If marathons were sandwiches, the ING New York City marathon would be filled with the most amazing ingredients that you’ll remember forever. However, the bread at the edges could be a bit better.
The race itself is a phenomenon that engages all five boroughs of this great city, and should be near the top of any runner’s wishlist. Few events can match New York’s spectacular opening – a mile and a half across the double-decker Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn. That this is also the race’s longest climb goes almost unnoticed amid the pure adrenaline rush of crossing it and seeing Manhattan, your ultimate target, in the distance.
The three-waved start system, introduced last year to avoid congestion, worked a treat, and there was plenty of space to get into a rhythm up Brooklyn’s wide, straight Fourth Avenue.
Crowd support was vocal and unstinting. Proud locals welcomed you to their borough, while the music on offer was varied (rock, rap, jazz, R&B, high-school bands and much more) and genuinely motivating (a 20-strong, uniformed gospel choir in Brooklyn).
At mile 15, the Queensboro Bridge, with its mile-long incline and absence of crowd support, was a really tough physical and mental test, but runners then hit a wall of noise from thousands of spectators on Manhattan’s First Avenue.
Given all that, it seems churlish to mention the less-then-perfect top and tail of the race. But being dropped off at the start (in darkness) by the official bus a full five hours before the off made it hard to stay warm and motivated – bring a sleeping bag and travel Scrabble. And at the end in Central Park, baggage buses that were lined up along one side of a narrow road meant it took up to an hour to exit the finish zone because of congestion. But these minor caveats aside, this is quite simply a must-run race.
GET THERE Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) flies to JFK from London Heathrow.
STAY MID-RANGE The Park 79 Hotel (park79.com) is close to Central Park and perfect for the budget-conscious. Rooms from £100 (prices per night based on two people sharing).
STAY UPMARKET The Jumeirah Essex House (jumeirahessexhouse.com) on Central Park South is on the marathon route itself. Rooms from £370 (prices per night based on two people sharing).
SIGHTSEE See the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty from The Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com, free). Or walk across the historic Brooklyn Bridge on a special walkway above the traffic..
FUEL Get beefed up at Ben And Jack’s Steak House (benandjackssteakhouse.com, from £30pp). Or try tasty dishes in interesting surroundings at Providence providencenyc.com, from £20pp) – it used to be the recording studios where Meat Loaf recorded his Bat Out Of Hell album.
WARM-UP Central Park – a circuit of The Park Drive is just over six miles, while there’s a 1.58-mile running track around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.