NYC Marathon Strategy: Two Guides and Thoughts

(Mentally prepare yourself for Jim’s comic overthinking of his race strategy for the NYC Marathon)

If you’ve checked out my Training Plan, you know that I break my running down into weeks, with each week starting on a Monday. As such, I’ve only done one workout this week because I’m tapering for the NYC Marathon on November 1, 2015. Because taper time is slow time, and because I want to keep writing about training and running, and finally because my brain is fixated on the NYC Marathon, I’m going to write about the preparation I’ve done in the time off my feet.

That preparation includes reviewing strategy guides discussing how to pace through the NYC Marathon. I haven’t run a marathon in approximately 11 years. I ran two in college (Ocean Drive in March of 2004 and the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2004), and did not prepare with any particular plan for either. This time around, however, I have run and trained well, gotten stronger and faster throughout the year, and want to perform well on November 1. Hence, the analysis of race strategies prepared by people who have run the NYC Marathon before.

The first guide I reviewed comes from RunnersConnect. It breaks the race down into five sections: Miles 1-2, Miles 3-15, Miles 16-20, Miles 20-23, and the final 5k. It provides the following pacing suggestions for these sections of the course. I have inserted how these suggestions apply to my goal race pace of 6:30/mile (approximately 2:50 overall):

  1.  Miles 1-2: Go slow! The NYC Marathon begins on the Verrazano Bridge, and the first .8 miles are a steep, steady uphill. Run this mile anywhere from 60-90 seconds over your goal race pace. The final part of Mile 1 plus the entirety of Mile 2 is the downhill portion of the bridge, so run this portion 45-60 seconds faster than your goal race pace, but don’t push yourself too hard (save your energy for the last 10k). Thus, you should finish Mile 2 at about 10 seconds faster than your goal race pace.
    1. For me: I should be hitting Mile 3 at around 13:50 into the race, approximately 50 seconds off my cumulative goal race pace.
  2. Miles 3-15: These miles are mostly flat, so hold back and don’t push too hard through this section. Run these miles at about 10-15 seconds slower than your goal pace, and arrive at the Queensborough Bridge (right after Mile 15) about 60-90 seconds off your goal race pace.
    1. For me: For this stretch, I should be averaging 6:40/mile, which would bring me through Mile 15 in about 1:40.30, about a 6:42/mile pace overall.
  3. Miles 16-20: After the Queensborough Bridge (a tough uphill followed by the inevitable bridge downhill), you emerge on First Avenue, which is mostly downhill on your way to the Bronx. You can make up some time here by running 15-20 seconds faster than your goal race pace.
    1. For me: This brings me to Mile 20 in approximately 2:11:45, approximately a cumulative race pace of 6:35/mile.
  4. Miles 20-23: This section allegedly gets tricky because it involves two bridges and thin crowds. Running 20-30 seconds over goal race pace is OK here.
    1. For me: If I run this section in 20:30 (6:50/mile), I will hit the last 5k at 2:32.
  5. The last 5k: This includes the uphill on Fifth Avenue before the Park, and then the up and down run through the Park, across Central Park South, and then to the finish in the Park. If you’ve followed the strategy, you will apparently be able to run hard through this section, fighting through pain. The strategy guide provides no pace, but I imagine the idea is “as hard as you can still manage.”
    1. For me: If I can push hard, I’ll come through around 2:50, though maybe a couple of minutes behind.

Running and the City also provides an NYC Marathon strategy guide full of useful information about pre-race preparations, how to handle the athlete’s village before the race, and some anecdotal insights about why it’s important to run the first half of the Marathon slower than you might think. She breaks the race down into more distinct parts than Runners Connect does. Here are her pacing strategies:

  1.  Miles 1-2: Run Mile 1 at about 1:30 slower than your goal race pace, and Mile 2 at about 20 seconds faster than goal race pace, bringing you into Brooklyn approximately one minute off your cumulative goal race pace.
    1. For me: I’ll enter Brooklyn at 14:10 into the race.
  2. Miles 3-15: Here, the stated goal is to arrive at the Queensborough Bridge feeling fresh and ready to go. You should run this section of the course at 5-10 seconds faster than your goal race pace. So, overall, this means that by the Queensborough Bridge, I should either be right at my goal pace or slightly ahead of it.
    1. For me: Running at a 6:25/mile pace, I would hit the Queensborough Bridge in approximately 1:36.50, slightly faster than under the RunnersConnect plan.
  3. Mile 16: The run across the Queensborough Bridge can feel tough, with no crowd and a steady uphill, so keep the effort constant while dropping pace to about 20 seconds slower than goal race pace.
  4. Miles 17-19: Here, she breaks it down as follows: Mile 17 at 30 seconds below goal race pace, Mile 18 at 10 seconds over, and Mile 19 at goal race pace.
    1. For me: I should average 6:30/mile for Miles 16-19, coming through at approximately 2:02.30
  5. Miles 20-23: The goal here is to stay at or 5 seconds below goal race pace, despite the bridges.
    1. For me: Averaging 6:25/mile for Miles 20-23 brings me to the Fifth Avenue hill in approximately 2:28.25.
  6. Mile 24: This mile includes the hill on Fifth Avenue, a hill many people have told me “comes out of nowhere and zaps your energy.” RaTC recommends a pace about 20-30 seconds slower than goal race pace.
  7. Miles 25-26.2: Mile 25 has a lot of downhill with some rolling uphill. Try to run it slightly under goal race pace (5 seconds or so). Mile 26 includes the uphill across Central Park South, which might put you at 5 seconds over goal race pace. The final .2 is the steepest uphill of the race, so plan to run it about 20-30 seconds slower than goal race pace.
    1. For me: If I were to follow this plan completely, I would cross the finish line in almost exactly 2:50.

As I’ve never run the NYC Marathon before, these suggestions sound great. I like that they advocate different approaches to the race: It reminds me that I ultimately have to listen to my body and adjust as I progress, and don’t fret if things don’t go my way. Despair invites the fastest path to a poor time.

However, both plans advocate running the first half even slower than you think necessary. The second half of the NYC Marathon is, I’ve heard, deceptively hilly, so every extra gram of glycogen you don’t burn on the first half pays dividends during the second. Both plans also discuss the adrenaline surge that the crowds inject into your running, and implore you to stay within yourself and your pace throughout the race. Ultimately, the goal is to conserve your energy while running a smooth race until the last 10k, when your body starts to feel the depletion of its glycogen and begins to break down.

Today, I’m resting my body. My left foot has a slight pain, so I’m going to let it chill even though I’d love to do a slow run around the Park. I’d rather be physically healthy on race day and slightly less fit than nervous about injuring myself and slightly more fit.

How’re you prepping your race strategy?

Happy running, everyone!

7 thoughts on “NYC Marathon Strategy: Two Guides and Thoughts

  1. thanks for the shot-out! The second half is brutal, just focus on getting to 1st ave in one piece, and you’ll be fine! And yes, you’ll have to adjust based on effort, which is the best way to pace yourself, obviously, but I like to give people those pace cues in case they’re really bad at reading effort. Have the best race!!!!! and let me know how it goes!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 10/30/2015: Morning Workout, November Project, 6:25 a.m., Bethesda Fountain; NYC Marathon Thoughts | Time on My Feet

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