NYC Marathon: Tips for Spectators AND Runners

I originally wrote this post six years ago, but I’m reposting it as I think it goes along with this podcast episode so well—and, it’s marathon week!!! I have to admit that I’m wistful about not running it, but it all just feels so far away from where I am right now. I know I’m not done with this race, though, I just need a lot more hard work than I thought to get there.

2011 recap

2013 recap (the year of my big PR when I went sub-4! Still one of the happiest days of my life)

2015 recap

2017 recap


I recorded this podcast episode to give you some last-minute tips and an overview of the course. If you don’t want to listen, what’s written below is pretty similar.

I know lots of people are first-time NYCMers or first-time marathoners, and I thought I’d give you some tips from my perspective.


There are a few places that I think are great to spectate, both from having spectated there and from having been cheered on from there.

Mile 2/3: Bay Ridge: While you don’t need crowd support that early in the race, it’s always fun to be cheered on. My book club cheers from here, and I remember there being people out cheering but the crowds being a little thinner than they are farther in the race.

Mile 8: This is where the three different-colored starts come together, and you can also get here by almost any subway: C to Lafayette, G to Fulton, 2/3/4/5 to Nevins, B/D/N/Q/R to Atlantic/Pacific. My friends and family cheered for me from here last time, and although it was pretty crowded, they were still able to see me.

OKAY GO GET BACK ON THE SUBWAY AND GO BACK TO MANHATTAN if you’d like to be able to see people in more locations.

Remember those R.L. Stine Choose Your Adventure books? Let’s play that, and let’s do three different adventures.

A. Looking to party? Take the 4/5 back to 42nd, switch to the 6, and take it to 68th or 77, and walk over to First Ave., where the party is waiting for you with half the city.

B. Looking for your marathoner and want to see them hurting when they’ll really need a boost? Take the 4/5 to 42nd and the 6 to 96th. Walk over to First, see your marathoner at Mile 18, walk over to Fifth, see them at Mile 23.5ish just before they enter the park.

C. If it is important to your marathoner to see you close to the finish, take the N/R to Fifth Ave. or to 57th Street, and watch somewhere along Central Park South or near Columbus Circle. I remember in 2011, running through here, seeing it LINED with people, and loving reading everyone’s signs. This also gives spectators an easy spot to get in and out of to meet up with runners without getting caught in the mess that the park is after the race.

Runners and spectators: have a plan where you will meet. This is crucial. CRUCIAL. With near 50,000 runners and millions of spectators, cell phone service is spotty at best. There is technically a Family Reunion Area, but I would imagine it turns into a massive cluster. I’d say to meet somewhere west of Central Park West or south of Columbus Circle. Last time, JackRabbit had an area in their W. 72nd Street that you could drop belongings off at the day before. EITHER WAY, MAKE A PLAN.



There is no experience in the world like this, so take it all in. Every crazy second of this week.

Expo. Get there as early as you can. In 2010, I didn’t run, but met Lizzy at the expo on Saturday. The line wasn’t long but the expo was PACKED. A marathon is a once-a-year thing for me, so I enjoy everything that goes along with them, and I like the expos, so it was annoying to navigate such a packed expo. As you all know, I’m a very social person, but expos are NOT THE PLACE TO BE SOCIAL. There are way too many people. Go with no more than 1 person. Otherwise, you will want to kill everyone else trying to stick together or find each other. Plus, if you go before Saturday, you will be saving yourself from all that time on your feet.


I went tonight with Jen and got to the expo at 6:55. Bib pickup was closing at 7, and the expo was closing at 8. I flew threw the security line (FYI, they go through your bags and there was no wait then but I could see those lines backing up ), and then to the ID check line and then to the actual bib pickup line.

Coming straight from work, I was luckily too tired and overwhelmed to want to shop much, so I walked out with minimal damage: two more SparklySoul headbands (THEY HAVE A CHRISTMAS ONE NOW!) and Dave McGillivray’s book, which I wanted to get at the RW weekend. Jen and I tried out the Roll Recovery, which looked and felt INSANE.

Food. If you don’t have plans yet for Saturday night, and you want to eat out, MAKE THEM NOW. I REPEAT, MAKE THEM NOW. If you are here from out of town, look on OpenTable to see what’s still available. There will definitely still be places you can walk in, but do you really want to have to worry about walking from restaurant to restaurant the night before a marathon?

Sleep. Go to sleep early Saturday night, duh. Also, Friday night, since two nights before is when your quality sleep matters most. Maybe sleep on top of your foam roller.

Getting There

In 2011, they didn’t check when you get on the ferry. This time, your ferry time is on your bib. Personally, I’m not sure I’d take the risk of getting on a different ferry…but just putting all the information out there. From the ferry, you take a bus to the Start Village. I know some people have said they hang out in the ferry terminal until they absolutely have to get on a bus, but I’d rather be cold at Start Village and know I’m there.

I remember there being a million port-a-potties: when you first get off the bus, in the Start Village and then in each corral. (The corral area is truly ginormous.) Awful segue, but I also recall Dunkin’ Donuts being out there with coffee, hot chocolate (I think?) and bagels. Last time, we waited maybe half an hour before it was time to get into corrals. I ate my breakfast on the bus from the ferry and then had half a dry bagel while waiting.


They were really strict with checking your bib last time to make sure you weren’t jumping ahead, but you can jump back to run with friends. (Tina did to run with me!)

Standing at the foot of the Verrazano last time listening to New York, New York was so emotional last time. I’m definitely going to lose it this time, FYI.


Mile 1: You will feel awesome. Of course you will. This is the best marathon in the world, and you are surrounded by energy. You also still have 25 miles to go. Slow down. Yes, there is a hill, but you will barely notice it with the adrenaline.

Miles 2-3: End of Verrazano, then running through Bay Ridge. This is where you start to really feel the energy of the spectators, and that energy just continues to build.

Miles 4-14: You run through Park Slope, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. There are some gradual hills in this part of the course, but your energy is ridiculously high from the crowds, although around mile 11 or 12, you start to wonder when you can leave Brooklyn and get closer to the finish. (No offense, BK.)

Mile 14: While, in distance, you’re more than halfway there, you’ve barely just begun. 14 miles was a “shorter” long run. You’ve got a while to go, honey. Here, you go over the Pulaski Bridge to cross into Queens, where you don’t spend much time. The Pulaski Bridge is fairly short and not too steep, but it is still a noticeable hill.

Mile 15: Just a quick little jaunt through Long Island City. I remember from last time that you run past Silvercup Studios, where 30 Rock was filmed. I did not, however, see Tina Fey.

Mile 16: Yeah, you know what this is. The Queensboro Bridge. Last time, Tina and I swapped stories over the bridge and it went by quickly. If you are running with someone, wait until this point to tell them some crazy story. If you are running alone, pull out your headphones or your mantras or whatever you need to power through this hill. I’ve never found it super-steep, but it is long (but so is the downhill!)

Mile 17-20: First Ave. And then some more First Ave. 17-18 are packed with spectators; closer to 19, the crowds start thinning out. Don’t run too fast from 17-18 out of excitement, but do let that energy give you a boost to power through this long, gradual incline.

Mile 20/21: If you’re a first-time marathoner, you’re probably crossing into unfamiliar territory at this point. BUT YOU’VE GOT THIS! You run over a small bridge to get into the Bronx, and run there for about a mile or so. The crowds are smaller than in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but they make up for it in energy!

Mile 22-24: You are back in Manhattan! You are almost done! The Lululemon cheer station is at mile 22, and I wanted to stop and hug all of them last time. The course begins yet another long, gradual incline as it leads back to the park, but good news! There are approximately a million spectators again.

Mile 24: GLORIOUS. YOU ENTER CENTRAL PARK DURING THIS MILE, AND YOU ARE ALMOST DONE. It is absolute, sheer magic in the park at this point. The course is fairly narrow in here, but you still have room to pass people if you’re feeling up to it. You’re running south and encountering some gradual hills.

Mile 25 – Mile 26: MORE MAGIC. You exit the park onto Central Park South, and it is a wall of people on either side cheering for you. Last time, I was smiling and blinking back tears at the same time. At this point, you know you’re almost done! You will finish this. When you enter the park again, you’ll have just a bit more than .2 to go. That lats .2 has a gradual small incline toward the finish, but nothing compared to the other hills you’ve conquered.

26.2: YOU DID IT!!!!! Go find your family and friends and celebrate.

Any questions/other tips you’d add???

20 comments on “NYC Marathon: Tips for Spectators AND Runners

  1. Mari Hansen

    Great tips, really wish I was running it again…

    I ran NY in 2011, possibly the best day of my life. Can’t say I loved every mile, but man the crowds were insane!

    One tip for international runners, wear your flag or name of the country! There are people from all over in NY, and they cheer extra for their own. For me personally the huge Norwegian group at 40K, mile 25?, was such a huge boost at the exact moment I needed it the most.

  2. Mom

    Getting my sneakers ready, Will see you as much as possible but know we are with you at every bridge and turn in the road!!! Keep that positive attitude and strong sense of commitment, We love you, and will see you at the finish!!

    Mom and Dad

  3. Christina

    I’m so excited for you! I hope you have a great race.

    I will add that spectating at mile 16 is great, because all you have to do after your runner passes you by is walk straight back to Central Park. For a spectator n00b like I was last year, that eliminated a lot of the stress of spectating in different places and getting lost (I was also a subway n00b).

  4. Katie

    Well this recap makes me want to try to get in sometime!!! I love details and I feel like you really have the most succinct yet efficient tips! Thank you!!

  5. Carrie

    Thanks so much for this!!! Running on Sunday, cannot contain my excitement! But as a first time NYCMer, I am worried about meeting my family afterwards. Anybody have good suggestions? I was thinking something near the Natural History Museum?

  6. Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat

    I am still in total marathon denial as I am “training” through for another marathon…But this made me giddy with excitement.

    GOOD LUCK!!! I feel like Sunday is going to be magical!

    Now back to pretending I am not running 26.2 in 2 days 🙂

  7. Kristine

    I’m not even running NYCM (one marathon a year and Chicago was enough for me!) and this post got me all kinds of crazy excited. NEXT YEAR! (Hopefully.) Hope you have the BEST time, and run the most amazing race ever! You’ve got sub-4 written all over you.

  8. Cate

    Damn you for making me cry while reading tho! MIT made me think of my first marathon. You’re going to be amazing this weekend. You’re ready!

  9. Beth

    This is just what I needed to read the day before the marathon. I’m getting so excited!!! Thanks for putting this together – love the course/mile descriptions.


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