NYC Marathon: Five Lessons Learned

The New York City marathon is a grand affair, with approximately 45,000 runners testing the limits of their minds and bodies across 26.2 grueling miles. The crowds, of course, dwarf the participants, turning the process of getting a look at the action into something of a sport itself. Everybody has a secret strategy, it seems, for getting a peek at the pained looks of determination that have come to characterize this event.

I attended my first NYC marathon last Sunday, probably the only person without a plan but with the help of a local pro who’s attended several times and even volunteered. What followed was certainly counter-intuitive but a valuable learning experience – and for once from success rather than failure. We landed right along the fence at mile 26 in Central Park, a prime viewing location. So, as you think about next year, here are five lessons that will be helpful to you in making the most of your non-running marathon experience.


1. Later is actually better: we didn’t get to the park until after 1 PM. Sure, I missed the battles for first place. Nonetheless, I witnessed the personal victories of runners who sought to complete the course, which is no small feat. The crowds lined up only a few hundred yards from the finish line (which requires a special pass) but rotated fairly regularly. So, be patient, and you’ll wind up with a front-row spot.

2. Make space for kids: it isn’t fun when you can’t see the race. Take some time to enjoy the spectacle, but keep in mind that other people want to do the same thing. For children especially, nothing compares to a place up front – they can’t see over adults. If there are kids behind you, make sure they get in front: you’ll be part of a truly memorable experience for them.

3. Have an exit plan: it isn’t easy to get in and out of Central Park on race day. Gates and fences control the flow of people and make room for runners and race officials. Keep track of where you can go. Otherwise, you’ll run into several dead ends before leaving. Needless to say, this can be frustrating.

4. Don’t make the runners do all the work: at times, the spectators were surprisingly quiet. The runners, however, waved their arms, cheered and smiled … even with 26 miles and five boroughs having passed under their feet. Help them out! After all, they’ve earned it.

5. Go to the southwest corner of Central Park: the runners enter the park for the home stretch at Columbus Circle. You can’t get right up to the road in the southwest corner of Central Park, which makes the spot less than ideal. Because of this, fewer people are there, making it easier to get an unobstructed line of sight on the action.