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:

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Bridge one, mile 6. Suns up! #nycmarathon #92bridges

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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.

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Bridge #2 mile 7.5 #nycmarathon #running #92bridges

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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.

Five Hints for Run Commuting

Run commuting can appear daunting, but with a little preparation (and the right gear) it really isn’t that hard. I do it at least a couple of times a week and find it to be a very efficient way to get my runs in. I’ve written about this before from a more personal perspective, but here’s five lessons I’ve learned from my years of (literally) running home from work. 

Get a good running backpack. I use a Gregory Miwok 33. I love it and have recommended it to many friends who also love it. Its big enough to fit clothes, and (even a small laptop) but not so bulky that it sits too far off your back. Some people, especially those who won’t be carrying clothes back and forth may wish to go with a a smaller bag. In shopping for the bag, you want to make sure it rests easily on your hips and sits close to you back, otherwise its going to swing around too much.

Here’s my Gregory ready for an attempt on the Presidential Traverse:

Plan to run home. If your office has a shower, mazel tov, you’re set. You can run to or from work (or both!). But if you’re like me and are lucky enough to live in a city with a good public transportation system, but unlucky enough to not have a shower at work, the only viable option is to run home. Plan your schedule accordingly. The first couple of times are likely to be an experiment in finding the best route, so give yourself plenty of time.

The view from my run commute. Definitely beats the view from the 2 train.

The view from my run commute. Definitely beats the view from the 2 train.

Leave your shoes at work. I have a selection of dress shoes stashed under my desk at work and commute everyday (whether I’m running home or not). I bring my clothes back and forth with me, but I have a friend who brings in four shirt on Monday, leaves them all at the office, and then brings them all home on Friday. This works too, I guess, if you have the storage at your office.

Prepare for the weather and distance. Depending on how far you’re running, you may need to think about the run as a short easy run, or prepare for it like a long run. My average commuting distance is about seven miles, which makes it ideal for a standard weekday run. I do notice that I overheat quicker with the added weight (and loss of heat evaporation) associated with the backpack. Plan you clothing accordingly.

Be seen and be safe! I’m lucky enough to live in the city that never sleeps, so even if I’m running home in complete darkness, it isn’t complete darkness. Still, my bag has reflective patches and when running after dark, I try to wear bright colors. You should too.

EDIT: After posting a link to this on facebook, a very old friend commented on the difficulties of run commuting in an area without strong public transportation. Here’s how she does it:

I only do it once in a while because of the hassle of the car issue. In the summer my schedule is easier and the building is super quiet so I can get away with running to work in the cool and just being way dressed down and ponytailed all day. It is way easier to find a ride home at 4 than a ride in at 7:15, especially if you plan a happy hour in there. The other thing I’ve done is run home one day and run back the next morning. That isn’t bad if I prep well enough a couple days ahead of time. I have to bring running clothes AND extra work clothes to work day 1. Wear running clothes home, run back in and change into work clothes I left the day before.

Thanks for the advice, Amy!

That’s about it. If you run commute I’d love to hear how you go about it. If you live within a reasonable distance from your office, it really isn’t that hard!

Totals for the Week Ending 8.30.2015

Run Miles for the week: 42.4 in 7:12:40
Run Miles for the year: 995.6
Projected total run miles for the year: 1495.4
Weekly/Daily Average to reach 2k miles 58.5/8.4
Run Streak: 0
Did I hit every session of 18/55? N
What did I miss? One easy recovery run
Runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Days until I beat my old run streak: n/a
Prospect Park loops for the week: 6
Prospect Park loops for the year: 72
Bike Miles for the Week: 0
Bike Miles for the Year: 440.7
Projected total bike miles for the year: 662
Weekly/Daily average to reach 2k bike miles: 90.3/12.9
Swim Meters for the Week 1750
Swim Meters for the Year 8200
Body Weight Work: 0
Total Exercise Time: ~7:12:00
Average Weight: 175
Books Finished: 2 (The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson; Vegan Before Six, Mark Bitmann)
Books by Women: 1
Total Books for the Year: 37
Total Books by Women: 16
Percentage of total books by women: 43.24
Books per week to reach 52 ~.8

Notes: I missed a number of these, which sucks. But here were are. About 8 weeks out from New York and feeling pretty good, all things considered. Did a hard workout on Saturday 16 miles, 10 at marathon pace, which left with me a bit of heat exhaustion and/or dehydration. Either way, I was wrecked. This week is a scheduled cut back week. I intend to do some more easy cycling and finally once again work in a bit of body weight work. After this easy week, it’s the height of marathon training. Excited.

Totals for the Week Ending 5.24.2015

Run Miles for the week: 31.2 in 5:29:07
Run Miles for the year: 602
Projected total miles for the year: 1494.8
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 2k run miles 45.4
Run Streak: 0
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Days until I beat my old run streak: n/a
Prospect Park loops for the week: 1
Prospect Park loops for the year: 34
Bike Miles for the week: 0
Bike Miles for the year 202.5
Projected total bike miles 502.8
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 2k bike miles 58.2/8.3
Swim Yards for the week: 0
Total Swim Yards for the year: 2700
Body weight work 00:00:00
Total Exercise Time ~5:30:00
Average Weight 179
Books Finished: 3(The Just City, Jo Walton;
Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Hampton Sides;
The Whites, Richard Price writing as Harry Bryant)
Books by Women 1
Total books for the year 22
Total books by women 10
Percentage of total books read which were written by women 45.5%
Books per week to reach 52 1.00

Notes: A good week for book reading, and not so great week for marathon running. Time to recover and plot my revenge.


Full marathon race report here.

Review: Jurek’s Eat and Run

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness
Scott Jurek
Its rare that I’m without a book, but it happens. Last summer, it happened when I was on vacation in Vermont. Little dude was sleeping better than expected, and I had more time to read, so low and behold, three days into a seven day trip, I was out of books. I was running a lot that week, and had just finished Bernd’s Why We Run.  I was inspired to keep the running theme rolling. Heading to the local bookstore, I browsed the relatively small running book section and grabbed Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, his combo memoir/ cook book.

Jurek in 2014

I have to say, I didn’t have high hopes. I’ve long admired Jurek as a runner – he has one of the most storied careers in ultra-running — but Jurek is an evangelical vegan and, after spending much of my twenties eating seitan and drinking soy milk, I’m not much for vegan lectures.  Thankfully, this book isn’t a polemic. Instead, it’s a moving memoir of a poor kid from Minnesota, from a family plagued by health problems who, through the usual mixture of determination, hard work and luck, became one of the most celebrated ultra runners in history.

The book is broken up into chapters, followed by recipes linked to the chapter’s theme. Jurek’s early years get vegan versions or mid-western staples; his chapter on running with the Tarahumara gets a Mexican influenced recipe, etc. The recipes look good, for vegan food, yet I haven’t made any of them.

But recipes are not why anyone is reading this book.  You’re reading it learn about Jurek’s adventures, as a multiple winner of Western States, a winner of Badwater, a winner of the Spartathon, the U.S. record holder (for a time) at the 24 hour race… and well, I could go on. There was a time when Jurek just dominated ultra-running and he recounts those years here with humor and thoughtfulness about what pushed him to such extremes as well as what it taught him, and cost him.  It isn’t all roses for a fulltime mountain runner, and Jurek’s honesty in dealing with the low points is admirable and makes up for the basically work-a-day prose.

If you’re interested in ultra-running, you’ll want to read this one. I’m giving this the recommended for the enthusiasts tag.

Totals for the Week Ending 2.22.2015

Very late on this one, but here it is…

Run Miles for the week: 37 in 5:45:20
Run Miles for the year: 218
Projected total miles for the year: n/a
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 2k run miles n/a
Run Streak: 0
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Days until I beat my old run streak: 114
Prospect Park loops for the week: 0
Prospect Park loops for the year: 7
Bike Miles for the week: 0
Bike Miles for the year 0
Projected total bike miles 0
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 1k bike miles n/a
Swim Meters for the week: 0
Total Swim Meters for the year: 0
Body weight work 00:00:00
Total Exercise Time 5:45:00
Average Weight 183
Books Finished: 1 (The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert)
Books by Women 1
Total books for the year 5
Total books by women 2
Percentage of total books read which were written by women 40%
Books per week to reach 52 1.05
Movies watched while running on the goddamn treadmill: 1 (Desert Runners)
Total number of movies watched while running on the goddamn treadmill for the year 5
Milo posts for the week 1
Milo posts for the year 19

Notes: First week of the year where it really felt like training. Consistent miles, plus a tempo run and a fifteen mile treadmill run that didn’t feel like torture.




Totals for the Week Endining 2.15.2015

Run Miles for the week: 25.3 in 4:04:20
Run Miles for the year: 180.8
Projected total miles for the year: 1450
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 2k run miles 40.2/5.7
Run Streak: 2 (9.1/18.3)
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 1
Days until I beat my old run streak: 112
Prospect Park loops for the week: 0
Prospect Park loops for the year: 7
Bike Miles for the week: 0
Bike Miles for the year 0
Projected total bike miles 0
Weekly/Daily averages to reach 1k bike miles 22/3.1
Swim Meters for the week: 0
Total Swim Meters for the year: 0
Body weight work 00:00:00
Total Exercise Time 4:00
Average Weight 183
Books Finished: 1 (Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, Scott Jurek
Books by Women 0
Total books for the year 4
Total books by women 1
Percentage of total books read which were written by women 25%
Books per week to reach 52 1.05
Movies watched while running on the goddamn treadmill: 2 (McConkey & The Inga Project)
Total number of movies watched while running on the goddamn treadmill for the year 4
Milo posts for the week 2
Milo posts for the year 18

Notes: A little better? Baby steps.


Friday Inspiration: Desi Linden workout

Here’s an oldie but a goodie. Desi Linden, when she was still Desi Davila, training for the 2012 Olympic trials by running 5 x 2 mile repeats at 5:15 per mile, in the winter, in Detroit. Check out her form. Its damn near perfect:

Maybe I’ll try this work out. Though for me, the pace would be about three minutes faster per mile.

2015: My Physical Goals

While last year went pretty well for me reading wise, my physical life was a bit of a disappointment. I ran, but not with the regularity, or speed, I would have liked.

This year is going to be different. This year is all about consistency… and maybe a little speed.

My goals are simple: 2,000 miles for the year, PR at the marathon distance, get back on the bike, and do a whole bunch of pushups.

Run 2,000 Miles for the Year. Year after year I set this as a goal and year after year, I fail. This year, for the first time in a very long time, I’m starting off the year motivated and uninjured.  If ever there was a year I could do this, it would be this year.

I know what the key is to getting this done – consistent mileage over weeks and months. But even though I know this is what it takes to get fast, and dozens and dozens of BQ(Q)s have born this out, it has still been a real struggle for me.

Take the last week, for instance. I was cruising right along, averaging 30-40 miles a week, and then a late night of work, and poof –everything went out the window. I haven’t run in almost a week, and I won’t be running tonight, either.

This is the central problem in my running, and it’s the central, physical/mental challenge I will address this year.

Tomorrow, it’s back on the horse for the 10,000th time.

PR at the marathon distance. I’m signed up for the Vermont City Marathon this spring. It will be my first full marathon in more than three years. I’m terrified, and excited. If I can stay healthy, there’s no reason I can’t set a PR.

Bike 1,000 miles for the year.  I’m looking at perhaps doing a triathlon this summer, or perhaps not, it depends on a lot of different things. Either way, I’d like to fit in some more cross training. Bike commuting is an easy way to get that done.  So I plan to put some miles on the old Pista this year, if I commute in most days, it shouldn’t be too difficult to hit 1,000 miles.

Do A Whole Bunch of Push Ups. For the 1,000th time, I’m doing the 100 push up challenge.  Strength training is important as we age, you know, and my son thinks it’s hilarious when I do pus ups – that’s a plus.

In previous years I’ve set up complex goals involving bodyweight feats, climbing, lifting and so much more. I hope to do better this year by setting simpler, if perhaps more time consuming, goals. I’ll be tracking these in the weekly training totals I post here. Stay tuned for various forms of failure!

2014: My Physical Year

While 2014 was a great year for my reading, it was less than stellar year for exercise. Being the father of an infant does occasionally allow me to read late into the night, but its has made finding the time to exercise more difficult. In 2013 I spent a fair amount of time rock climbing and doing body weight work (push ups, pull ups, etc.). I all but gave up on these pursuits in 2014. I did not go climbing once and I did a negligible amount of body weight work.

I’ll have more on my goals for body weight work and introducing other athletic pursuits in my 2015 goals post.

So with no climbing, and little body weight work, all that was left was running. With a total of 1,073 miles for the year 2014 wasn’t my worst year (that would be 2009 – when I ran a mere 690) but it was also far off from my best year (2011 1670.5) and even farther from my goal of 2,000 miles.

There’s always next year, right?

Here’s some further slicing and dicing of the numbers done mainly for my own amusement:

  • I ran 1,073 miles in 230 separate sessions for a total of 165:24:35 hours spent running around in circles like a goddamn idiot.
  • That’s an average of 4.67 miles per day at an average pace of about 9:15 per mile.
  • My longest run was a paltry 13.5 miles in 2:07:36 on September 7 across the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Union Street bridges.
  • My shortest run was one mile. I did it repeatedly; running only a single mile a total of 29 times.
  • 97 of my runs and 547.5 of my miles were in Prospect Park, which is significantly more than anywhere else.
  • I ran one half marathon ( Brooklyn Half 1:49:08), a number of 5ks, and I set a PR at the five mile distance at the NYRR Club championships — finishing in a time of 39:24 for a 7:53 pace.

All in all, not a great year. Not my worst, but certainly not my best. As I figure out this whole fatherhood thing, I expect much bigger things for 2015.