If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of your friend or family member running the New York City Marathon Sunday, the odds are not in your favor. You’ll be among the 2 million spectators lining the course and that person you’re searching for will be in a field that includes 50,000-plus other runners.
But with some preparation, a few cool tools and these insider tips, you can ensure your favorite runner sees you and that hilarious sign you made.
Create a plan.
Want to see your runner multiple times throughout the race, say at Miles 4, 14 and 24? Then, you need to make a plan. Figure out the most efficient way to get to those points, so you’re not wasting time getting lost or held up by street closures by using the MTA’s Trip Planner or HopStop.com to map out your routes ahead of time.
Or you can follow this tried-and-true plan, courtesy of Long Island resident Paul Brandel, who said he spotted his daughter Caroline not once, not twice, but three times when she ran New York City in 2010.
“There’s a whole different marathon going on underground,” said Brandel referring to the city’s subway system, which race organizers tout as the best way to get around New York on “Marathon Sunday.”
This is the specific plan that worked for him.
Viewing point #1: 59th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn (Between miles 4 and 5)
How to get there: Take a Brooklyn-bound N or R train to 59th Street and 4th Avenue. Exit the station and the marathon course is right there.
Why go here? Brandel said this is a fun, ethnic neighborhood with a wide selection of places to eat and stay warm if you get here early, and live bands. Plus, with the subway station close by, you can quickly hop on a train to get to your next stop.
Viewing point #2: Court Square, Queens (between miles 14 and 15)
How to get there: Take a Queens-bound N train to the 4th Avenue and 9th Street stop. Then, transfer to a Queens-bound G train and ride it all the way to the end of the line, getting off at the Court Square station.
Why go here? Brandel said if you stand between the two Citicorp buildings, you can see your runner coming and going as they make the turn on 44th Drive. “It’s a good picture spot,” he said. Plus, you’re just in time to motivate your runner as he or she prepares to tackle the Queensboro Bridge.
Viewing point #3: Central Park (between miles 24 and 26)
How to get there: From Court Square walk about a half a mile northeast to Queensboro Plaza, where you can take the N train to Manhattan, getting off at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Then, head northwest to the park.
Why go here. You're in the home stretch. Stake out a comfortable spot in the park and let your runner know the finish line is so close you can taste it.
What about First Avenue? While taking the N train toward Central Park, you could get off one stop earlier -- 59th Street and Lexington Avenue -- and head to First Avenue, where runners tackle the nearly four-mile stretch from 59th Street to the Willis Avenue Bridge. But it's one of the more crowded spots. Brandel said he had no luck seeing his daughter here, so he suggests skipping it.
If you do venture to First Avenue, though, Justine Downes, a Manhattanite who watched her friends run the 2013 marathon, recommends watching the race from the east side, where crowds are thinner.
“They only allow you to cross [the street] at certain points, so many people just settle on staying on the west side,” she said.
You may have to walk a few blocks to find a spot where police officers are letting spectators across the street, but Downes says it’s worth it.
Here are a few more tips.
Don’t try to surprise your runner. It’s important that you fill him or her in ahead of time about where exactly they can expect to find you so they'll be actively looking. Give them a specific intersection or landmark.
Install a tracker.
There are so many variables on race day including your runner’s pace. Depending on whether your friend is having an exceptional race or if he got a stitch and had to slow down, he could be arriving minutes ahead or way behind schedule. Download the free official NYC Marathon app, which lets users track specific runners as they cross checkpoints throughout the course.
Set yourself apart from the crowd by wearing eye-catching attire such as bright colors or crazy hats, or hold up a flashy sign.
Pick a meeting place.
The finish area can be hectic. Parts of the park and surrounding roads will be closed to spectators and race organizers say cellular saturation may inhibit your ability to call or text. Pick out a spot ahead of time to reunite with your runner after the race. And again, be specific.
There’s a designated reunion area set up on Central Park West between 60th Street and 66th Street, or you can select a landmark, say the Museum of Natural History, or a pub a few blocks away. Don’t worry, the extra walking is actually good for your runner’s post-marathon recovery.