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).