NYC Marathon Tips: Getting Ready for Race Day

AWNY committee member and experienced marathon enthusiast, Julia O’Brien, ran the New York City Marathon in 2018. With the upcoming 2019 TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday November 3, we revisit Julia’s tips for final preparations before race day:

With less than a month to go before the New York City Marathon, the hard yards are pretty much behind those who are training. Well, aside from running the actual race, of course.

With training distances petering out, the focus turns to preparation for the race itself. What to wear? What to eat? How will I find my friends? Here’s some guidance that I found useful, with one big caveat: everyone and every body is different. So it’s all about finding what works for you!

Comfort is Key

You are going to be running for several hours and the last thing you want is for chaffing or blisters to be your pitfall. The best piece of advice? Race day is not the time to wear a new pair of sneakers or a different brand of sports bra. If you want to try something new, purchase it ASAP (like, today!) and then give it a few test runs over the next four weeks.

Weather for the first Sunday in November is notoriously unpredictable. The poor souls running in 2014 were treated to a bitterly cold day with gale-force winds. In 2016 it was clear skies and a balmy 20 degrees. Last year it was grey and drizzly. So you’ll need a few options ready for these possibilities. Layers are a great way of countering a cold morning followed by a warm afternoon. Don’t forget your running bib will need to be on display the whole race, so your best bet is to attach it to your leg so that taking off your top layer doesn’t involve unpinning and repining your bib.

The morning of the race you’ll spend a few hours waiting on Staten Island before you start running. There is very little shelter and you’re basically just left to sit on the ground. So, bring extra layers for this time, maybe even a blanket to sit on or under. You won’t be able to run with it, but there are charity bins at the start line that you can leave items in. With winter approaching, homeless New Yorkers will greatly appreciate the extra warmth.

More than 200,000 pounds of clothing are collected for goodwill at the start of the race. Photo credit: For the Win – USA Today

Carbo-loading Like a Champ

For me, one of the best things about long distance running, is the no-holds-barred carbo-loading that comes with it! You can down the most calorific of meals, guilt-free because you earned it!

Similar to the advice above on clothing, race day is not the time to try a new dish. A creamy bowl of pasta might sound delicious, but if it disagrees with your belly you may have a bad night’s sleep or, worse, need to use the port-a-loos along the route. A low GI, balanced meal the night before (that you have tested out previously) is going to help you get across that finish line. Brown rice, whole grains, leafy greens and some nutritious carbs like sweet potatoes are great. Once the race is over, that’s when you should opt for the fettuccini carbonarra!

Race morning, take some small snacks with you for the wait on Staten Island. A healthy muesli bar, banana or some nuts are a great option. Hydrate, but don’t go crazy – there aren’t many places to stop to use the bathrooms along the way.

food dinner pasta spaghetti
Paaaaaaaaaaasta! Photo by Tookapic on

To Music or Not To Music?

According to the official rulebook, runners are permitted to wear headphones during the race. The NY Road Runner organizing body, however, strongly encourages you not to. It’s safer for one, as you are more alert to what’s going on around you, and it’s a way to really soak up the atmosphere.

But…for me, running with music is a must. I keep the volume nice and low so I can still hear what’s going on around me, but the music is a big motivating force I can’t do without.

If you do decide to run with music, you should plan to have a playlist that lasts about 5 hours and make sure it is music you like – playing around with your phone to change tracks is distracting.

In 2016, as part of my plea for charity donations, I gave my donors the option to choose songs on my running list. I didn’t listen to the playlist until the day of the race and it was such a fun, surprising selection of music. I highly recommend crowdsourcing your friends for music choices! My 2018 playlist originated from suggestions from friends. Please check it out on Spotify!

Finding Your Mates

Whether you’re running the marathon or attending as a spectator to cheer on your friends or family, planning is key. Over a million people turn out to cheer on the 80,000 runners, so if you’re not ready you may miss each other.

Let your runner know in advance where you will be cheering them on (and then stick to it). That way they will know when to keep an eye out for you rather than madly scanning the crowd, which can be distracting and emotionally draining.

As a runner, let your fans know which side of the road you will try to run on. This will make it a lot easier for them to find you.

You should also consider writing your name on your running top. Of the million people out to cheer on the crowd, many of them don’t have someone specific in mind, they’re just there to cheer and they will cheer your name loudly, boosting your confidence and spirits!

My faithful boyfriend and mate cheering me on with their creatively colorful sign in 2016.

Ready, Steady, Go!

Ultimately, the race day is the culmination of all your hard work and determination. Whatever happens will happen. All you can do is be as prepared as possible and then enjoy yourself. Soak up the atmosphere. Take pride in what you’ve achieved. And savour the experience of being in the impressive group of people running the New York City Marathon!

First published in October 2018. If you’re planning to enter next year’s New York City Marathon, get a jump start on training by reading Julia’s NYC Marathon Tips column.

Author: Julia O'Brien

Julia is originally from a small town in Victoria and has lived in New York since 2014. She spends her free time exploring the city and other parts of the States, with a razor sharp focus on trying food, wine and cocktails. And some coffee too.

4 thoughts

  1. What a cool idea to have people send suggestions for your playlist. Maybe, I’ll do the same. One additional tip if you are a music fiend, purchase a phone case that also serves as an external battery. I like to have my iPhone-carrying friends track me via the Find my Friends app.

    Good luck!

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