Many of you will soon be tapering for the NYC Marathon. If you are running this year, congratulations! You are about to embark on the experience of a lifetime.
Somehow, I managed to qualify for both the Boston and New York City Marathons during my first 26.2 attempt during the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon – so of course, I had to run both marathons. Life is too short to pass up such growth opportunities.
I ran the NYC Marathon last year on November 1, and PRed by a hair with a 3:41:45 finish/age 50. It was an an enriching experience for so many reasons.
Here are my top 10 tips for running the NYC Marathon:
1. Save sightseeing for après marathon. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but you, my friend, are going to run 26.2 miles, so you damn well better sleep. It's hard to resist the siren call of so many famous sites. But please hold of exploring until after the marathon, when active recovery, like walking, will do your body good. So go to the expo. Pick up your bib. Take in the excitement. Maybe grab a Stumptown Roasters coffee at the Ace Hotel (possibly the best I've ever tasted). But spend the day before doing something relaxing, with your feet up, if possible. If you really don't want to stay holed up in your room all day, take the subway downtown to the Meatpacking District, sit in a cafe and people watch while hydrating with herbal tea.
2. Take a taxi to the Staten Island Ferry. Believe me, I am all for frugality. I live in a big city and am a huge advocate for public transportation and walking whenever possible for both economic and environmental reasons. But on marathon morning, you want to do everything humanly possible to keep your stress level down. Best to arrive refreshed. Depending on where you are staying, a cab ride to the the Ferry won't set you back that much and it will be worth the added cost. Plus, you'll get to experience pre-dawn Manhattan, twinkling and winking at you.
3. Pack "throwaway" clothes. The start is near the water and since it will be early November, it will likely be chilly when you arrive at the Athletes' Village in Staten Island. And believe me, it's better to arrive early rather than later to keep pre-race stress in tow. I bought a sweater and sweatpants for $2 a piece at Goodwill in Philadelphia a few weeks before the race. And I purchased a hat, scarf and gloves, all for $5 at Jack's in New York the night before the race (I hate having cold hands and a cold neck). Some people even brought blankets and bathrobes – a great idea. (I made a mental note for when I run Boston in 2017). I didn't regret bringing a single item. Don't worry, the clothes and items are not really discarded. Volunteers collect them post-race for collection to Goodwill, so you are contributing to a cycle of good.
4. Bring something to sit on, plus a magazine or newspaper. Spending time at the Athletes' Village is a waiting game. I brought a plastic garbage bag, settled in on the sidewalk, propped myself against a fence, and struck up a conversation with another runner. We chatted happily until it was time to walk to the corrals.
5. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bagel). With almost 50 grams of carbs, bagels are the perfect pre-race fuel. Philly is only 1.5 hours south of New York, but somehow, New York bagels taste a thousand times better. Must be the water. Last year, the athletes' village offered all sorts of nibbles, plus hot coffee, chocolate and tea – and even free Dunkin' Donuts beanies to keep your noggin warm. But I can't promise it will be the same this year, and you want to follow the "don't try anything new on race day" adage. So BYOB. And make sure it's an NYC bagel.
6. Curtail your excitement at the start. You may have had enough discipline to nail your 18-22 mile long runs. But will you have enough discipline to hold back at the start? It's super hard not to go out too fast – especially while running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty beckoning on your left as Frank Sinatra croons "New York, New York" over the loudspeaker. I went out too fast – a classic no-no– and I kept on going too fast, I narrowly PRed but had I kept my wits about me, I could have really PRed with much less suffering. So don't do what I did. Start slow. (Aside: I got a little teary-eyed when I saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance, thinking of my babci [grandmother in Polish] arriving at Ellis Island all by herself at age 14 in 1918. So much I owe to her adventurous spirit.)
7. Respect the bridges. The NYC course may seem flat. But I promise you, it's not. In my opinion, the course is way harder than Boston, because, although not extreme, the elevation climbs and descents via bridges happen mid-course. They really trash your quads. After conquering several significant bridges, you are then facing the rolling hills of Central Park at the end, when your legs are totally completed of glycogen. So pace by effort on the uphills, conserve some energy on the downhills and ...
8. ...Be extra-smart about fuel. With all the excitement, hoards of cheering crowds, and so many awe-inspiring sites, it can be very easy to lose your focus and to forget to refuel at regular intervals. Don't forget. Fuel early and often. As I mentioned, the changes in elevation will trash your legs. Stay on top of this as much as possible by taking in enough carbs during the race, particularly if it's warm. If you can tolerate it, also drink Gatorade at the water stops whenever possible. Even a swish and spit can help.
9. Don't even think about meeting friends and family at the finish. Plan to meet them elsewhere or at your hotel. The finish area is utter chaos. After running 26.2, it's natural to want to stop and stretch your legs. But when you cross the line, the volunteers are like commandants, urging you to get the hell out of the way. "No stretching for you" until you are out of the chute area. Map out your escape route ahead of time, because many of the streets and subways around Central Park will likely be closed off. Last year, I did the post-race penguin walk (ouchie!) about 10 blocks before catching the subway.
10. Pack some cash. Keeping #9 above in mind, you may need to buy a subway ticket, taxi fare or extra snacks for refueling. Sure, the bills may be a little damp, but money is money.