On Sunday November 6th, 2016 I ran the TCS New York City Marathon. It was my 5th marathon for the year and number 11 overall. It also helped me reach state number 8! Still have a long way to go. Why did I run it? Katie suggested we make a fun weekend out of it, “We’ll be trained from Chicago, why not run another one? Plus it’s a world major!” Matt and Dallas also thought it sounded fun. Sounds an awful lot like how I agreed to run Wisconsin…
There were 4 weeks between the Chicago Marathon and the New York Marathon. Since I raced Chicago and got a PR, my plan for New York was to take it easier and enjoy the race. My thoughts were to run about a 3:30 marathon, or 8 minute mile pace. Therefore, most of the runs I did in between Chicago and New York were around that pace or slightly faster. In between the two races, I took a few days off and then gradually began to run again. I increased my long run from 10 miles to 15 miles over three weekends and did 2 tempo runs and a speed session. If you’re interested, you can see my exact training on Strava.
My race strategy was to negative split. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term (hi mom and dad), ‘negative split’ means to run the second half of the race faster than the first half. Never before in my life have I been able to negative split in a race, but I was motivated to try because New Balance and Strava teamed up to put on the “Back Half Challenge.” Any runner who successfully negative splits a fall marathon will win a free pair of shoes. Worth a try!
Matt, Dallas and I took the same flight there and arrived late Friday evening. We met Katie at our Air BnB in Brooklyn. Saturday morning we went for a nice shakeout run around Prospect Park, a spacious and beautiful park in the center of Brooklyn. Afterwards we got breakfast and headed to the expo.
Lululemon was having a promotion right outside the expo. Participants got to try on a piece of clothing, run on a treadmill, give some product feedback, and then keep the item of clothing! We waited for about 2 hours, but I came away with some great gear. Hopefully they return next year (or come to other marathons…)
I would definitely suggest going to the expo on the second day. All the official merchandise is 25-50% off! I was not planning on buying anything, but with a sale like that I felt obligated to get something. I can never let a good sale go to waste! While the expo was not as large as Chicago’s expo, I felt overwhelmed because there were so many people. Maybe that’s due to the fact there were more runners in this marathon, or the actual event space was not as large, but either way it seemed very hectic.
Race Transportation Logistics: Ferry of Not? (here we come! #dadjoke)
The New York City Marathon begins in Staten Island. Therefore, transportation to the start is different from most marathons. Runners can choose to either take the Staten Island Ferry or a bus to the Start Village. We chose the ferry.
With the ferry, you get beautiful sunrise views of the city. You also have access to the State Island Terminal bathrooms. The ferry also feels more touristy, and enjoying the city was the reason we were doing the race.
From the terminal, there is still a 20 minute bus trip to the start. Similar to the Boston Marathon, once at the Start Village, runners wait outside for a long time before the race actually begins. Also similar to Boston, the marathon begins later; 9:50 for Wave 1, 10:15 for Wave 2, 10:40 for Wave 3 and 11:00am for Wave 4. Each Wave also has multiple corrals, from A-F.
Katie and I were in Wave 1, Matt and Dallas were in Wave 2. Unlike Boston however, New York has three different wave colors: blue, orange, and green. The colors line up separately and go over the bridge separately. Although Katie and I were both in Wave 1, she was orange and I was blue.
New York Marathon Course Map
The New York Marathon showcases each of the 5 boroughs. Runners begin in Staten Island at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and cross into Brooklyn. Participants spend miles 2-15 in Brooklyn and Queens until crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. The course follows First Avenue all the way into the Bronx, and then returns to Manhattan via Fifth Avenue before finishing up in Central Park. Crossing all those bridges makes the course pretty challenging!
In the morning we woke up at 5 and left by 5:30am in order to catch the ferry. The weather forecast looked promising; low 50s with a slight wind. Travel on the subway was a cinch and in no time, we arrived at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
Even though we chose to ride the 6:30am ferry, the security guards informed us that we could board the next available ferry. They just wanted to get us across as soon as possible. The ferry was first come, first serve for seating, with many runners choosing to sit on the floor. With the early pre-dawn sky, the views were amazing!
Like I mentioned above, once we reached the other side, I was surprised to see the ferry terminal open for normal business. It didn’t dawn on me that there would be people who lived in Staten Island trying to get across. My mind was in 100% marathon mode. Since the terminal was open, we decided to wait there instead of boarding the bus and having to wait outside in the athlete’s village. Why give up access to nice restrooms if we didn’t have to just yet?
We loitered a bit too long and almost missed our corral. Normally, I am a paranoid control freak about getting to races on time, so how did it happen? After leaving the terminal, buses drove about 20 minutes away to the start village and dropped runners off at security. The problem was that the line to get through security began to spill into the streets, causing a big traffic jam. Our bus idled in the middle of the road for 20 minutes, and then inched forward half a block before sitting again. Eventually we got out and ran. I squeezed into my corral with 3 minutes to spare. PHEW.
This part should be called “hurry up and wait.” Why they have us get into the corral and wait for an hour is beyond me. Luckily there are porta-potties in the corral, and you can bring food and water in as well. I hydrated with some Nuun and split a banana with my neighbor. Finally it was time to start moving towards the start. From the depths of the crowd all of a sudden I hear “Becca!” and I see a fellow Chicago Fleet Feet runner, Jen, materialize from the crowd! I couldn’t believe of all the people here and of all the different corrals we could be in that she found me!
Highlights from the race
There was so much going on during the race, and I had studied the course so little, that instead of doing my usual mile-by-mile recap, I am going to do highlights of what I remember.
- Jen and I managed to stay together for the first 6 miles or so before losing each other at an aid station. It was really nice to get to run with someone I knew, even for just a short amount of time. It kept me from getting sucked into a faster pace.
- The first mile is straight up the ramp. Great for a negative split strategy as my first mile was almost 9:00 minutes!
- HOLY BALLS THE RACE WAS SO CROWDED. The New York Marathon is NOT the race to do if you hate feeling cramped and stuck in a crowd. I know that I was one of 50,000 runners in the race, but in other large marathons I have never felt as cramped. With Chicago and even with Boston, two races that have 30-40,000 participants, I never felt squished. In New York, I was constantly getting bumped or jostled and I saw at least 4 people trip and fall during the course of the race. From start to finish I felt trapped, like I had no wiggle room.
- Police do not do a good job of corralling the fans. In Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens, there are no metal barriers up along the route. This allows the fans to come right up to the edge of the road. Eventually, they start to spill into the road. This forces the runners inward, in effect creating a bottleneck. The roads are congested with runners to begin with; reducing the amount of road they have to run on causes even more problems. I lost count of the number of times I slowed down because I was trapped behind slower runners and was not able to weave around them. I definitely prefer Chicago’s crowds and police!
- NP NYC did a fantastic job at the mile 10 aid station. Thanks for the cheers and fuck yeahs!
- The Queensboro Bridge is very lonely and silent, I just had my chocolate Huma Gel to keep me happy. But when runners descend to Manhattan and turn onto First Ave. the crowds are ROARING. Here they had metal barriers to keep crowds at bay. My friend Cheryl was around 63rd street. When I spotted her I broke into the biggest smile and ran over to get a hug.
- The course follows a steady incline approaching Central Park. It’s not until mile 22-23 when the crowds and fan support starts to pick up again. Upon entering the park at mile 24, I recognized the gait of a runner ahead of me. I couldn’t believe it, but it was BEN! I run with him on Saturday mornings with Clocktower. Of the tens of thousands of runners, what are the odds that I would find him along the course?
- After finishing, runners funnel into their designated lines: one for ponchos, one for gear check. Do the poncho option. The poncho line is a one mile walk to the exit, the gear check line is two miles! After getting my poncho, I walked to the train stop and waited for Katie. We all looked like zombies marching along.
- I finished in 3:30:16 and negative split!
After finding Kaitlyn, we made our way back to the apartment to shower and wait for Matt and Dallas. That evening, we enjoyed a nice vegan meal and went to November Project’s after party. There we recapped the race with other runners and enjoyed some drinks. We ended the evening back at a cozy bar in Brooklyn for some fancier drinks and comfort food.
The next morning, Matt and Dallas had to catch an early flight while Katie and I went to a much needed yoga session (thanks November Project!), breakfast, and the Finisher’s Village. I LOVED the New York Marathon poster, so bought one to add to my collection.
I absolutely loved spending time with Matt, Dallas and Katie, but in terms of the actual marathon, I was not a fan. The crowded running experience really turned me off. I found the crowd support to be less than what I anticipated based on reviews. The late start time is also a pain to deal with. One huge pro I will say, is that the entire event runs smoothly; handling 50,000 runners is not an easy task! The volunteers are friendly and supportive, and the security at the Village is top-notch. The course provides a nice tour of the city as well. However, even with those pros, I would not recommend the race unless you are trying to complete all the World Majors. There are better New York marathons out there.
Did you run the New York Marathon in 2016? Or any other year? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear about it; leave a comment below!