Health and Wellness

ING New York City Marathon 2011: Race Recap Part 1

Note: Part 1 of this race recap is from arrival in New York City to the start of the race. Part 2 is a recap of the race and post-race.

The ING New York City Marathon (INGNYCM) was more than a race it was a long weekend experience that started on Thursday and continued until Monday. Part 1 is about the days before the race.

Friday: Finish Line Scouting and Race Expo

We arrived in mid town Manhattan late Thursday evening to our hotel on 8th Avenue, about 10 blocks south of Central Park. Friday morning we strolled up 8th Avenue to Columbus Circle and into Central Park. We followed the “Marathon Route” signs and walked the final quarter mile of the course to the finish line. I noticed a bit of the rolling topography of Central Park, but maybe didn’t fully appreciate it.

Scouting the Marathon finish on Friday
Spectator bridge just after the finish line, as it looked Friday
Finish line tunnel. Left side. I ran through this tunnel on Sunday
ING New York City Marathon. The largest and greatest marathon in the world.

Friday afternoon we walked to the Javits Center for the INGNYCM expo which was by far and away the largest race expo I have ever attended. To enter I needed to show my registration and photo ID. Then I received my bib, race bag, and shirt. My wife also picked up her bib and shirt for the Dash to Finish 5k on Saturday morning.

Waiting to enter the Marathon Expo
Getting my race number. Wave 1. Orange. Corral 12. Bib 12-217.

After the bib pick-up we strolled through the gigantic collection of Asics marathon wear. I picked up a pair of orange gloves and orange arm warmers for my upcoming cold weather running season. We watched a 20 minute movie about the course which did a good job of showcasing the neighborhoods the route weaves through. Again the topography of the course was lost on me.

I did some last minute shopping; another pack of Gu gel, a Gatorade G1 pouch, and a Cliff Bar. I had hoped to do some running watch shopping but most of the kiosks were much too busy to have any meaningful conversation with the manufacturer reps. I have my eyes on and will be evaluating the Motorola MotoACTV, Garmin 910XT, and Polar RCX.

We capped Friday night with the Broadway Show: Memphis. Incredible music, story, and performance.


On Saturday morning I walked with my wife to the starting area for the Dash to the Finish 5k which was at 1st Ave and 46th Street. More than 5,000 people were registered for the 5k run, including some of the top American distance runners. The field also included local runners, friends and family of marathon runners, and definitely some marathon runners. The run started at the UN Plaza ran west on 42nd and then north on 6th Avenue to Central Park. The route finished at the INGNYCM finish line. I was able to spot my wife running north on 6th Avenue and shot a quick video and some photos. I also saw her again close to the finish line and her name was even announced as she crossed the finish line.

Waiting to start Dash to the Finish 5k
5000 runners heading north on 6th Avenue past Radio City Music Hall
North towards Central Park
Nearing the finish line and running uphill

Final Pre-Race Prep

Saturday afternoon I laid out all of my race day gear, pre-race food, and clothing for the long morning wait. The forecast looked fantastic for a cool, sunny, and low wind day. Ideal running conditions.

Race day gear check.

After I was ready we managed to get half-price tickets to the Phantom of the Opera matinee. This was a great afternoon distraction and an amazing show.

We found a nice Italian restaurant on 9th Avenue about 2 blocks from our hotel. I went simple with an appetizer of chicken meatballs, green salad, and entrée of spaghetti and meatballs. Dinner was good, but not great, but a mild meal that would sit well for the evening.

With the time change on our side we went to bed early with triple alarms set. I had bus transportation scheduled for 0530 at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.

Race Day: Wake-Up and Departure

My watch alarm went off at 0430. The wake-up call came at 0435 and the final watch alarm rang at 0437. The bed side alarm clock didn’t automatically adjust as promised to the time change so we were glad to have used other devices.

I got dressed and cleaned up and was waiting at the breakfast buffet when the doors opened at 0500. Our hotel was occupied by hundreds of other runners including a large contingent from Italy. I boxed out the Italians at the oatmeal station, loaded up my bowl, grabbed a couple of bananas, a cup of coffee and dashed for the elevator to eat in my room.

Since the actual race start was more than 4 hours away I needed to have a breakfast but didn’t want to have too much. By 0515 I was back on the elevator to the lobby and out the door for the bus stop. I walked through Time Square with a growing torrent of other runners all headed to the bus station. The scale of the race day logistics began to become real to me. I was suddenly in a growing line of hundreds of runners as busses, ten at a time, pulled up to the curb to load and go. I was quickly on a bus and we were off. I still wasn’t sure if the bus would take me all the way to the start line or if the bus was going to the ferry for a boat ride to Staten Island.

Note: It is possible I was the only runner that didn’t bring a camera or smartphone to the starting village. Thus I have no pictures of me or my surroundings until I crossed the finish line. I was impressed at how many runners, most it seemed, were running with smartphones and regularly photographing and videoing themselves, the crowd, the race, and who knows what else. I even ran next to a guy with a video camera in his sunglasses.

I walked at a brisk pace to the bus terminal from my hotel. I was well aware that I was pretty amped and my heart rate was high. Since I was solo I was able to weave around lots of groups of runners through the line. Once on the bus my focus was on relaxing and getting my heart rate down. I couldn’t risk being amped up for another 4 hours.

The lady next to me was also running INGNYCM for the first time. She was from Florida and was flying home right after the race on Sunday evening. Originally she had a flight booked for 1630 on Sunday afternoon, but did the math on Saturday evening and realized she had no chance of making it to the airport in time. She had to wake up at midnight to call her airline and re-schedule. More stress than I would want the night before any marathon.

The bus ride took us across the Verrazano Narrows bridge (thus no ferry ride) to the start area on Staten Island. We drove to the start on the lower deck, harbor side of the bridge. The bridge is really high. In a few hours I would be running up one side and down the other.

Arrival at the Start Area

We exited the bus and were herded to the start villages. Athletes are sorted into three start villages – Orange, Green, and Blue. Each start village had water, coffee, Gatorade, bagels, and lots of port-a-potties. The Orange start village was pretty desolate when I arrived. A Dunkin Donuts rep was handing out fleece hats. I asked him if they were jelly filled or crème filled – not even a crack of a smile, a nod, a wink, nothing. He was just stone faced. I was grateful to have the extra winter hat for my long wait that matched my clever humor.

After stopping at two port-a-potties I found a nice spot on a sidewalk to sit with my back against a temporary fence. It was nice to find a spot where people would not be walking around me or over me. I pulled my hat down low, slid my lower body in a garbage bag and closed my eyes. It was now about 0630. I had almost 90 minutes before I needed to drop my gear off at the UPS trucks and get to my start corral. I was in wave one so my wait was the shortest. Some of the other runners around me were in wave two and three and had additional wait time of almost an hour.

While waiting I chatted with nearby runners. One, Kay Kay, from Malaysia was running his 2nd marathon in a week. A week before he ran the Marine Corps Marathon. He is a member of the Marathon Maniacs and was earning bronze status by running marathons on consecutive weekends. I also chatted with other runners from Philadelphia, Colorado, and Canada. I probably heard five different languages being spoken within ear shot.

About two hours before my scheduled start I ate a plain bagel. I was a little envious of the runners near me that had some hotel peanut butter packets in their pockets. I also ate a banana and a cliffbar before the race started with about 12 ounces of water. In retrospect I probably should have had a little bit more to eat and drink during the long wait. I am used to early morning long runs where I am out the door and running within 90 minutes of when I eat breakfast. I think I started too low on calories, especially some slower burning fat and protein calories.

At 0800 I loaded up my bag that would be delivered to the finish line saying goodbye to my warm sweat pants and fleece coat. I kept my winter stocking hat, light gloves, long sleeved t-shirt over my race shirt, and large garbage bag. After dropping my bag at the UPS truck I made another port-a-potty stop on my way to the orange start corrals. This was the only time I waited for more than 10 people to use the can.

The walk to the start corral was quite confusing and led me to a bit of back and forth wandering. Two more signs would have gotten me there quicker. Fortunately I had plenty of time.

The start corrals are controlled with tall fences and small entry gates. The gate did not open as scheduled – just a few minutes late. I was in the first 10 people to enter the gate. At this point we still had more than 60 minutes until our scheduled start time. I quickly found a spot on the curb to sit which turned out to be a good choice because soon the corral was standing room only. I visited with a runner from Boise. We both trained with the Run Less Run Faster plan, but he had more hill running opportunities than I had in Central Wisconsin. We also discussed one of the theories in the book that over running your race pace by 5 seconds per mile will lead to a 20 seconds or worse delay later in the race. This turned out to be quite prophetic.

The best thing about the corrals was there was a set of port-a-potties just for our corral group. Since we were wave one we were the first group to use these so they were still clean and fresh (at least as clean and fresh as an outhouse can be). I took advantage of this final chance to use the bathroom just before we were allowed to leave the corrals and walk to the start area.

The ropes dropped and we began the walk out of Fort Wadsworth and onto the Verrazano Narrows bridge. We were in place before the elite Women started. I imagine it makes for better television to have thousands of runners standing behind them as they start. This was about 0910.

It was warm, sunny, and windless on the bridge. 15 minutes before the start I drank my pouch of Gatorade G1 and tossed my long sleeved shirt (it was a baby blue point bock run shirt that I never really liked). A couple of people around me wanted to know what the Talon Rescue TRECK was as we waited.

There was a lot of nervous energy in the group as we looked uphill to the peak of the bridge and waited for our turn to start. I was on the harbor side (north side) of the bridge on the upper deck. Runners start from both sides of the bridge and the upper and lower deck. I have been told, but thankfully did not experience, that runners on the lower deck are often misted by upper deck runners urinating off the side of the bridge.

At 0935 the men’s elite runners were introduced, we sang the national anthem, and the cannon blasted to start the race at 0940.

This race recap continues with Part 2

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.