A Friendly Guide to the NYC Half Marathon

Even though I won’t be running the NYC Half Marathon this year, I’m a three-time finisher, so It’s my obligation to share my race secrets with the special few that NYRR has allowed into this year’s race.  They include a) A collection of the worlds best professional runners, b) Thousands of international runners, and c) Ten New Yorkers who were selected through a Hunger Games style lottery.

Good luck to you.  Here are some last minute pointers:

Carb loading rules.

Sure, trained professionals like my run coach friends, Meghan and Jessica at Hot Bird Running, may scold you when you eat 20,000 calories of spaghetti and meatballs mere hours before a race.  But who are you going to listen to?  A couple of certified run coaches who dedicated their lives to making you healthier and happier or the guy who draws funny stick figure pictures?

Exactly.  Go nuts, kids!

A stick figure eating spaghetti to carbo load for a half marathon cartoon by rob pollakThe Starting Line.

It’s chaos.  Seriously.  If you are planning to meet people at your starting corral, you may want to rethink that plan.  Every year, the set up has been different.  With last year being the worst because each stable area had its own set of bathrooms.  In theory this sounds amazing, but in practice, it meant that people waited in line for an hour while people already in the corral could cut the line.

This is also where I do my pre-race nerve-vomiting.

Cartoon by Rob Pollak about the bathroom line at the NYC half marathon

The course.  If you run Central Park often, you know what you’re in for.  If you’re an out of towner running the race for the first time, here’s a quick breakdown of the course.

Course Map:

A course map cartoon for the NYC Half Marathon - Cartoon by Rob Pollak

Miles 1-6 are in Central Park.  They changed the course slightly from when I ran it.  From the looks of the new map, the start will be slightly down hill until about the Mile 1 marker.  Then you will embark on “cat hill,” the first of many grueling tortures you will endure.  This hill is particularly awful because it’s a huge hill, then you get to the top, the road briefly flattens and then starts climbing again.  You will vomit.  It’s also about where your nipples will start to bleed.  Welcome to NYC!

Mile 2 will be awesome.  Look to your left for a sort of view of the Central Park reservoir.  If you ever get the chance to run around the reservoir, take it.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to berate parents pushing strollers and people on bikes, neither of which are allowed on the path.  Actually, I’m not sure if strollers are allowed or not.  If they are, apologies to that nice family that I called the C word for pushing a double wide stroller when I was sweating past them.  Yeah, that’s right.  I called them communists.

Mile 3 will be the worst part of the race, at least since Mile 2 and until you get to mile 4-13.  Mile 3 will be a combination of a big sweeping downhill around the northeast corner of the park.  That will flatten out and you will climb straight up a mountain in the back northwest corner.  You may notice that many people start to walk at this point.  Don’t be one of those people.  Listen to the volunteer standing there telling you to “stay inside the cones” and encouraging you that you’re almost to the top of the hill.

Pro Tip:  All of the lampposts in the park are labeled with the street number.  If you look at the bottom of the post, there will be a number that starts with two digits, like 90-01.  That means you’re at 90th street.  I have no idea what the 01 means.  Let’s just agree it means you’re number 1 to me.  Every twenty blocks is approximately 1 mile.  If you really start to struggle, count left foot strikes between posts.  Usually there are 10-20 strikes between posts.  I struggle a lot.

The light posts have information about streets on them in central park running cartoon by rob pollak

Mile 4 is the rolling hills of the west side of the park.  It’s terrible.  Every time you get a little break with a down hill, you head right back up a little uphill.  Look for my sister around mile 4.  She is nice.

During mile 5 and 6, you’ll be thinking, “get me the hell out of the park.”  Try not to start running faster.  You may get out of the park faster, but then you’re going to hate yourself by mile 9.

Mile 6-7:  The best part of the race!  You finally will hit the mean streets of Manhattan.  The road opens up and you can spread out and get away from that sweaty beast (me) who has been breathing down your neck for the last hour.  Lots of people will line the streets.  You’ll see huge buildings.  Your GPS watch will freak out and lose its signal and suddenly you’ll think that you’re running a 4:11 pace.  Enjoy the ride here because things are about to get pretty bad.

Mile 7-9.  At mile 7, you’ll turn right onto 42nd street.  The Big Apple, baby!  Riding high from seventh avenue, you are literally on top of the world at this moment.  You may think to yourself, “I can do anything!  This is so easy!  I’m a machine.”  Enjoy that feeling because as you turn right onto 42nd, you’re about to get blasted with a gale force wind coming off the Hudson River.

And as you amble over towards the West Side Highway, notice that they haven’t cut off traffic coming in the opposite direction.  So you’ll be inches away from angry New Yorkers smogging their cars in your face.  They will stare at you and berate you for making their drive take twice as long.  I know because before I ever ran the race, I once missed a tee time in NJ because I got redirected by those stupid runners.

Once you’re all the way west, they make you head back uptown for one block, which feels like you have to backtrack.  Also, the people disappear for this stretch of the race and it starts to become hard.  The Highway is exactly as it sounds:  Flat, boring, and trafficy.  Prepare for long stretches that are exactly the same.  Bring your ipod so you can suffer through this stretch with the musical stylings of Justin Bieber.  That’s how I managed.

Literally nothing changes for miles 8-12.  Except if I wake up in time, I’ll be on Murray street around Mile 11.5/12.  That’s where I live.  If you see me, say hi.

After Mile 12, the race goes underground into the Battery Park Underpass.  It’s dark and it echoes.  Someone will yell something stupid when you’re under there.  Don’t be that guy.

When you come out of the tunnel, you’re basically done.  Except you’re at the furthest point from everything else in New York.  So figure out a way to get home.  Last year, I ended up having to walk about 2.5 miles back to my apartment because I was a bad planner.  Don’t be a bad planner.

I guess, congratulations.  You’re a half marathoner.

Celebrate by eating enough calories of ice cream and bagels to negate any positive benefits of months of training.

41 thoughts on “A Friendly Guide to the NYC Half Marathon

  1. Pingback: Here’s a great guide for any #NYRR or #NYCHalf particpants! Good luck: http://t.co/lq0aRejMxS | NYMetroWorkout.com - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski

  2. Pingback: THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! RT @robpollak: Here’s a great guide for any #NYRR or #NYCHalf particpants! Good luck: http://t.co/3YuFfj0Uh5 | NYMetroWorkout.com - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski

  3. Pingback: RT @robpollak: Here’s a great guide for any #NYRR or #NYCHalf particpants! Good luck: http://t.co/lq0aRejMxS | NYMetroWorkout.com - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski

  4. This Canadian girl is heading to NYC for my first time to do the half. LOVE your description of the race! I think I will have visions of little stick people sweating up the hills. Hopefully if I have that image in my head it will help me avoid the vomiting part. Thanks for the laugh!

  5. I love the drawings! Sadly, I’m running the RnR full in DC this weekend. I’m hoping to be back in time to cheer the runners. But next year, I’ll be running for sure!

  6. Tremendous blog, and spot-on description of the race. In fact, I feel like I’ve just run it again so I have zero guilt about not competing in the Hunger Games lottery. I’m even going to carbo load. P.S., you are correct, my friend: STROLLERS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THE RESERVOIR PATH! You know what would be a fab follow-up piece? Drink station etiquette.

    • AND… your post was hilarious. You should also mention that there are NO food vendors in the park at the time the race starts so don’t be an idiot like I was and get your coffee before you get on the subway because nothing will be open by the time you get to the park… And go easy on the coffee too because the port-a-potty lines are Horrible

  7. That was amazing! And terrifying. Want my Mommy. But thank you for making me feel like I’m somehow already a badass for getting in the lottery!

  8. Rob, you nailed it! Running it for 3rd time in 4 yrs. 2013 course looks to be the same as last year, and your map summed it all up. Can’t wait to get outta the park, and take in 7th ave / Times Sq. Already dreading the West Side Hwy! Looks like they sorted out the disastrous post-race logistics from last year by moving things up to Fulton St.

  9. I’m here from Sydney to run the Half. It’s my first ever Half. I’ve done a couple of training runs in the Park and didn’t notice the hills – not because I’m super fit (far from it) but because its so bloody cold. After reading your course description I’m just hoping the chilled winds don’t blow up 42nd or my race will come to an sticky end at the GU station. Anyhow loved your blog. Thanks again, John

      • I seriously read this as “There will be shitty pants, but you’ll soon forget about those..” and immediately thought to myself, “Dang, I hope that won’t be me.” Glad that is not what you wrote. I was getting worried about the porta-potty situation at such a big race.

  10. Great blog, survived my first nyc half…read this the night before and it strangely reduced my anxiety so I was able to sleep! Thank you!

  11. It’s the Canadian girl again. Have to say I LOVED the race, who knew running 21.1k (sorry for the metric) could actually be fun! Best part, I have absolutely no concept of miles, so all the mile markers meant nothing to me, made the race seem to go by faster. Experiencing the city was quite an eye opener, kind of makes Ottawa seem like a quaint village. I made a list of things I learned about NYC for my blog…check it out if you get a chance.

  12. I am one of the 10 new Yorkers that won the Hunger games style lottery, the problem is that I AM NOT A RUNNER. Anyway, when you get a hit you run the bases, right? So I am running, your description has terrified me and now I won’t sleep for the next 2.5 weeks, dreaming of stick figures. If and when I make it to mile 11 I will look for the giant stick figure sign. Thanks 🙂

  13. Thank You so much for this map and description of the course. I am currently trying to obtain my spot in the NYC Half for next year. Hills are NOT my friend so thanks for telling me that I need to start training in Central Park!

  14. absolutely loved this thanks so much for sharing some (funny!!!) tips. I’m a 40 year old zumba instructor and this will be my first half marathon! So nervous and excited!!! the most I’ve ever run is 9 miles straight so I”m terrified of running in the tunnel at the end but maybe that’s when my Zumba playlist will help, who knows. Thanks again!!! Big race day is next week!

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