’re an elite runner and even then!), so don’t leave anything to chance. 

Swap shoes during training

Having two pairs of the same shoe to swap back and forth with during training is a great trick. It helps to keep your knees and legs even more protected without forcing you to train in different shoes. Then on race day, choose the pair that you like the best. 

Know your fuel

Again, this is about preparation. Try everything during training so that you know exactly what combination of meals beforehand and snacks during the race will fuel you best. Certain foods can cause stomach upset and a host of other issues, none of which you’ll want to be dealing with on your special race day. 

Run sections of the course beforehand.

Certain sections of the NYC Marathon are harder than others (see the Borough Guide above). Uphill areas, bridges, and more will be easier on race day if you have practiced them before. If you live in the city, this is relatively easy to coordinate, but if not, then arriving a few days early and using your last few training runs in these areas will be invaluable on race day. 

Run with others

Some runners only train alone. Then on race day, they can feel crowded and overwhelmed by the hundreds or in the case of the NYC Marathon -the thousands running alongside them. So again, practice what will be the reality of race day. Train with a group, enter other races, know what it will feel like so that you are fully prepared. 

Wear your name or cause

This one is a silly thing, but it does help. When your name or your cause is clearly labeled on your shirt, the crowd will take notice. When you’re feeling low, and the crowd starts calling your name or making you remember why you chose to run this race, it can lift your spirits! 

Have your family and friends positioned at particular spots

Another great tip that will help in the tough spots. By running areas of the race beforehand, you can scout out sections for your family and friends on race day. Asking them to be present when you are feeling low, will be a great motivator. 


Plan your celebration ahead of time. When you cross that finish line, you’ll want the high to last as long as possible. Have your loved ones come and meet you at the finish line and have all the plans in place to enjoy your special moment. 

Running the NYC Marathon is an honor and a huge milestone in the running community. It will be a moment that will last in your memory forever. 


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