Race Day Planning For The United NYC Half Marathon!

So you are running the United NYC Half Marathon? Congratulations are in order because this race is not easy to get into! Now that you have gotten into the race, running and completing the race is not the only thing that you may have to worry about. Preparing for this race physically, mentally, emotionally and logistically can be a huge task. With this course being new, no matter how many races you have run in New York City, no one has ever run this course before! Those that will run the race this year will be the first ones ever to tackle this version of the course. In fact there are portions of this course that have never had any race run over them!

Over the last couple of months, I’ve hosted a United NYC Half Marathon Facebook group and we’ve discussed so many topics about this race. From training, to travel accommodations, to diets, to race prep, to holding local group runs and even hiring two coach buses to take some of us to the start line of the race! We’ve covered so much in that group and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! (side note, we have similar groups open now for the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon and the New York City Marathon!)

So I thought I would put this article together for everyone to benefit from the discussions that we have had in this group. It targets out of towners running the race as well as native New Yorkers. It’s a long read but I think there is something for everyone in here!

Getting Your Race Day Bib and the Expo

Getting your bib at the Expo is only the beginning of the fun!

Whether you are traveling in from out of town or whether you live here in New York City, you will have to make your way to the Half Marathon Expo. For those that live in the New York City area who are accustomed to picking up their race day bibs at the NYRR Run Center, that will not be an option this time around. Further, you will not be able to pick your bibs up on the morning of the race either! That makes it super important that you plan some time either on the Thursday (11:00am – 9:00pm), Friday (11:00am – 9:00pm)  or Saturday (9:00am – 6:00pm) before the race to make it down to the Expo. The Expo is located at 125 west 18th street, New York, NY 10011 (between 6th and 7th avenues).

When heading to the Expo, give yourself some time to be there. Getting your number and race shirt should be quick, but there is usually a lot of fun little things for your to see or do there. A race pacer booth will be set up so that you can speak with race pacers to talk about strategy to meet your desired goal time. I was able to confirm with NYRR that you will be able to pick up a “race pace” bracelet at the expo to help you keep pace with your desired goal time. These are several different bracelets each with a different goal time. The bracelet then tells you the mile splits you will need to hit in order to run that bracelet’s goal target time. Among other things to do at the expo is look for your name on the wall of runners, take some pictures or do some shopping from the racks of merchandise they are sure to have! The official race dear gear sponsor New Balance will be on hand with some giveaways as well! Whatever it is, just give yourself some time at the Expo! You won’t regret it!

If you can’t fit some time in to get to Expo yourself, there is an option to send someone as your proxy to get your bib. That involves having your proxy bring a copy of your photo ID, with your name matching the name attached to the bib. Your proxy should also have a copy of your race day confirmation form. Your race day confirmation form can be found by logging into your NYRR account. While this is an option, you will miss all of the fun at the expo!

Know Your Transportation To The Start Line!

This is the first year that the course will start in Brooklyn and end in Manhattan. As such you will have to plan out your traveling plans in order to get to the starting line on time! The race is on a Sunday morning which means New York City subways will be operating with less trains than they usually do on Sunday mornings. This means give yourself lots of commuting time if you will be riding the subways to the race that morning. Recently New York Road Runners Club released a detailed diagram of Prospect Park and where runners will need to go to enter the starting corrals. Based on that diagram below, it looks like the Q, 4 & 5 trains are the preferred subways to take the start of the race. One important thing to note, even though it is advertised that the race will start in Grand Army Plaza, runners will have to enter the corrals on the other side of the park over by Flatbush Avenue & Empire Blvd. Make note of that and make sure you travel to the right location! Traveling to the Grand Army Plaza station will only make you walk all the way around to the start of the corrals.

Diagram of the starting line for the United NYC half!

One thing that I STRONGLY urge you to do is check out the service advisory section of the MTA website. They are notorious for scheduling track work or other maintenance that can severely affect train service on the weekend. The last thing you want to do is be on your way to the race, only to find out that morning that the train you planned on taking that morning was not working! Plan ahead! To assist with that, the MTA actually has a “Trip Planner” available. This trip planner takes into consideration any service advisories that may be in play that day. I tested this a couple of weeks back when I did my trial run of the course (click here to read my review of the course!). The day I used the Trip Planner, there were service advisories for the subway lines I used that day. The trip planner told me about them and factored them into my traveling time. I got to the starting line to meet my group for the trial run on time with no issues just as the trip planner had planned it out for me! For reference the name of the subway stops you can travel to are in the graphic above. Enter those subway station names into the trip planner along with the station you are traveling from.  It works – use it!

Aside from subways, NYC taxi cabs, Uber & Lyft are an option. Just keep in mind, traffic to that area will be heavy. Further street closures in Brooklyn leading up to the park may snarl traffic. Give yourself some time if you plan on taking some form of car service to the start! As for driving yourself, I strongly suggest against it. 25,000 people will be heading to the start area. I tried to park at Prospect Park a few weeks ago for a race that only had 5,000 participants and it was chaos on that day! Imagine having 5 times the number of runners and trying to look for parking! Leave your car at home!

Planning Your Day Before The Race

Many folks will be traveling into New York City specifically for the race. If you are like many of these folks, you might be getting to New York on Thursday, Friday or even Saturday. If you are lucky enough to get in Thursday or Friday, do your moving around the city those days. Saturday is March 17th, also known as St. Patrick’s Day! Manhattan is full of parade goers and party goers looking to seek a celebration or two in honor of the famous Irishman! The festivities always seem to end up in an abundance of alcohol being consumed so if you had your heart set on going to a restaurant or bar in Manhattan on this Saturday, just know that it may full of festive party goers enjoying St. Patricks’s Day. Further, getting around town may be tough on the day before the race as the parade route goes right up 5th avenue, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan. As I mentioned, plan your day on Saturday accordingly to work around the St. Patrick’s Day congestion.

There is no question that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the most popular parade in New York City and one to enjoy if you are ok with having a couple of drinks. But for the person who has trained for weeks in preparation for 13 miles on Sunday, you might want to skip the festivities this year. If you need to unwind with some beverages, seek out hotel bars or lounges who will likely not allow St Patrick’s Day revelers into their establishments. Better yet, by a bottle of wine or a 6 pack and sip comfortably and responsibly in your hotel room if you absolutely must, although personally, I recommend you save it for AFTER the race!

Dressing For The Race & Bag Check

What to wear come race day morning?

Weather in New York City in the month of March is extremely unpredictable. There have been 70 degree days in March and there have been insane snow storms in the month of March. In 2017, the race was run on the heels of a pretty strong snow storm during the week leading up to the race. The temperature at the start of the race was 30 degrees. While the temperature could be cold at the beginning, it could warm up rather quickly as the race progresses as well. So how does one dress??

I suggest to wear some layers to the race that you will be comfortable parting with. There are close to 25,000 runners competing in the United NYC Half Marathon. This means that the bag check won’t be close to the starting line. In fact if you look at the graphic of the starting area above, the bag check is before you even enter the secure zone. Think hard about what you want to check in and what you will be able to bring with you thru security and to the starting corral. Keep in mind that you can only check in a clear bag. NYRR wants to see the contents contained in your bag. Also, I have confirmed with NYRR that your bag will be transported via courier to the finish line at Central Park so don’t worry about having to come back to Brooklyn to get your stuff! Check your bag in with confidence!

In terms of other items allowed past security, water bottles in excess of one liter will not be allowed. Camelpacks are also not allowed either. To be honest, those likely aren’t even needed. The race course will have a water station just about every mile along with some water stands that will include Gatorade. There is even a “Powebar Gel” station in mile 7.

The security check point will include a metal detector and you will pass thru it like you do at an airport. Your cell phone, keys, money, etc., will go in a dish and then they will wand you and you will go thru a metal detector. All of this means that if you’re checking items into the bag check, you will have to do it early to give yourself enough time to get thru security. This could cause your wait in the corral to be anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Going back to how you should dress, you will want to stay warm in the corrals for this period of time. This is where the extra layers come into play. Remember, it will be anywhere between 7am – 8am when runners start since there are two waves. Once your wave starts, you can peel a layer or two off and part with them by placing them in one of the several donation bins that will be lining the starting line area. That’s right, you won’t be seeing those items again, so plan accordingly!

Going back to checking in your items at the bag check, one thing to consider when packing your check-in bag, is that it may be cold or rainy this day. Consider packing a dry  or warm change of clothes in your check in bag for after the race. The last thing you want to have happen is to be standing around after the race in cold or wet clothes. You can easily duck into a portable john to get out of those wet clothes if you choose after you retrieve your checked in bag. If you despise portable bathrooms like some folks do, you can head over to the New York Road Runners Run Center (320 West 57th street b/w 8th & 9th avenues) which is not too far from the finish line to use some of their changing rooms there.

As of the writing of this article, the temperatures are expected to range from the low 40’s at the start of the race, to the low 50’s thru out the race. That’s not cold. Rain is in the forecast as of now, but lets hope that pushes away! I would still plan to wear a couple of layers to the stating corral only to peel them off when the race begins.

Get To Know The Course

img_0822Finally, the course itself! As mentioned earlier, this year New York Road Runners Club decided to change the course route that had been in effect for several years. For the first time ever the race will start at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and will finish in Central Park. The reason for the change is because the race is getting bigger each year and they are looking for a wider course and one that has a larger finish line and finish area. Logistically also, finishing in Central Park allows them to keep the finish area open longer so that runners don’t have to worry about having to finish their race under a certain time.  If you have ever run this race before, it will be all new for you just as it will be for someone who is running the race for the first time!

The course map is just above. If you have run this race before you will notice that this course has a lot more hills than the previous version of it. What make it worse is that a lot of the hills are towards the end of the race. If you look at the elevation chart at the bottom of the below graphic, miles 8 thru the end of the race are a series of climbs most of them which will be in Central Park. Just before that there is a stretch of 7th avenue from 42nd street up until the entrance of Central Park which is all up hill. If this stretch may look familiar to those who have run this race before thats because the race used to run the opposite way down 7th avenue after you exited the park. This year, you are running a slow steady climb for 15 blocks before you get into Central Park! If you haven’t thrown in hill work into your training, now may be the time! For a more comprehensive review of the course, you can read the review I wrote up after I did an actual trial run of the course a couple of week ago. You can find that article here!

The Finish Line.

You made it 13.1 miles to the finish in Central Park – CONGRATULATIONS! You’re not done yet! Once you are done with the race, you will still have about a half mile walk. During that walk, family will not be allowed in this half mile are as it is considered a “runners only” area. Family can watch you finish the race during the last mile. See the graphic above and note that they can enter the park on the west side the park via two entrances. They will not be able to meet you however on there other side of the finish line.

Once you have crossed the finish line, you have approximately a half mile walk that will lead you to the southern exit of the park close to Columbus Circle. I highly suggest, that you meet with family away from the park after the race. The area around Columbus Circle will be pure chaos. During your half mile walk you will get your recovery bag, water, and of course, your well deserved medal! There will also be stations set up to take post race pictures with your medals or your friends. Medical tents and bathrooms will be available during this half mile walk as well. It may be a half mile, but trust me, it will pass by really quickly!

Speaking of medals, make sure to get your medals ENGRAVED after the race! I confirmed with NYRR that medal engraving will be available immediately after the race at the NYRR Run Center on Sunday from 10am – 5pm. If you are not in the mood to stand on line to get your medal engraved after the race, medal engraving will also be available at the run center on Monday 3/19 from 12pm – 7pm and on Tuesday 3/20 from 4pm – 7pm. Unfortunately medal engraving is only for NYRR members. However there is nothing stopping you from becoming a NYRR member before the race to not only take advantage of free engraving but to also take part in their future races. Of course as an alternative to all of this, you can also get your medal engraved else where.

In Closing

I am a stickler for logistics. I put this together because so many of you worked hard to prepare for this race and I don’t want to see you throw it away because you thought you could pick up your bib on race day morning or you took the wrong train to the start or your dressed incorrectly. You deserve better than that! Now go out there are crush this NYC Half Marathon!

If you found this information helpful, then I am glad I could help. As I mentioned earlier, if you happen to be running either the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon or TCS New York City Marathon, I have similar group discussions going on now. Here is the one for the Brooklyn Half and here is the one for TCS NYC Marathon Why not join these groups and get in on all of the information being exchanged there!

For more information about running in general in New York City, make sure to follow me on Instagram @catrunsnyc_2018 or on Twitter @catrunsnyc ! Also while you are at it, check out our running club We Run NYC Running Club! It is a running club that is open to all levels of runners with one common bond – that they simply love running in New York City!


It awaits you!

Trial Run Of The United NYC Half Course

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to tackle the United NYC Half Marathon course with members of my We Run NYC Running Club. Minus the nasty cold rainy weather I have to say that I was ecstatic about our run!
Grand Army Plaza

Picture of the start area for the United NYC Half!

As for the course itself, as many know, the NYC Half Marathon course has changed from previous years. For the first time this year the course starts in Prospect Park Brooklyn and ends in Central Park. Based on our run, here is my analysis of the course followed by my advice on how to tackle this course.
The course starts off heading north on Flatbush Avenue with a nice, long, steady gradual downhill. The downhill itself is about one mile long. Strava measured this mile to be a decrease in elevation of about 96 feet. I have to admit, this is a nice wide road with lots of local shops. I am 99% positive that this stretch of the course is going to be filled with spectators on race day. With that said, these spectators, along with the 20,000 plus runners that just started around you are going to give you one hell of a boost of adrenalin! The temptation to unleash a fast mile is going to be huge! I will say, it is very important to resist that temptation because you have a long way to go and some challenges ahead.
The second mile has a very small but short incline. It’s a relaxed mile that will lead you right onto the Manhattan Bridge. This is where your work and challenges will start.

Manhattan Bridge Awaits!@

Once you get on the Manhattan Bridge there is a long steady climb onto the bridge until you get to the middle. Your total climb will be around 90 feet. This slow steady climb is given back as you come off the bridge and make a right onto Canal Street. The decline in elevation continues until you go east thru Chinatown and to the FDR drive.
Full disclosure, today for this next stretch, we had to alter our route from the official route because the official route will take you onto the FDR drive. Obviously, we couldn’t get the FDR drive closed, so we chose to run over the overpass on Delancey Street to the other side of the FDR and ran along the water via the promenade up until 35th street. Distance wise this was the same as running on the FDR however where we ran on Sunday it was completely flat along the water. As we were running however we noticed that there were some steep elevations on the FDR drive in particular around the 10th street. This elevation essentially makes the FDR Drive go from street level to an elevated roadway. I wish I had the elevation measurements on this but just be prepared for an climb during this stretch on the FDR drive!
FDR42nd street

There are several increases in elevation on the FDR Drive stretch!

I believe that we are scheduled to get off of the FDR at 42nd St. Going west on 42nd street, we started out flat until we got to 3rd avenue. I can tell you that once again you will be begin a climb of about 40 feet until you get past 5th avenue. Here you will begin a small gradual run downhill that will take you around the corner onto 7th and up to around 45th street – that’s about a half mile of gradual downhill. Enjoy that stretch as much as possible because there is more work ahead! Once you approach 45th street on 7th Avenue, you begin an approximate one mile climb up that will take you up another 40 feet in elevation and will leave you right at the entrance to Central Park.
This should prepare you nicely for what awaits you in Central Park. You will enter Central Park after completing 9 miles. Once you enter the park, a series of small uphills and downhills will await. Nothing too drastic. That is until you get to around 72nd street on the East side. This is where Cat Hill awaits you. You will climb over 50 feet in elevation over a span of a little over a half mile. For our trial run on Sunday we were not that winded when going up Cat hill. I think it was adrenaline from entering the park and knowing that we were not that far away from the finish. After Cat hill you will enjoy close to a mile of rolling down hills which includes a turn onto the 102nd street traverse to head to the West Side of the park. Choose your effort here wisely because when you come back around on the West side, you will have more uphills awaiting you!
cat hill Central Park

Make sure to “smile” at the Cat as you go up her hill!

When you turn off of the traverse and onto Central Park West, you will have a little over a mile left. How you tackle that mile will be tricky. As soon as you turn onto West Drive you will be met with another long uphill. This one will take you up another 60 feet in the span of about a half of a mile. Once you get to the top of that hill, you will have a small down hill rest and then you will climb a short hill again. Coming into the 70’s on the west side you will be headed down hill one last time and this time, into the finish line!
Our total elevation today according to Strava, was about 450 feet and I think on race day it will be more because of the FDR drive span that I mentioned above. This United NYC Half marathon is nothing like the previous version of it. A personal record is not impossible on this course, but its also not easy! How you attack this course will be key. Go out hard too early and you will pay the price on the many hills. If you wait too long to attack Central Park, your pace leading up to that may be too slow.

Be inspired by Grand Central as you run by on 42nd street!

In looking back on the course after digesting it on Sunday, my suggestion is to definitely hold back in the first two miles and start working a bit as you start your climb over the Manhattan Bridge. Keep working the exit off of the bridge as well as your time in China Town. Once onto the FDR you can hold back again in my opinion as this stretch of the run may be a little draining. Remember the elevation of the FDR, it goes from street level, to elevated road way. The pivotal part of the race for me will be the stretch from the FDR on 42nd street until you enter the Park, which is a little bit over 2 miles. This stretch, while it does have some uphills, presents slow gradual uphills, that are definitely ones that you could run at a good clip without getting drained, especially since there are downhills here as well. Further the adrenalin of running by the United Nations (42nd street & FDR drive), Grand Central Terminal (42nd street & Lexington Ave) and of course Times Square, should carry you strongly thru a solid two miles. This will set you up for the final four miles in the park where you will have to tough it out and give it all of you have on the uphills. Keep in mind, you will also enjoy those down hills and the crowds will undoubtedly push you to the finish line.
Again, this course is in no way impossible but it’s nothing compared to the previous version of the United NYC Half Marathon. It is definitely more challenging. Has anyone else run the course out there? What was your take on it? Less than three weeks remain til the big race. Are you ready?
We organized this race through the online Facebook group that I coordinated specifically for the United NYC Half. If you would like to join that page you can find it here. Hope this was somewhat helpful in your preparation for the race!
I wanted to take the opportunity to thank those folks that came along for the run. Originally we had 28 confirmed but the weather rightfully causesd some cancellations so kudos to the 12 that did come out! (pictured below)
Good luck to all running the United NYC Half Marathon on 3/18!