New York City Marathon Route
The New York City Marathon is one of the most iconic and electrifying races, weaving through the five boroughs of the city that never sleeps. As the largest marathon in the world, it attracts over 50,000 runners from across the globe, as well as millions of passionate spectators. In this blog, we will explore the highlights of the NYC Marathon course, from its origins in Staten Island to the unforgettable finish line in Central Park. Whether you are lacing up your sneakers or cheering on the sidelines, get ready for a vibrant journey through the streets of the Big Apple.
Overview of the NYC Marathon Route
The 26.2 mile (42.2 km) NYC Marathon course is a sights and sounds tour of the diverse neighborhoods and communities that make up arguably the most famous city in the world. The route begins on Staten Island, then traverses Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and ends in the green oasis of Central Park. Along the way it passes renowned landmarks like the Verrazzano Bridge, Times Square, and Grand Central Station, with millions of spirited fans lining the streets. The varying terrain, from steep hills to flat stretches, presents a fun and challenging adventure.
The start village in Staten Island provides runners with a relaxed place to prepare, hydrate and energize before the big race. Runners can enjoy live music, grab some coffee, stretch and make final gear adjustments. Portable toilets, medical services, bag check and other amenities provide convenience and comfort before hopping on buses to the start line.
The Start Line: Staten Island
Historical Significance of Staten Island
The starting point of the New York City Marathon is on Staten Island, with runners congregating at Fort Wadsworth near the approach to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Staten Island provides an energetic kick-off filled with live music, excitement and nervous energy buzzing through the runners. After crossing the iconic Verrazzano, runners are treated to spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, before entering the eclectic neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn is an iconic beginning to the marathon route. Runners ascend the bridge in the early miles, with sweeping views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The bridge’s height elicits excitement and some trepidation, with runners hoping to conserve energy during the climb. The reward is experiencing a bird’s eye perspective of New York before descending into Brooklyn.
What to Expect on Race Day
On race day, Staten Island comes alive with energy as 50,000 eager runners descend upon the borough. Participants can enjoy amenities and festivities at the start village, before boarding buses to the bridge. The start line area fills with anticipation and excitement as runners line up in their assigned corrals. The professional wheelchair division kicks off first, followed by waves of runners released at regular intervals. The race officially starts with the firing of a cannon, as runners embark on their 26.2 mile journey.
Brooklyn: Miles of Smiles
For roughly half of the race, runners are greeted by the diverse and lively crowds of Brooklyn. The course winds through areas like Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, with local residents turning out in droves to give their hometown support. The spirit in Brooklyn is infectious, with DJs, bands, dancers keeping the marathon party going strong. The encouragement along 4th Avenue and Lafayette Avenue especially helps push runners to the halfway point.
Some highlights of running through Brooklyn include:
- Bay Ridge - The charming brownstone lined streets of this neighborhood kick off the Brooklyn portion with entertainment and cheers.
- Sunset Park - The vibrant Latino community provides energetic musical entertainment.
- Bedford-Stuyvesant - Crowds along Lafayette Avenue and bands keep energy high.
- Williamsburg - Young crowds offer encouragement as runners cross into the halfway mark.
Brooklyn is truly the borough of neighborhoods, each offering their unique culture, food, music and good will along the route. Residents come out in full force to support the runners, making miles 13 through 23 an unforgettable experience. The nonstop cheers help keep runners motivated and uplifted as they make their way through New York’s most populous borough.
Support Through the Miles
The diversity and electricity of Brooklyn keeps runners motivated through the halfway point and beyond. Bands, DJs and block parties surround runners with waves of sound. Locals hand out oranges, bananas, water and sweets as makeshift aid stations. Handmade signs offer humor and encouragement. The crowds grow thicker and louder down 4th Avenue through the Hasidic community of Williamsburg. Runners feel the love and pride Brooklynites have for their borough.
Queens: Feels Like Home
After crossing the Pulaski Bridge from Brooklyn into Queens, runners are embraced by the cheers of locals in Long Island City and Astoria. Ethnic diversity abounds in this borough, with Latino bands, Greek flags and Italian feasts motivating runners along Vernon Boulevard. The energy in Queens never wavers, exemplifying the spirit of community.
Long Island City's industrial waterfront provides inspirational views of Manhattan ahead. Then runners enjoy about 2 miles through Astoria, known for its Greek heritage. Greek flags line the route, with locals offering nourishment like oranges and water. Running along Vernon Boulevard, the course provides glimpses of the iconic Pepsi sign and a festive atmosphere.
Strong Community Support
The borough of Queens is a runner's delight, with residents expressing pride in their neighborhoods and cultural heritage. Spectators come out in full numbers, making clever signs and offering high fives. The cheers and encouragement give a heartwarming sense of community to runners, serving as a great mental boost along the middle miles of the course. Queens offers a bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, buoyed by the borough's trademark diversity and spirit.
Manhattan: Times Square and The Bronx
Sensory Overload in Times Square
After Queens, runners cross back over the Queensboro Bridge into the island of Manhattan for an unforgettable Times Square experience. Bright lights, billboards and throngs of spectators in Times Square give an adrenaline rush. The course then flows north along 1st Avenue, flanked by raucous crowds. A brief foray into the Bronx over the Willis Avenue Bridge treats runners to cheers from the northernmost borough.
Entering Manhattan is one of the most exciting parts of the marathon, starting with the climb up the Queensboro Bridge. Though challenging, runners get breathtaking city views along the cantilevered bridge. Next, runners are dazzled by the sensory overload of Times Square and its towering billboards, lights, and crowds. The surge of energy propels runners up 1st Avenue, lined with over 2 million passionate spectators.
The Borough of the Bronx
Around mile 16, runners cross a gateway into the Bronx for about 1 mile along 135th Street. The short trip north brings the route through the largely Dominican community of the Bronx, with festive Latin music and crowds offering a warm Bronx greeting. Runners then return to Manhattan via the Willis Avenue Bridge.
The Final Stretch to the Finish
Down 5th Avenue to Central Park
Returning to Manhattan, the final push down 5th Avenue allows runners to glimpse the towering skyscrapers lining the route. The landmark finish in Central Park then welcomes weary runners for a last bit of effort as crowds fill the homestretch. The TCS New York City Marathon ultimately ends by the iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park, with runners celebrating as they cross the finish line through grand arches.
The final miles take runners down Manhattan's famous 5th Avenue, lined with posh shops and luxury flagships. The elegant avenue provides inspiration to dig deep for the final leg. Entering the greenery and relief of Central Park, runners wind their way south through the park. The famed Tavern on the Green serves as a beacon signaling the final stretch ahead. Runners pour out every last ounce of effort as crowds cheer wildly for the final .2 miles to the treasured finish line.
Crossing the Finish Line
Crossing through the finish line arches is an emotional and gratifying moment. Runners are greeted by volunteers who place a medal over their heads, signifying the completion of the NYC Marathon. Runners can bask in their accomplishment and soak up the atmosphere near the finish line before exiting the park for reunions with friends and family.
History and Traditions of the NYC Marathon
The New York City Marathon has a rich history and many time-honored traditions that contribute to its prestige and allure. The race has humble origins, starting in 1970 with just 127 runners running laps around Central Park. Then in 1976, the course expanded to cover all five boroughs for the first time, establishing the diverse route we know today.
The marathon grew rapidly in popularity, reaching 10,000 runners by the late 70s. In the 1980s, women's participation greatly increased, with the "Race for Women" drawing world-class female runners. The 1980s also introduced wheelchair and handcycle divisions to the marathon.
Today, the New York City Marathon draws over 50,000 runners from across the globe, making it the biggest marathon in the world. The elite athlete competition garners intense media coverage, with past champions including Grete Waitz, Bill Rodgers and Paula Radcliffe. The race has also become known for its elaborate runner costumes and fun charity teams raising millions for causes.
Traditions of the NYC Marathon include the colorful opening ceremony on the Verrazzano Bridge, the singing of "New York, New York" at the finish line, and the laurel wreaths awarded to the champions. The race has become an annual spectacle showcasing the vibrancy and diversity of New York City to the world.
Tips for Running or Spectating
To enjoy the New York City Marathon, keep these tips in mind:
- Train for bridges and hills to be ready for challenging terrain
- Study the course map and plan your pacing, fueling and hydration
- Spectators should find spots early like Grand Army Plaza or Columbus Circle
- Hydrate frequently at water stations and adjust gear for variable weather
- Soak up the sounds of live bands and entertainment throughout the course
- Download the race app for maps, runner tracking, and real-time updates
The New York City Marathon offers a one-of-a-kind running tour of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, unmatched energy from spectators and an experience like no other. If you're taking on the iconic five-borough journey or supporting the runners, you’ll be part of a long tradition of athletic achievement, spirit and resilience on the streets of New York.
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