New York, New York!

A little over two weeks ago, I ran the New York City Marathon.  It was a race I had always wanted to do and to experience.  The year prior, I had run a qualifying time for NYC at the Philadelphia Marathon, and so I figured, why not?

Because it’s such a unique race, but also hugely iconic and sought after, I thought I would write about the experience for those that might be interested in doing it in the future!

First – the qualifying.  NYC is a hard race to get into!  There exists 4 major entry ways:

1.    Qualifying Times – the times can be either from a marathon or a half marathon but they are tough!  Much faster than Boston qualifying times, actually.  However NYC has a lottery, unlike Boston.
2.    A lottery!
3.    Racing for a charity.
4.    Going through one of the International Tour Operators.

There are probably a few other back door ways to get in, but these are the main portals of entry.  So just keep in mind, if you want to do NYC, you FIRST have to find a way in, which isn’t necessarily an easy task.

Next – the race itself!

The race starts on Staten Island.  Which is, as the name suggests, an island.  Think about the logistics of getting ~52,000 runners on an island and organized to start a race.  It takes some time.  So settle in!  My friend Kim, who I was running the race with, and I, chose to take the ferry to Staten Island.  We stayed close to the ferry station in Manhattan and walked to it on race morning.  You can also take a bus to Staten Island.  The ferry seemed more adventurous.  And it was fun!  You can choose different time options of getting on the ferry.  Everything is run with the utmost efficiency.  The volunteers are not only happy and encouraging, but they know what they are doing!

The ferry ride was about 20 minutes long.  From there, we were herded (like cats!) to buses which took us to Fort Wadsworth.  The bus ride + walk to the buses took about 35-40 minutes total, meaning we arrived at the starting area about 1 hour after we started.  Not bad.

The race starts “late” for obvious reasons.  The professional women go off first, ahead of everyone else.  But the masses start at 9:50 am.  There are several waves that start at varying times after that.  Because we had taken the 6:00 am ferry, we arrived in the large starting area around 7 am and had plenty of time to relax, eat, drink, go to the bathroom and be nervous, until our start time.

About 1 hour prior to your start time, you are permitted into your corral.  This is a complex but easy to figure out system of colors and letters.  Something I didn’t know prior to doing the race this year, is that NYC actually has 3 different starting lines (that correspond to 3 different colors)!  Each start line runs a SLIGHTY different course until all athletes converge around mile 8 of the race.  Once you are on Fort Wadsworth, you are directed to your proper color (start line) and then, once ready to enter your corral, you go to your designated letter.

You should certainly bring throw away/warm clothes, which you can keep on to the very last minute, or shed earlier in the corrals.  This year’s NYC dawned bright and beautiful and perfect weather wise (high 40s to low 50s), but I wanted to keep on as much as I could until the very end!

We stood in the corral for about 30 minutes before we were herded towards the actual starting line on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.  THIS is pretty fantastic.  You start to realize the enormity of the situation (or at least I did!) once you are on the bridge waiting to start.  They blared Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York, sang the National Anthem and then – we were off!

I should mention that my experience is from someone running in Wave One.  I would say there were several hundred people starting in front of me – not several THOUSANDS.  Nonetheless, when we started and actually got running, I could not believe the sheer number of bodies that surrounded me!  It was surreal and fantastic and a little crazy, all at the same time!

That first mile is slow.  It’s slightly up, but really the issue is, there are SO MANY PEOPLE.  And it’s hard to get space to run, even if theoretically, we should all be running roughly the same pace (as based on our corral/wave).

The next couple miles flew by.  The spectators, once we got off the bridge and into Brooklyn, were deafening and fun and crazy and I was already in love with this marathon.

Much of the race is flat, except for the bridges, and the Queensboro Bridge was no exception.  It was tough!  It could have also been where it was placed in the race – at mile 15-16, when the legs start to get weary.  There was also a bridge at the half marathon point that was a solid climb.

I kept thinking the race would spread out and I suppose, in the very latest stages of the race, it does somewhat.  At the same time though, you do expend a good amount of energy trying to get around people – at the aid stations, people running a different pace than you, people running a different line or tangent around a corner.  I was very cognizant of NOT weaving in and out of people, but even just the frustration of wanting to pick up the pace, but being blocked by a wall of other runners, was a significant energy suck!  For this reason alone, I would say for MOST people, this is probably a race to be enjoyed and run for the experience, vs going for a super fast time or PR.  Save the PR races for flat, less logistically challenging events.  

As the race progressed on, I DEFINITELY wanted it to end (my legs were getting beat up!) but I also didn’t want it to end.  It was such a fantastic experience of spectators, other athletes, running through the streets of a city shut totally down, on this one day, for all the crazy people that wanted to run 26.2 miles.  

The finish line in Central Park is, of course, a fantastic experience as well.  I didn’t quite finish with the time I was after, but I did finish with a huge smile on my face!  There is a reason the race is iconic – because the experience it provides is not like many others.  

After crossing the line, athletes are again herded in an extremely efficient manner through the chutes – get your medal, your picture, your food bag and then either your finishers cape or your bag from the starting line (you must chose one or the other).  From there you make a long journey out into the city streets where they leave you to go on your merry way.  One thing is for certain – you MUST make a meet-up/after plan!  There are far too many people to not have a plan as to how to get home and meet up with your family/friends/supporters.  Luckily my friend Kim and I had a plan, and it worked beautifully.  After meeting up, we took the subway home (where nice people gave up their seats for weary marathoners!) and called it a successful day!

Overall the race was an experience to be had.  I highly recommend it – again, perhaps not as a PR type race, but as something that everyone should do at least once!  The crowds, the BIGNESS of it all – was, well, pretty darn fantastic.  Until next time, New York!

~Beth Shutt - Run Formula coach and Operations Director

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