Thursday, November 3, 2011

8 Ways to Support Your Loved Ones in the NYC Marathon

#1 - Let your runner find you

It is extremely difficult to spot your favorite runner on the course, unless he or she is in the top 300. After that, the crowds get quite thick, everyone looks the same, and it's very difficult to project when your runner will come by, as you don't know when they started.

What works MUCH better is if your friend finds you. Tell them EXACTLY where you will be (i.e. on the runner's right on Fifth Ave just past 117th St.), and they will likely find you.

Consider carrying a distinctive mylar balloon on a long string so they can spot you from a few blocks away; this works brilliantly.

Download the runner tracker to get a sense of when your runner will be passing by.

#2. Plot out NOW exactly where you will be, so your runner knows where and when to find you

My support group was ambitious and knows the city well, so in my 3 NYC marathons, they met me in 3 places, at Miles 14, 18 and 23:

A. Long Island City (approx 13.5 miles) on Vernon Blvd. and 47th Rd. (on the left-hand side of the runners, in front of Woodbines), a few blocks away from the Vernon/Jackson stop on the 7 train.

B. After they saw me there, they took the 7 train towards Times Square and switched at Grand Central to the Lexington Line Uptown 6 local to 110th St and met me on the northwest corner (runner’s left side) of 110th and First Avenue (Mile 18).  They go to 110th because First Avenue is very, very crowded lower down, particularly around the streets that correspond to subway stops. Consider going even further uptown.

C. Then they walked across 110th St and met me on the northeast corner (runner’s left side) of 110th & Fifth Avenue (Mile 23).

The good part of this arrangement is (1) Long Island City is less crowded and easy to get to - the meeting spot is very close to the subway station, and (2) It allows for three spots; your runner REALLY appreciates seeing you at Mile 23, and it's a great place to see the stress that most runners endure completing a marathon. Also, if you see your runner at 110th St., you can then walk over to the  B/C train at 110th St. and Central Park West and take it downtown to meet your runner on Central Park West, likely around 81st St.

The bad part is you have to move fairly quickly to get from stop 1 to 2; if the runners runs a 9 minute pace (4 hour marathon), it's only about 38 minutes, and you have to take the 7 train, switch to the 6 train, then walk 3 avenues east; but it is entirely doable, my family has done it 3x, with kids in tow, and never missed me, and I did it last year in support of a friend and got to the First Ave spot way before she did.

A less ambitious plan would be to see your runner in LI City and then take the 7 to the R train in Times Square; then take the R uptown to 59th and Lexington, walk up to 6th Avenue and watch your runner in Mile 25 along Central Park South; then it will be about a one-mile walk to where your runner exits the park.

You might also consult the official spectator guide.

#3 Come bearing gifts

Your marathoner may need nothing other than a big smile and a few words of encouragement. There is a reasonable chance they will have a desperate look on their face, praying that you have whatever they need. It may be (in order of likelihood) Vaseline, pretzels, a band-aid,  an extra gel pack, something to sip that does not taste like lemon-lime gatorade, a hat or gloves, a fresh pair of socks, $20 or a metro card, etc. Be prepared, and you'll be a hero if they need you, but know they probably won't, and don't be insulted if they just blow by you.

#4 Please don't tell runners they are "almost finished" unless you are at Mile Marker 26.

A few years ago, I was watching the race at Mile 23, and a couple next to me asked out of the blue, "how many marathons have you run?" I asked, "How did you know I've run marathons?" The wife responded, "because you're not saying 'you're almost finished.'"

The three of us then launched into a diatribe about how dispiriting it is to hear that so many times in the last six miles. When you seriously doubt you can make it 50 more yards, being 3 miles away from the finish line is NOT "almost finished." In the first half, everyone's doing great, and anything goes; but once runners pass halfway, they begin to suffer, and appreciate encouragement such as "you look great," "hang in there," "finish strong," "keep rolling." They do not appreciate "you're almost finished," or "gosh, there's ONLY 7 miles to go."

Now that you know, if you get a death stare in response to such a comment, you deserve it.

#5 If you are crossing the race route at any point, PLEASE do not walk directly across the route, and do not cross in a pack. Cross diagonally, alone.
  • Crossing straight across the street is extremely dangerous for you and the runner, as they do not see you until they are right on you; I have seen quite a few wipeouts as a result of this behavior, including one that cost an older woman a Starbucks latte grande and a lot of dignity.
  • When you do this in a pack, you are all but guaranteed to seriously impact a runner. 
  • Instead, begin walking - ONE by ONE - in the direction of the runners, and gradually move over. 
  • There are plenty of runners walking on the side of the course, so a spectator doing so is not a disruption. Walkers and runners also drift sideways in the latter parts of the race, so again, you walking and gradually getting over is not a serious disruption; done right, it is almost seamless.
#6 Know that, for most runners, the race is physically and EMOTIONALLY exhausting and unnerving. Treat them gingerly at the end.

When my friend - a 6'4" 210 lb basketball player - ran his first marathon, his fiancee greeted him at Mile 25 with a very enthusiastic pat on the back. It sent him sprawling to the ground. In ordinary circumstances, she could leap into his arms and he would swing her around. At Mile 25, a pat on the back was enough to knock him down.

It's the same emotionally; the runners are elated, but they may also be emotionally trained after weeks of anxiety, with an avalanche of competing emotions washing across their drained psyche. I've seen many runners burst into tears after crossing the finish line. One of my running partners - a lifelong friend - went from yapping the whole way to suddenly going very silent, unable to engage in any conversation at all; she was literally stunned by the whole experience, and that wasn't even in NYC.

Others may be despondent over missing their time goal. Be positive, tread lightly - If they're upset at missing a time goal, don't tell them they are silly for feeling that way; they won't be ready to hear that for weeks. Say, "I'm sorry you're disappointed, but I am so proud of you." Follow your runner's lead. He or she may be just fine, but be judicious in your comments and questions until you know that's the case.

#7 Plan to celebrate when it's all done.

After I finished my first race, I went home, thinking I'd be exhausted to do anything else. After recovering, I spent the rest of the night eating and drinking and talking to friends about the race on the phone for hours, wishing I had instead just met them all at a bar.

We did that the second year, but had no plans, and ended up schlepping in a big group around a very crowded midtown area trying to find a table for 14. This was painful.

Reserve a great place NOW to have a terrific celebration, and make your runners WEAR THEIR MEDALS proudly.

I highly recommend these two places, which roll out the welcome mat for marathon runners:

The Distillery is at 52nd and Ninth – about a kilometer from the finish line.  It has great food, terrific cocktails and craft beers, and a great ambience. They had a blowout bash last year, full of runners and their families all day and night.

Closer to Penn Station (take the 1 train downtown to 28th St) is Mustang Harry's, a large facility that will be showing all your favorite sports teams, has an excellent line-up of drinks and a solid menu of comfort food. Call them at (212) 268-8930 or reserve on Open Table.

#8 Let your runner talk about the experience for several weeks

Running the NYC Marathon is one of the great experiences in a lifetime. The race doesn't end when your runner crosses the finish line. After my first race, I woke up at 3 am every night for two weeks, wondering if I had really just done that. Be patient, know that this is their time, and let them enjoy it and relive it, and plan to do something equally fabulous yourself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What to Eat the Week Before a Marathon

Ten days before a marathon, your training is essentially done, with just one run of 8-10 miles at a moderate pace, plus a handful of shorter runs, left. The inactivity makes you anxious. You wish there was something that you could do to improve your chances of running your best on race day.

There is one thing.

You can plan your diet for the next ten days. 

When you’re about to drive your car on a long trip, you probably visit Jiffy Lube to make sure all the critical fluids are “topped off.” In that same vein, you have to figure out what you can eat in the next ten days to make sure that your body goes to the starting line with full stores of all essential vitamins and minerals, and with muscles that are ready to fire when asked.

How can you do this?

  • For the first three days, you can more or less eat your normal diet, presuming that your normal diet is generally healthy, with a good mix of carbs, proteins, fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have these on hand in your home, go food shopping today. If you eat most of your meals out, only visit places where you eat smartly. Tell your favorite fast food joint goodbye until after the race.
  • For the second three days, it’s time to take down the carbs – that’s right, take down the carbs – a few notches for three days, to 60% of calories on Monday, 50% on Tuesday, and 40% on Wednesday. This prepares your body to “carbo load.”
  • Finally, for the three days before a race, it’s time to carbo-load with low glycemic carbs, and, particularly on Friday and Saturday, max out on fruits and veggies, with a decent amount of protein as well. NOT ALL CARBS ARE EQUAL. Low-glycemic carbs (whole wheat pasta, vermicelli, vegetables, fruits, Sweet Potatoes) are much better than high-glycemic carbs (white potatoes, white pasta, white bread) because they help you release a slow, steady stream of energy, rather than a short, rapid burst.
For the final two days before the race, make sure to avoid spicy meals that may upset your stomach the next day. Also avoid red meat or anything else that you think may impact your gastrointestinal system during the race.

Also during the last two days, focus heavily on potassium – Sweet potatoes (with the skin on), coconut juice, orange juice, bananas and all other fruits and vegetables are handy sources that likely won’t sit too heavily in your stomach. Getting adequate potassium is essential if you want to avoid leg cramps on race day, particularly if you have large leg muscles.

The night before the race, keep eating lightly right up until bed time, especially if you're race is at 7 am and you won't be able to eat much in the morning. You can't have a last meal at 6 pm and think it will continue to power you pas the 20-mile mark around 10 am the next day.

When you wake up on race day, eat the same foods you’ve eaten before all of your long runs – this is not a time to try something new. Ideally you'll eat 3-4 hours before the race but also eat something light, such as pretzels, past that point. You need a lot of energy today. Continue to hydrate – without overdoing it, as this can be more dangerous than under-hydrating – right until race time.

If you ate light foods during your long runs, do so during the race; pretzels or other snacks in small bites can stave off hunger and provide much-needed energy.

A wonderful NYC restaurant to enjoy your pre- and post- marathon meals is Tir na nOg which has two incredible, authentic Irish pubs; one is at 5 Penn Plaza (33rd/8th) and the other is at 315 W. 39th St., west of 8th Ave. They have a brilliant Celtic-American menu are both close to Penn Station and Times Square and area hotels. They also show all European and American sports all day long.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Advice for Running the 2017 NYC Marathon

I have run the NYC Marathon 3 times, and three more marathons elsewhere. I’ve dealt with adversity: under-training, under-tapering, near-fainting, horrific cramps, and hunger so bad I nearly chewed my fingers. My last effort was nearly perfect, because I  finally learned how to prepare properly in the last few days before the race. Here's how you can do the same.


Yes, it’s maddening. But no, you’re not ruining all your training by taking it easy these last few days. Relax, continue to recover, the race will come soon enough, and your legs will be ready. As one runner Tweeted, "undercooked is better than overcooked." Tapering too much is WAY better than tapering too little. Take it easy!

If you're in the NYC area and struggling with an injury and worried about it impacting your race. contact Jill Cherland via email at She's skilled at acupuncture, muscle activation and other techniques for healing you and getting you to the starting line. She has fixed me up several times in the weeks before a race.


The most important thing you can do in the last weeks before the race is to eat smartly, right through race day. I took this for granted and thus screwed it up badly in my fifth marathon, and had my most disappointing effort. I got it precisely right in my last, and ran my fastest final 10K ever, even though I hadn't trained very much. 

For the 7 days leading up to the race, food is fuel that will drive your engine on Sunday. Hydrate adequately (but don't overdo it!!), and eat LOTS of fruit, veggies, the right kind of carbs, and protein.


The weather can change drastically right up to race time, so be prepared for anything! Regardless of the forecast, there are two things you need to know: first, the early morning wait before the start will be very cold; even if you are checking a bag, you have to turn it in about an hour before the start, so plan to have a throwaway blanket and lots of throwaway clothes. Second, the weather may warm up by mid-race, causing you to toss your hat, gloves and extra shirt – and then temps may drop again in the later miles, leaving you freezing. Thus, if there is any chance the weather will turn cold, carry with you an extra hat and gloves. For more on this, read What To Wear in the NYC Marathon.


This area is crowded and uncomfortable, and you spend most of it waiting on a bathroom line and talking to other runners. If you are checking a bag, don’t wait too long to bring your baggage to the truck, it can be a chaotic process that leaves you sprinting to the starting line!


I watched last year's marathon as a spectator and was utterly sickened to see that almost half the runners were wearing headphones. You are running in the greatest city in the world - with 2 million spectators of every nationality cheering you on, shouting your name, imploring you to keep going - and you're listening to Lady GaGa? Leave your iPod at home and embrace the experience.


There will be times in the first ten miles when you are very crowded; at times it will open up nicely, then get crowded again as waves come together. Don’t sweat it, and don’t waste a lot of energy zig-zagging. Go with the flow and know that it will clear out by about Mile 10, letting you run the final, most important 16 miles unimpeded.

There are three separate groups crossing the Verrazano - one on the upper left, upper right, and then lower - and they eventually join back up, one at a time. While you are assigned to a certain wave, it is likely you'll be able to decide, BEFORE THE START, whether you want to run on the left or right hand side of the bridge.  If the weather looks warm and sunny, try to start on the right side of the upper level of the bridge - this means you run several miles in the shade on 4th Avenue, while the left side people run in unprotected sun  - this makes a BIG difference. Conversely, if it is cold, you may prefer the sun, so run on the left side of the upper level.


Running across the Verrazano is an unbelievable experience - the views are stunning – NYC Skyline, Statue of Liberty, fireboats in the harbor spraying water. The first mile is straight uphill, but you don't feel it much since you're fresh and pumped; the second mile is a nice, rolling downhill, to the end of the bridge.

DO NOT WORRY that you will freak out on the bridge. I thought I might the first time, and I know others who felt the same way, but I've never seen anyone actually do it. When you are up there, it is not intimidating - but be forewarned of a phenomenon called "simultaneous lateral excitation" - thousands of pairs of feet hitting the bridge in the exact same direction at once cause it to shake, and it feels like the ground is shifting underneath you, like you're running in Jello. It takes about 3 seconds of nervous laughter till everyone gets used to it.

Coming off the bridge, you run straight up 4th Avenue for about 4 miles, then weave 4 miles through ethnic neighborhoods in Brooklyn. These crowds are the best you'll see - spirited, proud of their heritage and eager to share it with the runners. ENJOY THEM - they are what makes New York City, and the NewYork City Marathon, great!

The halfway point is on the Pulaski Bridge, going into Queens. It is fairly steep, but not very long.

You then run around Long Island City and onto the 59th St Bridge, the hardest part of the race. It is a long climb, somewhat similar to the Verrazano, though not quite as steep or long; it rises 110 feet over a 3/4 mile stretch to the top. There is no crowd support, and you're on the lower level, so it's dark and dank, the mood of all the runners drops, and you run seemingly forever before you even get over the water. I found it very hard the first two times, as I was not in top shape, but a bit easier the 3rd time.

EMBRACE the solitude and gear up for the last ten miles.

Beware of the down hill of the 59th St Bridge - it is a short, steep, spiraling drop, and the 3rd time I wrenched my back a bit by taking it too fast - nothing too bad, but any little thing at 16 miles is a big thing.

Running up First Avenue is fun - a rock star experience - the crowds are gigantic and boisterous and loud - but they are mostly obnoxious drunk young people, not nearly as interesting as the crowds in Brooklyn. Make sure not to get carried away by the crowds; many runners have ruined their race by going too fast down First Avenue. 

When you get near the top of First Avenue, past 100th St or so, the spectator crowds thin for the only time of the race; you cross a bridge at 138th St., then run a mile in the Bronx, then came across another bridge back into Manhattan.

You then enter Spanish Harlem and Harlem, which are interesting places to look around, and then end up on Fifth Avenue for a long run down to the entrance to the Park. The crowds on Fifth are fantastic because they are right on top of you; but they also shout "you're almost finished" when to you, three miles away is NOT almost finished.

You enter the Park around 5th and 89th, and 8 blocks into the park, you get a fantastic, long, sloping downhill, that is rudely followed by a short, steep uphill - be ready for it so you don't come to a dead stop. You then run down to 59th and out onto Central Park South, then go back into the park on the West Drive, to the finish.

A runner video.

A virtual tour of the course created by a 2010 runner using data from his GPS system.

An ING "Runner Cam" that appears to by someone who drove the course.

A view from a dashboard camera from someone who drove the course (you won't see any cars!)


Read our post, 8 Ways to Support Your Loved One in the NYC Marathon, for info on how to make sure your friends and family see you during the race.


After you recuperate for an hour or two and re-hydrate and begin to feel human, you will not want to sleep - you will want to celebrate and talk about your achievement. Find a great place to have a terrific evening, and WEAR YOUR MEDAL proudly. I highly recommend these places, who promise to roll out the welcome mat for marathon runners:

The Distillery is at 52nd and Ninth – about a kilometer from the finish line.  It has great food, terrific cocktails and craft beers, and a great ambience. They had a blowout bash last year, full of runners and their families all day and night.

Closer to Penn Station (take the 1 train downtown to 28th St) is Mustang Harry's, a large facility that will be showing all your favorite sports teams, has an excellent line-up of drinks and a solid menu of comfort food. Call them at (212) 268-8930 or reserve on Open Table.

Have a great run!