Everyone’s journey to completing their first marathon is unique. However, the feeling of crossing that finish line after the dedication and commitment to hours of long, lonely runs and hundreds of kilometres on the clock is universally epic. While some of the training can be tedious, having crossed the iconic New York Marathon finish line was so worth it. If you have been considering training for your first marathon, I hope my NYC Marathon training plan and my own experience inspires you to take that first step.
How to Enter the New York Marathon
Runners can enter the New York City Marathon via a few different avenues. There is a non-guaranteed entry drawing (the New York Marathon lottery), divided into “NYC-metro area” applicants, other “National” applicants and “International” applicants.
Applicants find out if they have gained entry in around February. Runners not accepted via the drawing or who simply want to help a cause can run for a charity. For international runners seeking guaranteed entry, look into purchasing a “Marathon Package” (including flights, hotel and entry) through one of the partner International Tour Operators (ITO).
My marathon story started in January 2017. I contacted a friend who was living in New Zealand, Dee, as I thought a fit holiday to New Zealand and take on the Auckland Half Marathon while I was there would be a good idea. Dee had other ideas. It wasn’t a complete shock, as a colleague of ours had done the New York Marathon a couple of years prior and absolutely loved it – but I just never thought I would do it. In a matter of weeks we’d enquired with our friends at the MND and Me Foundation, booked our travel and had entered the New York City Marathon.
Once you commit, you’re all in, so book wisely and months in advance if you can; you need all the training time you can allow, especially if it’s your first marathon. It’s a life-defining experience. You realise what your body is capable of. It’s an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. No regrets. Just do it.
Travelling to New York
- If I had my time again, I might have gone to New York sooner, as the Marathon vibe and shenanigans commence that week (follow @nymarathon on Instagram). Honestly, the whole city is into the marathon vibe. It’s the best.
- Pack your marathon clothes and necessities with you in your carry on. How annoying would it be if your luggage got lost and you didn’t have all your pre-prepared clothing, gels and other essentials to run? It would mean an uncomfortable marathon for you.
- Ubers from JFK airport are near impossible to get, so suck it up and grab a cab or pre-organise another way to get to your New York hotel (View New York City Hotel Deals).
- You need to pick up your race pack on either the Friday or Saturday preceding Race Day Sunday, and due to flight times, I actually didn’t get in until super late on the Friday, so the Saturday was my only option to visit Race Pack Collection.
Where to Stay for the New York Marathon
There are many international partners for the New York Marathon and they offer event packages. Simply search NYC Marathon packages by country. We opted for a 3-night package that included accommodation at The New Yorker and race day entry. Our package included accommodation up to and including race day night. Thanks to a tip from a friend who had done the marathon in a previous year, we extended our stay by one night so we could have more recovery time.
New York City Marathon Training Plan
So, you’ve booked your accommodation, entry and flights. But the only guarantee you’ll get to that finish line is through dedication to your training. As soon as you start clocking some serious kilometres, you’ll realise chafe is very real, blisters are the devil and nutrition is key.
The saying “if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me” has never been more true. Each week you check off the training schedule is one week closer to the big day. That day will come, regardless of whether you have trained or not. Train so you can enjoy the event and you’ll experience New York’s five boroughs in the most spectacular way that only a New York Marathoner can truly understand.
- Choose a training method that suits your lifestyle. You need to do what works for you, your schedule and to achieve your personal goals. For Dee and I, that meant a distance-based training schedule, based on a minimum kilometres per week, which was flexible around our work and life commitments, slowly increased kilometres in a realistic way for an approximate marathon goal time we were aiming for. While tough (and that 80km week was laughable at the start), we stuck to it and it obviously worked for us. We have the medals to prove it.
- Join a running group. Or if you’re fundraising with a charity, join their organised sessions. A bonus is meeting the people in your city who actually like running, will be there for the long training runs, and won’t bail on you.
- Track your runs via a training watch or running app like STRAVA. It’s a good way to see your improvements and consistently track your pace over time.
- Get Emma’s New York marathon training plan.
There isn’t actually anything “bad” about marathon training as it’s really exciting and such an awesome challenge. Things that are (not so) bad include:
- Running. All the time. Plan your weekly run schedule in advance to make it realistic and easy for yourself. Don’t leave those kilometres all to the end of the week – you’ll regret it. Keep to your running plan no matter what. Even if you don’t feel like running – run. Picture that finish line; that’s your why.
- Running shoes are like tyres and can only do so many kilometres.
- Running partners may cancel on you, so get used to your own company. Anyone not training for a marathon may think you are a bit nuts, so they may cancel on your 26km run date together – as appealing as it sounds. You cannot let this hinder your training. Get up and go my friend. The road to the finish line can be a lonely one, sometimes.
- Chafe and blisters. The pain. Anything you can do to mitigate pain, try it on your training runs and get into routine. I highly recommend 2XU compression running tights, HOKA One Shoes, Feetures Socks and Anti-chafe stick (it will change your life). All of these items helped me avoid chafe and blister pain – but do what works for you.
What to Wear for Marathon Training
When it comes to New York marathon gear the rule is: New everything. New shoes, new socks, new running belt, new water bottles, new anti-chafe stick, new lollies, new running gloves and neck warmer (you’ll be training in winter and running in the New York cold), many new pairs of tights, new visor, new sunscreen, new fave running shirts. But remember, nothing new on race day. Everything in the list below should be tried and tested in your training sessions.
- Shoes: Hoka OneOne were, for me, the best shoes for marathon training. Light, cushioned. I honestly felt like I was running on clouds.
- Socks: Feetures Running Socks. I have three pairs I love them so much. They are supportive, cushioned and comfortable.
- Running Belt & Bottles: Flipbelt. Yes. You will need a running belt to carry all of your things. It may seem super nerdy or super serious runner person, but you’ll learn to love it. I even take mine on shorter runs now – it’s super convenient.
- Anti-Chafe Stick: Body Glide. Don’t even think. Just buy it and use it wisely. This anti-chafe stick is saves bodies.
- Nutrition & Hydration: I’d recommend trying a few running gels and electrolyte tablets on your training runs. I personally liked these brands: Nuun and gu (their chocolate gel tastes like melted chocolate).
- Tights: I tried a few brands, but none were as comfortable or anti-chafe as 2XU compression tights. I wouldn’t run without them now.
- Top: Just wear something you are comfortable in and make sure you have trained in it
What to Wear on Race Day
Again, only wear clothes you have been training in (nothing new on race day). I wore a singlet, compression running tights, sports, bra, hat/visor, running belt (carrying water, lollies, salt tablets, gels), a neck warmer and running gloves (optional), shoes and socks, warm clothes that you are happy to donate to charity (you remove these just before your start time), bib number and pins, timing watch and an old towel or rug you can sit on while you wait (and you are happy to leave behind).
Sooner than you know, you’ll hit “peak week” (your maximum kilometres week), and then you’ll be on smooth sailing to event week. Next thing you know, you’ll be boarding a plane bound for New York City. When you get to New York, you’ll be super excited and super exhausted, so hopefully you can get a good night’s sleep.
When you head to the Race Pack Collection, plan to spend a few hours there. You are going to want all of the merchandise. Also, I would highly recommend sitting in on a race rundown session, grabbing a wristband for the pace you’re aiming for and planning your course family meet-ups and photo ops using the neat tools they have available. Use the opportunity to race plan with your running buddies; where will you stop for toilet breaks, nutrition breaks, decide whether you’re happy to run together or not, etc.
On race day, it’s easier for a runner to find a family member in the crowd rather than the other way around – so try to note what your support crew are wearing and a specific time and location.
The Night Before
3pm: Layout your race kit and pack your clear bag to take to the start line (you get an option of taking a bag for collection or getting a post-race cape. Choose the post-race cape and only pack what you need or you can throw away) and make your breakfast for the next morning.
5pm: Early carbohydrate-load dinner. I highly recommend Italian and we ate at Basso56 which was delicious.
7pm: You’ll be excited but go to sleep with your phone and watch on charge.
5am: Wake up and eat a carbohydrate-loaded breakfast (oats/bananas etc), get dressed (including anti chafe gel + sunscreen)
6am: Bus to Staten Island. The line is huge but it will move quickly. Remember, the authorities are trying to move 50,000 people across New York City to one tiny island; be patient and stay with your crew. You may want to opt for a ferry transfer, depending on where you are staying.
7am: You’ll arrive on Staten Island, go through security check-in, find your Carousel and Gate and then pick a spot to sit for a few hours as you begin the waiting game for your start time.
Use this time to keep hydrated, eat, use the bathroom (the lines are long for the toilet), relax, take photos (some professional photographers will be around so keep an eye out to get a pre-race snap).
9am-11am: Go time. Your time will be called over the loudspeaker, and you will head to your carousel/gate and move in ready for your start time.
The American National Anthem will be played and the countdown…3, 2, 1 and you’re off!
First you head up and over the V Bridge leaving Staten Island behind as you move into Brooklyn. I remember Brooklyn being super exciting. But settle in, it’s a long hike of straight road coming up.
While the route has signage at each mile. Australians, you get a kilometre sign every 5 kilometres, so it’s a bit of a mind game as to how far you’ve gone.
Pace yourself and don’t feel like you need to sprint – you want to make it to the end after all!
I recall the water stations being quite slippery, so careful where you step. But make sure if anything that you stick to your nutrition and hydration plan! Even if you’re not “thirsty” have a sip to keep you going until the next station (which are at every mile from the 3 mile mark onwards).
Take it all in – the atmosphere is like nothing you’d ever experienced before. People are cheering your name (because it’s on your bib), singing and dancing. The whole of New York has come out to support you.
You’ll run all five boroughs of New York – Staten Island > Brooklyn > Queens > The Bronx > Manhattan. When you hit 5th Avenue, it will hurt, but you’re running the New York Marathon, Channel that excitement and use the adrenaline and push to Central Park.
When you step into Central Park, you know you’re going to make it; you’re going to cross that finish line but don’t wish it away. Look around, smile at the crowds – wave, sing, dance, high-five people. All of that training is about to pay off.
You’ll round the corner with 1km to go. Get ready to look up to the cameras as you run it in (not down at your watch). You’ve just finished the New York Marathon. Give me that medal! Take your selfies, get a lot of photos and enjoy the moment.
After the Race
If you thought the kilometres were over, you were wrong. When you do a marathon, it feels like it’s almost another marathon to get back to your hotel room. The streets are closed, so you’re directed out the long way. On the way, you’ll collect a finishers bag with goodies, water, food and you’ll get your cape. As you keep walking, you’ll see big letters of the alphabet lining the streets – a good option to meet your family and friends.
Follow the “blue ghosts” (you all look like ghosts in your blue capes haha) and then make your way back to your hotel. We were super lucky staying where we did as it was a relatively short walk compared to others. We finished at around 4pm.
Do not check out of your hotel the next day. Plan to sleep in, go and get a late breakfast at an awesome breakfast spot (I love these Aussie cafes in NYC with great coffee – Two Hands, By Chloe, Jack’s Wife Freda, Bluestone Lane, Little Collins NYC).
Wear your medal around NYC with pride. Everyone does, and everyone will be yelling congratulations your way when they see your medal. It’s so cool how much New York locals embrace the marathon and really make the atmosphere what it is.
Would I do the New York Marathon again? In a heartbeat. It’s magic. An experience I will not soon forget.
The gym is pretty much Emma’s home away from home and she’s obsessed with anything health and fitness.Emma plans her holidays around gym or some form of exercise, has a new found love for flexible eating and is absolutely, 100% a morning person.Emma works in marketing and enjoys discovering healthy treats at various cafes on foodie adventures around Brisbane, Australia and beyond.