Tips for Running the NYC Marathon

Here are some New York City Marathon tips aimed at a first-timer marathoner, though some of these tips would be useful even for an experienced marathoner running NYC for the first time.

A Year Before The Race

  • Ride your bike along the course before the race starts. A bunch of different cycling groups organize an event (for example, the New York Cycling Club has a ride every year), but you can just go alone instead. The purpose of this scouting ride is to be able to visualize the course all throughout the training. In particular, you’ll know about the Queensboro Bridge, just how dang far it is to the Bronx from Brooklyn, what it means to get to Marcus Garvey Park, and the gentle giant slope that is 5th Avenue.

Registration

  • Register for the latest bus or ferry possible. Use the extra time for sleep. Getting on an earlier bus just means more time spent waiting outside in the cold before the race.
  • Consider registering for a bag at bag check even if you don’t use it. But, if the weather conditions are perfect, then most people will have no reason to check a bag. If the weather is sour, you might want some extra warmth waiting for you shortly after the race.
  • Register for a post-race poncho. If it is cold or raining, this will be a huge help, especially if you aren’t checking a bag. (The downside is that I have no idea when I’ll use an arm-less, thick, bright blue poncho. My training partner brought his from the prior year to the start of this year’s race).

The weeks before the race

  • If you haven’t already, or maybe even if you have, read A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins. This New York Times reporter gives a mile-by-mile accounting of the history of the race, combined with vignettes of some personalities and neighborhoods involved in the 2007 race. This will provide some good motivation for your last few weeks of training.
  • If you live in the city, be sure to get some experience running over the Pulaski Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge. My standard 13.2-mile training route features both of these, so I was well prepared.
  • Experiment with gels and hydration. On the course, they give out Honey Stinger gels (definitely in vanilla, and maybe in some other flavors too), but not frequently enough for all of your caloric needs
    • I use the espresso-flavored Gu gels with caffeine (since I really like coffee, these are actually a treat!) and the Maurten 100 gels (which have a higher water content and don’t coat your mouth like other gels). I take one every 45 minutes, but I’m now considering using more gels (say, every 30 minutes), switching over to Maurten exclusively, and drinking just plain water instead of Gatorade on the course.
  • Think about what specifically you will wear on race day. Do your long runs in exactly this outfit. Figure out where chafing occurs and either find a new piece of clothing, use medical tape to cover the area (protect the nipples!), or use an anti-chafing balm. Don’t wear anything — or do anything — new on race day.

The week of the race

  • Don’t run too much the days leading up to the race (keep the intensity high but the distance low). But if you do run, especially the day before the race as a shakeout, I highly recommend running the 2.2 miles of the course that is inside of Central Park. Start at Engineer’s Gate at 90th Street & 5th Avenue and run south on East Drive. During the actual race, you’ll exit the park to run on 59th Street, but ignore this today. Staying on the park drive is good enough. Run all the way to the finish line, as close as you can get. Stop your run, turn around, and visualize what it will be like to be tired and sore running up this last hill.
    • The predominant direction of running flow along the park’s loop is counter-clockwise. I don’t know why; I think it is because that is the direction car traffic flowed when private cars were allowed in the park. From now on, I’m going to favor running clockwise so that I get more practice on this critical part of the race.
  • Try to visit the Expo to pick up your bib on Friday to avoid having to be on your feet for a lot of Saturday.

The day before the race

  • If you are meeting up with other runners, arrange a specific place and time to meet before getting on the bus. Trying to find people at the start village can be harrying: cell phone service can be spotty and there are a lot of things going on in a small space.
    • If you’re taking the bus from the New York Public Library. Pick a meeting place that isn’t too close to the library itself. My friend and I met up on the southwest corner of 42nd & 6th, which was a decent choice, but by 5:45am there were already a lot of people waiting at that specific corner.
  • Very clearly identify where your spectators will be located: be specific in the side of the street and where along the block. A good choice for Manhattanites is along the northern part of 1st Avenue. The crowd is most dense just after entering Manhattan but thins out starting around 100th street, so north of there gives good chances. Then, your spectators can migrate over to 5th Avenue in time to see you before you enter the park.
  • Review the course map and the elevation profile. Make note of the five bridges along the course and the hills just before the finish. Remember that even small gradients will be discouraging the later they appear in the race. I think the Queensboro Bridge is far harder than the Verrazano despite being less steep and shorter, just by virtue of being later in the race.
  • Come up with a pacing strategy. Write it down. Consider even writing it on your arm right next to your wrist with a sharpie: this will remind you every time you of your goal look at your watch. It is very easy to go out too fast.
  • As usual, get everything you will be bringing with you ready to reduce the chance of error. Put your bib on your shirt, gels in your pockets, sunglasses in your bag, and socks in your shoes, and arrange whatever else you need to be in pockets or as nearby as possible. Charge your watch.
  • I chose to make some peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which are a mainstay of my pre-race breakfast, and stashed them in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator, to be eaten closer to the start of the race, on the bus or in the corral.
  • Go to sleep early. Don’t be nervous: there is nothing to be nervous about. Your months of training have gotten you prepared. Seriously try to get 7+ hours of sleep, which probably means you will need to be asleep by 10pm.

Race Morning

  • If you’re taking the bus, don’t worry too much about being at the New York Public Library exactly on time. No one checks the bus time listed on your bib, so just get on whatever bus whenever you can. Don’t be a jerk, though: try your best to arrive on time. Definitely don’t arrive too late, but also definitely don’t arrive early. As I wrote earlier, you’re just going to wait outside in the cold if you get to Staten Island too early.
  • Don’t worry too much about exactly when you enter your designated corral. The corrals are pretty small (about the same size as a normal NYRR race) and there are a large number of porta potties in each one. In our corral, the bathroom line closest to the direction of ultimate travel (i.e. away from the bridge) was the shortest, but it was also the most confusing since people were just standing around in that area, eagerly waiting for the race to start.
  • Don’t wear anything you haven’t worn on a long run before. For example, race day morning was a bit chillier than I was expecting, so I decided to wear some arm warmers that I had never worn before, with the intention of taking them off at some point after starting. I never did and ended up with some totally avoidable chafing.

During the Race

  • Remember: the last six miles is harder than the previous 20. Save your energy.
  • Take the Verrazano Narrows Bridge really easy. Consider this as the first part of your warm up. You might feel energized by everyone launching themselves down the bridge and into Brooklyn, but just let them pass you. It should feel as if you’re running backwards with the hordes having to run around you. Don’t worry: if you implement this strategy, you’ll pass them at mile 20, when it really counts.
    • I did not do this. Do not do as I do.
  • Give high fives to some kids. Press some “power up” buttons. Take a banana or a tissue being offered by spectators, but I’d stay away from the offers of free beer.
  • Monitor your watch only occasionally.
    • GPS in the city streets is notoriously bad, so don’t be alarmed when your watch says your pace is off by entire minutes.
    • Use the lap function of your watch to monitor your average pace during the three different segments: after the Verrazano Bridge but before the Pulaski Bridge, after getting into Manhattan but before the Bronx, and after getting back into Manhattan but before the finish.
      • Some people say to use the lap function to measure every mile, but I think this is overkill.
  • Drink lots of water.
    • Don’t slow down to a walk or a stop until after the water station and move to the side. Once you get a cup, move to the middle of the road to reduce congestion along the sides.
    • I like the crumple method to avoid choking or getting water all over me.
    • Use some decency and drop your used cup to the side of the route. Dropping cups in the middle of the street just makes everyone’s lives a little bit harder: literally tens of thousands of runners have to wade through your trash and unpaid, cold volunteers with rakes have to risk their lives in a literal stampede.
    • Give a heartfelt “thank you!” to the volunteer that is handing you water.
  • Remember these cross streets to be able to gauge remaining distance;
    • The bridge into Manhattan is the 59th Street Bridge.
    • The Willis Avenue Bridge leading to the Bronx starts at 125th Street.
    • The bridge out of the Bronx starts in Manhattan at 138th Street.
    • The entrance into Central Park is at Engineer’s Gate at 90th Street. You have only 2.2 miles left at that point!

After the Race

  • Keep walking. Don’t stop, except for pictures (but if you stop for pictures, get out of the way). This part of the day was surreal: for the first time since the Queensboro Bridge, there is complete silence. The runners shuffle painfully, slowly along, with most people covered by a foil blanket, some people sprawled out on the ground against the chain-link fence trying to recover. It felt like a slow-walking zombie scene. * Try to consume easy calories while you’re walking to replenish your muscles’ and liver’s glycogen supplies and your body’s salt supply. Eat and drink the stuff in your bag slowly.
  • New York etiquette says that you should proudly wear your medal until midnight. On Monday, wearing your medal is unacceptable, with the possible exception of around the finish line and the marathon pavillion in Central Park. Tuesday is unacceptable with no exceptions.

The day after the race

  • Visit the Fred Lebow statue near the finish line and get a picture with your medal. Walk out to the park drive near the finish line and visualize what the finish was like for you.
  • The line for medal engraving at the marathon pavilion can be very long. Arrive early or don’t mind waiting a long time. (My wait was 1.25 hours starting at 10:15am, but it was a beautiful day and I didn’t mind passing the time by listening to a podcast outside on a crisp, Fall day).

Trip Report: Japan (2013 & 2017)

 Nara

These are some notes about places we really liked in Japan, mainly Tokyo, between two trips in a couple of years.

Beer & Cocktails

 Codename Mixology

Codename Mixology: Definitely definitely definitely go here! This is probably the best cocktail bar we’ve ever been to EVER. In fact, we still talk about this place and can’t wait to go back. The staff is very pleasant and they really know their cocktail shit. It’s not the cheapest but it wasn’t too far off from cocktail bars here in NYC. The food here is supposed to be good, but we went to Matsuya Ginza’s basement for take-home dinner.

 Craftheads

Craftheads: This place has a great tap list comprised of some interesting Japanese brews and some hard to find foreign brews. We met a nice couple from Colorado here a few years ago so I think it’s a popular destination for Americans. They have a wide selection of craft beers. I wouldn’t go here for food so I would suggest eating somewhere else before or after. The owner speaks fluent English.

 Mikkeller Beer

Mikkeller Tokyo: Mikkeller is Danish brand that has exploded worldwide. They have a bar in every interesting city on the planet. That said, each one is different and interesting. We popped in after a day of walking and sat by the huge window. Mikkeller’s beers are some of the technical best in the industry (maybe only rivaled by the owner’s brother’s label).

 Far Yeast Brewing Company

Far Yeast Brewing: Coedo is one of my favorite Japanese breweries that I can get stateside and Far Yeast is by the same folks. This tap room is small and cozy. They serve a bunch of different kinds of bao in addition to their namesake beers. Recommended.

Beer Pub Popeye: This place is pretty famous in the Tokyo craft brewing scene for their wide selection with more than 70 taps, a combination of Japanese and imports. It was very crowded and loud when we went, which is not a great Japanese experience. Still, it’s not terrible.

Nihonbashi Brewery: This place looked really nice and had decent beer, but it is unclear that it is actually a brewery. It has some sort of relationship with one of my favorite Portland breweries, HUB, from which they have a custom-made house beer and a variety of other HUB brews on offer, plus pizza and other food. It’s worth a stop if you’re in the area; I only came here because it is a few minutes walk from my aunt-in-law’s apartment.

 0L

ØL by Oslo Brewing Co.: Oslo is a world-renowned brewery that produces great adult beverages. I didn’t expect to find this place on my solo stroll around Shibuya while my better half was having a dinner with an old high school friend (to which I wasn’t invited). They have 20 taps composed of their own brews and of other Japanese ones. I liked this place because it was laid back and there was seating outside.

Star Bar Ginza: This is on the World’s 50 Best Asia, so we paid a visit. We entered in the early evening to a totally empty bar save for one dude at the end of the bar. We were offered literally the worst seats in the house, asked if we could sit elsewhere, and were denied. We had a pretty traditional, uninspired drink and left. This place is uppity, uptight, and not recommended.

Food

Ichiran Ramen: You walk in and you will see a vending machine where you can pick the type of ramen you’d like to eat. When they hand out a piece of paper in Japanese, don’t forget to turn it over& they might have the translation in English. You’ll be able to pick the thickness of your ramen noodles, the spiciness of your broth from a scale of 1-10, the type of scallions on your ramen& you name it. Key thing to note here is that they have separate foldable partitions for each customer. It’s almost like you’re sitting at a booth and eating your ramen by yourself. There’s a chance you might not be able to sit next to each other. A visit it worth it just to see how efficient a dining experience to be, plus the ramen is top notch.

 Takechan

Takechan: Hole-in-the-wall yakitori place. It’s family-run and has been going on for 3 generations. It was super cute to see the grandfather, son, and grandson working side-by-side. I highly recommend this place. Avoid the raw meat.

Ramen Street in Tokyo Station: This place is a little hectic but very fun! It’s in the basement of Tokyo Station and you can find many ramen shops here. It’s also next to Character Street where each store is dedicated to a popular character like Totoro, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, etc.

 Department store bento box

Department Store Basements: The major department stores in Tokyo are Isetan, Mistukoshi, and Matsuya. I hardly ever go clothes shopping but you MUST visit the basement floor of each of the department stores! That’s where you can find bakeries, cafes, grocery stores, ornate bento lunch/dinner and gifts. In the evening just before the stores closes, the food shops try to get rid of their inventory so they’ll have deep discounts. Eric and I came home with quite the spread one night.

Kadowaki Washoku: This is a neighborhood restaurant near my aunt-in-law’s apartment in Higashinihonbashi. If you happen to be in the area, it is worth a stop. This small 15 seat restaurant puts out delicately delicious food in a kaiseki format.

Today’s Special: We took a stroll down the Todoroki Ravine, which was unimpressive, but came here for lunch after. This is actually a small, kitchy department store, with a restaurant on the top floor. The menu is local- and vegetable-focused and ornately prepared.

Bento Boxes in Train Stations: We don’t understand why the concept of having really good Japanese food with lots of variety of tastes, colors, and textures, and placed into a to-go box doesn’t catch on in American transportation hubs. (Instead, we’re left with whatever TV chef bid the highest to the airport.) There are typically multiple stalls at each train stations selling differently focused boxes full of deliciousness. Some of the stalls are better reviewed  or even particularly well known  than others, but we’ve never ordered incorrectly without advanced knowledge.

 Skytree

Sky Restaurant 634 (musashi): The tallest tower in Tokyo is not the Tokyo Tower, an old radio beacon, but the Tokyo Sky Tree, a big American-style mall that is also the tallest tower in the world. Still, this restaurant, located near the top of the tower, offers both stunning views and well-prepared cuisine.

Shokkan: This is the restaurant to which I wasn’t invited. Yuko liked it, though.

Sweets

 Nanaya Gelato

Nanaya Gelato: This place is well known for their seven levels of matcha gelato. Get the strongest one, #7, and anything else, especially if “anything else” is hojicha. They really know how to do ice cream well.

 Rainbow Pancake

Rainbow Pancake: This pancake boutique (a term I just invented) churns out super cute pancakes and pancake accessories. The pancakes are not American-sized but are tiny, artisanally crafted disks of fluff. When we visited, a local variety show was doing a spot about the restaurant and the line was out the door. You’ll definitely get some Instagram +1s (or whatever they call them).

Bake Cheese Tart: This bakery sells variations exactly one item: a one- or two-bite cheese tart. I only got two and was disappointed when they both disappeared.

SunnyHills Pineapple Cake: We didn’t actually have any of this Taiwanese brand’s wares, but the architecture alone is worth visiting for. They actually have a free tasting of pineapple cakes, after which you can opt to buy some to take home.

Coffee & Tea

 Aoyama Tea House

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House: You are surrounded by hanging plants and roses and it feels like you’re sitting in a garden. Even the food they serve incorporates flowers (i.e. Eric’s waffle was topped with edible flowers). Definitely go here! Eric had a great time. We recommend getting there early on a weekday.

 Glitch Coffee Roaster

Glitch Coffee Roaster: This is one of the most unique coffee roasters in existence. Despite my love for dark, bitter coffee. They focus on extremely light roasts, with the result that becomes more of an elixir than a cup of joe, with lots of sour cherry and citrus notes. They also have very knowledgeable and skilled baristas who can help you make a decision. They roast within their tiny shop, making a warm, aromatic environment. We took a bunch of small bags of different roasts home and were sad when they were depleted.

 Face coffee

Nissan Crossing: This is the café where they take a picture of you and use a fancy machine to draw your faces on latte foam. It’s inside a Nissan showroom which was interesting to see. Definitely an Instagram-worthy spot.

 Fuglen

Fuglen: This is the second outpost of an Oslo-originated cafe. The interior design is mod 50’s and 60’s, but the winning move is to sit outside on a nice day. They really care about getting your espresso drink correct; this was the only time in my life that I was explicitly asked how much milk I’d like in my macchiato.

Omotesando Koffee: This place, down a winding street just steps away from the busy high-fashion shopping avenue, is serene. It had become Tokyo’s favorite espresso joint, with each drink prepared with precision. Then, it inexplicably closed, only to reopen with a focus on selling whole beans. It might still be worth a stop; they now serve non-espresso coffee. The owner also has Toranomon Koffee nearby, which also might be worth a stop.

Bear Pond Espresso: Shimo-Kitazawa is the Williamsburg of Tokyo and this place is emblematic of that fact in its pretentiousness. Service stops at 2pm because after that, “too many people come and I cannot make consistent coffee,” says the owner. Raw espresso is only served until 1pm, and only 10 are made a day. That said, this guy really does care about every single drop of coffee that comes out of that white Marzocco. He’s also clearly a bit crazy. If I were to come back to the neighborhood, I’d try Coffea Exlibris instead.

Streamer Coffee Company: A Japanese chain of perfectly good third-wave coffee shops.

 Maruyama

Maruyama Coffee: I noticed this was in between the Todoroki Ravine and our lunch spot and we decided to stop in. Here is another place that really cares about coffee, but luckily provides a warmer, more supportive environment. They focus on selling beans for drip coffee here and have a large menu of items to choose from. Several of the baristas are world award-winning too.

Shopping

Tokyu Hands: You could practically spend all day here which is what we did one rainy day in Tokyo. Each floor is dedicated to a very specific hobby and you can find some quality items. We stumbled upon random products ranging from portable pee bag to expensive dog accessories. There are multiple locations. I would save this for maybe a rainy day when you want to stay indoors.

Cat Street: This is a neat, pedestrian-friendly street with a mix of international brands and local boutiques. Worth a stroll if you’re in the area.

Temples

Asakusa: Eric didn’t end up going here but I’ve been a few times. A little touristy. It’s a Buddhist temple with lots of little side shops.

Meiji Shrine: We never made it to this but I heard it’s pretty good.

Weird

 Parasite Museum

Meguro Parasitological Museum: I love places off-the-beaten-path and this fits the bill. This museum is a collection of parasites of all different types in jars. The exhibition is two rooms of separate floors with many display cases. I highly recommend visiting this unique museum and picking up a t-shirt.

Bikes

Blue Lug: Blue Lug is an icon in the world of cycling, both as an independent producer of wares and as a good bike shop. They have a couple of outposts around Tokyo; the main one in Hatagaya is far away from anything, but is worth a visit. Their inventory is very interesting. I had wanted to visit their bar in the same area as well.

Outdoor Fun

These places are outside of Tokyo. Highly recommend going on the Shinkansen (bullet train) at least once. It’s really quite the experience Don’t forget to get a bento box and beer for the ride!

 Volcanic lake

Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane (Gunma): If you want to see some cool turquoise-colored acidic lake, go here.

Onioshidashi Park (Karuizawa): This is another volcanic Park in Gunma. This place was very cool and wish we had more time to explore and walk around. There’s a food hall here but don’t go there. It’s terrible.

 Kamikochi
 Kamikochi hike

Kamikochi National Park: This national park is in a valley along the crystal clear, glacier blue Asakusa River; it sort of felt like a scaled-down version of Yosemite, but with fewer cars, as they aren’t allowed in the park, and with monkeys roaming around thinking they own the joint. The bus ride from Matsumoto and back was gorgeous. The Japanese are very keen on hut-to-hut hiking, and there are a few huts available in the area to string together a couple of days of hiking. Day hikes are limited here and can involve traversing fixed chains and scrambling up ladders. The hike up to the Dakesawa hut (fully stocked with hot food and even beer!) was a good couple of hours and a couple of thousand feet of elevation. This guide had good tips about how to get to Kamikochi. We stayed at the Kamikochi Lemeiesta hotel which we wouldn’t necessarily recommend.

 Nara

Nara Park: Big deer park! In true Japanese form, the deer at this park bow to you before receiving deer biscuits. Although, some of them might get a little impatient and nudge/gently bite your jacket/chase you.

 Cherry Blossom engagement

Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle during cherry blossom season: highly recommended.

Other places we want to go, but haven’t

We have a giant document of a ton of links of places we want to go on some trip. Tokyo in particular is so large that there is an endless supply of awesome and weird. Here are some of the ones we most look forward to in an upcoming trip:

Ivorish: Japanese artisanal french toast. Looks and sounds amazing.

Various places in Karuizawa: Yuko and are are fans of the Japanese reality show Terrace House, which is sort of like the American Big Brother but where everyone is generally very pleasant toward each other. The latest season is set in this town, which is known as a ski destination in the winter. The places they go all look great, such as the Trick Art Museum Karuizawa and SASA, a soba restaurant owned by the father of one of the cast members.

Avoid

Samurai Museum: While I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Japanese history (it filled in the gaps of my Japanese history because I didn’t pay attention in Japanese school), the location of this museum is a little suspect. I’m pretty convinced that it’s owned by the Japanese mob. It wasn’t a terrible museum at all but is it located in the red light district of Tokyo.

Tokyo Imperial Garden: Boring. Don’t go.

Tokyo Whiskey Library: Not that great and expensive.