There’s no question that the massive spectacle known as the TCS New York City Marathon is one of the most exhilarating events of NYC’s fall season. This year’s race, on November 3, will feature 50,000 elite marathoners, para-athletes, seasoned amateurs and determined first-timers from around the world, all of whom will test their mettle on a scenic 26.2-mile course that winds its way through the five boroughs. Along the route, runners will be cheered on by more than a million spectators, with some 130 live bands, DJs, innumerable portable stereos blasting and raucous house parties adding to the cacophony. Here’s the info you need to feel a part of the action.
There’s a full week of events leading up to the marathon (and a couple after it), including shorter races for adults and kids, a marathon eve dinner and a three-day expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center that’s free and open to all, with hundreds of booths and presentations on running, wellness and nutrition. For a full schedule, visit the marathon website. During the race itself, entertainment stations along the course will provide music and encouragement.
Watching the Marathon
On TV and streaming
Live coverage of the race will be broadcast locally on ABC and nationwide on ESPN, and will stream online on the ESPN app.
The course offers spectators and fans plenty of good viewing locations, starting at Bay Ridge in Brooklyn—where runners come off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge near the start of the race—and moving all along the course up to the historic finish line in Central Park.
If your friends or family members are running, they’ll be counting on their own personal fan club to cheer them on to the finish. You’ll need a prerace plan to navigate the crowds.
• Agree on where you will be, including the specific side of the street. It’s much easier for your runner to find you than for you to pick them out of the pack. A well-placed loved one can be just the pick-me-up a runner needs during a particularly tough stretch.
• Know your runner’s number, starting wave and expected pace in order to best estimate his or her arrival window at your location. The race provides an app and online tracking system (check the Apple Store and Google Play closer to the race date to find it) so that you can monitor your runner’s real-time progress.
• Stand out from the crowd. Wear a distinctive outfit that is easy to spot, or make an eye-catching sign. (Marathon organizers will provide sign-making supplies in designated cheering zones.)
• Make a postrace game plan, too. You can enter the official family reunion area, which is organized alphabetically, along Central Park West between West 60th and West 65th Streets. It is also best to pick out and reserve a place for a postrace meal ahead of time, as the area will be quite crowded and finishers quite hungry.
Choosing Your Spot
For details on the course, check out the official spectator guide and course map. There are all kinds of viewing options, each with its own flavor. Commercial corridors like First Avenue on the Upper East Side and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg are close to subway stops as well as markets and restaurants for refueling. These stretches are crowded, loud and exciting.
At several key locations, you can position yourself for a magnificent view of the pack. Drop anchor at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn, near the landmark Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower (just short of mile 8), to catch runners making their way up Fourth Avenue. The location is right on top of a transit hub, and plenty of cafés and shops line the route nearby.
As the runners enter Queens just past the halfway mark, their descent on the Pulaski Bridge forms an impressive tableau. The course widens along 44th Drive, so it will be easier to spot your runner here.
At Fifth Avenue and 90th Street in Manhattan, as runners enter the park at Engineers’ Gate, most of them will have already hit the dreaded wall. This is a beautiful spot (for spectators, at least), with a long vista up Fifth Avenue, but bring food—there are relatively few nearby delis, bodegas or cafés.
For the most intense experience, head to Central Park South at Columbus Circle, where runners push through the closing mile. Some put on a final burst here, while others just do their best to hobble to the finish. Expect an emotional roller coaster and big crowds.
Packing the Essentials
Before leaving home, check the weather report so you know what to expect. Bring protection from the sun and/or rain gear, as the forecast dictates. You will be outside and on your feet for hours, so wear comfortable shoes and bring an extra layer of clothing.
Essential gear for spectators also includes a subway map (the marathon plays havoc on surface transit, including cars and cabs), the course map, a cell phone, a camera, a water bottle and some food: energy bars, nuts and fruit make good snacks.
And They’re Off
Once you’ve settled on a viewing location, double-check your mile position on the course map and be sure to get there in time to catch the elite runners or cheer on a friend. The marathon begins in phases: men’s wheelchair competitors (8:30am), women’s wheelchair competitors (8:32am) and handcyclists (8:52am) start first, followed by the professional women (9:10am) and men (9:40am). The rest of the field starts the race in four staggered waves, at 9:40am (right behind the professional men), 10:10am, 10:35am and 11am.
Get into position before the time approaches for your runner to appear. Be visible, with camera in hand and sign held high. You will want to be ready and alert but also patient—even an accomplished runner may not be on his or her intended pace.
You might consider having a special treat handy for your intrepid marathoner. After running for miles, nothing hits the spot like a banana, a peeled orange or even a fruit smoothie. Check in advance, though—runners have different approaches to eating during the race. (Also, take care not to step out onto the course. As the miles mount, marathoners’ lateral agility decreases drastically.)
A word of caution for spectators: you may find yourself inspired to get off the sidelines and run the marathon in 2020. For details on applying, check the official website; more information will become available after this year’s race. We’ll be out there rooting for you.