The TCS New York City Marathon is considered one of the greatest courses in the world. Winding your way through five of the city’s boroughs, you’re given the chance to experience The Big Apple like never before. But along with being a scenic course, it’s also known for being one of the toughest of the major marathons. So we spoke with New Balance elite coach Mark Coogan to find out how to tackle the 26.2-mile route by borough and how to successfully cross that finish line on November 4. Here’s what he had to say:
Staten Island (Miles 1-2)
Staten Island is obviously the start and you go over the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge and it’s the biggest hill on the whole course. You’re getting the biggest hill on the course out of the way in the first mile and you can’t overdo it because you’re in the masses. I think it’s almost perfect if you have to go over a bridge like that. The views and the atmosphere there, and the energy—it’s amazing.
Brooklyn (Miles 3-12)
This is where, in a race, where you want to catch your groove, it’s about hitting the mile pace that you imagined that you were going to do or what your goal is. Once you come off of the bridge, and get into Brooklyn, you need to get on your pace there.
The miles go by quickly there. If you want to run X time, that’s where you’re going to start running your splits that you timed out. It’s very straight, and you can see a clock tower like two or three miles up the road, but it seems like it takes a long time to get there. It’s almost like the Citgo sign when you’re running in Boston and you see it like three or four miles away.
The crowds in Brooklyn are great, they’re super encouraging. You’re out there, and you see a lot of different people and neighborhoods, and they’re all out there cheering you on.
Queens (Miles 13-15)
Queens is a little bit quieter than Brooklyn but there are still a ton of people out there. That’s when you start…you’re almost going to turn and start heading into Manhattan. This is for sure, the middle of the race, you just passed half way and you gauge how you’re feeling. You know that once you cross the bridge into Manhattan that you’re going to be in millions and millions of people just going nuts.
Manhattan Part 1 (Miles 16-18)
There’s such a difference from when you’re going from Queens into Manhattan. When you’re crossing into Manhattan, it’s a straight shot, you’re going up one of the major boulevards in New York City. That’s the best part of the course, atmosphere-wise, of the whole course.
My favorite part is when you come down into First Ave. You run up and go across this bridge and you don’t hear anything, you’re kind of in a dead spot in New York City. Then you come off the bridge and do a loop and come out onto First Ave. in Manhattan and it’s just wall-to-wall people going ape, going crazy.
That’s where a lot of people have a tendency to get a boost of adrenaline and go too hard, go faster than they should. People should be aware of what’s coming and say, “Alright, I’m not going to pick it up here,” even though this adrenaline is going to be amazing.
You’re only in the Bronx just barely a mile. When you do it, you’re almost doing like a rectangle, and you’re heading back toward Manhattan and Central Park. It’s a little bit more quiet out there again, it’s a place where people really have to concentrate hard to stay on pace because you’re starting to run out of gas. You may have run a little bit too hard when you first came into Manhattan. I think that’s where a lot of people’s races are made or broken, to be honest.
Manhattan Part 2 (21-26.2)
This is really hard running because you do a lot of it in Central Park. You come back into Central Park and Central Park is hilly, it’s up and down, there’s no killer hills but you’re going up and down the whole time. Your legs are hurting and you know you’re close to the finish line but you’re so tired so it’s hard to pick it up or anything.
So you want to stay focused and concentrate. Make sure you run the tangents. A lot of people, when they get tired, they don’t run the tangents in the park, so you’ll add distance to the race.
I’m a big advocate of running even in marathons. So if you wanted to run four hours, I would still shoot for two hours at half way instead of saying that, “I need to put a little money into that because I know Central Park is tough at the end.” I think the people, especially the masters that do well, they probably run fairly evenly or close to even.
When I talk about going up a big hill or something like that, I always tell [my runners] to maintain the same effort that you’re running already. So say you’re running 5-minute pace and then you come to this huge hill, maintain a 5-minute effort on your body, so your pace may slow down to 5:30 pace but it’s still at 5-minute effort. You want to keep working hard but you don’t want to try and run a 5-minute pace up that hill cause that might mean you run a 4:30 pace and just kind of mess yourself up.