The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon this past weekend was my 42nd Half Marathon and the 275th race of my 22-year running career. While I had run the NYC Half five times before, this was a new course. Here’s my review.
I have experienced the work of many race directors and have directed or been involved in the organization of many races myself. I know what makes a good race experience. The course and the start and finish logistics are what it’s all about. Without counting them, I’d take a guess that of all the races I’ve run, probably 20% have been organized by New York Road Runners. I have run a variety of their races from 5ks to the New York City Marathon, and for the most part, they have always done a fabulous job. The NYC Half is no different.
I ran this event in 2006, the first year it was held, and again in 2009. Those first few years it was held in August. It was then moved to March and I ran it 3 more times (’13, ’14 & ’16). March is a much better time of year. The course was one loop around Central Park, down 7th Avenue through Times Square. West on 42nd Street and then south along the West Side Highway, past the World Trade Center, through the Battery Park Tunnel and around for a finish on Wall Street. It was a great “PR” (personal record) course, because after leaving the park at about the halfway point the course was essentially downhill.
A lot of people were skeptical about the new course, which started in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and finished in Central Park. Admittedly, if a local running club hadn’t organized a bus from near my home in Bergen County, New Jersey to the start, getting to Brooklyn before 6:30am, for me, would have been difficult. 22,000 people didn’t seem to find navigating the additional borough to be problematic.
It was about a mile walk through Prospect Park to the beginning of the start area from where the bus was able to drop us off. I jogged. It was a good warm-up. Security was tight but easy, signage was good, and port-a-potties in the start corrals was an added convenience. This wasn’t unlike the start in Central Park in years past. Lots of room for warming up and staying warm; big bins for donations as layers of clothing were discarded.
The start was at Grand Army Plaza. It continued downhill on Flatbush Avenue and onto the Manhattan Bridge. That incline was the biggest elevation climb on the course. From there, the views of city were spectacular, making the trip out to Brooklyn worthwhile.
Once in Manhattan, the course weaved through Chinatown and onto the FDR Drive heading north. I’m not sure at this point whether I preferred this East River view to the Hudson River view of past years, but it was breathtaking. We exited the FDR at 42nd Street right by the United Nations. I felt from here the course was a little more interesting as it passed Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and Bryant Park. Crowd support all along the course was decent.
The new course also included running through Times Square as the old course did, but north on 7th Avenue. It was uphill into Central Park. The park route included “Cat Hill” but cut across the 102nd Street Transverse eliminating the Harlem Hills. The “Three Sisters” came in the last 3 miles but the final 800 meters was all downhill, finishing in front of the iconic Tavern on the Green (in the opposite direction as the NYC Marathon).
The finish area in Central Park was a major improvement over the old course downtown. There was a lot more room for runners to get their medals and refreshments, collect their gear from the trucks and finally reunite with family….or their bus back to New Jersey.
A few others I spoke with about the new course said it was definitely more challenging with more turns and the hills of Central Park in the final miles. I didn’t have an issue with the hills at the end, surprisingly. Hills are rarely my friend and I was not looking forward to them. When I reached Central Park though, its familiarity was comforting and I sailed through. The last four miles were my fastest.
So, thumbs up all around for the new course. I am especially glad that I was able to do it this year. I am already registered for Half Marathons #43 and #44 later this year: the Chicago Spring Half and Fall Half. Not sure when I’ll be back to New York City for another race. But I highly recommend the NYC Half for anyone who can find their way to Brooklyn.
Marathon Training this week