On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tracy's NYCM tips

Yesterday, I complained about the NYCM "Daily Tips" emails not giving practical advice. So now, in response to your comments/questions, I will try to fill this obvious void and give you useable advice on the marathon.

First off, Aron asked about spectating. Specifically, what are the best places for your spectators to watch for you?

Let me tell you something, Aron (and everyone). I have run eight marathons. Do you know how many times I've had spectators? ONCE.* And here he is:

That's my little brother at last year's NYCM. Most remarkably, he'll be back again this year!

I myself have spectated a time or 12, though. So I do have some tips, both general and specific.

General tips:

  • Know where to look for your spectator. If you don't know where they'll be, you won't see them. This can be frustrating and can throw off your race - last year, to see my brother, I actually backtracked a few blocks. He (and my friend Renee, who made the awesome sign above) both completely missed me. At the very least, know which side of the road to be on in order to see them.
  • Online/text/email tracking almost never works. At best, it will send you updates well after your runner has passed. At worst, it won't send you updates at all. Don't rely on it.
  • Have an easy way to spot them. Signs are great, but you won't see them until it's too late. The best suggestion I can make is a giant helium balloon. It's easy to spot from a distance.
Specific tips to New York:
  • Understand the course. Yes, this is obvious. There are three main things to look out for: 
    • One, depending on the color of your bib, you will be forced to stay on a specific side of the road for the first 8 miles. It's possible to cross over, but the courses are technically slightly different and so it's considered cheating. There are police. Not worth the risk.
    • Two, know the subway system. Cross-reference this information against the course map. Be aware - and this is sort of obvious, sort of not - that your spectator will not be able to cross the marathon course. Not even if they walk reallyreallyreally fast and there really aren't that many runners around. Tell them this. What this means is that the side of the street on which they exit the subway is the side of the street they're stuck on. Not all subway stations will let you exit on both sides of the street.
    • Three, don't tell your spectator to go to any of the areas that are known to have heavy spectating. For instance, First Avenue in Manhattan or Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn - they're jam-packed four deep the whole route. You won't see your spectator.
  • These are the three areas where I would suggest you might want spectators:
    • The Bronx. Loads of empty space and easy access to the 4/5/6. Know that they put a giant screen up at 20m, which is entertaining for a block or two.
    • Harlem. Yes, 1st and 5th Avenues are several people deep with millions of spectators. But the crowds fade out around 95th St. or so. Further uptown is better! (But if your spectator is also in the Bronx, this could be a lot of spectating in only a few miles.)
    • Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Queens. Slightly less convenient to trains, but not as thick with spectators. Bedford Ave. in particular is fascinating - the Hasidic neighborhoods are amazing.
  • Watch this course video:

More tips you haven't asked for:
  • Before the race: 
    • (During the taper:) Read Liz Robins' A Race Like No Other. Reading this book is the single best thing you can do during the taper. Trust me.
    • (The day of the race:) You can take any ferry you want. It's a public ferry. They load them first-come, first-served. The ferry operators don't have a list of who the NYRR assigned to which ferry. Trust me.
    • Bring a snuggie. Or sleeping bag, or loads and loads of extra clothes. Even if it's temperate out, you sit around a lot. It gets cold. Trust me.
  • After the race:
    • The finish line is a clusterfuck. Pardon my language, but it is. Immediately after crossing the line, (at least last year) they put a medal around your neck and handed you a bag of treats - Gatorade 3, pretzels, a banana. But then... whether you check a bag or not, you have to go through the entire bag claim area - walking more than a quarter mile in a tightly fenced in area past all 60-something baggage claim UPS trucks in a super-tight crowd while your legs cramp up and your frustration rises. Remember this when you tell your spectators where to meet you - you will exit the park further up than you expect and it will take you much longer to get there than you expect. The finish area is tightly cordoned off, so they will not be able to see you cross the line, either. (Last year, I met my brother in front of the Museum of Natural History at 79th St. It took me about half an hour from my finish time to get there, but that was the first place I could exit.)
    • You can ride the subway free post-race. A little perk for having just run 26.2m!
    • Don't go to Shake Shack at 79th and Columbus. Because I want to, and I don't want there to be lines when I get there.

What other advice would you give? What did I miss/screw up? What else are you wondering about?

On Monday, I'll address Samantha's question about the Queensborough (I mean 59th Street Ed Koch Queensboro) Bridge.

*Well, 1.5. Another time my roommate came out to watch me run Chicago, but then my dad called him and the two of them left the course to get breakfast, watch the elites, and go back to my parents' house in the suburbs. True story.


  1. Plus one on the recommendation to read A RACE LIKE NO OTHER. I was moved.

  2. Ah, the Fort Wadsworth refugee camp. Do they still have the world's longest urinal?

  3. Urinal questions = ones I can't answer. But I'll take my camera and do some investigative reporting this November.

  4. Trash bags and find the tent at the Refugee Camp. Last year I got there as Ass o'clock and had a sleeping bag and got in it and froze. There was a tent that I thought was for the elites or Micheal J Fox or something...but I walked around at about quarter till no longer ass o'clock and then found out it was a heated f'in tent for normal smucks like me. Trash bags trap heat better than sleeping bags...wear them and own it.

  5. Loved this post! Getting so excited for this race ahhhhh!

  6. The only other thing I have to add relates to my rookie move. Tom and I took a cab to the library with my dad and another friend riding in another cab. Our last words, "We'll see you at the library and ride the bus together".

    Little did we know that roughly a kagillion people would be at the library and nearly as many buses. I never saw my dad again until we had all finished the race.

    If you do get separated from a friend at Staten Island, agree that you will meet at the lifeguard chair in the middle of the sea of sleeping bags.

    (And yes, definitely bring a sleeping bag!)

  7. Thanks for sharing all of these tips! It reminded me of a lot of things I wanted to tell my spectators. I keep telling them to carry a balloon. I know my husband won't but my sister or girlfriend will! :)

  8. Great list. I would add that if you're a runner, it can be easier for you to spot your spectator than for your spectator to spot you, as they will be stationary. Try to find out EXACTLY where they will be (side of the street is crucial). For this reason long straightaways are better for spectating than curvy parts of the course --- my husband came out to see me at a turn in the Bronx and I never saw him :(

  9. wait, you are running MCM and then NYCM the next weekend? daaaaaang.

  10. What is up with New Yorkers wanting Shake Shack after NYC races? That's what everyone wanted after the NYC Half this year.

    And no line? You're so funny.

  11. I came to watch you last year. I cannot help that I was hungover and under dressed so when my lips started turning blue I was forced inside prior to you running past me. I TRIED!