If you're reading this, there’s a good chance you’ll be at the starting line of the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 4. Or maybe you hope to be one day!
I called New York City home for six years, and eventually left after my love-hate with the city turned more into a strong dislike for all things urban. That said, my experience running this marathon in 2015 was the moment I fell back in love with New York. The opportunity to cover ground in every single borough and be constantly surrounded by a roar—whether crowds cheering or the foot strikes of runners nearby—turned New York City into something magical that day. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
With this year’s race just days away, I reached out to a handful of other New York City Marathon veterans to collect their best pieces of advice. From resting on pool floaties beforehand to navigating the more challenging parts of the course, here are the best tips from athletes who know the New York City Marathon experience by heart, lung, and foot.
1. Throw away any expectations and just get out there.
“I know a lot of people get intimidated by NYC Marathon being a notoriously difficult course, but I think that makes it a great first marathon if you have no idea what to compare it to. I always say my first marathon (New York in 2009) was my easiest because I didn’t know what to expect and nothing hurt until it was over.”
—Carla Benton, a three-time NYC Marathon finisher (2009, 2013, and 2015), book copy editor, and former Brooklynite now based in Chicago
My thoughts: I’ll vouch for that! Familiarize yourself with the course, but don’t dissect it to the nth degree. Your adrenaline, training, and poise will carry you through the difficult sections—the crowd cheering you on will help, too.
2. Wait at the Staten Island ferry for as long as possible.
“The runners’ village at the start line is overrated. Wait in that Staten Island ferry terminal as long as possible until race officials make you get on the bus. That way you can take advantage of the heat, being indoors, being able to sit down, and indoor plumbing while you still have it.”
—Maria Reinstein, a two-time New York City marathoner, NYC-based film critic, and celebrity journalist who loves to run (slowly) in her spare time
My thoughts: Unless you’re a pro runner who gets your own tent, I pretty much agree. However, I took a bus to Staten Island from Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, so didn’t have the opportunity to wait at the ferry terminal. Make sure you figure out how you’re getting to Staten Island, and perhaps just give yourself enough time (but not too much!) to get near the start before it’s time to take off.
3. Stay off your feet as much as you can the day before.
“The day before the marathon I always stay off my feet, sit on my butt, and plan out the places I'm going to eat after the marathon. This is also very helpful for all the people who are coming to watch you because you will have a meeting place post-finish line! And hopefully, it involves pizza and a drink. I highly recommend going to the Kips Bay AMC Movie theater the day before the marathon, too. They have recliner seats!”
—Jocelyn Bonneau, a three-time NYC marathon finisher, and apparel designer based in New York
My thoughts: Wise words. Staying off your feet the day before is a great idea. Maybe treat yourself to taking a cab or Lyft, and hydrate while you’re at the movies!
4. Bring a pool float to the start.
“I saw a group sitting on pool toys the first year I ran NYC and now I always bring one for myself. You sit around for 2-3 hours before starting, and having something squishy to prop up against a tree and sit on is a game changer. But you can only get them on Amazon this time of year so you have to think ahead. This is what I bought last year.”
—Kelly Roberts, a three-time New York City marathoner, Brooklyn based storyteller, and creator of the #SportsBraSquad
My thoughts: All I can say is I would sign up for the New York City Marathon again only to be able to do this. And P.S.: Kelly will be running this year, so look out for her and her lime green inflatable!
5. Wear an extra layer that you can throw in the donation bins once you start.
“The weather in New York will always be a little bit unpredictable, but it will most likely be on the cool side. Head to an inexpensive clothing store (like Kmart or a drug store) and buy something warm like a coat and gloves that you can wear and throw in a donation box before the gun goes off. There will be plenty right next to your corral!”
—Laura Schwecherl, one-time New York finisher, marketing consultant, and writer based in Denver, Colorado
Yes, this is me! I wanted to include a bit of my own advice, too—especially since I’m someone who gets anxious about being cold at the starting line of races. I also have to include this advice from Jocelyn, who says she typically gets an XL kids snowsuit at Kmart. In her words: “They are pretty cheap and they look super cool!” You can also just wear something warm that you’ve been meaning to donate.
6. Follow the instructions from New York Road Runners.
“Follow the arrival directions sent to you by NYRR. They are spot on, and since they have done this before, they've got your arrival time and corral times figured out. This prevents you from standing around too long at the start. Oh, and at the end, hug Peter Ciaccia, if you can. Celebrate his last NYC Marathon with him. [Writer’s note: He’s the TCS New York City Marathon race director and is retiring this year.] He is a gem of a human.”
—Mirna Valerio, one-time NYC Marathon finisher (10-time marathoner), ultra runner, writer, and speaker based in New York
My thoughts: NYRR does a fantastic job making this race a success year after year. They know their stuff, so take their advice seriously. There are amazing volunteers the day of, too, so use them as a resource and remember to thank them!
7. Start slow so your body can warm up.
“Start the race slow. Give your body time to warm up. This, unfortunately, wasn't something I did in 2015. I started way too fast and while I set a good pace for the first 16 miles, I really struggled with the last 10. I finished in a lot of pain and needed to take some time to recover.”
—Dom Goodrum, one-time NYC Marathon finisher and director of product at Let's Do This in London
My thoughts: Read this one again and again…and again. My first mile when I ran New York was a minute faster than it should have been (oops). And I ended up running out of gas by mile 20. It’s hard but so important to start conservatively on this course!
8. Save as much energy as you can for the second half.
“It's easy to run fast out the gate and get fired up in Williamsburg, but when you're in the Bronx and the crowds die down, you'll be happy having aimed to run the first 13.1 slower and save some energy.”
—Kevin Carpenter, a 4-hour NYC Marathon finisher and consultant based in New York
My thoughts: Kevin brings up a great point here. While the crowds in New York are amazing, there are a few sections where the amount of people does die down. After mile 20 (usually when you start getting really tired) you’re in the Bronx; the crowds up there don’t compare to the wall of cheerers lining up along First Avenue in Manhattan. Be prepared to save some gas for when you’re up in the Bronx and don’t have as much energy to pull from the sidelines.
9. Be extra careful about pacing on the first bridge.
“As you’re wondering what to expect within this life-changing experience, I would tell you to watch out for the first 2 miles, also known as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The bridge, spanning almost 14,000 feet across, also stands almost 700 feet high! This bridge will be the toughest you face throughout the course. As your adrenaline is running and your heart is pumping, remember to pace yourself throughout this lengthy and steep bridge as you have quite a trek throughout the rest of the race! Another notable bridge is the Queensboro at mile 15. Remember: Trust your training, pace yourself, keep pushing forward, and smile through the pain. Welcome to NYC!"
—Jenna Fesemyer, youngest athlete in the pro wheelchair women's field and full-time undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, looking to finish her second NYC Marathon this year
My thoughts: This advice came up time and time again, so it’s worth mentioning repeatedly. Pacing yourself for the first 2 miles is key. You still have 24 miles remaining once they’re over! Also, soak in your surroundings when you’re on each bridge. The sights are pretty magnificent.
10. Take advantage of the quiet stretches to check in on yourself.
“The race itself is lively, exciting, energetic, and fun! So first and foremost I would tell a first-timer to simply ENJOY the experience of the crowds and everything in between on race day. The difficulty might start around the Queensboro bridge as there are no crowds to cheer you on. Use that quiet time to do a self-check-in and keep your head in the game but also anticipate the roar of cheers when you come off the bridge. The rest of the race ( Mile 16+) is rolling hills, so take each mile one at a time. Let the energy of the crowd carry you home. Look out for the cheer zones at Mile 10 and Mile 21, with music and confetti and all the high fives you can manage!”
—Danni McNeilly, two-time NYC Marathon finisher and administrative professional based in Brooklyn, New York
My thoughts: Queensboro is definitely tough and is indeed very quiet. To stay present, try to listen to everyone’s footsteps or use it as an opportunity to encourage someone running next to you.
11. Make sure you have a fueling strategy.
“I consider NYC to be one of the most challenging courses on the [marathon] circuit. Athletes have to empty their energy tank repeatedly, from the first climb up the Verrazano, through the Queensboro Bridge, and finally through Central Park (and all the climbs connecting those points). This makes a strategic refueling plan all the more important, ensuring optimal hydration and replenishing glycogen stores. Ideally, each athlete races with a personalized refueling strategy developed by a sports nutritionist that addresses their specific needs. But, understandably, that’s not reasonable for everyone, in which case doing a little research on general guidelines is time well spent.”
—Adam Bleakney, eight-time NYC Marathon finisher and head coach of the University of Illinois Wheelchair Track team
My thoughts: I couldn’t agree more. Every runner should have his or her own fueling plan that mirrors long runs and hard workouts. While there are plenty of aid stations on the course, not all of them have food, so make sure you carry the food you are used to eating and don’t solely rely on the fluid tables!
12. Don’t forget to actually take a look around you.
“There are emotional support dogs in the pens before the marathon [specifically for runners to pet]. I grabbed a bagel and some coffee and went to pet a dog, which helped relieve some pre-race nerves. Also, keep an eye out not just for race supporters but other runners. I was blown away by how many Achilles International teams there were with blind/differently abled runners. Don't miss all of your amazing fellow marathoners!”
—Aisha Washington, one-time NYC Marathon finisher and news marketer based in New York
My thoughts: This one is worth writing down. The New York City Marathon is a chance to celebrate everything around you. Also, make sure to look at the signs! People have some pretty witty sayings that have made me laugh out loud when I needed it most.
13. Be mindful about how much energy you’re using.
“Stay focused on the finish line in your mind; you're gonna need every ounce of effort to get there so be mindful of how much energy you're leaving out there on the course. Cheering, chit-chat, hugs, and high fives are often tremendously motivating but in some sense, they're a drain on the finite reserves you have stored for the race. Use your energy wisely—with intention!”
—Knox Robinson, 10-time NYC Marathon finisher, writer, founding coach of Nike+ Run Club, and captain of Black Roses NYC crew
My thoughts: This logic is really helpful. The end of this course is pretty difficult, so make sure to soak it all in while dialing into your body, paying close attention to how it’s feeling and what it needs.
14. Have a meeting place set up post-race.
“If you have people meeting you after the race, make sure that you pick a place far enough away from the course, but close enough that it's easy for you to get to. I made the mistake of not having that location in place and wound up having some frustrating, tired phone calls with my family as my phone was dying and I was trying to get out of the crowd with weak legs!”
—Courtney Spiller, a one-time NYC Marathon finisher, writer, and actor from New York
My thoughts: I wish someone had given me this advice. The finish line of the marathon can be quite chaotic, and you might find yourself walking more than you’d like just to get your drop bag and figure out how to exit the park. I remember walking for nearly 30 minutes to find my family since we never decided on an exact place to meet. Don’t be shy about leaving the finish area altogether, too. Once you’ve soaked it all in, the 1, A, C, and D subway lines are near the finish, which can take you straight to your brunch reservations.
At the end of the day, remember to be kind to yourself, especially when things get challenging.
Not to pick favorites, but one of most encouraging pieces of advice, which is fitting for all marathons, also comes from Robinson. He reminds us that in the moments when things get tough, we have to remember to love ourselves. “When the marathon gets hard—and it does get hard—it helps to remember that you are loved. The people who loved you before you set out on this whole crazy journey are still gonna love you when it's over. You're YOU and that's enough—that's all you need to be in the marathon…and in life.”
So go out there and remember that. You’re a rockstar for even making it to the starting line, and I can guarantee that no matter what happens on Sunday, you’ll cross the finish line feeling exhilarated—and yeah, probably pretty exhausted. It’ll be worth it, I promise.