BIG APPLE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST
by BRIAN METZLER |
RUNNING THE NEW YORK MARATHON COURSE
If you’ve ever run a marathon or aspired to run one, then the Big Apple should definitely be on your bucket list. Although it’s understandably hard to get into, the New York City Marathon is something every runner should experience once in their lifetime.
The classic point-to-point, 26.2-mile race serves as a street-level tour of the Big Apple’s five boroughs, providing up amazing views, an up-close interaction the biggest cheering section in the world, a glimpse at history and one of the best finish lines in all of running.
The New York City Marathon is a hard course as far as marathons go—more difficult than its Marathon Majors siblings in Chicago, Boston, Berlin, London and Tokyo—but if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Over the Bridge
After spending an hour or more huddled up in the runner’s village at Fort Wadworth on the northern edge of Staten Island, you’ll assemble in your starting wave along what normally is heavily trafficked Interstate 278. Once the starting gun for your wave sounds, you’ll begin one of the most glorious hill climbs in any running race, a 1.25-mile ascent up the south side of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge over the inlet to New York Harbor.
As you crest the high point of the bridge deck, if you glance to your left and look north, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view of the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” you’ll remember her famous plaque proclaiming as you cruise down the back side of the bridge and find yourself back on terra firma in Brooklyn with only about 24 miles to go.
Running with The Huddled Masses
The moment you get into Brooklyn, you’ll understand a slightly different meaning of “huddled masses,” as you’ll soon be consumed by with crowds of people running with along you and also cheering from the sidewalks. The first three waves of runners don’t actually come together on the same section of road until the 8-mile mark at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That’s when things get really crazy. Don’t fret! You only need to concern yourself with running your race.
Soak in the positive energy of the crowds that seem to get thicker and more vociferous the deeper you get into Brooklyn. Keep the urge to surge contained and stay focused on your pace and the need to continually rehydrate. And by all means, be careful to avoid runners ahead of you who come to a dead stop for the sake of taking selfies.
Time to Get Serious
You’ll reach the halfway point of the race in the hipster Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, just before you cross over the Pulaski Bridge and head into Queens. Nothing against Queens, but this is where you have to become a lunch bucket laborer and grind out a few hard miles on what is a relatively boring part of the course. There are fewer fans cheering in the Long Island City section of the course, so it’s a good time to check your pace, focus on refueling and begin to dig deep mentally to prepare yourself for the second half of the race.
You’ve clicked off more than 13 miles in what feels like the blink of an eye, but you still have the hard miles ahead of you. This is where you should trust your training, keep a consistent rhythm and put a smile on your face as you approach the challenge that lies ahead.
The Calm Before the Storm
As the course turns east along Queens Boulevard and heads toward the Hudson River, everything quiets down considerably. Soon you enter the lower level of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and experience the oddest thing of the New York City Marathon: eerie silence. With the ambient noise of the city almost non-existent as you cross the 0.75-mile bridge, the only thing you’ll hear is the rhythmic pitter-patter of runners’ feet hitting the ground and, maybe, one of those awkward loud-breathers right next to you. Soak in the silence and use it as a moment to reflect on all of the miles and months of training you put in to get there.
As you begin the downward slope into Manhattan, a grumbling commotion begins to grow into a dull but palpable roar. By the time you start running down the spiral ramp back to ground level, you’re met with the thunderous sound of thousands of screaming spectators that crescendos into a deafening roar as you turn and run north on First Avenue.
Welcome to Manhattan.
First Avenue Frenzy
Running northward on the straight-as-an-arrow, 3.5-mile section along First Avenue is one of the loudest and most energizing parts of the course, but it’s also one of the most difficult too. At first, the waves of cheering fans are inspiring and uplifting, but after a few miles it can be a bit overwhelming, too. Avoid the natural reaction to speed up on the slightly downhill section and know that you still have 8-10 miles to reach the finish line.
At about the 18-mile mark, you’ll be passing through East Harlem, otherwise known as the Spanish Harlem neighborhood—where you’re bound to hear a strong Latino vibe from the cheering fans, upbeat music and festive atmosphere. Take that ambiance to heart and stay in a rhythm as you approach the Willis Avenue Bridge, cross the Harlem River and enter into the Bronx.
Briefly in The Bronx
The marathon course is only in the Bronx for about a mile and a half and, honestly, it’s the loneliest segment of the course. That’s not a slight on the Bronx, which has witnessed a huge revival in the past decade. It’s more that the course doesn’t include the northernmost borough’s best elements, such as Van Cortland Park, Yankee Stadium or the city’s botanical gardens or zoo. However, it does pass through the Mott Haven Historical District, that includes the late-19th century St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church, a lot of refurbished office buildings and apartments, a mini mart and not much more. Blink and you’ll miss it, as soon you’ll be crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River and running back into Manhattan, where you’ll pass Mile 21 and realize you have 5 miles to reach the finish line.
Heading to the Park
As you pass through a portion of Harlem and on your way to northeast corner of Central Park, you’ll start to see some really funny spectator signs that should inspire you to keep your engines running as you start to realize that 5 miles is still a long way to go.
Soak in a few of the silly signs because they’ll make you laugh, which will help take the intensity down a notch so you can shed any lingering negativity and keep running with fluid form. For example, “Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon” and “It’s Seemed Like a Good Idea 4 Months Ago” and “My Mascara Runs Faster Than You Do” and “Hurry Up! There’s free beer and sex at the finish line!” OK, so none are bust-a-gut funny, but they’ll definitely tickle your funny bone in the moment when you need it the most.
On to The Finish
Once you get into Central Park, you’ll remember why you signed up for this race in the first place and realize that no city supports its marathon the way New York does. This is where the thickest concentration of spectators are gathered, and the energy will be off the charts because you’ll feel like they’re all there for you.
As fatigued as your mind and body is, your spirit will be revitalized over the final 3 miles as you absorb their encouragement and start to sense the finish line. You’re bound to pick up the pace a bit, but don’t go too fast because you don’t want to empty your tanks just yet. By the time you reach the south end of park, and head out onto 59th Street — aka, Central Park South — you’ll have less than a mile to go and be ready for this parade to be over. After one last (and seemingly endless and slightly uphill) straightaway to Columbus Circle, you’re turn back into the park where you’ll finally be able to head to the promised land.
As you run the final 400 meters along the international flag-lined finish line promenade, take a moment to reflect on the journey you’re about to complete—not only the 26.2-mile voyage from Staten Island to the finish, but also the four months and thousands of miles you spent specifically training for the race.
Whether you spring, jog or waddle to the finish line, do it with your head held high and a smile on your face. No matter how long it took you to get there, you got there! Even if you never run another marathon again, you’ll always have your New York City Marathon experience as a memory that will last a lifetime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BRIAN METZLER
Brian Metzler has run races at every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles, wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of shoes, is a three-time Ironman finisher and occasionally participates in the quirky sport of pack burro racing in Colorado.
He has run the New York City Marathon three times with lackluster results. But he considers each experience among his most memorable running experiences.
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