2020 update, this course is now also updated… so… let me put together a newer race course strategy… go to http://www.runningandthecity.com for newer stuff.
2017 Update: even though this post is awesome and contains a lot of information you can still use, it talks about the OLD course that was discontinued after the 2018 race. Read the tips below, and then head over here for the new course info. I am going to mark green the text below that doesn’t apply anymore.
You know the “don’t wear anything new on race day” and all the basics… now, let’s do the United NYC Half Marathon as well as we can. I have done this race 8 times so far -from 2:06 in its first year, 2006, to 1:36 in 2016, and I keep running into people who haven’t raced it and have lots of questions (post in the comments section below if you have any questions not covered here!).
And in case you want to see photos and read my race reports, go here for all of them, or, here is the 2015 NYC Half report, here is 2014 NYC Half and 2013 NYC Half. Also, download the custom pace bracelet, I created for this pace strip based on the race strategy below.
PRE RACE LOGISTICS
Make a race prep list of what you’ll need a week or two before and sort it all by stages, here is a Marathon Packing List to start with. Whether you’re traveling or not, get everything in the list ready as soon as possible. Start prepping 2 weeks out.
Plan your nutrition waaaay ahead. You can buy gels at the expo if necessary, but get bagels/oatmeal/bananas and whatever you need for race day the day before as there will not be a lot of delis open at 4, 5, or 6 am. Some may be, but not a lot.
If you need any last minute thing, you can buy most stuff at the expo/bib pickup (don’t forget to bring a printed copy of your reg form –download it from your NYRR profile they will be ready early March, and photo identification) or here is an organized list with all the running stores by area.
Prep some cheap or throwaway clothes to the start. Find a mylar blanket from your last half or marathon (and don’t throw away the one you’ll get at the finish here!). You will need them until the last minute in the corral (I wear one as pants with tape and one as a cape). I wear my throwaway cardigan or a sweater (cut in the front for easy peeling, kept it in p
lace with a safety pin!) during the first mile too! Go to the dollar store and get knee-high socks, cut the foot and you’ll have throwaway arm warmers! I keep half of it on until I warm up, it can be windy and cold at the start!
Gear/What to wear… the weather can be anything from 50s to 20s so prepare (aka, train in) a few options and decide the day before. Or that morning. Be smart, and make sure you can peel off layers comfortably. If you don’t want to carry your phone, at least carry a $20 bill, a metrocard, and an ID with you, just in case. My rule is if it’s over 40 degrees, I do just singlet and shorts (pics from last year).
This is what the weather looked like the last few years:
Temperature has been pretty consistent… but, you should assume it’ll feel 10 degrees under that temperature (hey wind!). So, depending on the wind/humidity/lack of sleep/whatever, you can add hat, arm sleeves, leg warmers, etc. Always add things you can get rid of easily and won’t miss. If you’re not sure about a layer, keep in mind that once you leave the park and get to the West Side Highway, it can get a little windy there. Check the wind direction in the morning!
Best tool to have at any race: your name on your shirt, do not even question this!! If you don’t want your name, write something funny you’ll want people to scream to you all over the course. This is a big race and there will be a lot of spectators along the course and having them scream your name will make your race 100 times better. If you don’t want to ruin your gear, and are not super crafty or into going to Michael’s, cut the letters out of duct tape (like I do!) and voila, they’ll peel right off!
Headphones or not? If you are used to racing with headphones, bring them. I sometimes leave them on my ears (with the music off), and turn them on only when necessary. Central Park will be CROWDED, seriously crowded, so it’s smart to keep the music off, or very low so you can hear people around you. Once you are in the West Side Highway, and if it gets a little monotonous for you, go for it. You’ll have a lot of people cheering and you don’t want to miss it, but if you do have the music on later on, still make sure you can still hear what is happening around you!!!! Okay?
Place your spectators in spots where you’ll need encouragement (quite probably along the West Side Highway). If they are not the adventurous kind, they could see you anywhere in the park, always on your right, and then head over to the finish. Otherwise, there is an insane amount of combination of spots they can see you at. Study the map with them and calculate how much time they’ll have to get from one spot to the other based on your speed. For example, the 1st location would usually be in Central Park, east side, around 85 st, on your left (they need to be on the inside part of the park), that would be your mile 1. After they see you, they walk across the park (it won’t be more than a 10 minute walk) around the Great Lawn to West 86th, where they can see you again at mile 4.5! They have to be on the runner’s right (the outside of the park lane). Elite runners will be there in 20 minutes, and you can tell them how long it’d take you to do 4.5 miles! So, they have to hurry and cross over the quarter mile in less than 20 minutes or they’ll be trapped inside the park. Once they see you go, they exit the park and the B and C trains are right there at 86 and CPW. They could also do this in the 102 transverse (instead of 86) and the trains are at 103 when they exit the park on the west side, but the time to cross over from east to west is a lot less, but totally doable if they zippityzip. C trains go downtown, so they can head over to 14th st, though there is a bit of a walk from 8th ave to 11th avenue, so if the C train shows up fast, I’d say yes, otherwise, just keep going to Chambers and head over to the West Side Highway to cheer. A cab would be messy as traffic will not be open in many streets so the trains are better! Once they see you in Chambers, the can head over to meet you at the Finish (find a corner to meet up ahead of time, it’ll be CROWDED!) or at some brunch spot! Call ahead to see if they are open at 9 or 10 am so they can wait there and be warm! // When they’re cheering, it’s important to know exactly on what side of the street they’ll be so YOU can spot them (they won’t be able to spot you!). Send them with something big: a flag, a sign, balloons, huge funny hat, etc. Tell them to get comfy shoes, really warm clothes and bring food. It will be an early and long morning for them too! // If you need an extra push, ask for help!! FORCE all your friends to come watch you. Ask them “where are you going to be?”. Then tell them a time you’ll go through there, give or take 10 minutes, and decide if they’ll be runner’s Left or Right. Then make a little-tiny list you can carry in your pocket (Example: 102nd st, John, left / 86st st, Mike, right, etc.) in order or appearance, put clear tape all over it so it won’t get sweaty and basically go from John, to Mike, to etc… Let them pull you along the course and that’ll break the course in parts, instead of think “AH, I gotta go all the way to the end of the island, ugh” you’ll think: “I am just going to 102nd st, to see John, then we’ll see!“
Oh, and have them download the NYC Half mobile app (will probably be ready to download a week or two before the race) where they can track you and a few more runners at a time.
Get yourself the custom pace bracelet I created for this race based on the race strategy below.
If you need a short run before the race, go to Central Park. You’ll see many of your race-buddies and get to enjoy the best place in the world as a runner.
Find a mantra, or two, you might really need them. I write them in my hand where I am sure I will see it.
Memorize your Start Schedule (or write in your hand like I do)
Getting to the start/Baggage Check. The easiest way to get there is always a cab or running there of course, but if you have to take the train, take anything to 57th or 59th streets or any of the trains that leave you close to Central Park South/59th st. You will have to enter the park through Sixth or Fifth Avenue. Check the Start Map carefully. Before entering, check your (nyrr provided plastic) bag outside of the park (on 59th Street, between Fifth and Seventh Avenues). Give yourself ample time (as this is weekend schedule) and check MTA for weekend alerts, or try any subway app: make sure your train is running! Also, if you are not sure, I am 100% confident that if you just head over to the closest train stop, you’ll see someone you could follow to the Start 😉 // Kiss your loved ones buh-bye, they won’t be allowed anywhere close to the Start!
During the race, the course WILL be crowded, so PLEASE, if you need to stop for a walk or move sideways for water, please please please signal with your arms, and look around behind you before you make any moves, DO NOT just stop or go sideways. Be considerate of your fellow runners who could trip! The good side of having all these people around you that you’ll always have someone to run with, pace off, or follow when you’re tired. Pick them up when you feel strong, encourage them when they need it, and keep your eyes peeled for anyone who might need help!!
There will be Water/Gatorade around every mile or so, so if you miss one, don’t stress. Don’t go for the first table as everyone will do that. There’s many tables: go to the last one. You’ll find the portapottties where the water is, so keep an eye out and don’t dart sideways! There will be Gels at mile 7.5, on 42nd street between 10th and 11th avenues, on your right.
Think about joining an official pacer from the NYRR Pace Team, they’ll be wearing their signature white and blue striped singlets, and will run even splits through all 13.1 miles of the United Airlines NYC Half. Pacers will lead runners to finish times at every five-minute interval from 1:20 to 2:15, and will also offer a 2:30 pace group. You can visit the Running Lab at the United Airlines NYC Half Experience Presented by New Balance to meet the pacers and learn where to find them on race day (I will be there Saturday morning, so come find me and say Hi!).
Custom pace bracelet, if you can’t remember any of the info below
This is an easy race to figure out. Basically, you have two parts: the undulating Central Park (first half) and the straight and flat run to the finish (the second half). Which makes it a perfect course to NEGATIVE PR!!!!
Break the race in parts, device a plan, and stick to it no matter what. Plan for negative splits: keep it strong and conservative throughout the park and ram it home once you leave the park. It’s super simple. I am an average runner and have negative split in this race every time. Basically: you have to believe in yourself and wait for the time of your life.
This is how I like to break this race down. In 4 parts.
Part 1 – Mile 1: HOLD YOUR FREAKING HORSES!!!!
There are 2.5 hills in this race: Cat Hill as soon as you start, Harlem Hill(s) (THREE blips) at 3.5, and a last small one going up the Battery Park Underpass at the end (this one counts as just half a hill). Cat Hill and the Tunnel are short and tiny but annoying because of their locations right at the start and right at the end…! People get excited at the start, and take off like maniacs… if this is going to work, we have to hold it in, climb the hill carefully and let everyone (and their grandmother) pass. You’ll see. Tell yourself: Yes, go ahead and go. I’ll catch you later when your quads are screaming, buh-bye
Cat Hill is 0.25 long (in miles), or 400 meters long; but it has a 49′ rise (average grade of 3.7%)
Part 2 – Mile 2 to 6: EASY, LIGHT, SMOOTH
The park is a string of undulating hills, but after Cat Hill you have the longest flat stretch, almost a half mile (heaven…!) so, use that to get on a rhythm, find your legs and a pacer. It’ll be crowded so I doubt you’ll be able to utilize the tangents well but at least avoid tripping, did I mention it’s gonna be a bit CROWDED?
Your goal for the first half of the race is to exit the park in one piece, feeling strong, to let it all unfold in the second part of the race. Exercise all your patience here and keep yourself in good checks to not let yourself go. If you are running “hard-comfortable”, you are doing it right.
Blip 1 in the course profile is 0.36 of a mile and a rise of ’33. You exit the park for two blocks, go around the Frederick Douglass Circle and come right back downhill. Then you -re-enter the park, make a right, and start the climb for Blip 2: Harlem Hill!!! HH is 0.32 long but it has a 84′ rise (average grade of 4.4%). Fun times. As soon as you finish the downhill on the back end of HH, there’s another climb, Blip 3 is 0.60 of a mile and has a rise of ’58. Blip 1 is short and mild, blip 3 is longer but mild as it’s stretched out, but watch up for Harlem Hill, short and UPWARDS!
Part 3 – Mile 7 to 10: IT’S ON!
This is where I like to stretch out my legs: the race starts HERE. From now on it’s flat and steady. When you exit the park you’ll have a lot of space, cheering and excitement to carry you on, and as soon as you turn right on 42nd, you’ll be rolling down. Hit the gas.
Note: Something about Times Square can make you or your gps go crazy. Ooops. No, you’re not running a 3:20 mile. I set my gps watch to manual and I lap it myself when I see the mile markers. Way safer!
Part 4 – Mile 11 or 12 to 13.1: YOLO
ALL. HELL. BREAKS. LOOSE.
That is all. Go Crazy. Bring it in. Drop the Hammer.
As you can see in the map, I obv didn’t have gps on the tunnel, and you won’t either. But it won’t matter, when you get to mile 10, or 11 or 12 and you know you’re ready to start your KICK, you go. Keep in mind there’s a little climb out of the tunnel, short but steep, and then there’s not a lot left to go. Hopefully you’ll see the 800 meters sign if you’re focused but who is at my that point? It’ll seem like forever but once you’re out of the tunnel the finish line is RIGHT THERE.
Walk, get your medal, take pictures, get your stuff, find your friends/family, go get brunch (there are many good places downtown), enjoy, stretch, ice bath, rest, eat more, sleeeeeep! Tell everyone about your race, plan your next race, have a congratulatory donut. Or at least that’s what I am planning to do!!!
I’d suggest checking the Finish Map also (mostly if you want to meet up with people afterwards).
Also, post race, if you’re a NYRR Member: Join NYRR at the NYRR RUNCENTER featuring the New Balance Run Hub after the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half for complimentary finisher medal engraving!
Sunday, March 19: 11:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Monday, March 20: 11:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m.
Bring your NYRR Member Number. Can’t make it Sunday or Monday? Send a proxy to have your medal engraved; they’ll just need your NYRR Member Number.
Questions?? Anything to add? Anything you want to go over? Lmk in the comments below!
Get the custom pace bracelet maker, so you can plan your splits and stick to them!
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This content was originally published here.