The ING New York City Marathon is a major annual marathon whose course runs through all five boroughs of New York City. It is one of the largest marathons in the world, with 43,659 finishers in 2009. Along with the Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon, it is among the pre-eminent long-distance annual running events in the United States and is one of the World Marathon Majors.

The race is organized by New York Road Runners (NYRR) and has been run every year since 1970. The next marathon will be run on November 7, 2010. In recent years, it has been sponsored by the financial group ING. It is held on the first Sunday of November and attracts professional competitors and amateurs from all over the world.

The initial course of 1970 consisted in repeated racing around Central Park. Nowadays the course covers all five boroughs of New York City. It begins on Staten Island near the approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The bridge, which normally carries only vehicular traffic, is closed for the event. Runners use both sides of the upper level of the bridge and the westbound side of the lower level. In the opening minutes of the race, the bridge is filled with runners, creating a dramatic spectacle that is closely associated with the event.

After descending the bridge, the course winds through Brooklyn for approximately the next eleven miles. Runners pass through a variety of neighborhoods, including: Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. At 13.1 miles, runners cross the Pulaski Bridge, marking the halfway point of the race and the entrance into Long Island City, Queens. After about two and a half miles in Queens, runners cross the East River on the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. It is at this point in the race when many runners begin to tire, as the climb up the bridge is considered one of the most difficult points in the marathon.

Reaching Manhattan after about 16 miles, the race proceeds north on First Avenue, then crosses briefly into The Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge for a mile before returning to Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge. It then proceeds south through Harlem down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park. At the southern end of the park, the race proceeds across Central Park South, where thousands of spectators cheer runners on during the last mile. At Columbus Circle, the race re-enters the park and finishes outside Tavern on the Green.

In 2008, the race initiated a corral system. Women were given a head start and the balance of the runners began in three staggered starts. The official times are those recorded by a computer chip worn on the shoe, which calculates when a runner crosses the start and when she crosses the finish, known as “net,” as opposed to “gun,” time. Runners also pass timing mats along the course and email notifications can be received by people following runners during the race to see how the runners are doing. In addition, while the distance is the same, there are different courses taken through Bay Ridge and up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn until the course reaches Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn at Mile 8.”

Map here.

So asking ‘when does it start’? isn’t a straightforward question to answer. The wheelchair race starts at 8.30am, the elite women go off at 9.10am, the elite men start at the front of the first ‘blue’ wave at 9.40. I have drawn the second wave, which I think means that I am unfortunately on the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows and won’t appear in the ‘classic’ NYC marathon photo of the mass start:

Officially I start at 10.10am EST (3.10pm GMT) , although I am going to add a couple of minutes for human traffic and getting out of my corral. However I have to get to the starting area in Staten Island much earlier than that; there is also a lottery for public transport. I have drawn the 7am Staten Island ferry, which means I have to be at the very southern tip of Manhattan for ten to seven on Sunday morning. I am going to have to practice calming the nerves for a couple of hours.