It’s a rundown… get it? Hah!
OK kids, here’s the course for those unfamiliar with it.
Mile 1-2 : Run Away From Staten Island! (aka the Verrazano Bridge)
You know this already but I’m going to say it again: the first mile is uphill. THE FIRST MILE IS UPHILL!! Cool your heels and keep your pace conservative. If you’re smart you’ll use the normal early-mile congestion of a big race to keep from going out too fast. There will still be those who zoom by and that little ego of yours is going to want to go with them. But you have no idea how fast that guy who just zoomed by you really is, so run your own race. You can’t win the marathon in the first mile, but you sure as hell can lose.
Once you’ve reached the top of the bridge, lean into the downhill and regain some of the time you lost in the first mile. Don’t increase the effort; let gravity take hold and keep the effort even and easy. Those are going to be the keywords the rest of the race — The NYC Marathon course can be tricky because of the bridges and uphill / downhill sections. Keep an even pace and keep it easy at least until you enter Manhattan for the first time.
Focus on turnover and good downhill form on the second half of the Verrazano to conserve energy. Remember that you can never gain as much time downhill as you lost on the uphill so don’t freak out if you’re a few seconds behind on pace. You have the next several hours to make up those seconds, so just chill.
If you’re in a green corral and use a Garmin, take note: satellite reception may be spotty on the lower level, so don’t look at your Garmin until at least mile 3. If you look at your Garmin on the bridge it will most likely be inaccurate, so paying close attention to an easy pace will be crucial. Listen to your body.
Miles 3-7 : Welcome to South Brooklyn
Heading north along 4th Avenue is where the race starts to feel like a race. The three corrals (Blue, Orange, and Green) all come together, your first water stop comes along, and all of a sudden there are crowds. People are cheering. If you’ve written your name on your singlet they’re probably calling your name! It’s exciting! It’s OK to get excited. It’s not OK to start running half marathon pace. You want to keep your head on cool because you’re about to hit the bulk of what is to come — gently rolling streets with great crowd support and the occasional bridge.
If you’re having a hard time resisting the temptation to go faster in this section, just remind yourself that you’ve trained long and hard for this race. You didn’t spend those thousands of miles and all those early Sunday mornings training hard just to make the rookie mistake of going out too fast in the first half. Successful marathoning takes discipline. Focus on getting into your rhythm now. Remember what I said earlier about even and easy? Live by these words every step through Brooklyn.
If you live in Manhattan or even much of Brooklyn, there is a good chance you’ve never run through Bay Ridge. Soak it the new sights of South Brooklyn!
Miles 8 – 13.1 : Williamsburg and Greenpoint (still in Brooklyn)
Passing Atlantic Avenue at mile 8 you’re going to head east onto Lafayette, where the street narrows. Hopefully it’s pretty enough to distract you from the fact that it slows down a bit. But as soon as you turn north onto Bedford just after mile 9 things will open up again. You’re going to hit a downhill here, so don’t freak out if you see a fast split thinking that you’ve gone too fast. As long as your effort has stayed the same you’re A-OK. You’ll hit sort of a quiet zone around the Hassidic areas heading to the Williamsburg Bridge, but as soon as you pass underneath it things will liven up a bit. Some of the hipsters who haven’t gone home from the previous night might be a little confused why you’re chasing them down, but make sure to check out the water station at McCarren Park and show North Brooklyn Runners some love!
Mile 13.1 – 15 : QUEENS IN QUEENS!
As you cross the Pulaski Bridge heading into Queens, look for the timing mat indicating the halfway mark. Make sure to smile for the cameras, as they’re bound to be around here. Force that smile and continue into Queens.
Heading north toward the Queensboro Bridge will be just about the flattest section along the entire course, so keep your splits even and your pace easy. You don’t want to feel like you’re working before you hit the Queensboro Bridge. If you notice that you’re starting to struggle, ease off the gas because the hardest part has yet to come. Ask anyone who has run this race, be it once or fifty times — if you go out too fast in the first half, the Queensboro Bridge will ruin you and the rest of your race.
Mile 16: The Queensboro Bridge
That hardest part is of course the incredibly long stretch of the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a long and quiet uphill. There are no spectators to cheer you on. There are no water stops. And there are no excuses : if you’ve run a smart race up until here, you’re fine. If you went out too fast and kept pushing back those thoughts telling you to slow down, you’re going to suffer here and the rest of the course.
This will be the first time you will see lots of people start walking.
However you’re feeling, once you’ve crested the top of the bridge make sure to enjoy the downhill and the Manhattan skyline. It’s time to zip up your man suit and tackle the rest of the marathon!
Mile 17 – 20 : 1st Avenue in Manhattan
Some people love First Avenue, and some people hate First Avenue. Choose to love it. Yes it’s a long stretch north toward the Bronx, but it is a long net downhill and there is amazing crowd support the entire time. Feed off the energy but keep your pace under control. A lot of people speed up here too much unintentionally because the air can be truly electric. Be mindful of your pace here.
Mile 20 – 21 : The Bronx
There are two reasons you’ll start to hurt here: the fact that you’re now at Mile 20, and then the lack of crowd support. Thankfully it’s a very short section and you head back into Manhattan where crowds will resurface. After just a mile in the Bronx you’ll head back to Manhattan along the Madison Avenue Bridge. You may be thinking, “Oh God, another bridge!?” But this is just a bump — you may not even notice it. Keep your head down and get back into the City.
Mile 21 – 24 : Fifth Avenue
Coming back into Manhattan you run south down Fifth Avenue for a good straight stretch including a pretty stretch around Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. The first half is great — it’s flat, it’s fast, and you now have less than 10 kilometers until the finish. The second part is a “hidden” uphill. When you approach Central Park you may see it if there aren’t too many people in front of you: Fifth Avenue begins an annoying uphill around E. 106th Street, and it doesn’t stop until you enter Central Park at Engineer’s Gate at E. 90th Street. This little bump of a hill may not have looked like much on your training runs, but this isn’t a training run and you’re definitely going to feel it. The good news is that the rest of the course is [net] downhill from here. Once you make it into the park you have only a little more than 2 miles to go. 2 miles! You can do this.
Mile 25 – 26.2: Central Park. PUSH BABY, PUSH!
You know Central Park and it’s not flat. Thankfully you enter Central Park at one of the highest points. That means that after passing the Mile 24 water station where Front Runners New York will be, you have Cat Hill to run down! This is a great time to recover from the uphill along Fifth Avenue, and you should use this to get a bit of adrenaline pumping through those veins. Once you’ve hit Cat Hill you have only 1.5 miles to go. That’s only 6 laps around a 400-meter track. You’re home free and no matter how much you hurt at this point you have to push harder. If you are going for a time goal, do NOT cross that finish line thinking that you could have given more in the final miles. It’s time to push all-out. I’m not going to tell you where the hills are here, because it doesn’t matter – just push toward that finish. See the finish line as you re-enter Central Park from Columbus Circle, and get there knowing you ran a smart race and gave it everything you had.
Congratulations. You’ve just finished the New York City Marathon.