The start of the NYC Marathon over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Photo by MTA/Patrick Cashin from Wikimedia
The TCS New York City Marathon is both an esteemed athletic event and a city-wide spectator sport, which was founded in 1970 but had many earlier incarnations prior. The 2018 NYC Marathon will take place on November 4th, with competitors of all types coming from around world, hoping to complete the 26.2 mile course through the five boroughs of New York City. We consulted with former NYC marathon runners to put together this unconventional guide to the NYC Marathon. Below is a full map of the route and read on for ten fun things to check out during the NYC Marathon, whether you’re a runner or a spectator.
1. The Quietest Spots on the Marathon Route
Along most of the NYC Marathon route, crowds of strangers line up alongside to liven up the race cheering and offering emotional and physical support. But there are a few key moments where the race can be eerily silent, apart from the sound of sneakers pattering the pavement. There are five bridges along the NYC Marathon route – the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (soon to gain a correct second “z” in the name), the Pulaski Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, the Willis Avenue Bridge, and the Madison Avenue Bridge.
According to Untapped Cities co-founder Augustin Pasquet, who ran the NYC Marathon in 2015, the quietest moments for him were along the Queensboro Bridge due to the contrast with the rowdiness in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in miles 11 to 13. New York Congressional candidate Suraj Patel tells us that the Queensboro Bridge was also the “most miserable” portion of the marathon. “It’s pretty but you don’t realize how high the bridges go over the East River until you run over them. It’s a long, steady incline right around the 16 mile wall that everyone hits. And then there’s the bone chilling wind. It’s the coldest part of the run.” Untapped Cities writer Jeff Reuben says “Other than a few volunteers, spectators are not allowed on the bridge, so it’s quiet and isolated, but soon after crossing the bridge onto 1st Avenue and being hit by a wall of sound and lots of people – it’s a really intense audio-visual experience.”
The Pulaski Bridge, between Brooklyn and Queens is quite short, as are the other bridges besides the initial Verrazano crossing, making the Queensboro Bridge section particularly notable.
Augustin and Brian Oh, who has been an annual participant in the NYC Marathon since 2013, also note that another distinctively quiet moment along the route is in South Williamsburg, around the Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods. Brian says, “One of the strangest, eeriest sections of the route is near Marcy Avenue, It suddenly becomes an absolute ghost town for about a mile or two, zero supporters along the sides.” Augustin says the community goes about their usual activities, with the marathon running through.
2. There’s a Bar Named After a Mile Marker in the NYC Marathon
Photo from 2017 NYC Marathon courtesy of Mile 17 bar and restaurant.
At 1446 First Avenue, between 75th and 76th streets is a bar and restaurant called Mile 17, literally named after its location on the NYC Marathon route! A reviewer on the restaurant’s Facebook page says, “This Mile 17 is much more enjoyable than its namesake!!!” and another wrote, “Perfect for watching the NYC Marathon.”
Mile 17, which hosts an annual NYC Marathon party, is a pretty fun reason to head up to the Upper East Side, a place to take refuge and celebrate since 1st Avenue between miles 16 and 18 gets pretty crowded. In fact, the NYC Marathon website promotes the zone as one of the “best spots to watch on the course,” noting that “First Avenue is known for being packed with spectators who line the sidewalks and shout encouragement. The avenue’s many bars and restaurants contribute to the festive atmosphere.”
3. Where Runners Need the Most Moral Support on the Marathon Route
Miles 20 to 23 can be mentally and physically tough, with Central Park not quite in sight and fewer spectators in the Bronx and in Harlem. But that’s where the runners need the most support! The marathoners cross the Willis Avenue Bridge from East Harlem to the Port Morris waterfront in the Bronx. After about a mile, they cross back into Manhattan over the 135th Street Bridge. Head to any of these areas to get the runners past that last hump.
4. Look for the Fred Lebow Statue in Central Park That Gets Moved Once a Year
In Central Park, there is a life-sized bronze figure of Fred Lebow, who founded the New York City Marathon in 1970. A little known fact is that the 600-pound statue gets moved every year, just for the day of the NYC marathon from its usual home near 90th Street and East Drive to near the Finish Line further south in Central Park. In the statue, Lebow wears his legendary running suit and hat, glancing at his watch. This year, the statue will make its annual “pilgrimage” on November 4th.
5. Look Out for the Fun Signs and Costumes
The spectators are one of the best things about the NYC Marathon. Some set up a stand or chairs and cheer all day, offering support, water, snacks, fruits, and high fives. Some make very creative signs. In 2015, we saw signs like, “If Trump can run for President, you can run 26.2 miles,” and “Hurry up, the Kenyans are Finishing Up All the Beers.” This year, Michelob Ultra has paid for advertising all along the route on the sides of buildings that say how many miles left until beer. Other signs are interactive, like “Hit here for Superpowers.” Some get even more creative, like the minions we saw handing out bananas. Marathoners also known to dress in costume too – we’ve seen men in full suits, people in chicken costumes, superhero costumes and more.
6. How to Watch in Central Park and Not Battle the Crowds
Waiting near the finish line in Central Park can be a tough battle, with the large crowds and media, but a good spot to watch is where the runners enter the park on 5th Avenue at Engineer’s Gate. There’s a family-friendly atmosphere up here, with a lot of spectators sitting on the ground on the side of the drive.
7. High Five the Cops
Even the NYPD officers on-duty get into the spirit. Augustin says at Engineer’s Gate, he saw four or five officers in a row, and asked them for some high fives to get him through the last miles. They were more than happy to comply! You’ll also see officers giving thumbs up and shouts of support.
8. Check out the Official NYC Marathon Events
Photo courtesy NYRR Media Center
The TCS NYC Marathon also has official events along the route. In Manhattan, there’s the Charity Cheer Zone from Fifth Avenue, East 90th Street to East 92nd Street where there will be cheer zones for select charities amongst New York Road Runners’ 380+ official charity partners, who are fundraising for their causes. There will also be a DJ. New Balance sponsors the Mile 16 Block Party with a DJ, Jumbotron, the local NYRR marching band. At Columbus Circle, there’s a TCS Cheer Zone along with the United Stage. At Fourth Avenue and Atlantic Avenue at the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Stage will be on.
9. Help Marathon Runners Down the Subway Stairs
After putting their bodies through 26.2 miles of a grueling route, marathoners are often struggling to get back home. In 2014, the New York Times put out this humorous but cringeworthy video above about runners fighting “through fatigue and physical exhaustion on the streets of Manhattan.” Subway steps are some of the most brutal, so help a marathoner down the stairs if you see one!
10. For a Decade, A Group Has Hosted a Drinking Marathon That Follows the Route
Photo by MTA/Patrick Cashin from Wikimedia
The NYC Marathon is one of the best ways to see New York City (after our own tours of course). Over the course of several hours, you get to traverse all five boroughs, take in the skyline of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn from the city’s bridges, experience the diversity of city’s neighborhoods and people, and experience the spirit that makes New York City one of the greatest cities in the world.
In fact, the Marathon route is so epic that for more than 10 years in a row now, Untapped Cities contributor Janos Marton has organized “Marathon Day,” which involves 26.2 drinks in bars all along the marathon route – all in one day in June. We’ve happily contributed bar suggestions for this event over the years. Participants usually attend for just a portion of the route (binge drinking not encouraged) and participants take mass transit, including the Staten Island Ferry. In recent years, Marton, who is currently running for Manhattan District Attorney, has passed the organizing torch of Marathon Day to younger cohorts and is more known as an expert in criminal justice reform, was one of the leaders of the Close Rikers campaign, and has worked at Just Leadership and the ACLU.