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New York City Marathon: Race Strategy, Tips, and Course Overview

Posted by George Parker on
New York City Marathon: Race Strategy, Tips, and Course Overview

The New York City Marathon is one of the world's greatest races. Showing up to the start line is peak physical fitness is a must. But so is careful preparation of your race strategy to tackle the 26.2 miles through New York City's five boroughs. I relied on my personal experience and those of others to put together some thoughts to aid you. 

Best wishes chasing your NYC Marathon goals!

00:00 Start
02:35 Key Moment #1: Verrazzano Bridge
04:53 Key Moment #2: Brooklyn/Queens
06:30 Key Moment #3: Queensboro Bridge
08:14 Key Moment #4: 1st Avenue
10:05 Key Moment #5: Harlem
11:30 Key Moment #6: Mile 23 on 5th Avenue
13:05 Key Moment #7: Central Park
14:15 Key Moment #8: Columbus Circle and Stretch to the Finish

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All right today, we're gonna be talking about the New York city marathon and the overview of the course and a strategy for approaching the course. Now this might be a longer video, and so I'm gonna try to put timestamps in here, so you can jump to the park that make the most sense. What I wanna cover are some key moments, and there are eight key moments in the race. I think, uh, some key factors to think about as you show up on race day and get ready to run the race. And then I also want to put in some interesting historical notes about the marathon since it's been around for the last, uh, 52 years. And so that's sort of the plan for approaching the race today and that we're gonna go do, but to start with, uh, so where is all this information come from? I have first drawn from my personal experience from the New York city marathon. And additionally, uh, there's a lot of great books about running out there. And here are just three that I looked at, but when you read these books and a lot of the pros talk about their, to the race, you can get a lot of information about the different race strategy and their race preparation that we can also use for us amateurs as we approach running the race so that let's hop into it. So this is a Strava map with the course. And as you can see, the New York city marathon is a point to point course it's starts down here, a Staten island. It's gonna run through Brooklyn and then Queens into Manhattan, up into Harlem and back down, it finishes in central park. And so that is the race course, as we know it today, however, it hasn't always been that way. So when the race first started in 1970, it actually all took place within central park. And so laps around central park. Um, I used to live in New York back in the day, and I think it's like, um, it's basically like a 10 K to run around the full outside of the park. It's very hilly as well, especially in the back. And so that was the beginning of the course, but turning in 1976 is when the, uh, famous organizer Fred Labo came to course to be more of a tour, the five boroughs of New York city, um, huge promotional, um, I mean, what a cool concept, right? To do that. And so that's the modern course that we have today. Although are a little, there are a couple things that have changed in the course since at first early 1976, but we'll get to that when we get to that moment of race. All right. So let's talk about the race itself. As I mentioned before, there are eight key moments in the race course, and I wanna talk about them in particular and it first starts with the start of the race. So when you run this New York city marathon, you're gonna start all the way in Staten island. And in later on, we're gonna talk about how do you get the Staten island, the start of the race and how that's a key factor, but for the first key moment, it starts with the race as we are in the first mile. So in the first mile of the race, you are running over thet bridge to get from Staten island to Brooklyn. And to do that, you can see it on the elevation chart here. I'm gonna zoom out a little bit, but it's basically it, uh, on the elevation chart here, you can see that this is the highest point in the entire race. And so for the first race, you are essentially running straight uphill. And when you look at the elevation map, you're going from, you know, basically zero up to over a hundred feet of elevation and the gray can be, it can be three, 4% the grade as you go up this thing. But the problem is it's not gonna feel like you're running up a hill because you're gonna be so amped and excited and pumped that you're at the New York city marathon. You're gonna be waiting for so long. You've trained for so long, New York, New York to be playing. You're gonna be excited. And so it's not gonna feel a big hill, but it is a big hill and you can go way too fast. And so, as you think about this point in the course, keep in mind that if you have your gold marathon pace, that first mile should probably be slower in the gold marathon pace because you are running up one of the biggest Hills in the entire race course to start the course. And so you don't want to spend too much energy too quick at the same time. Once you go up the hill, which is about the first mile, the second mile is you come back down the bridge as you're going into Brooklyn, and this is gonna be a much faster part of it. And so if you can keep your head in your mind that that first mile will be slower and not to psych psychological, let that you, you can make it back up in the second mile and then enter when you start Brooklyn for your next stretch of the race, you can be back on your race pace, but don't go too fast over the beginning of the hill. That's your first key in the race. The second key in the race is when you now have gone over the hill and you are now running through Brooklyn and Queens. And to be honest with you, this is a very long uneventful stretch of the race. It goes from mile two all the way through mile 15, beginning of mile 15. So two through mile 14 and not a lot's gonna happen. There's it looks like Hills, but they're all pretty quick. And it's more just sort of rolling kills. And none of these things are particularly high or particularly steep. They're just sort of, kind of rolling kills as you go through Brooklyn Queens, a couple things that kind of mix up the feeling of your legs. And so it doesn't feel like a pancake flat course like Chicago or London. So you get some Rollings, but none of these Hills are at all, anything to worry about. And so really this is your chance to hit your marathon pace, dial into your marathon pace, and just cruise find a group of runners and crew. It's going to be crowd in the beginning because this is when the different runners from the different starting points in the Arizona bridge are gonna start merging together. Um, but it is going to be an uneventful part of the race where you can just sit back, dial into your race pace in terms of training. Uh, think about that, think about that. You are gonna have a period on your long runs, where it's not flat, where it's gonna be kind of underlaying, and that's gonna mimic the period, uh, around Brooklyn and Queens, which is gonna be a, a very big part of your race. The third key moment in the race happens at mile 15 in the mile 15. What you're now doing is you are going to be leaving Queens and you're gonna be crossing the Queensborough bridge into Manhattan. And this is mile 15 to 16. It will mile. And this is a really cool section of the race because all through Brooklyn and Queens, what you're gonna find and what makes the New York city marathon so exciting is that you're gonna have a lot of spectators out there cheering. Um, it's cool. The roads are gonna be packed, keep our yelling and screaming. And it's very motivational. But when you hit the Queens for a bridge, there's this weird, eerie silence because there's not spectators allowed in the bridge. And so for this mile long stretch, uh, it's very quiet and you can hear your footsteps. You can hear your competitors breathing, and it's a really eerie kind of cool feeling though. But remember on a bridge, it's also going to be elevation. And so you can see here starting at about mile 15 as you're going over this bridge, you're gonna start, you know, hitting a little bit of a right here. You can see there's a little bit of a, a hill going over the bridge itself, but it's not crazy, right? It's not like thet bridge. It's like a 3% grade very quick. Um, and so the challenge of the Queensboro bridge, isn't so much the elevation. It's just the change in not having motivation of the people and the spectators cheering for you for a while. So that's the third moment. The fourth key moment of the bridge is one of the most fun part to the race. And that is when you come on off the bridge, you're going to make this kind of loopy loop turn. You can see here as you come off the bridge, you're gonna be taking this little loopy loop turn to end up now running down first avenue for miles 16 through 17. And this is such a cool part of the race, because there's gonna be this huge contrast to your, the eerie silence you had on the Queensboro bridge to when you hit first avenue and you'll hear it coming. It's thunderous. There are so many people that are gonna be on a first, a and cheering. It's gotta be the loudest section of the race. Everybody talks about it here, and you just get super pumped up and you can have a moment that can harm your race. And this is a critical moment in the race because there's gonna have so much energy from the crowd you're gonna wanna run really, really, really fast. And if you look at the elevation of the course map, it's favorable, there's a lot of downhill sections along here where you can really open up your legs and start running, but you need to be careful and not to get carried away with running too fast for this particular mile a half stretch down first avenue, because it's gonna hurt you later on in the race. There's still a lot of running left to go do. And there's so many accounts in these books of, uh, the pros getting carried away and fading later on in the race. And so even though you're gonna have so much energy, you have to be careful not to start running too fast during the first avenue stretch, you're going to feel good, but it's gonna be artificially good, cuz you getting pumped up by everybody out there. Okay. The next key section, the next key moment of the race, the fifth one is when you get done with first avenue, you're gonna start entering Harlem. So you're running over like a little bit of a bridge here. You get into Harlem. And this is right around, uh, mile 20 of the race right around here. And what's important to realize is that there's a couple real nasty little Hills here in particular, right at mile 20, right? When you are approaching the wall of a marathon, you get hit with a real nasty 4% hill. It's like right around here. And what you wanna remember is, um, just realize that these things are short and you're not gonna be feeling good. You're starting to maybe run into a tough part of the marathon. Uh, and you get hit with this hill, keep in your mind that this is temporary and it's not a huge hill and you can get over it. But, uh, it's a nice shock to the system because right, when you're feeling potentially starting to feel your worth, you get hit with this nasty hill. You get to Harlem, get through it, get through harm, make the turn. And you're now you're coming back into Manhattan, um, for the next key moment of the race, which is now you're coming down fifth avenue. So you come back into Manhattan and you're running miles 21 through, uh, 23. So you're running about two to three miles back in Manhattan. Now you're coming down fifth avenue. And I think the hardest point of the race happens in this section and it happens specifically at mile 23. So between mile marker 23 and mile marker 24, and what's gonna happen. You can see on the elevation map, you're coming down fifth avenue and right here, right at mile through 23 for the next mile, you are gonna be running uphill at a two, 3% incline for the entire mile. And this, in my opinion is the hardest point of the entire race. It isn't a huge hill, but it comes at a point when you're very, very, very, very, very, very tired. And it's easy to let your pace slip during this moment in the race. And so one of the things that I would say is when you do your training, you do your long runs. Try to incorporate that last stretch of your long run to account for this this mile that you're gonna experience on fifth avenue, right around mile marker 23 to 24, where you're gonna have to start running uphill. And you're gonna have to, with this long steady incline for an entire mile, it can be very challenging, very demoralizing because all you wanna do is be done and you're hit with this extremely hard mile, but get through that. And you hit the seven key moment of the race, which is now your central park. So you enter central park right around mile 24, little before mile marker 24. And in the park, you can see there's a lot of bumpy elevation because you're gonna go over a bunch of Hills, nothing too big though, right? It's just kind of up and down as you run through the park, nothing crazy, nothing crazy, but you're coming through the park. Uh, but this is a challenging section because for memory, this is also a section where you don't have as many spectators as you're used to. It's a lot more spars because of security as they're locking things down for the race. And so it's a challenging section because it isn't a flat part of the course. It is a rolling part of the course. You're tired. You just get destroyed going up the fifth avenue hill before you get into the park. And there are a lot of spectators. And so as you think about the course, keep in mind that it's going to be a challenging section because you're not gonna be able to pull off the crowd, but this all starts to change for the last key section of the race, which is you're working your way through the park. And then right here, right around mile 25.7. So you have maybe half a mile left. You make this turn at Columbus circle, and now you're heading the opposite direction towards the finish line. And here, you're going to hear a lot, lot of people cheering for you and it's gonna feel awesome because you're making this turn to Columbus circle and you only have, you know, 0.2 miles left at the finish line. Now it is not a easy stretch. In fact, the last very part of the stretch is uphill. And you can see you hit a 3% grain. If you watch any historic, uh, races, you can always see that there's, you know, there's often a sprint finish between some of the elite people and it's challenging because it's an uphill you finish. Um, so don't let that deter. You just feed off the energy of making that turn at Columbus circle. You're so close to being done. It's cruel that it's an uphill finish. Um, but there aren't a lot of turns. You just kind of run hard and then you're gonna run hard. You're gonna finish. And you're gonna finish in central park, which is super exciting. And you just congratulations, finish the New York city marathon. So I know that is a longer recap, but I'm hoping that helps you as you think about how you approach the course and how you approach about designing your training to tackle key moments in the course. Again, I believe there are eight key moments that you should mentally prepare for, make a chick checklist about, about how you're gonna approach it. The Arizona bridge, the Brooklyn Queens section, going over the Queensborough bridge first avenue and how you approach that mile. The Harlem Hills mile 23 on fifth avenue, the central park and the lack of spectators and the undulation. And then finally the turn and the stretch of the finish line right after Columbus circle. Those are the eight key moments of the race. Now, the last thing I wanna mention, um, are some, some key factors to think about, and I made a video about this, um, that you can watch. I'll put a link here, you, and this is just some things that I wish I had thought about, um, before, um, before I had to run the race. But here are a couple things about the first one to think about is that notice that on the course, you kind of change directions where you're going kind of maybe this direction you come back around. And so the point of this is, is that the wind can come into factor here some years you're gonna have a tailwind. And if you have a tailwind that's blowing kind of from the south to the north, you're gonna feel good for a long part of it, but eventually it will turn into a headwind and it's gonna turn into a headwind of the worst parks will time during the end of the race. And so pay attention to the wind and just know that, um, it could turn on you when you don't want it to moreover you start the race on the Arizona bridge. Um, and it's a very open section where you're out over the water. And so you're probably gonna get hit with huge gust, the wind when you start the race. And so keep in mind how you might deal with that. Maybe you're inside the pack runners. Maybe you're not trying to be on the outside. Um, but the win can be a factor there. The second thing is is that there are so many people, so many people, so many people that run the New York city marathon. And so at the beginning it will be crowded. They do a good job having staggered stars where some people start on the top of the brake, some people start on the bottom, um, but eventually it kind of merges together. And it's a little bit disconcerting. I think when you first run the race to see all these people kind of running what looks like a different course, and you're like, how does that work? And eventually they do merge back together when you're in the Brooklyn section. Um, but just know that there are a lot of people you're gonna have a point where everything kind of merges together and you're gonna see a lot of different people running, but it looks like a different course, but it all works out. The third key factor is, um, you know, the reality is because it is a huge marathon and because it is a point to point race, you're going to have to start on state island. It, it involves transportation to get there. Um, whether you take the ferry buses or something like that, but more importantly, um, it involves a lot of waiting around and it's in November and New York city. So it can be cold really think about what you're gonna do preparation wise before you start the race. What are you gonna wear? What your hydration, what your food, what are you gonna do to stay entertained? How you gonna stay warm because you will likely be at the star of the New York city marathon a lot longer than at a smaller race. You know, it could be an hour, two hours could be, you know, maybe longer than that. So think about that and make that a very important part of your nutrition and planning strategy in order to make sure that you start the race, um, in your most effective way possible. So couple key factors to think about, um, with that I will wrap up. I wish you all the best of luck training in racing for the New York city marathon. I certainly hope that this video helps as you logically break down how you're gonna run. Um, what is such a cool race and such a memorable experience. And I wish you all the best of luck chasing your New York city marathon running goals.

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