A Marathon in Itself—A Guide for Race-Day Spectators
Not running the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon? OK, that’s unfortunate, but you can still take in the sights and sounds of race day and cheer on more than 50,000 runners. However, spectating is a marathon in itself—so our bloggers have compiled some top tips for what to bring with you on race day, how to get around, best places to watch, as well as their favorite memories from on—and off—the course.
Know Where Your Friends Are
Are people coming to watch you during the race? Then make sure you know where they are standing. It’ll be easier for you to find them and virtually impossible for them to find you. The TCS New York City Marathon app is a great way to get a general feel for when a runner will be at a certain place, so use that as a guide and look for them on the course.
I always ask friends and family to hang out on First Avenue above 100th Street, just before The Bronx. The crowds thin out a little and if your friends hang out on First Avenue, they can easily walk over to see you on your way down Fifth Avenue—it’s just a 15-20 minute walk for them.
With that said, keep in mind the race is 26.2 miles and there are basically only two places people aren’t allowed to spectate on the course, the Verrazzano Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge. You can also get tickets near the finish line in Central Park, or take the subway around the course to see runners.
Take Things for Your Runners
Take a balloon so your runner can see you from a distance. Sometimes, it’s easier for them to see you than for you to scan the crowd. I also like my cheer crew to text me their exact location—if possible—so I know where to look for them.
Large, funny signs are my favorite and while we are on signs, please try to refrain from writing “nearly there” and stand somewhere other than mile 25 onward.
Other tips: handing out candy, orange slices, or popsicles always go down well.
And cheer for everyone, not just your own runner. I chat to the people I’m standing with to keep an eye out for their runners. That way, it’s a whole group shouting and hollering when they run past—and more eyes to look for your friends/family.
Finally, take things your runner might need—a particular drink or gel, extra socks, painkillers, and more. Anticipating their needs, or talking to them about it ahead of time, goes the extra way to supporting them on the day. Think of layers to give them post race and perhaps a pair of slides.
Don’t Just Stand There
Sometimes I wonder which I prefer—running or cheering! Cheering itself can be a marathon. It requires all sorts of endurance and similar considerations: layers, nutrition, and bathrooms!
I’ve spent my TCS New York City Marathon spectating career at mile 22 with Harlem Run and always had an incredible time, even last year in the cold and rain. I would recommend packing a light bag with you that contains snacks you can easily access throughout the day.
As a spectator, I show up around 10 a.m. to see all of the pros and don’t leave until around 8 p.m., ensuring I catch all of our participants so staying fueled and hydrated is important. I also wear warm layers and something water proof. Signs and noise makers are important to have—about four hours in, my voice tends to go hoarse, so having something that makes noise for me is always helpful.
Finally, make sure you’re near a bathroom and carry hand sanitizer with you. I advise staying in one spot if you’re trying to keep track of multiple people, but trying to spot a runner in multiple spots is a different adventure. Whatever you do, don’t just stand there. Be sure to share your energy with everyone on the course.
Be on the Right Side
I always tell my spectators to start at 96th Street and First Avenue and then, after I've gone by to walk a few blocks west to 96th Street and Fifth Avenue. They'll get to see their runners twice without getting on a subway or doing too much traveling, and they're both fun parts of the course that are energizing without being too crowded.
If you're a spectator, it's crucial to tell your runner which side of the street you'll be on. If you use my First and Fifth method, you'll be on your runner's left at both spots.
Bring a Balloon
My top tip for marathon spectating is to have a balloon with you. That way your runner can spot you before you see them as finding your runner is always a sport in itself. I have spectated at the NYC Marathon multiple times and I always have so much fun. The city really does come to life on marathon Sunday.
I like when my friends spread out along the course so I can have something to look forward to. Brooklyn has great energy, as well as Manhattan and, of course, the finish line.
If you can, I would invest in grandstand seating for your family because there is no better feeling than seeing the finish line and your family at the same time. Make sure to dress warm and bring some food with you. Once you have a great spot to cheer, don’t leave. Crowds get bigger throughout the day.
Finally, wear something colorful and let the runner know exactly where you are so you won’t miss each other.
Confetti Is Appreciated
When I ran the NYC Marathon in 2016, my parents and nephew were waiting for me around the 5-mile mark. It was an emotional moment for me because it was the first time my parents saw me run!
Prior to the race, we discussed where I could find them as it’s much easier to spot a spectator if you know where they will be. My parents also sent me a photo of the sign my nephew made so I could easily spot it.
They drove to the spot they would ultimately see me, but with so many subway stops along the course, it’s easy to get around most of the course by subway and you’ll be able to spot your friends and family multiple times.
As a runner, I find running through confetti is always appreciated, so encourage your family and friends to bring confetti canons or noisemakers to shower you with love and encouragement as you run by.
Download the App
Cheering is such an inspiring experience as you get to see people from all over the world complete something extraordinary. I like cheering with our Runstreet crew, and making fun, colorful, and inspiring signs before race day.
For cheering, it’s a great idea to download the TCS New York City Marathon app to track your friends and teammates, so you’ll be able to watch out for them as they come. Also, pick a cheer station location and let everyone know where you’ll be at—and what side of the street. They’ll be so happy to see you along the journey.