The Brooklyn Marathon (and Half Marathon), hosted by NYC Runs, is definitely an interesting course and one that requires a strategy. This year will mark the first running of this new course, and over 20k people are expected to cross the starting line for the race (combined). If you're looking to do your best, don’t wing it.
I love nothing more than to talk racing strategy and tactics. That's often easier to accomplish after talking to others who have experienced the race in past years (not possible as it's the first year), reading existing course overviews (I believe this is the first and only one out there), or running it yourself. The third option was my best shot at understanding this race and to help friends and coachees who’ll cross the starting line on Sunday. Being a Brooklyn native and currently on an ultramarathon training schedule, I had an opportunity to devote my long run last weekend to the cause. I'm hopeful this post is helpful to those preparing to step up to the line on April 24th.
This course overview and strategy covers both the full and half marathon. The half marathon is essentially just the first 13.1 miles of the full marathon course, though their varying distances require very different approaches to the course. So let's get into the TLDR of what I believe your day is going to look like. I have divided the marathon course into four sections (two for the half) and will go through each section in detail.
- Section 1: Waterfront Scenery and Settling In (Start to Mile 8)
- Start at McCarren Park,
- Run north through Greenpoint,
- Turn toward the water and follow the coast through Dumbo, and
- Make your way through Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn on your way to Flatbush Avenue.
- Section 2: The Hard Work (Miles 8 to Half Marathon Finish, or Mile 15 for the Full)
- Head toward Grand Army Plaza,
- Do an out and back on Eastern Parkway, and
- Enter Prospect Park and if you're running the half, you'll finish about 1/3 of a counterclockwise loop in. If you're in the full, you'll run a full loop.
- Section 3: Mental Reset with Easy Miles (Miles 15 to 20)
- Head south on Flatbush and hug Prospect park to the South, and
- Head out on Ocean Parkway
- Section 4: Re-engage Your Mind and Pay Attention (Miles 20 to Finish)
- Return on Ocean Parkway, and
- Reenter Prospect Park for a final loop, finishing on Center Drive.
Here is the course from a bird's eye view.
Be sure to check the NYCRUNS page for up-to-date information, but I will share the most pertinent information here.
- Each wave has a different entrance and security checkpoint, so be sure to check where you need to go.
- Bag check for all waves closes at 6:15. Wave 3 has a separate bag check location.
- You are assigned a wave and corral based on the time you submitted and the event you entered but you can move within your wave once you get there should you wish.
- Wave 1: All Marathoners & Half Marathoners 7:59 Pace or Faster (7:00 AM Start)
- Wave 2: Half Marathoners 8:00 - 9:59 Pace (7:20 AM Start )
- Wave 3: Half Marathoners 10:00 Pace and Above (7:40 AM Start)
I would note that this is the first event of this size for NYCRUNS, and also the first running of this course. So it is unclear how the start area will be organized, but it seems likely that McCarren Park will be used as a staging area while you wait for your wave. It is also unclear where and how many bathrooms there will be. The starting area map just isn't detailed enough, so plan accordingly and allow extra time. Getting there early to take care of all your business seems like an incredibly important (if not necessary) strategy.
SECTION 1: WATERFRONT SCENERY AND SETTLING IN (START TO MILE 8)
Course Description: This section is largely flat and mostly aligned to the coastline of Brooklyn. It's a relatively nice way to start your race.
Once the gun goes off, you'll start right at the corner of McCarren Park. You'll run north on Manhattan Ave, starting slightly uphill and then switching to equivalently downhill from Greenpoint Avenue. You'll turn left at the tip of Brooklyn and head west toward the East River. My guess is that you'll barely notice this up and down given how early it is.
From here you will have several unremarkably flat miles through remarkable scenery. You follow the coastline, passing through Williamsburg (via Kent Ave), Brooklyn Navy Yard (via Flushing Ave) and Dumbo, all going under the BMW of NYC Bridges in reverse order (Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn). In the Dumbo area, a couple of the streets have cobblestones, but this is brief. Just keep your wits about you.
Almost as soon as you pass underneath Brooklyn Bridge, you'll make a definitive turn at around mile 6.6 on Old Fulton Street, which turns into Cadman Plaza. This is really your first hill and is 0.5 miles, following which you get another flat mile. This section is mostly...uninteresting. You pass the courthouse and then run on Fulton Mall. The real elevation work of this race lies ahead, for both half and full marathon courses. But by now you're either 1/3 or more than 1/2 done (woohoo!), at mile 8, and staring at the bottom of Flatbush Ave…a one mile long hill.
Half Marathon Strategy: The half marathon course gets progressively harder the deeper you get, so unlike most races, I’d actually plan on a little positive split on this one. Your ability to self-assess your effort in the first two thirds will be very helpful here, and I suggest banking a little time when you can but saving some energy for the late hills in miles 9-12. Here’s how I’d approach Section 1:
Given that we don’t yet know exactly what the start will look like, I’d advise using the first 2.5 miles until you get to Kent to settle in, not worrying too much about the pace or jostling for position as you navigate the early turns. This section of the course is bound to be a little crowded no matter which wave you’re in, so let this work to your advantage and resist the urge to go out too hard. Once you make the turn onto Kent, you’ll have 2.5 flat and relatively straight miles to lock in your pace and cruise. I’d aim to be on pace or even 5 seconds faster from about mile 2.5 through mile 5.
As you navigate the turns in Dumbo, focus on running the tangents when possible and maintaining a steady pace. The climb up to Fulton at Mile 7 is a good point to check in with yourself and adjust your effort in preparation for the work to come. You’re half done at this point, but probably three quarters of the work is still ahead of you.
Marathon Strategy: You should do your best to calm the nerves from the start, enjoy a little bit of scenery and let the crowd moderate your pace. This is the first of four sections, and you need to save some energy for Section 2, your toughest. In my view, this is a negative split course, meaning that you should run the first half slower than the second half. Starting out conservatively will help you get there.
Given all the faster half marathoners in your wave and that (sadly) most runners will not read this post, I’m willing to bet that it’s going to feel quite fast as people will want to take advantage of the early flats. Don’t be tempted. Be on pace or just under. But NOT ahead. Kent and Flushing will be easy and straight. Run the tangents in Dumbo with all the turns. Worry not about your first hill up to Fulton. It’s a blip in the grand scheme of this race. Your goal here should be to feel confident going into the next section.
SECTION 2: THE HARD WORK (MILES 8 TO HALF MARATHON FINISH/MILE 15 FOR FULL)
Course Description: Section 2 is the hard work for everyone involved. It’s a turning point in mindset regardless of your race. For the half marathoners, you’ve got almost nothing flat left and you need to prepare for that. For the full marathoners, you’re switching gears to get through this next section and to come out alive, ready to take on Sections 3 and 4.
We ended Section 1 with you staring at a one mile uphill on Flatbush. To put this in perspective, the famed Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon is 0.6 miles long and has an elevation gain of 88 feet. The Manhattan Bridge path (which is almost perfectly analogous to Heartbreak Hill) is 80-90 feet of gain and also 0.5-0.6 miles long. The part you will be running is 1 mile long, and is 131 feet of gain. And halfway into the hill, you will have covered...80 feet of gain. So you basically run the equivalent of Heartbreak Hill/Manhattan Bridge (albeit with lots of flat miles before it) and then do that again. Enjoy! :) The good news is that you're doing this at Mile 9 rather than 21, as in the case of the Boston Marathon.
Once you get to Grand Army Plaza (GAP), you'll do your first out and back section of the course. Honestly, this section seems to have been added to get the mileage of the course just right so that the half and the full have the same finish line. Eastern Parkway is net downhill on the way out, but undulating overall. On the way back to Grand Army Plaza, it is equally undulating and net uphill. The main drawback of Eastern Parkway is that it is entirely exposed. As you’re facing east on the way out, you’ll have the sun right in your face.
You’ll enter Prospect Park from the GAP entrance. This is the final 1.2 mile stretch for half marathoners, and all of that stretch is flat or downhill as you run counterclockwise. Half marathoners will turn at Center Drive, whereas full marathoners will continue through a full loop of the park. This westside section is a really nice downhill. There is then a 1.4 mile stretch of a moderate but steady climb on the East Side. It’s mostly unnoticeable, so I wouldn’t worry much about it—until you get to your second biggest uphill of the race and the end of Section 2, Battle Pass Hill. This is about 0.5 miles long and 80-90 feet of climbing, depending on how you count it. But you’ve finished the hardest section of the course. Well done!
Half Marathon Strategy: Flatbush is the hardest climb in the course, and given its position at mile 9 and the lack of commensurate downhill afterward, there is little advantage to hammering this section. Keep your eyes up, your shoulders down, and focus on maintaining an even effort as you approach GAP. Note that you will have the sun mostly in your face here if it is a sunny day.
Once you round the GAP arch, you’ll have 3 rolling miles, which are probably the most technical miles of the half course. Stay focused here! This is the final 5K of the race, so use whatever you’ve got left in the tank. Knowing that the final mile is downhill, you can afford to be a little aggressive in miles 10 and 11 on Eastern Parkway. The hairpin turn at mile 10.5 will require awareness, though, and if you’ve done your job, many runners will be slowing down at this point. Again, keep your wits about you! Once you reenter Prospect, open up your stride and burn that last mile down! It should be a doozy! Running the tangents on West Drive can save you valuable time, but remember to veer left as you approach Center Drive for the finish. It would be a terrible way to extend a race by continuing with the marathoners downhill, only to climb back up to the finish!
Full Marathon Strategy: This section is the reason why you don’t want to come out like the Flash and then find yourself tiring out by mile 15. The half marathoners will be done after this section, and many of the people around you will be half marathon runners, slugging it out because they’ll be done before this section is over. By contrast, my strategy here is to get you through mile 15 feeling great, so that you can turn it up in Sections 3 and 4. You should be focused on maintaining a good effort while not over doing it.
Once you’re done with this section, you’re only at mile 15 with plenty of work left. The hills are at least undulating, and you have almost no stretch of simple flat space. Your watch and pace will be all over the place, but aim for an average of your marathon race pace over this section. A little slower on the ups and a bit faster on the downs. Remember that uphills do more to slow you down than downhills do to speed you up.
The best opportunity to pick up a little speed is the first half of the park loop, down the West Side and through the bottom of the loop. Maintain a steady and strong pace but when you get to Battle Pass, I’d let the hill win. Remember it though…because you’re going to run this hill again. At mile 24.
SECTION 3: MENTAL RESET WITH EASY MILES (MILES 15-20)
Course Description: Once you get to the top of Prospect Park and come out the same way you come in, this is the time to check in with yourself. How do you feel? What do you have left?
Ahead of you lies over a full mile of moderately aggressive downhill running through Flatbush Ave to the easternmost corner of the park, taking you to mile 16.4. Flatbush Ave is pretty exposed and you’re likely to have the sun in your face here, just like before.
You then hug the south side of the park for another mile of moderate downhill running, taking you to 17.3. This part along the park is tree-lined and has more cover. But then you enter completely exposed territory for another three glorious miles of mostly flat but moderately downhill and entirely straight road. It is also mostly uninteresting Ocean Parkway. For those of you who have run the NYRR Brooklyn Half, this part will be very familiar to you. Count the letters of the alphabet until the turnaround at about mile 20, Avenue P. And with that, you complete Section 3.
Full Marathon Strategy: As stated above, when starting this section, the hope is you’ll still be feeling good, ready to pick up the pace. You have almost five straight miles of easy downhill, flat, and straight running. The streets are wide. And you’re running a marathon. What more could you want? It’s this section that should give you the comfort that you can be a little more conservative in Section 1 and simply maintain pace/run slightly slower in Section 2. So if all goes well, you’re pushing it now.
SECTION 4: RE-ENGAGE YOUR MIND AND PAY ATTENTION (MILES 20-FINISH)
Course Description: This is the final section from the turnaround on Avenue P to the finish. The final 10K. Just as you had three easy, slightly downhill miles before this point, you’ll now have a three-mile stretch that’s mostly flat but with a slight uphill bias. The elevation is not very noticeable. You’ll reenter Prospect Park a pinch after mile 23 from the southwest corner to bring it on home.
You’ll start with the mix of moderately uphill or flat sections along the southwest of the park until mile 24. By now, you’re going to notice that even though the elevation is slight, you’re definitely going uphill until you reach the bottom of Battle Pass for the second time. After clearing Battle Pass, and after all this work, and after 25 miles, NYCRUNS was gracious enough to let you finish your race with 1.2 miles going mostly downhill (there's a slight bump up, but it’s incredibly brief). Give it everything you’ve got until the end, turning left onto Center Drive and finishing in a beautiful section of the park. Congratulations! You’re done. Time to get a beer!
Full Marathon Strategy: It’s the final 10K. Most strategies go out the window at this point. What I’ll say is that it will be very easy for you to get distracted and start to feel down once you turn on Avenue P and start going ever so slightly uphill. Focus. Don’t wander and drift off. Do what you can to stay engaged. Count the alphabet backwards. And once you get to Prospect Park again, you’re in my least favorite miles of every marathon I have ever run, miles 23 and 24. So close. Yet…so far.
At Battle Pass, remember that you’ve done this before. If you have fuel in the tank, now’s the time to stay strong. If you have the strength to gun it from here, by all means, let it rip. If you’re spent, do your best. Walk/run if you must—sometimes, a little walk break on a killer hill is the secret sauce.
The good news is that once you’re done with Battle Pass Hill, all the hard work is behind you. The bad news is that depending on where you are in the day (especially if you're on the faster end), you could be merging into the same lane that the later wave half marathoners are running on...so it could get crowded. But que sera sera, right? Throw on those after burners, try not to do too much weaving, hang on tight and finish this thing.
WHAT THE SUN IS DOING
The sun will be at your back for most of Section 1. In Section 2, you have lots of turns and are in Prospect Park, so at times the sun will be in your face (like Flatbush and outbound on Eastern Parkway), and at your back at other times (like returning to GAP and in parts of the park).
In Section 3, it will mostly be to your left, but you’re in exposed terrain so you won’t get much sun protection if it is a bright day.
The same is true for the start of Section 4, on your way back to Prospect Park. You will have tree cover once you’re back in the park.
The following shows the angle of the sun at 9:15 AM.
No matter what, you’re covering a good distance over a good period of time in lots of exposed areas. Lather up on that sunscreen!
NOTES ON COURSE AMENITIES
There will be hydration stations with water and NUUN Endurance Lemon and Lime formula about every 1.5 miles, which means that many are not located at mile markers. Keep your eyes peeled both for the stations and their associated congestion. Gels will be provided at mile 18, though it is not clear what brand or flavor. Plan accordingly and carry your own.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM TEAM BAKLINE
We love talking strategy! We hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions at all, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or open up a chat with us on our website, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Bakline offers fully customized Coaching Services from yours truly and my co-coach Molly. We sponsor a run group in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Pace Project which regularly meets at Grand Army Plaza. If you'd like to join our team and/or get some pretty awesome technical coaching, hit us up!
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