12 Thoughts On the New York Marathon Course

This past weekend, I ran the last twenty miles of the New York Marathon course, from Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to the finish line in Central Park. Here are thirteen things about the course. Some I remember from the last time I ran this race ten year ago and some I remembered during my run the weekend.

You can see NYRR’s course map here, and elevation profile here.

Share your thoughts on the course in the comments!

1. Park Slope is where you’ll start to see real crowds. The New York Marathon is a street party from start to finish. You’re unlikely to go more than a quarter mile without a hearing the cheers, but the crowds really get going when you hit stroller Brooklyn at Fourth Avenue and about Tenth Street. There will be kids wanting high fives, and adults screaming your name. Use the crowds to keep you excited, but don’t worry if you’re too focused to miss a high five. And watch out for my running club, Prospect Park Track Club with the red banners, they’ll be cheering somewhere around Fourth Avenue and Union street!

2. Lafayette Avenue is going to be a blast. Coming down fourth avenue, you’ll reach the intersection with Flatbush and cross over onto the slightly uphill Lafayette Avenue. This will take you straight into one of the loudest parts of the course – Fort Greene comes out in force. Expect drums squads, cheering families, and possibly an actual band or two. When I ran this race the last time ten years ago, this was one of my favorite parts of the course. If you don’t love New York already, you will when you leave Fort Greene / Clinton Hill.

3. Don’t expect big crowds on Hasidic Bedford Avenue. From Fort Greene you’ll continue through to Clinton Hill, where the cheering will remain robust. But as you turn off Lafayette onto Bedford Avenue, expect things to quiet down a bit. Bedford Avenue from Flushing to Division is home to one of Brooklyn’s most devout Hasidic communities, and they tend not to be big marathon supporters. This is only about a mile of the course; it might be a nice respite between the big crowds of Fort Greene and the coming crowds of Williamsburg.

4. Hipsters be hip, but they’ll still cheer for you. Once you cross underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, you’re in one of the hippest (and most expensive) neighborhoods in Brooklyn – Williamsburg. Crowds will be armed with aeropress coffee, beards, and cheers. Expect ironic signs and families with expensive strollers. It’ll be fun.

5. Long Island City might slow you down. After Williamsburg, you’ll continue down Bedford into Greenpoint and then over the Pulaski Bridge into Long Island City. Greenpoint / Long Island City is one of the more maze like sections of the course with a number of twists and turns. Expect to slow down here as you make a series of turns through this formerly industrial, now high rise condo, part of Brooklyn and Queens.

Here I am on bridge number one, the Pulaski:

6. The Queensboro Bridge is long and it is steep. If you’re planning on running New York, someone has already talked to you about the Queensboro. Its long, and its steep, and there are no crowds. Coming at about mile 15 in the race, this is when things are starting to get real. Take it one step at a time and try to enjoy the view (if you can see it).

The view from bridge number two, the Queensboro. As you’ll probably be running in the middle of the road, your view isn’t likely to be as nice.

7. The crowds on lower First Avenue can’t be beat. Soon enough, you’ll have climbed and descended the Bridge and you’ll be coming around the sharp corner off the bridge and into the insane cheering scene that is First Avenue. With one of the biggest crowds on the course, First Avenue and 59th street will be a nice pick-me-up after the bridge. Use the crowds to keep your mojo going, but don’t get too excited – there’s still ten miles to go.

8. Upper Fifth avenue? Maybe not so much. As you head north to Harlem and the Bronx, the crowds will thin out some. This is where I plan to put on the music and just crank out the miles. First Avenue is a (basically) flat 5k. Get in the groove and click off the miles.

9. There are a number of turns in the Bronx. Similar to the twists and turns of Greenpoint / Long Island City, the Bronx involves some twists and turns, over some slightly rolling terrain. Expect to slow down a bit here as you navigate the turns.

You’ll enter the Bronx on the Willis Avenue Bridge. 

10. Fifth Avenue is uphill. After your very short sojourn in the Bronx (you’re only there for about a mile and a half) it’s back into Manhattan and down Fifth Avenue. And by down I mean heading downtown, ‘cause this is actually a sneaky little uphill and odds are by now you’re feeling it.

11. The park is rolling. At 90th street you’ll pull into the park for the home stretch of a little more than two miles. The crowds will be huge, and the road will be undulating. Don’t let the fact that your legs are killing you get in the way. Enjoy these last miles. Pass the historic reservoir, and the zoo, the quickly across central park south and up to the finish line where the music will be blasting, the crowds cheering, Congratulations, you finished!

12. The end of the race isn’t the end of your day. You’ll cross the finish line, get your medal and space blanket, and then you’ll walk. For a while. At the very least, you’re going to walking another ¾ of a mile before you get out of the post marathon scrum. Odds are, you’ll be walking even further than that. Take it easy though, you’re done.

So that’s twelve quick impressions I have of the marathon. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

EDIT: I’ve seen some great comments on this post on various running forums. I’m adding some of them here with the permission of the poster.

Runasics from runningahead wrote: Mile 2 is the fastest mile I’ve run a marathon.  I was ~50 seconds faster than goal pace.  It’s a ski slope, more so than the 1st mile at Boston (which was shockingly steep the first time).  Plus there was not the sense of being overly crowded.  And that was the surprising thing about NYC; beyond the 1st mile, it did not feel crowded like other big marathons I’ve run.

The 4th Ave stretch is awesome.  It gently undulates and you can get in a rhythm, which is then thrown off at mile 8 when you turn and get squeezed up that hill on Lafayette.  LOL.

I found the Hasidic neighborhood to be oddly comical.  The residents are going about their business as if the marathon is not occurring.

Queensboro Bridge isn’t THAT bad.  I slowed maybe 10 seconds per mile.  The off ramp onto 1st is where you can pick it up way too much.  You ride the wave until past mile 18 when suddenly, as you noted, it goes quiet.  I felt my pace drop at that point.  Then you head for the token Bronx visit, which is laughable ugly.

The welcome into Harlem is cool.  Then the stretch on 5th is indeed a long sneaky incline – it seemed to go on forever and I found this to be the toughest part of the race.  Going into the park and hitting some rollers after mile 24 was easy by comparison.  Just my experience.

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  1. smt

    #7 and #10 are the only things I remember at this point. Esp #10. 🙂 I will say good luck again before the race, but good luck!

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