Running

Inspired To Run the NYC Marathon? Here’s What the Day Is Like from Sun Up to Sun Down

Ali Finney

Photo: Getty/fotog
One early November, a long long time ago, I woke up following a Halloween party, dragged my butt out of bed, and wound up on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It coincided with marathon day, and as I watched people wind their way through the late miles of the race, I was inspired to join them. This year, I did—running for the third time as part of the New Balance team.

If you're inspired to run the New York City Marathon following the 50th Anniversary event yesterday, you might want more details on what it's like to prep for a marathon or what it's like to be selected to run the race. And while resources like these abound to help you navigate the race, it's less common to get a day-of timeline that will help you to understand how your marathon day will unfold.

Nearly all races have some start-line logistics, but NYCs tend to be more complicated than most. For starters, the race starts in Staten Island—which is, in fact, an island. Couple that with the sheer volume of people who run the race —at its peak in 2019, the race saw some 53,000 runners—and you have a Rubik's Cube of logistics to solve for. But don't worry, the brains behind the marathon have done a really seamless job doing so.

To help manage the number of runners kicking off the race, there are five start times that you might be placed in. I was in the fourth wave this year, which meant my race started at 11:20 a.m., but there are also start times at 9:10 a.m., 9:55 a.m., 10:40 a.m., and 12:00 p.m. Given that, New York City's race unfolds a bit differently than other races—it's a long day, folks—here's how my day went by hour-by-hour.

5:00 a.m.: You wake up

Whatever time your alarm is set for just remember that the NYC marathon always falls on Daylight Savings Time day, so if you are anything like me and have any semblance of an internal clock, you'll probably wake up before it goes off. It's a good thing today: You'll have plenty of time to eat your first breakfast and think about the day ahead.

I hadn't packed my "go-bag" yet this year, so when I woke up, I put a change of clothes and an extra pair of shoes in a bag for my family and friends to bring to me along the route in case something went wrong and I needed them. Throw in extra fuel or a face wipe or whatever you might need in worst-case scenarios so that you'll be prepared for whatever comes your way.

6:00 a.m.: You pack and fuel up

My scheduled alarm goes off and I am already up and at 'em. I get changed into my race day attire, and down my last coffee of the day. I do a check once more through my bag and make sure that I have everything on my person that I'll need from now until mile 8 when I'll see my friends and family.

7:00 a.m.: You get on the ferry

I live roughly a 15-minute drive from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, which is where many runners begin their race-day journey. I was on the 7:45 ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island. Pro tip: There's always a giant line for the bathrooms at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, so I say skip it and just go on the ferry itself.

The ride takes about 25 minutes and if you sit on the left-hand side, you'll have a primo view of the Statue of Liberty, which is a nice little something-something to start your morning—particularly if you're not a native New Yorker. If you're trying to avoid lines at all costs, when you get about 20 minutes in, go to the front of the ferry where you'll be let off and start queueing up.

Note: There are also buses that depart much earlier from mid-town Manhattan, but I've never taken those and can't speak to what they're like.

8:00 a.m.: You get on a bus

Once you get off the ferry, you get on the line to get on a bus that will take you to the starting line. In years past, when there have been upwards of 50,00 runners, it took a while to land a spot on the bus—the first time I ran, I froze my butt off waiting for about 45 minutes—but this year, with fewer runners participating because of COVID-19, I walked right up and got a seat.

The bus winds you through Pete Davidson's New York to the starting line, near the Verrazano Bridge. Once you get off, you go through security and walk up to the Marathon Village.

9:00 a.m.: You get to Marathon Village

Once you're at the Marathon Village, you'll need to pay attention to your marathon bib, because where you start—in addition to the corral you'll be in—is denoted there. There are three key pieces of information on it:

  1. The wave: The wave you're in denotes your start time. Wave 1 begins at 9:10 a.m., wave 2 begins at 9:55 a.m., wave 3 begins at 10:40 a.m., wave 4 begins at 11:20, and wave 5 begins at 12:00 p.m.
  2. The corral color: There are blue, orange, and green starting corrals that take you on three distinct paths from the starting line until mile 8—don't worry, all of them total up to 26.2. The corrals help to space people out so that everyone isn't super crowded on the bridge to start. They then do the same in the early parts of Brooklyn where the streets are a bit more narrow. I was in the Orange corral and we ran on the upper deck of the Verazzano Bridge.
  3. The corral number: The corrals are lettered A to F and the people in A are at the front of the wave, while the people in the F corral are at the back of the wave.

Because I was running with New Balance, there was a tent where I went ahead of the race, and I hung out there until it was time to line up in my wave.

10:00 a.m.: You line up for the race

I was running in the 11:20 race, but the corrals opened up at 10:40. It's always a good idea to see when your corral opens up and closes, because I definitely saw people being turned away because they weren't there on time. If you miss your corral, it's really no big deal, you just wait for the next wave to open up and run with that one.

Inside the corrals, you have your last chance to shed any clothing that you'd brought with you to stay warm. There are bins, where donations go to GoodWill, so you aren't just creating more trash if you decide to wear extra layers that you know you won't want to have on when you cross the finish line.

11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.: You run the race

The fun part! You're led onto the ramp to the starting line, and once the cannon goes off, you're on your way. You start out on the hilliest part of the race, so while it might be tempting to start out quick, you have some physics helping slow you down. You run through Brooklyn, then Queens, then Manhattan, the Bronx, and back to Manhattan.

Over the course of the race, you'll get roughly 1,000 high fives—notably, I got one from a dog this year—you'll see cute kids cheering, and runners who have 17-year streaks. Things will pump you up, things will slow you down. You'll probably laugh out loud at more than one sign, and when you cross the finish line, you'll be so stupidly proud of what your body can do and how hard you pushed it. And you'll swear you'll never do it again—but you will.

4 p.m.: You make it to the finish

The finish line, which is in Central Park, may seem like the end of your journey, but note that to get out of park you still have a bit of a walk ahead of you. Usually, you can meet friends around 70th Street and Columbus Avenue (or so!), but I say to make it 74th and Amsterdam and buy yourself a Levain cookie.

From there, you can get an Uber—keep in mind, there will be surge pricing—or hop on the subway.

The takeaways

1. It is a really, really long day

If you're starting your day at 5 and not getting home until 6 or so, prepare for a long day (my exercise ring for the day closed at the starting line of the race LOL). That means, charge your devices, have back-ups, and make sure that you properly fuel at the right times for your race. You don't want to eat breakfast before you leave the house and be starving at the start.

2. Having the right gear makes a huge difference

It goes without saying but having the right marathon gear makes or breaks the race. Here's what I wore on Team NB.

Fresh Foam 1080v11 — $150.00

This super springy shoes have a sock-like upper that allows your foot to move around throughout the miles (though, not too much). It gives you this impossibly airlike, light ride that just feels like you’re running on clouds.

Q Speed Jacquard Short Sleeve — $45.00

This isn’t the exact piece I wore, but it’s the newer version. The jacquard is specifically designed to promote airflow in your top half. I saw my friends at mile 16 and they told me I looked like I’d just taken a power walk at that point, which I’ll credit to this top keeping me cool.

My friend sewed my name on the front of it, which is cool because people will call out your name during the race which can really help in your slumps.

Form Seamless High Leg Bikini - 6 Pack Gift Set — $49.00

Start the slow clap for this underwear, which did not give me ONE wedgie the entire race.

Accelerate Short 5 inch — $30.00

The Accelerate Short is a dream to run in. There are pockets, but even if you put your heavy iPhone in them, they won’t drag down because the waist band is so secure. 10/10 would recommend.

Apple Watch Series 7 GPS — $429.00

I can almost assure you that you will not regret this purchase. You can track all of your training and your runs in one spot.

Oofos Women's OOahh Slide Sandal — $60.00

After I ran 26.2, I slipped on these puppies for the ride home and I cannot tell you how glad I am that I had them. I truly did make Ooahh with every additional step I took. Ooofos is a recovery footwear brand, and from my testing, I can say that they’re on to something big.

3. You'll be so glad you did it

There is no day that makes me believe in humanity quite like the NYC marathon. You'll see people who look like you running for reasons different from your own. You'll see first-timers. You'll see people who have run the race 50 times. You'll see people living with cancer chasing down miles. You'll see meaningful diversity in all of its various forms. You'll see hurt. You'll see excitement. And most of all, you'll be so inspired by the determination.

You'll see friends. And family. And strangers. And all of them will clap for you and cheer for you and when you're at your lowest, they'll reach out their hand and tell you that you can do it, and if more days could be like the NYC marathon, the world would be a better place.

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