New York City Marathon 2023: The Marathon of Marathons in the City of Cities
🏆 Which Is the Best Marathon Race in the World?
At the time of writing, I’m at 83 marathon races in 30 different countries. Sometimes I get asked which one was best. It’s a tough question! So, since many of my marathon related goals have already been ticked off, I thought it might be an interesting use of my time to find out which race actually is the best.
For most people who are into marathons, the answer is either Boston or New York City.
🥊 Boston vs. New York City
But which is #1 and which #2? In 2023, I ran both, so I feel like I’m qualified to say a few things on this topic in the hopes of making it easier for you, dear reader, to decide which you should put on your bucket list.
And what if it’s neither of them? What about the original race in Athens, which starts in that city named, you know, “Marathon” and ends in the historic (4th Century BC and fully marble) Panathenaic Stadium? What about London, one of the centers of the world and the place where the current 42.195 km / 26.2 miles distance was first established for the Olympic Games? Or how about Berlin, the fast race with the most world records ever?
I’ve done them all and run plenty more, so let’s get into it.
🎟️ First Things First: How to Get In
As with many things worth doing, it’s not easy to get into the New York City Marathon. Even though it’s one of the biggest races in the world with more than 50,000 participants, many more people would like to race each year. There’s a limit to what an organization can pull off and the good people behind the race, the New York Road Runners, or NYRR for short, have put the limit somewhere at around 50,000. And I can understand them – even just a few thousand more would make it that much more challenging.
There are several ways of getting into the race. First, there’s a lottery. You can just apply for a spot and get selected if you’re lucky. I did that for six years and lost every single time. As has been published, about 120,000 people applied for this 2023 lottery drawing, but not even 20,000 of the 50,000 slots are given away using this method, putting it at a 16% chance.
If my math is correct, after my six tries, given they each have a chance of success of 16%, I should have had a chance of 66% to get it. Cracking an 80% chance happens after 11 tries, and for 99% you would need about 28 tries. (1 - 0.16^x) = 0.80 (or 0.99)
But, as you know, mathematical probability is not something you should solely count on. Even an 80% or 99% chance leaves probable room for an unlucky loss.
Thankfully, there are other ways:
- Apply to run for one of several charity partner organizations: they also have limited spots and usually require you to raise a certain amount of money for their cause before giving one to you. Often that amount is well into four figures.
- Get in via the organization’s 9+1 Program, which basically means you need to run 9 affiliate races which are all in the US and then volunteer at 1 race. Not easy if you’re located outside of the US.
- You get a ticket if you’ve completed 15 previous NYC Marathons. There is your chicken and egg situation.
- You become a philanthropic member of the NYRR, the association which puts together the race. This costs 5,000 USD. Easy for rich people.
- You can qualify based on a fast previous result at a different marathon, but the standards are even higher than at Boston. For example, for Boston, I, a 35-39 year old male needed to run a race in less than 3:05:00 hours, but for NYC I would have needed to go below 2:55:00 – it seems like it’s just 10 minutes, but at that speed, 10 minutes make a huge difference. Also, this method only guarantees entry if you’ve run that fast qualifier at an NYRR organized race. If you’ve done it in Rotterdam, for example, there’s a first-come-first-serve basis.
- Run the Virtual NYC Marathon in the year before. This might be a one-off thing for 2024, because it seems too easy and could easily be faked as well.
- And now here comes the solution which I went with: plan and book your trip with an International Travel Partner. This only works if you don’t live in the US and if you can find one of these companies who still have one of their allotted NYC Marathon slots left. The company then has to sell you some sort of travel related service like the flights or the hotel stay in order to be allowed to give a marathon slot to you.
In the past I had already looked into this option a few times but always held back because of the high cost. The companies obviously want to make a good profit and therefore usually offer hotel packages in quite pricey establishments. Also they often require that you book a city tour with them. But when I looked into it during this year’s March after losing the lottery drawing for the sixth time, I found a company which also provided a fairly cheap option: they only made me book the flights with them, nothing more. It was their cheapest package by far.
💸 Here’s What I’ve Paid
- 660 Euros / 720 USD for the flights from Hamburg via London to New York JFK and back from Newark via London. That’s roughly a 200 Euro / 220 USD premium on the typical cost of booking the flights yourself. Sometimes you can find really good flight deals to NYC for less than 400 / 440 USD, but that’s rare.
- 590 Euros / 650 USD for the NYC Marathon ticket. As far as I know, the actual cost you’d have to pay for a NYC Marathon ticket, once selected, is about 360 Euros / 400 USD including tax for foreigners. It’s significantly cheaper for US citizens. So, here the travel company charges another 230 Euro / 250 USD premium.
Since I would have needed flights and the marathon ticket itself anyways in order to run in New York, the actual premium cost of doing it this way is around 430 Euros / 470 USD. Put in a different way, that’s what I had to pay to race 2023 and not have to wait until lottery luck finally hits me after who knows how many more years.
Contemplating this, I thought it might be worth it. Now, after having done the race, I say it was an amazingly good deal.
It was my wife Sophie who convinced me to book the race when I felt unsure about paying that amount of money. She argued since I know that marathon running is one of my favorite things in life and New York City one of my favorite cities in the world, and who knows what will happen to me in the future, I should make use of the opportunity. I’m fit and healthy right now. Maybe I’m injured next year? Have an accident? Have other difficult circumstances to deal with?
🗽 Reminder: New York City Is Amazing
Just in case you’re not aware, but New York City is probably the most well-known city in the world. If there was a capital of the planet, it would most definitely be it. I have been lucky enough to have gotten to visit the city three times prior, the most recent trip being last year, in 2022. During the few days I ran the perimeter of the borough of Manhattan. The New York City Marathon famously doesn’t just do loops in Central Park, though. It incorporates all of the 5 Boroughs.
Although Manhattan might be the most famous borough, there are four more which are nearly as well known in the world as well. Whole TV shows are named after them, e.g. King of Queens or Brooklyn 99. Jennifer Lopez proudly let us know about her upbringing in The Bronx in her most famous song, Jenny from the Block. It’s the place where Hip Hop was reportedly invented. Nicknames of cities here in Germany incorporate the borough’s names as well, like “Mainhattan” for Frankfurt, because it’s at the river Main. Also, “Saarbrooklyn” for Saarbrücken, a city I have lived and studied in.
My point is, the 5 Boroughs are probably just as well known around the world as the city itself. With one exception. Poor Staten Island. The comedian Pete Davidson joked when talking about the mixed genetic heritage of some singers he was talking to:
“I’m from Staten Island. That means I’m half seagull and half garbage.”
The borough is often the butt of jokes. Another example includes “If Staten Island is so great, then why would the ferry there be for free?”
Anyways. Staten Island is probably a nice place as well, but the other boroughs steal the show. But why is it even part of the city? The answer is quite interesting, take a look at CGP Grey’s educational video called “The Race to Win Staten Island”.
Maybe I’ll learn something about Staten Island on my first trip to the borough.
⏩ Fast Forward to November 2023
Since booking the race, my year has gone exceptionally well. I ran and finished Boston Marathon in 3:22h and loved it, six days later I paced my friend Mathias in Hamburg to his new marathon PR of 3:09h and came in at 3:14h myself, in summer I finished the incredibly difficult Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120k race (5,800m of vertical gain!) in 25:30h, and after digesting that one I got back to speed with a 2nd place finish at the lovely and hilly Blankeneser Heldenlauf half marathon here in my neighborhood.
The weeks right before New York City had been filled with other marathon races, too. I ran marathons in Erfurt, Kassel, Bremen, Munich, St. Wolfgang (Austria), and Venice (Italy) during September and October. I was doing really well but was struggling to decide if I should try and go for a 2:59 hour marathon in New York City. It would be a new personal best and I got close to that level in training, but then a rather strenuous vacation with my family made the decision for me: It’s not going to be 2:59h, it’s going to be a party pace marathon. Enjoying the city instead of looking at the GPS watch and counting seconds for nearly three hours. I was fine with that, too.
I flew to New York on November 3rd, two days before the race.
It was uneventful, apart from this curious situation at immigration at JFK airport: it looked like I was the only one of the hundreds of people who wasn’t asked for fingerprint scans. Do I really look that harmless? Well, I am, so I guess the officer did her job well.
After six years of bad luck at the lottery and now finally being here in the city for the marathon, apparently the universe decided to give something back to me: When I arrived at my hotel around midnight, the receptionist found that the hotel was fully booked and my reservation hadn’t prevented that. So she apologized profoundly and put me in a partner hotel around the corner which was two levels up in comfort with a lot more room, confirming that it was her hotel’s system’s fault and I wouldn’t have to pay anything for this night. Jackpot! Hotels in the city are rather expensive, so a free night’s stay is a major deal. This alone cut my race premium of 430 Euros / 470 USD down to half.
🥳 Race Weekend in New York City
The next morning during my daily streak run which I did near Central Park, I was surrounded by many runners who were certainly about to race tomorrow, too. Then, a train of a couple hundred runners went by: The Adidas Frontrunners Club. Among them, a bunch of run-fluencers. Some of them I know from social media. This woke me up. I’m in the center of the world right now, next to Central Park in New York City – how amazing is this!
The Marathon Expo
Jacob Javits Convention Center is just a 20 minute subway ride from my hotel. At 9am, I’m there. It’s a huge building made of glass, interesting architecture. It’s all full of volunteers wearing the same pink colored jackets and cheering for us as if we were the first people to ever about to buy an iPhone. This is a party!
The place is huge and since it’s quite early in the day and everyone had to book bib collection time slots, I get my bib within minutes.
Everyone also receives a free shirt, but there has been a weird screw-up by the organization. They did order almost no men’s Medium and Large sizes. Which are of course the most sought-after ones. But they did their best and put up a “Shirt Support” desk where you could put down your bib number if you would like a shirt in that size delivered to you via postage once they have been printed. Shipping all these thousands of shirts all around the world is going to cost them a lot of money, but the shitstorm has been averted.
Speaking of shirts, what follows on the guided walking tour through Jacob Javits Center was the huge main sponsor merch area. This looked very similar to the one I knew from Boston, the only difference was that here it’s New Balance instead of Adidas. Other than that, a nearly identical experience. So far, there’s no clear winner between Boston and New York. About half of the hall was fenced off and studded with crowd control. Once inside, you were allowed to buy as much overpriced New York City Marathon 2023 merch as you could carry, before taking it to one of the literal hundred checkout points. Shirts, mugs, pants, shoes, backpacks, hats, pins, bottles, you name it.
I walked through it thinking I can make it without spending a dollar here and went straight into the hall with all the other companies showing off their running related goods and services. This was actually a lot better compared to Boston. Many interesting companies were here and a bunch of other marathon races were promoted. Like, for example, the 7 Marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days challenge. That’s a tough one.
I thought it was great that companies gave away lots of free stuff here. Samples of their gels and drinks, bags, blister patches, among others. I tried to buy the new Asics Novablast 4 shoes, because they were sold here a month in advance of their official release and I loved the predecessors, but no luck. My size 14 isn’t common, even in the US.
After spending an hour in here, I have a change of heart and can’t resist the temptation any longer. Back to the New Balance area to buy some official merch as a souvenir. Oh man! So much for the willpower which us marathon runners supposedly have. A headband and nice split shorts, 65 bucks. Quick, I need to leave before I lose even more money! Also, I’m hungry.
A New York breakfast: Bagel and coffee. 18 dollars.
Right. It’s a very expensive city, I had forgotten about that. You need to factor that into your calculations and be smarter than me.
Here’s a great tool to get an idea of how your city’s cost of living compares to New York. Compared to my hometown of Hamburg, Germany, New York City’s consumer prices are 37.4 percent higher, restaurants are 41.6% up, groceries 63.8%, and rent is an incredible 242.8% higher than in Hamburg, which already is one of the most expensive cities in Germany. Since everyone in the world wants to live in New York, prices obviously go up. It’s the most famous city. Still, whenever I bought anything, be it a cereal bar for twice the price as at home, I had to think about Eric Cartman’s words on South Park:
“Don’t you know? Everything that’s fun costs at least eight dollars!”
In the afternoon I felt like New York pizza and followed a recommendation to Prince Street Pizza down in SoHo. There’s a line of about 50 hipsters in front of the tiny take-away pizza bakery. Must be good. And yes, turns out it’s worth the wait. Extremely delicious, especially the tomato sauce. But again, 25 dollars for just 3 slices. They manage to get me 80% full at least.
I use the jet lag to my advantage and go to bed very early at around 7:30pm. The marathon tomorrow requires us to travel the big distance to Staten Island to the starting line, which means I have to set my alarm to 4:00am. During this night, people in the US end daylight saving time, and since the saying goes “Spring forward, fall back”, the clock gets turned back from 2:00am to 1:00am, effectively giving us all another hour of sleep.
Since this race tomorrow is going to be one of the highlights of my year and possibly even my life, I sleep nervously and wake up at 3:45am, quarter of an hour before the three alarm clocks I’ve set. Typical. The body somehow knows. And so it begins.
⏰ Race Day: November 5th, 2023, 4:00am
I do feel good. It has been enough sleep. It’s completely dark outside. Coffee, cereal bar, jumping into the outfit.
When I leave half an hour later to get to the subway station, I already meet lots of other runners who are on the same trajectory. At this remote spot, Queens Plaza station, I am reminded of how big this event is going to be. 50,000 participants all have to come from somewhere.
There are several options to get to the start of the race in the remote borough of Staten Island. We all needed to pre-select one that suits us best months in advance. I chose to take the Staten Island ferry which leaves at the southern tip of Manhattan, near Battery Park. Why not go for the full experience, I thought.
After exiting the subway station near the ferry we’re all greeted by cheering and applauding volunteers at the ferry terminal. There’s a security check which utilizes sniffing dogs, the NYPD has it under control. No drugs or explosives with this guy.
Every 15 minutes a ferry leaves, full to the brim with runners. I had booked the last one, leaving at 6:00am, so I don’t have to wait as long as I had to at the freezing start of the Boston Marathon. I could really do without that.
To my surprise, the ferry is huge! Hundreds of people on two decks. It makes its journey to Staten Island past the Statue of Liberty on quiet waters in just 20 minutes.
Again, cheering volunteers greet us in Staten Island. Spirits are high as the sun rises.
Our mode of transport would now change yet another time. We were all loaded into yellow school buses, just like at Boston.
The distance between the ferry terminal and the start of the race is just four miles, but the buses somehow took the scenic route through the hilly residential area, possibly for logistical reasons – to avoid congestions at the drop-off. This is my chance to catch a glimpse of Staten Island! This part of it looks very comfy. I could actually imagine living here to raise a family. It’s just a short and free ferry ride from the center of the world, but it’s calm and provides space. And the prices are probably a bit lower, too.
Around 40 minutes of bus riding later, we’re finally there. It’s 7:00am.
Now, the 50,000 runners are divided into three large groups. Pink, Orange, Blue. I’m in Pink. Every of the three groups gets its own Athlete’s Village. That’s a fenced off area near the starting line at the beginning of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn and will provide the first couple of miles of the race track.
Here in the Athlete’s Village, we will have to spend the next hours until our respective starting waves are sent on the course. As part of Wave 1, my starting time is among the earliest, because when I signed up I entered an expected result of 3:15 hours, putting me into the fastest 20% of participants. I will be sent off at 9:10am, just 30 minutes after the pro women and 5 minutes after the pro men. The last wave will start at 11:30am, nearly three hours after the pros.
Two hours to kill. I’m glad we’ve got great weather. Blue skies, nearing 50F / 10°C, no winds, no rain. The village provides everything you could have asked for apart from shelter and chairs. But that’s alright, I walk around and have two free plain bagels, a free protein bar, and some coffee and a warm hat courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts, who’s a big sponsor. Water and Gatorade are offered in abundance, as well. There are protective plastic bags in case the weather got ugly, but they weren’t needed. I would have appreciated those in Boston. A funny curiosity is the Therapy Dog section – there are a bunch of trained dogs which you can cuddle if you feel the nervousness and anxiety before the race take over. I’ve never seen that. But people enjoyed it.
The separate starting waves are divided into corrals, which can be accessed at 8:10am. Before leaving for it, I get to see the handbikers leave their area for the start first. It’s a lovely sight to witness those heroes without working legs pedal through a whole marathon. Inspirational. We’re all applauding as they are making their way. Then it’s Goodbye to our Athlete’s Village as well.
The NYC Marathon Athlete’s Village beats Boston’s by far.
The NYRR did this very well. I can’t think of many possible optimizations for this waiting period. Apart from, obviously, cutting it down from two hours, to, say, thirty minutes. Someone still has to explain to me why these extremely long time buffers are required.
In the past I’ve heard some people say they wouldn’t do a big race like New York City because of this long waiting period before the start, but I think that’s just stupid. There are so many worse things than just having to wait for a bit while eating bagels and having coffee. Pull yourself together, I say! You’re missing out on of the greatest sporting experiences you can have in life for a dumb reason.
The short walk towards the starting corrals is a welcome change of setting. This still isn’t the starting line, but it’s a lot closer and we can see the starting line above us from down below. The announcements are done in English, French, German, Spanish. Whenever a starting wave starts, an extremely loud cannonball sound can be heard all around. But this is also announced with the words: ”In a few moments, a cannon will be fired to send athletes on the course. Please don’t be alarmed.” We’re in New York City, after all. 9/11 didn’t happen far from where we are standing right now.
Eric Adams, who is the current mayor of New York, gives a short speech for every wave. He is introduced using the words ”your Honorable Mayor, Eric Adams” multiple times, although, as I’ve heard, that adjective is highly questionable when describing his recent actions.
At 8:45am, my corral is closed and our starting wave can slowly make its way towards the actual starting line. People are stretching, talking, warming up by jumping. Every few minutes, Frank Sinatra is singing about New York.
This makes me realize how many well-known songs have been written about this city. Apart from Sinatra, there’s Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” with the curious grammatically incorrect line concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Did she mean “concrete jungle of which dreams are made” or maybe “concrete jungle where dreams are made”. Then we have Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York”, the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel, and one which I personally enjoy a lot, “Manhattan Skyline” by David Shire, which is part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. This song fits perfectly to sinking into a daydream about the city’s unique nightly visuals.
Right before we all pack the actual starting area, it suddenly hits me. It’s real now. All the waiting certainly added to it, but my appreciation for this moment is through the roof. Too much for me to take, actually. So I start crying, I can’t help it. Good thing I’ve got sunglasses on. The tears are running down my cheeks as I realize how amazing this is.
Having made it to the start of the New York City Marathon is something which is so special and which required so many things in my life to go right, that I feel pure gratitude.
I’m thankful and overwhelmed by the luck I’ve had to be standing here, about to run the New York City Marathon. I can’t describe it any better but I wish an experience making you as happy as this to anyone on the planet.
🏃 AND GO!
And when our cannonball is fired off, the mood changes again. Switching into marathon mode. Let’s do this! At the front I can see the 3:00 hour pacer and his following take off, not far behind him are the 3:10 hour people, and as I predicted half a year ago, I put myself into the 3:15 hour group. It takes just about 2-3 more minutes for me to cross the starting line of our Wave 1 of the Pink Group. That’s faster than at most other huge marathons – thanks to careful division into many groups depending on their projected results.
A slight downside of me being in this specific group is that we have to run on the lower level of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. There are two levels, and the groups on the upper streets obviously have a view of Manhattan that’s much preferable. We basically only see the upper level above us and some water to the left and right.
It is an uphill section with about 150 feet / 50 meters of gain to the uppermost point of the bridge. This also marks the highest point of the entire course. At the beginning, when spirits are high and the legs are fresh, this section doesn’t seem bad at all and I am ready to take off. But that’s not possible right away, even though I should in theory be surrounded by people aiming for the same pace of 7:25 minutes per mile (~4:35 min/km). Many of the runners are very slow and obstruct the course. Also, there are a bunch of blind and visually impaired runners on course, who are led by guides, which is great. I don’t understand why they were all put into the 3:00 hour pacing group when it’s obvious most of them are a lot slower. This seems to be easily solved.
Anyways, these are tiny details and don’t matter that much – except if you wanted to go 2:59h here and had to start in this 3:15h block, as I almost planned to do. Good thing I didn’t.
Crossing the bridge is still a great feeling. And on the downhill it all scatters a bit, meaning only the first two miles / three kilometers had to be slow ones.
🌬 Choosing the Right Shoes
I usually run road marathons in comfortable tempo shoes like the mentioned Asics Novablast 3 or my trusty Hoka Mach 5. Those provide a great combo of both those aspects, comfort and speed. But a few months ago I caved and bought the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2. Two years ago, they were the fastest shoes on the planet, and now they are old and more affordable. They are just meant for racing. Incredibly light and reactive, supposed to make you as fast as possible with almost no regard to any other metric. One of the downsides, especially when taking into account the heavy cost, is they lose their bounce fairly quickly. Just 80-120 miles / 130-190 km, and they are basically done. Put another way, they currently cost two dollars per mile. The 26.2 miles of a marathon add up to 50 bucks. Oof. But since it’s New York City and they admittedly feel awesome, even though I wasn’t on course for a personal best, I had the famous slogan in my mind. ”Just do it.” Marketing works.
So I Vaporflew myself to new highs into Brooklyn. Seven minutes per mile / 4:20 min/km, easy as pie.
I could have raced closer to my current limits, which might have resulted in a finishing time of below 3:10 hours, but I chose to stay on 3:15 course so I could take in more of the city’s atmosphere, take more pictures and make a video here and there. That’s been a good decision I wouldn’t revise in retrospect. Another option would have been to take it real easy a go for maximum fulfillment at a so-called “party pace”, but my reasoning was that I feel like I owe the city a certain effort. Giving it my energy for getting all that energy.
⌚ Getting the Pacing Right
I, as well as nearly everyone at the race, use a GPS watch to figure out if I’m running at a sustainable pace. Just recently, I’ve upgraded my favorite COROS PACE 2 to the new PACE 3 model. Here’s my review about that awesome watch. The people at COROS noticed and offered to send me their new add-ons to it, which are the arm strap HR Monitor to measure your heart rate without the annoying chest strap, and the new POD 2, which is a little device put on your shoe that has accelerometers to measure your current pace even more accurately when the GPS signal is obstructed.
This has been perfect during running on the lower level of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge! It’s also amazing to see how fast the watch now acknowledges when I change my pace significantly, for example during interval runs. And compared to the competitors, like the most known Stryd sensor, it’s a lot less expensive and doesn’t require a subscription. I’m sold on the POD 2 for sure.
The dear folks at COROS provided me with one additional POD 2 foot sensor to give away, valued at 99 USD / 119 EUR. It works with all COROS watches.
Update December 2023: Here was a little giveaway of the device, which I’m happy to say Brian P from Aberdeen, Scotland, won. Congrats, Brian! 🎉
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This was one of the best articles I've read so far in telling about a race. I couldn't put it down. Your details were so awesome. You made New York just come alive.
Great review, enjoyed reading it and recognize lots off related subjects and hurtles. I’m amazed by all your running and races well done.
Great article! I've read so many long blogs only to get bored in the middle as I suffer terribly from ADD and move on to other things. Yours has been one of few that held my attention all the way to the end.
Your good humor and ease in telling stories make this blog a really cool space. Nice review.
Amazing effort Tim, well done! Thank you for taking the time to write down your thoughts, feelings and memories from the event. There’s always something to learn from your posts and this one was no exception!! Another cracking read.
What a ride! Surely the race, but also reading about it. Thanks for taking the time to write up such a detailed report, almost feel like I was there.
🤝 Getting to Know Brooklyn
I’m not very familiar with Brooklyn either. Manhattan had been my main focus on former trips. So I was curious what’s it like here. How about a video to give you an idea!
The first few blocks right after leaving the bridge were still quiet but the noise increased steadily after that. The further you get north, the more densely populated it is and people are all into the marathon, as it seems. It definitely feels like a party. Where the city of Boston is small and has these little concentrated suburbs with some space in between, New York provides a consistent high energy atmosphere for the whole time. Apart from the bridges, obviously. But there are just two really notable ones. Verrazzano-Narrows and Queensboro. For now, it’s flat and loud.
It’s going well for me. I’m keeping the pace and feel fine. It’s getting warmer since the sun is fully out now, so the jacket goes around my waist.
🍹 The Aid Stations
As in Boston, they have built huge aid stations at every single mile. There are just a few exceptions, e.g. on the bridges, but this is pure luxury. Even at a relaxed pace you would never ever run out of water and carbs this way. The stations are well stocked, too. Lots of water and electrolyte drinks. They have Gatorade Endurance here. Many stations also offer some food selections, such as bananas. At two stations, there are gels by the brand called SiS, more on that later.
As opposed to Boston, aid stations are most often just on one side of the road or on both sides at the same time. In Boston you have the opportunity to use every aid station twice, going from one side to the other. Not that it’s necessary, but I think sometimes it just hits the spot to go get another cup, be it just to throw it on the head to cool down.
The amount of proud volunteers is huge and they have all been exceptionally friendly to me. I appreciate it a lot when people give their free time just to help a few people run around a city.
The amount of trash though.
Manhattan alone produces 21 metric tons of garbage PER MINUTE.
I tried calculating the amount of paper cups used for the race today. At least they offered recyclable cups. 50,000 runners who have the option to take a cup at around 20 different aid stations, taking two cups each because the cups each just contained half a sip, you get to 2,000,000 paper cups. Plus all the plastic gallons of water used to pour into the cups. It feels really bad and I keep thinking about a smart solution to this problem, but so far, nothing.
Most ultra marathons with a lot less participants who are spread out over much longer distances make you bring your own cup which you have to refill on the aid stations. But at a huge city marathon like this one, that’s not possible at all.
How can we solve this? Do you have any idea? Let me know, let’s think this through and hopefully improve it some day on a large scale.
This is worthy of being someone’s life quest, in my opinion.
🪧 New York, You’ve Got Great Signage Game
I love a good sign held up by the crowds during a marathon. New Yorkers did this a lot. As you could see above in the aid station picture. Some more examples I can remember include:
- “Smile if you’re gay, too!”
- “You think this is hard? Try dating! (We’re single!)”
- “Worst. Parade. Ever.”
There were so many country flags, too. New York is known to be the melting pot of nations, and you can argue that this is what made the city so successful. Not only were there people from seemingly every nation on the planet running the marathon today, but people from every nation on the planet seem to have their own little neighborhood somewhere in this city.
The variety of music which was played by the bands, the drum circles, the rock bands, the choirs, was bar none. Even in the more residential parts of the city, the crowds were going strong.
👸 Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Queens
It’s one of the often mentioned bridges of the city, but the elevation gain here is just about nothing. Maybe 30 feet / 10 meters at most.
The people living here make no secret of being proud residents of Queens. You can see that on their signs. Queens is one of the three boroughs which don’t get much love of this route, because we almost immediately cross the next bridge and enter Manhattan. As with Staten Island at the beginning and The Bronx later, the goodbye follows quickly after the hello. Brooklyn and Manhattan are the main heroes of this course.
It’s a massive building and beautiful, too. Again, we’re running on the lower deck, but this time, everyone is. I tested this bridge on my shake out run yesterday and was prepared for the 120 feet / 40 meters of gain, but after 15 mi / 24 km it’s something else. My pace is still the same as in the beginning, stable at around 7:15 to 7:30 minutes per mile / 4:30 to 4:40 min/km.
🏙️ Into Manhattan
The hard part of the marathon race is about to begin. This is the same for many people. Insufficient energy intake is one thing, but the muscles and the whole body getting tired from the continuous strain can’t completely be averted by putting in as much carbs as possible.
I made a mistake today. I ate gels from many different brands. At least I think that’s what it is. There were SiS gels, which I was familiar with and which I value for their liquid consistency and unobtrusive taste. I had one at mile 12. Before and after, I ate my own GU gels, which are on the opposite end, being very thick and full of taste. And a Maurten gel to mix it up, with a lot of Gatorade Endurance, which is rather salty. The bagels from the morning and Prince Street pizza from last night apparently didn’t agree. Beginner’s mistake.
Going over some options to deal with the hurting digestive system, I chose to eliminate Gatorade Endurance from the equation, starting now. This seemed to me to have been the main source of unrest. But you never really know. My pace started to suffer, but mostly I was still doing fine. Just a bit of unrest in my center, who cares.
Manhattan’s 1st Avenue is our home for the next 3 miles / 5 kilometers. Crossing the Upper East Side and then Harlem, two more neighborhoods which are known around the world.
⚾ The Bronx
The Bronx, home of Yankee Stadium and birthplace of Hip Hop, is the only borough which has a definite article in front. Apparently that’s historical because of it being named after the Bronck’s River. Mister Bronck was one of the earliest settlers in the area, and himself a Swede.
As mentioned before, The Bronx was just a tiny part of the route (1.2 mi / 2 km), because it’s so far north of Staten Island. But the people here made sure we didn’t forget about The Bronx.
🏞️ Manhattan, Central Park
Back in the center of the center of the center. The sun is in full swing right now, but nearing the water Reservoir in the center of Central Park we have to battle one last uphill. It’s going up to 120 feet / 40 meters from zero for another time. I’m not going fast anymore, my pace has dropped to eight minute miles / five minute kilometers. This is still objectively good, I’m aware, and a few years back I wouldn’t have believed this to someday become a standard on the slower side for me. The power of incremental progress, again.
As the pace decreased, the mood goes up, if that’s even possible. I am having a blast here, did I mention?
One turn towards the west, going along the south end for half a mile / 800 m, another turn north, and we’ve got the finish line in view.
🥳 Wow. What a Race.
I’m just so happy to have been able to experience this. This race compares to no other I have ever done before. But, no tears! I wonder why I cried at the beginning of the New York City Marathon, but at the end of the Boston Marathon. What’s that supposed to say about both races!
As I walk away from the finish line as you’re supposed to, I can’t help but take an admiring look at people standing at the 6-star finisher booth. This is the spot where you receive your big special medal if you’ve just now completed all 6 World Marathon Majors. Including New York City, I’m now at 4 of them, just missing Chicago and Tokyo. I’m registered for Chicago as a time qualifier in 2024, but Tokyo will probably have to wait. At some point in the future, I’ll receive the huge 6-star medal in Japan, as it seems. That’s absolutely fine with me.
Back to the present. New York City. I can’t say these magic three words enough times. We all receive a warm orange poncho, which isn’t really necessary in the mid-60s weather / 18°C, but feels nice. The recovery bags, as they are called, include a protein shake, which is very smart, some more water, fruit, snacks, and Gatorade. It doesn’t take me long to devour all of it.
We are guided through Central Park and then back south on 8th Avenue, where at every block, exits for people with a last name starting with a certain letter of the alphabet are prepared so they can meet their family and friends.
I’m going to meet a VIP here, though. Henning, who has a press ticket being a journalist for Runner’s World and can go wherever he chooses to.
Here’s the link to my Strava activity.
Digesting What Just Happened
Before we jump into the conclusive lightning round comparison between Boston and New York, here’s what happened next.
Walking home to the subway station, strangers on the streets as well as the cops managing the crowds were congratulating me. That happened in Boston, too, but it’s still new to me. Back in Europe, no one cares. One guy here even came up to me, stopped, and asked about my finishing time and how my legs were doing. Friendly New Yorkers!
After a well deserved shower and some time relaxing, I took a stroll through my Queens hotel’s neighborhood, located close to the race course. People were cleaning up and some were even still getting through here, at roughly the halfway point.
During my little stroll through the ’hood it got dark, but I still saw a few people on the course! I couldn’t really believe it at first, but when Henning told me later the NYRR close the finish line at 8:30pm, which is a whopping nine hours after the last starting wave, it made sense. You can easily walk the whole course, and some did! Or if you’re among the first starters, you could even try and walk backwards or crawl, because then you would have about 12 hours for getting through the course.
This has the advantage of making it a much more inclusive event than many others are. According to the official stats, today we’ve had 51,402 finishers of 51,993 people who started.
That’s a finishing quote of 98.9 percent!
I do think it’s a good idea to make a race as inclusive as possible, because it helps get people active and gain confidence and a sense of self-worth. It comes with a lot more work as opposed to closing the finish line after just six hours, for example, but with enough public support, a city like New York can easily do this. My impression was that even the people in cars or buses which were diverted or otherwise inconvenienced by the race didn’t go angry about it.
By the way, with those numbers, the NYC Marathon was also the biggest marathon race in the world in 2023 in terms of participants.
Because flights were cheaper a day later and my dear wife Sophie and supportive mother-in-law Susanne were able to take care of the kids for one more night, my flight back home was on Tuesday and I got to enjoy some more New York sights and food.
Flying back east over night isn’t great, but I’m still massively thankful and in awe that flying in a steel tube around the globe is possible at all and affordable for many.
So let’s get into it.
🏆 Who Wins: New York City or Boston Marathon?
My memory of Boston is still quite fresh. It’s been half a year since I toed that line. The only thing which might make this a biased comparison is the weather: Boston had rain, wind, and was cold, while New York had blue skies, no wind, and a temperature in the 60s. But I’m trying to pull that out of the equation.
1st Category: 🎟️ Ease of Getting Into the Race
Taking all the options into account, my verdict is that it’s about as difficult to get into Boston as it is to get into New York City. Slightly different, yes. This might change over the years and pivot towards one of the two, though.
2nd Category: 🏢 The Expo Experience
Winner: New York City, ever so slightly.
Both were huge and full of interesting stuff. The main sponsor merch was nearly identical except is was a different brand. Boston emphasized the history of the race while New York emphasized the grandness of it. The exhibitors were more diverse and interesting in NYC and the volunteers more numerous and cheerful.
3rd Category: ⛴️ Getting to the Starting Line
Winner: New York City.
Both races start far away from the finish line, requiring transport to the start. While there were no problems at Boston, riding a school bus for an hour just isn’t as exciting as riding a ferry past the Statue of Liberty, before riding a school bus through some friendly suburbs. NYC took longer in total, but the variety made me not notice this as much.
4th Category: ⛺ Athlete’s Village
Winner: New York, by a mile.
Both races require you to wait for a bunch of hours near the start, which isn’t great. But at the Staten Island villages, the time flies because of all the amenities provided. Food, hot coffee, plastic ponchos to stay warm. In Boston we were standing in open tents and freezing for an even longer time.
5th Category: 🟢 Start Atmosphere
Winner: New York.
The MC at Boston was a lot more dull and just stated some boring facts, I remember. There was no music, just the national anthem. We got the anthem in New York, too, but also lots of songs about the city, first and foremost Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. Boston had some more people cheering at the start, because New York’s start is on the bridge, but spirits were higher and people definitely smiled more in New York.
6th Category: 👏 Crowd Support
New York is louder and offers more variety as well as lots more funny signs, but Boston’s several suburban centers were also very high up there, especially the iconic Wellesley College Scream Tunnel.
7th Category: 🍹 Aid Station Quality
Again, these are just nuances. Both races play in the premier league, of course. The amount of aid stations was nearly identical, but Boston had longer ones and put them on both sides, a hundred yards apart. The food and drinks were both good, but Boston provided the superior Maurten gels at three spots whereas NYC only offered SiS gels twice.
8th Category: ✊ Difficulty
This seems to be an individual thing. Some say Boston, some New York. I think they are both at the same level. Flat street roads built with solid asphalt, wide, a bit hilly at times, both having their famous uphill sections: Queensboro Bridge in New York and Heartbreak Hill in Boston. The first bit in Boston is downhill, but that’s not super easy to run either. New York’s Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge at the beginning is a bit of a challenge, but afterwards it’s mostly more flat than Boston is.
9th Category: 🎖 Personal Best Worthiness
Related to the difficulty, I’d say both races are okay for going for a PR (Personal Record), but not great. Heartbreak Hill and Queensboro Bridge both have the potential to pull your plug. Central Park at the end is hillier than you might imagine. And both places can have difficult and unpredictable weather. So unless you’re incredibly fit and feel like blasting your PR, try an easier course.
10th Category: 🍻 Finish Line and Post Race Experience
Winner: New York.
The medals were nicer, the ponchos were of much superior quality, and the food bags had more and better goodies in them. Especially putting a protein shake into it, as they did in New York, was a great idea. That’s what you feel like and what you need at that time. New York also had a long road closed off just to walk it off. Boston, on the other hand, had all the runner’s stores around the corner, offering specials for finishers.
🥇 And the Winner Is: New York City Marathon!
Of course, this is subjective. You might find some aspects are worth more than others, but I hope to have given you a good idea of the different ways of looking at the two races.
I could have used more categories, but decided to stop at the even number that is 10. A side note would have been that in terms of historical significance, Boston would win. It was the first one and ist the longest standing race in the world, after all. But when you remove the word “historical” and measure them both in terms of general significance, it’s New York City again. People all around the world are more aware of it, at least in my experience they are.
Then, it’s also important what kind of person you are and what you enjoy more in a marathon race. If you don’t like crowds, both aren’t for you. If you don’t like waiting at the starting line, New York is better but also not great. If you care about the history of marathon running, go to Boston. If you love NYC, you know what to do.
Taking everything into account, if you find yourself having to choose between those two, without knowing your preferences, I’d say run New York City.
But, as I’ve shown you, it’s possible to do both! Putting it into context for you, this is how I feel about both marathons in comparison to all the other races I’ve done so far:
Still not sure if you should go for that NYC Marathon dream?
My suggestion is to let the lottery decide for you every year. It’s going to take a few years anyways, so why not just follow through with whatever the universe puts in front of you that way? Should you at one point feel like this is taking too many years, like I did, you can always act on that urge and find a different way to get into the race.
I, for one, am very glad it went this way. I think I got maximum enjoyment out of the process and race and cherish the memory of it, probably until the day I die. The post NYC Marathon phase of my life has begun. 😉
A week after, I ran a tiny marathon half an hour away from my home. It was a huge contrast to New York and I loved it.
I felt great and ended up winning the race in 3:24:30 hours, which I think is pretty good.
The first half of this Sülldorf race I was going the same pace as a guy named Volker and we talked a bit about marathon running. He told me he had done over 150 marathon races so far and his personal best was at 2:45 hours, so the guy knew his stuff.
I hadn’t told him what I did last weekend, but when I asked him what else he would like to do in the marathon world after having had so many accomplishments already, his immediate answer was: