Warning: Long boring post ahead that will only be interesting to you if you’re considering baggage and transport options for the NYC Marathon. Mom, you can skip reading this one. 😉
This year the baggage and transport options for the NYC Marathon open on Tuesday, July 11 (and close on August 22). But runners won’t find out their bib numbers or starting corrals until much, much later (probably October). So how do you choose between the options?
This one is pretty easy. Most people say not to check a bag. The upside of no baggage is an earlier exit from the park (relatively speaking – you’ll still exit 1/2 mile after the finish line vs 1 mile for those with bags) plus a free waterproof fleece-lined hooded parka. These parkas are huge, thick, just massive things that really help you stay warm (and dry, if it’s raining). They are ugly, and you’ll never wear it again, but you’ll also find it hard to toss because it’s so nice. The downside is you’ll have to toss your warm layers and whatever else you want at the start but don’t want to run 26 miles with. Use this as an opportunity to get rid of clothes you don’t want anymore (everything is collected and donated) or buy cheap or used clothing if you don’t have anything you want to leave behind (but I mean, c’mon, when are you going to wear that stained sweatshirt again?).
The only reason you’d check a bag is if you absolutely have to have something at the start that you can’t toss but can’t carry. If you need something particular at the finish (but not at the start), I’ve heard you can check a bag at Jackrabbit on 72nd between Columbus and Amsterdam (for a small fee). Otherwise you can probably last until you get back to your hotel or car (or, heck, even buy it from a store near the park). Ultimately, I haven’t heard many complaints about the choice either way – I think the bag check runs pretty smoothly, and those who don’t check a bag are fine, too. Can’t really go wrong here.
This is the big question I’ve debated for a long time, but I think I’ve finally made my choice. When I ran in 2005, the buses left from downtown and the ferry was not an official option. Now, buses leave from midtown (next to the library at 5th and 42nd) and the ferry is an official transport option. (I’m only going to debate the NYC options since if the bus from Jersey is an option for you, you’re probably not debating anything!)
The bus is appealing because it’s one-stop-shopping. You get on the bus, you zone out, and you get off at the starting area. Lovely! My friend who took the ferry last year said it was cold and if he had to do it again he’d take the bus. Plus, the bus is in midtown, which is easy to get to even if there are delays on the subway or something (I could taxi or uber or even walk if it came to it). So at first the bus was the clear winner for me. But then I realized they close the bridge at 6:45, which means that all the buses are really early. Not a problem if you are in one of the first couple waves, but if your start time is 11:00 and you’re taking a bus at, say, 5:45, that means you’d board the bus more than five hours before your start time!
So what are the start times, and how do you know which wave you’ll be in? I’ve found several old pace charts that really, really help with this question – this is from 2014, this is from 2015, and this is from 2016. NYRR will seed you based on what you said your finish time will be (and maybe possibly based on data it has on you, but I’m not 100% sure on that). Basically, and assuming this year will be like last year, if you’re a 3:00 to 3:30 marathoner you’ll be in Wave 1 that leaves at 9:40 am, 3:35 to 4:00 will be in Wave 2 at 10:15 am, 4:00 to 4:30 will be Wave 3 at 10:40 am, and 4:30 to 6:00 (yikes that’s a big spread) are Wave 4 at 11:00 am. Note that it might take several to many minutes to cross the actual starting line. Last year I had friends who started almost at noon. That means that even if they finished in 4 hours 45 minutes, the sun would already be set. 🙁 (Let’s note here that I’m gunning for a 5:15 finish, but will be happy with 5:30 and ok with 5:45. So, yeah. A lot slower than sub 5.)
So, setting aside the fact that there’s a decent chance I will finish this marathon in the dark, I will certainly be in Wave 4, and I will probably have a green colored bib and have to run on the bottom of the Verrazano bridge (rumor has it blue and orange get top, green gets bottom). These are all depressing things to learn, but I guess I’d rather make peace with them now than be surprised on race day.
Back to the ferry! The ferry is highly recommended on online boards, but why? It seems like a hassle – you have to subway or taxi all the way to the tip of Manhattan, stand in a crush of people to get onto a ferry that holds 5,000 people, then get off in another crush and make your way onto another bus (one hopes there are enough buses there waiting), which then finally takes you to the start. And as my friend said, it’s cold. And it sounds like a lot of standing and walking and generally being on your legs to me! So why so recommended? Honestly, it sounds like the #1 reason is because the “view is nice.” Yeah, you get to see the Statue of Liberty and feel like you’re really “in” New York City. I mean… I guess? But as someone who has lived here 17 years and has seen the statue many times, I think I can pass on marathon morning. Other ferry advantages? You can “stretch out” and there’s a bathroom on board (and in the terminal). But there are also bathrooms on the buses! (or so I’ve read)
The real reason I’m (probably) choosing the ferry? (Gasp, yes, I think I’m going to deal with the ferry hassle!) Because of the time cutoffs and my late start. Even if they have buses as late as 6:30 (which I highly doubt what with the 6:45 bridge closure), that’s still 4 1/2 hours before my wave starts. I could take the 8:30 or even 9:00 ferry and probably make it on time (although I’m sure my nerves will get the best of me and I’ll be on the 8:00 ferry). Regardless, that’s a pretty big time difference, and ultimately makes taking the ferry worth the additional hassle. And who knows, maybe I’ll be so inspired by the beauty of the Statue of Liberty that I’ll crush my time. I am strongly considering dressing like the statue for my race costume anyway…
Either way, people say be on the bus or ferry 2.5 to 3 hours before your official start time to give yourself time for the transport(s), walking, security, bag check, porta potty visits, getting to your corral, etc. Also note that in the past, bag check closed a little over an hour before the wave (e.g. 9:20 for a 10:30 start) and corrals closed about 20 minutes before the waves started (e.g. 10:10 for a 10:30 start), so you might need even more time to get to the start depending. The upside is it gives you more time to eat the free bagels, Powerbars, coffee, tea, and water that’s at the start.
Ultimately, getting to the NYC Marathon start is a big hassle, no matter how you slice it. And then after getting to the start, you will inevitably be waiting around a long, long time (in the cold and other unpredictable elements). But then after all that hassle and all that waiting, you get to run 26.2 miles, so there’s that. Why do we do this again?
TL;DR – take the bus if you’re in waves 1 or 2, if you’re staying in midtown, or if you don’t mind hanging around the starting village. Take the ferry if you’re from out-of-town and really want the “NYC experience,” if you’re staying at a downtown hotel, or if you’re in a later wave and don’t want to kill too much time in the village.
Are you or have you ever taken the bus or ferry to the start of the NYC Marathon? Checked a bag? What meal are you planning for before and after the race? Share in the comments!