This year, the New York City Marathon turns 46 years old and thankfully, for the 40th year, the course will no longer be mere loops in Central Park. Rather, the marathon encompasses all five of New York’s boroughs, offering fans myriad spectating perches that are just as dynamic as the runners and city itself.
While most are familiar with the last few trots of the course toward the finish line in Central Park (grandstand tickets must be in hand prior to the race), the 26.2-mile tour of the city offers some other lesser-known, but marvelous places to experience race morning. The ambitious spectator may even consider hopping on the subway to test out various vantage points, but be sure to buy a MetroCard in advance, as the trains may be filled with fellow fans with the same idea. The New York Road Runners mobile app is an excellent way to track the progress of friends (and celebrity runners) as they make their way through the city, but know that your cheering will also be appreciated by strangers as they heave by. It’s one of the few marathons in the world where there are real people rooting for you at just about every inch, making it one of the sporting world’s most consistently feel-good events.
So here are a handful of perches for those hoping to stay stationary.
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (Mile 2-4)
Locals will tell you that there’s Brooklyn, but Bay Ridge is REAL Brooklyn. It’s the first brush with spectators many runners will have when they tear off the starting line in Staten Island and over the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, fresh-faced and optimistic, so motivation is still running high. Made famous by the disco-era classic “Saturday Night Fever,” today the neighborhood is still largely working-class and the best place in all five boroughs for Russian and Greek cuisine. Expect locals to be eating, drinking (yes, even in the early hours of a Sunday morning), and cheering from their stoops as they have been doing for every marathon for decades. It only seems fitting that runners are greeted to the borough by a sign that reads: “Welcome to Brooklyn: How Sweet it Is!”
Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn (Mile 6-8)
Just an easy R or N train ride to the north of Bay Ride is Park Slope, a historic neighborhood that is known for its beautiful brownstones and babies. You’ll see plenty of both if you watch on this very family-friendly leg of the racecourse along Fourth Avenue, as well as some inevitable morning-after hipsters stumbling out of the newly-trendy drinking establishments of Gowanus on the other side of the street. Wide sidewalks leading up to the Barclays Center allow for plenty of vantage points, including good spots for smaller fans and furry companions. Team for Kids Brooklyn has a cheer post on Fourth Avenue and Pacific Streets and at Atlantic Avenue, expect throngs of fans, large monitors, and waits for the subway hub. Grab a cup of Gorilla coffee to go if you want your caffeine boost to blend in with the locals.
Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Mile 12)
Greenpoint, and its neighbor to the south, Williamsburg, are known for their over-the-top youthful trendiness juxtaposed with one of the world’s most robust Polish and Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish enclaves. As a result it’s one of the best stretches of the course for hangover brunches, fresh bagels, and pierogies. Order some, or all, and try to smile away the envious eyes of runners trotting by, pining for the mimosa in your hand. Several restaurants in the area offer food and drink specials for marathon spectators and be sure to stop by Sunshine Laundry (860 Manhattan Avenue) a neighborhood laundromat with pinball machines that often stages its own marathon, but with flippers and balls.
Queens Side of the Pulaski Bridge (Mile 13)
The bridge that spans from Brooklyn to Long Island City is closed to spectators, but it’s a brutal climb for runners about halfway through the course and the motivators at the Long Island City foot of it are much appreciated. This is the hopeless part of the marathon—deep enough into the run that the body starts to feel it, but far enough away from the finish line to feel never-ending. Long Island City has several fun bars and restaurants with lively Sunday scenes and it is a quick shot on the subway from midtown Manhattan. If the race gets soggy, or you’re in need for a hit of additional culture, don’t miss P.S. 1, an architecturally glorious school that now houses world-class modern art.
East Harlem, Manhattan (Miles 18-20)
The midtown and Upper East Side segments of First Avenue can be loud, clogged, and a fun of their own, but East Harlem can deliver a similar amount of enthusiasm with less of a frat-house feel. Known as El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem, the neighborhood boasts some of the best murals and street art in the world. While some of it is along the race course on First and Fifth Avenues, much of it is best explored as a walking tour tangentially to the race. The spray paint masterpieces range from political statements, conceptual art, to moving tributes commissioned by families who lost loved ones. The neighborhood also has a bustling small business community, providing ample opportunities for unique street-side snacking and souvenirs.
Bronx (Miles 20-21)
The marathon course barely kisses New York City’s northernmost borough, but it’s not unheard of for this slice of the course to turn into an all-out neighborhood dance party. Any serious runner will tell you that mile 20 is where the race really begins: The psychological test of power and will when the finish line feels dangerously close. The stretch between the Willis Ave. Bridge and the Madison Ave. Bridge is a great spot for fans to feel the contagious power of motivation, without being flanked by the packed crowds of Central Park. Historically, it has been one of the least populated parts of the course, but that’s changing, and you may feel left out if you don’t have a brightly-colored sign or noisemakers in hand. Early afternoon is a great time to make your way here, as those are the runners who could really use the boost to smash the dreaded “wall.”
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