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Spectators' Guide for the New York City Marathon

Tips for Watching the World's Biggest Marathon

By

Updated June 14, 2014

New Yorkers Gather To Watch The New York City Marathon
Afton Almaraz/Getty Images
Each year, more than 2 million spectators line the streets of the five boroughs of New York City as they watch and cheer nearly 45,000 runners competing in the world-famous New York City Marathon. While watching the marathon is not as tough as running in it, spectators still need to be prepared if they hope to have a good viewing experience.

Pre-Race Preparation
If you hope to see friends or family members running in the New York Marathon, make sure to discuss in advance their wave start time, expected pace per mile, and where you plan to be on race day. Check the race website to get information on how to track your runner online, or through text message alerts, Facebook or Twitter.

Get your runner's wave start time and estimated pace, so can figure out when you might expect to see them (assume it will take them no more than 10 minutes to cross the start) at which mile. Once you have that information, review the race course map to figure out your plan.

Find out in advance what your runner will be wearing so you know what to look for. You'll be watching dozens of runners run by every second, and spotting clothing is actually easier than picking out a face from the crowd. It also doesn't hurt to tell your runner what you'll be wearing, so they know what to look for. Make sure you also let your runner know which side of the street you'll be on -- from the runner's perspective.

What to Bring
You'll probably be standing and walking a lot, so make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes. Early November weather in New York City can vary a lot –- even during the course of one day. Make sure you dress in layers, and have rain gear available if rain is in the forecast. Other essentials for watching the New York City marathon include: a copy of the course map, a subway map, cell phone or wireless handheld device, cash, a Metro card (for the subway), snacks and drinks. And don't forget your signs to support your runners. (Get ideas for funny, inspiring and motivational marathon spectator signs.)

Where to Watch the New York City Marathon
Since the race travels through New York's five boroughs, it's tough to see runners at multiple locations. But moving from one viewing spot to the next is possible if you plan in advance, take the subways, and don't mind walking quickly to stay on schedule.

The race has official cheering zones throughout the course. Here are some great viewing locations in each borough:

Brooklyn:
Brooklyn Academy of Music (Mile 8). Lots of people and entertainment are at this spot, making this a fun viewing location. Runners are still feeling fairly strong at this point. If you're hoping to catch your runner at a few spots, you can easily hop on the subway and head to Manhattan to see him again.

Queens:
Just past the Pulaski Bridge (Mile 14). Good-size crowds here support runners as they pass the halfway point.

Manhattan:
First Avenue (Miles 16-19). The biggest crowds on the course line the streets on First Avenue, giving the runners a boost as they head toward the Bronx. After you see your runner go by, you can walk west to 5th Avenue or Central Park to catch him again before they finish. If you plan on doing this, just make sure you stand on the west side of First Avenue, since crossing First Avenue can be almost impossible. If you're going to watch here, it's very important to tell your runner exactly where you'll be (for example, northwest corner of 87th and First) so they'll know where to look. The crowds are so deep on First Avenue that it's very easy to miss people. Holding balloons or a big sign is a good way for your runner to find out. Spectators do tend to thin out above 96th Street.

Bronx:
138th Street (Mile 20). This is when some runners hit "The Wall," where they start to slow down and really need support. Crowds tend to be smaller here, so it's a good place to cheer.

Back in Manhattan:

  • Fifth Avenue (Mile 23). Runners go up a gradual incline as they run up Fifth Avenue, and they'll definitely be seeking motivation at this point.
  • Central Park South (Mile 25). Huge crowds here support the runners as they head toward the finish line. This is a great spot to watch the drama unfold if the elite race is close.

Getting Around Central Park
Manhattan's Central Park is home to the last three miles of the race, including the finish line on West Drive at West 67th Street, next to the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant. Central Park will be packed with runners, spectators, and race officials and some access points will be blocked. So getting around the park is difficult. Here are some ways you can maneuver around the park on race day:

  • Get a spot in the park between East 90th and East 86th streets. This area is a little less crowded than points farther south, and you'll be able to get cross the park via the Transverse Road at 85th Street.
  • Park Drive below East 72nd Street gets crowded. But if you go to the East Green at East 69th Street, there is more room and you can get quick access to the 65th Street Transverse.
  • Crossing Park Drive (where the runners will be) is prohibited, but you can get across the busy road by going underneath it. Use these underpasses: Greywacke Arch at 80th Street, Trefoil Arch at 73rd Street, Willowdell Arch at 67th Street, and Inscope Arch at 62nd Street.

If you're expecting to watch your runner cross that beautiful finish line at Tavern on the Green, don't get your hopes up. Unless you're a race participant, finish line volunteer, race official, or have reserved seats in the bleachers, you won't be able to see much. Before the race, make plans with your runner to meet at a designated spot outside of the park. If they've checked their cell phone in their race bag (or can borrow another finisher's phone), they'll be able to give you a call once they're done.

Get more marathon spectator tips. And check out the official NYC marathon spectator guide for helpful tips. Also, get inspired for the race with these quotes about the New York City Marathon.

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