Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why the New York Marathon is the Best Marathon in the World

Long blog title, but I'm making a point here.  I'm no marathon expert, but I feel pretty confident when I say that the ING New York Marathon is the best marathon out there.  I've run three now, two of which are marathons that most people only dream of running: Boston and New York.  And I'm finally going to tell you the truth.  I've hinted at it before... but here it is, in my opinion- The New York Marathon is way better than Boston.  From how NYRR organizes the race, to the crowd support, to the AMAZING city- the New York marathon is everything you could ever want from a marathon and in this post I'm going to tell you why.
I will never forget before I ran New York last year, my friend Kimmy told me "You will love it.  It's the best race."  I couldn't associate love and marathon in the same sentence.  And even after I finished, I still couldn't understand how Kimmy could say that. But after awhile, I started to understand exactly what she meant.  Because {in my opinion} there isn't another marathon out there like the ING New York Marathon.

To start, I've heard people say that you can't PR at this race because it's too crowded.  To which I highly disagree.  I think the NYRR does such a nice job with putting you in waves and corrals with people who ARE the SAME pace as you.  There are three waves with seven corrals in each. Wave 1 begins at 9:40am, Wave 2 at 10:10, and Wave 3 at 10:40. In each wave, you are grouped in corrals based on your projected finish time and because of this you can feel pretty confident that you will be with other runners who are similar pace to you. Also, once you are lined up in your wave and corral, it only takes about six minutes to cross the starting line.  And every wave has it's own starting ceremony so no matter what time you start and what pace you are, you feel like you are PART of this EPIC marathon.  The other thing to note is that there are three ways to start in each wave- on top of the bridge, on the bridge and under the bridge and you don't combine into one group until mile 8.  This makes it less crowded as well.

But before I talk about the race, let me tell you about getting to the race.  The big downside to HUGE marathons is how early you have to get to the race site BEFORE it starts.  I stayed on the Upper East Side last year and had to make it down to the Staten Island Ferry in Lower Manhattan. My friend Tara and I left around 6am and got to the terminal around 6:40am. Then we hung out in the terminal, using real bathrooms until we felt like getting on the ferry.  Although you are assigned a specific time for the ferry, it's first come first serve.  So if you get to the terminal early, you can get on the ferry early.  If you get there later than your time, you can get on later.  It's no big deal. Use the REAL bathrooms at the terminal because this will be your second to last chance! Once you are on the ferry, it's an incredible experience.  What other race takes you on a boat ride where you can see the entire city? It was gorgeous and very calming which is something I so needed before a big race. Check out these views!
Once you get to the Staten Island station, you board buses to get you to Athlete's Village.  This is another opportunity to use REAL bathrooms.  After you get on the bus, you only have Port-a-Potties to use.  The bus ride takes about 20 minutes.  I was quiet and nervous on the bus, trying to enjoy the ride but sort of freaking out about the race. Once you get to Athlete's Village the first thing you will notice is how incredibly organized it is.  

You are grouped by Wave and Color.  My friend Tara and I planned to start in my wave together since I had the higher number and we had no problem doing so even though we had different colors.  We hung out in the main area for over an hour. We put a blanket down, stretched and took turns going to the bathroom.  The great thing about NY is how many bathrooms they have.  It's really incredible. I don't think I ever waited in line longer than 5 minutes. Tara and I got to our corral and wave about ten minutes before we had to. We waited in a line of about 60 people until they opened up the gates and we entered the bridge.  It was surreal.  I felt like I was in a movie. And before we knew it, we were off!
The entire first mile is straight uphill.  If I can give any piece of advice, it's to start slow.  I truly believe this should be your slowest mile of the race.  The second mile is all down hill.  Be careful here.  Hold yourself back.  It would be very easy to run this mile too fast.  Once you get to mile 3, you enter Brooklyn. I suggest running on one side of the road so the crowds can really scream for you.  Wearing a shirt with your name on it is imperative in a race like this.  You will never get fan support like this in any other marathon, including Boston. 

From mile 3 to mile 8, you are running a straight-away down Fourth Avenue.  You go through Bay Ridge, and Greenwood Heights. At mile 8, you converge with the other runners in your wave who started on different parts of the bridge and enter the Fort Greene neighborhood which is where Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, Spike Lee and Chris Rock grew up. This is a good spot for your family to see you.  My family met me at Mile 8 and they were easy to see. It was crowded, but if you know what side your family will be on, it's easy to see them.  They were on the corner of Ashland and Lafayette.
9 miles in, I remember loving the course... crowds were still screaming for you and it was amazing to see all the different cultures that were out there supporting you.
You enter an area called Bedford-Stuyvesant where there are tons of very nice brownstone rowhouses.  At mile 10, you enter Williamsburg which connects Manhattan's Lower East Side. The population here exploded when immigrants escaped overcrowding Manhattan and following World War II, the neighborhood became a place for Hasidic Jews from Europe.  This neighborhood is also home to large communities of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Italians, Germans and younger Americans. This area is also knowns as the Artist's Community.  And you can see all this in the crowds.  This is why I love New York so much.  It really is a microcosm of our world.
At mile 12, you enter Greenpoint which is home to the second largest Polish population. This area is home to multi-generational families, it is not uncommon to find 2-4 generations of a family living in the same area.  Don't you just love that?!  Also in this area, movies like "The Departed," "Sleepers," and the TV show "Rescue Me" were filmed here. 

At mile 13, you enter the Pulaski bridge and say goodbye to Brooklyn and enter Queens. This is your first real hill (besides the first mile).  I struggled here a bit and ended up saying goodbye to my friend Tara to slow down my pace.  Right after this is another great place to spectate. 
*If you are spectating: In 2009, I came to this point first, taking the train from the Upper East Side.  There are tons of cute coffee shops over here that you can hang out in to keep warm in between seeing the elites and waiting for your friends. *

Mile 14, you are running in Long Island City in Queens.  It's not particularly pretty in this area and the crowds start to thin out just a bit.  Make sure to grab extra water, gatorade and fuel because you are about to enter the Queensboro Bridge, the most secluded and in my opinion, hardest part of the course.

Mile 15, you enter the Queensboro Bridge.  I don't remember exactly, but it feels like a mile and a half of straight uphill.  It also falls at a difficult part of the course- Mile 15-16 where your legs are already fatigued.  Fight the urge to walk.  Repeat mantras to yourself and stay strong.  Whats waiting for you on the other side is absolutely incredible.  One thing to note, the Queensboro bridge is completely closed off.  You are running in the middle of the road with no crowd support.  Stay strong.  You will also see lots of people from other countries pulling off on the side to take pictures... there are beautiful views on the bridge.
Entering Manhattan is remarkable. There really is no way to describe it.  As you're descending from the bridge, you start to hear a blaring, overpowering noise that cannot be fully described until you hear it yourself.  The fan support on First Avenue is loud and astonishing.  You will not be able to believe how many people are out there.  Think 10 rows deep of fans on both sides screaming your name.  If your family and friends are meeting you here, make sure you know what side of the road they are on.  It's nearly impossible to weave because First Avenue is VERY large.  I saw my support system at Mile 16.5 and was so happy to see them. 
*If you are spectating, after you see your runner on first Avenue, head down on whatever cross street you are on (60th, 80th, whatever) toward the park. My family met me at 59th and First and then again at 84th and the park.*

I'm going to be honest now.  Mile 16.5- Mile 20 is my least favorite part of the course.  You are running on one street for what seems like forever.  You enter First Avenue at 59th Street and don't leave until 127th-ish. And although the crowds are amazing, you don't see the diversity of fans that you saw earlier in the race.  Most of the fans out here are younger. I honestly started to lose steam in these miles, hoping for a change of pace in more ways than one!

But then you get that change of pace. Mile 20-22 is pretty awesome.  You go over another bridge into the Bronx, home of the Yankees.  I yelled "Go Red Sox," as I entered.  Probably not the smartest.  Then you loop and go over another bridge into Harlem.  I loved this area.  The crowds were insane, there was music playing- I remember specifically hearing "Neeewww York" by Alicha Keys and Jay-Z.  There were kids dancing, there was a woman on a loud speaker who read my shirt and said "Welcome to Harlem Liz!"  I loved this area!

I kept thinking you enter the park at 22, but you really don't enter it until closer to Mile 23.5.  I kept waiting to enter the park and when you finally did, the crowds were again so crazy and supportive.  There are little hills and little downhills that I've heard for some people were really difficult but I didn't think they were that bad. Central Park is such a beautiful place that I really enjoyed this part of the course.  (See doesn't it look like I'm enjoying it?  Okay, maybe not...)
And of course, NOTHING feels better than seeing Mile 25 and knowing you only have a little over a mile left. After Mile 25, you loop around and at Mile 26, you are on the West Side of the park for a quarter mile.  You finish right around West 65th Street and you grab your medal and your blanket.  You are done!  You finished the best marathon in the world!
Now the worst part about this took me an hour to get out of the park and find my family on the east side.  I'm lucky I had a phone.  Without it, I would have been totally screwed.  But once reunited, nothing can compare to the sense of pride I felt.
So, in my opinion, there isn't a race out there like New York.  Some could argue Boston has amazing crowd support and pride, but the truth is that you run in the suburbs for 90% of the course.  In New York, you go through five boroughs, you see so many types of fans and you experience all that New York City has to offer.  For slower runners, you still feel PART of the marathon.  I know runners who qualify for Boston have all sorts of opinions on runners who don't.  But as a fundraising runner at Boston, I will tell you it's like running a completely different race than qualified runners.  You start almost an hour later, you pay so much more and you fundraise.  It's not easy.  (FYI, qualified runners paid $130 for Boston, I paid $375). In New York, I didn't feel like an outsider running the race- I felt like an equal to the runners who finished hours ahead of me.  

But this post is not meant to take anything away from the Boston Marathon, it's simply my opinion.  And my opinion is the New York Marathon is the best marathon in the world.  And if you are lucky enough to cross the starting line next Sunday, realize how lucky you are.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I really hope that everyone who wants to will be able to enjoy this marathon someday. 

Good luck to all those New York Marathoners out there!  I'll be cheering for you in spirit! 
And I hope this post inspires all of you not running this year, to run this race in future years : )

Have you run New York?  Have you run Boston?  What is your opinion on each?


  1. I haven't run either and am running NYC next week - thanks for all the tips, Liz!

  2. I am running NY next week (my first marathon!) and my friend Jen passed this along. Thanks so much for the recap and tips, love it!


  3. can i just tell you i love you for writing this post? haha. i've run nyc before (2008) and am running again this weekend (!!!!). so this post is perfect timing for my insane pre-marathon craziness :)

    and i couldn't agree more - nyc rules. oh, and first ave? definitely my least favorite too. it was overhyped (Bk wins).

  4. This made me both excited and nervous for next Sunday - I try not to think about the Queensboro and the northern portion of 1st Ave :) But having been there last year, I'm hoping to handle those portions better.

    It's definitely interesting to hear YOU say NY is the best, since you've run Boston too!

  5. This post made me tear up! You described everything so well, and I'm even MORE EXCITED to run my first NYC marathon, also my first ever marathon next Sunday!!! What you said about the 59th st bridge is so true; I actually ran over it every long run into Central Park from Astoria, so mentally, I own the bridge...but it's just so stinking steep and goes on forever! Thanks for the post, I'll be linking it in my blog tomorrow!

  6. I am running in NYC next week, so thank you so much for this post (and your recap from when you raced it!) it was so helpful, and makes me even more excited to be part of this fantastic race!

    It is my first ever marathon, first time in NY and 2. time in the USA. Epic.

    I will send this post on to all (2) of my cheer squad. Again thank you so much!

  7. I love this post! It makes me want to run NY soooo badly! Next year will be my third year entering the lottery, so I'm really hoping I get in. :)

  8. So cool reading about it from your POV. Growing up in Manhattan, I never really paid much attention to the marathon, but I think that's b/c I never knew anyone running it. I'll be cheering you on from here!

  9. wow, this makes me REALLY want to run it!

  10. this was such a beautiful post. thanks for your opinion, I can easily see why NYC is your favorite. While I'm not a runner, I always questioned why MORE of the Boston marathon wasn't in the city. Understandably, we're not as big as NYC, but you make a valid point.

  11. Holy long post. I love it! It makes all my deferrals worth while, and hopefully one of these years I can do it :). I'll pass it along to my friend Krysta who is running it this year.

  12. Loved this post Liz! You just made me want to run NYC even MORE than I already did :)

  13. I just got the bug to enter the lottery for 2012, and THEN I read this post. Perfect timing, now I want to run it NOW!

  14. Liz! I do love love love the NYC course better- I know that is sacrilege as a Boston runner... but I love the whole week leading up to Boston better. I love meeting up with friends from far away at the expo, I love riding out to the start with my running club buddies, and npthing beats right on Hereford, left on Boylston!

  15. I haven't run either and I have yet to run a marathon but you have me sold!

  16. What an awesome post! I've always been hesitant to run NYC because of the crowds, the hills (especially Queensboro bridge) and my fear of starting on the lower level of the Verrazano bridge (I've heard you get peed on by runners on the upper levels). Maaaaaybe I'll eventually do it anyway though :) Good luck on Sunday!

  17. This post just solidiifed the ING NYC marathon to be on my running bucket list! Sounds absolutely amazing.

  18. This post just blew me away! Now, I definitely need to run this marathon at some point in my life.

  19. Yep! I have run both of them - 2010 for NY and 2011 for Boston. I think they are both so so amazing for different reasons! I did love Boston since I qualified for it - it just felt like such a privilege to be there! But I agree... NYC is beyond an amazing race!

  20. i also like marathon it is one of the great subject. if anyone want to make a marathon he can run firstly every time it make him perfect. if you want to make a marathon you have to need to race on the hill.

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  21. Can't wait! I'm headed there in less than three weeks!!

  22. I just found your post and wish I saw this last year before the race! I ran 18 miles of NYCM last year before having to DNF for a fluke thing. I ended up running the Richmond Marathon the following week and loving it, saying I didn't need to try for NYCM again... and this post just made me want to do it again.