Today’s post is a bit of a mashup of two of my favorite entry categories: city eating guides and running stories. And from the title, I’m sure it’s pretty obvious why: I wanted to go out to eat in New York so I entered the New York City Marathon as an excuse. The trip was right before my 45th birthday, so that might have worked as an excuse. But, you don’t get a medal for your birthday – not even your 45th, as monumental as it may be.

Diane at the NYC Marathon finish line

Now if you do the New York City Marathon, you not only get a medal but also a warm poncho, gallons of Gatorade, and tons of love from all five boroughs. And no limits on your food intake for a good four or five days; in addition to a fond and sturdy connection to the city. The whole event was magical indeed. So in this post, I show you my 26.2 favorite moments of my unforgettable trip. I highly recommend signing up for next year’s race so you can eat like a whale as well.

Learned a Few Things

1 Ponchos Rule I did right by tucking every possession I needed into my stretchy pockets and expandable waistpack (don’t you dare call it a fanny pack). That way, I was able to go the poncho route rather than the storage option. With the storage option, UPS (a wonderful sponsor whose team I was lucky to be a part of) carries your items from Staten Island to the finish. Convenient. Except that you have to go pick up your items after you’re done running. If you chose poncho instead, on your way out (an exhausting and sort of hilarious two-mile or so walk from the finish line) you’re given a warm

Diane wearing a poncho

2 Say My Name Many of the NYC marathon blogs I read (in horror) before the race advised to put your name on your shirt so the crowds can call out to you. This is advice I wish I would have taken, as I witnessed how much of an encouragement they were to those who did. I gotta say, out of envy, I sped up a bit in Williamsburg to get away from Jessica, who made easy fans of those along the route.

3 Movin’ On Up I figured New York as a pretty flat race. With the exception of the bridges, I didn’t anticipate any major inclines like the ones I’m used to in Southern California, though I’d been told about the last few miles – Central Park and all. I’d been to Central Park…so inclines, schminclines. Compared to home, those miles would be nothing. So of course, I was wrong. Ridiculously wrong. Minor and invisible as they may have been, I felt every tiny upward degree of those final few slopes. Don’t sleep on Central Park.

The course right off the Queensboro Bridge

4 Massage Envy Right after I got back, I saw a pitch on Shark Tank for a portable, travel foam roller that would have been my best friend if I had it on the trip. If you don’t invest in one for a faraway race, I highly suggest booking an athletic massage in advance. Or bring along a sturdy companion who can use a forearm to push out all that lactic acid.

5 Buses, Boats, and Automobiles Race day, I Lyfted to the Staten Island Ferry depot, took the ferry to Long Island, hopped on a bus to the starting line, walked my way over to port-a-potties and then to the starting line, ran for five and a half hours, walked some more, and took the subway back to my hotel. I walked and waited and maneuvered for nearly as long as I raced. Point is, outside of the race, it’s sort of a slow hustle with lots – and I mean lots! – of waiting. Just the trek from the ferry exit to the buses (a distance of about 50 yards) took a good 45 minutes. A fun wait, however, as it’s a time for jittering bonding, for warnings, for good stories, for sharing of strategies for getting nutrients during the race. If I ever run New York again, I know to anticipate the full journey and enjoy it.

the line to the ferriesthe ferry buildingon the ferry

6 Stay a While The marathon is a full-on investment for the city, and not just on Sunday. The festivities begin days before, and even includes an Olympics-like procession of nations through Central Park. After the big day, the celebration continues on Marathon Monday with panels, race recovery services, and panels featuring the top finishers. And if you wear any kind of race gear while out and about later in the week, you’re sure to get some proper NYC props along the way.

Wonderful Race Day Moments

7 Emotions It’s incredible to be all by yourself while being part of an extended spirit family. I knew no one there but felt comfortable talking to, laughing with the many who walked beside me in my starting cohort. After tossing my $12 throwaway jacket (this race racks up oodles of warm clothing for those in need), tightening my laces, a taking a final slow stretch, I stopped and looked around let it all sit for a moment. And from up above I heard…no, it couldn’t be. Yes, it surely was Beyonce. Singing Love On Top. And an odd thing happened to me at that point: my eyes got a little teary. I suppose all of my emotions burst out then and there – fear, excitement, dread, glee. And a need to share. Yes, I captured the moment on my Instagram story.

8 NYC Unplugged Before November 6, I’d only run without music once – during last year’s Long Beach Bike-Half Combo when my phone died with four miles left in the race. To any issues with this race, I stowed on my person both a portable charger and a backup pair of earphones. I NEED music. When other outdoorsy types I know have mentioned running without earphones, wanting to be in touch with nature, the sounds around them, I’ve rolled my eyes. But for this race, I didn’t use any music at all. The dynamic sights and sounds of the city accompanied me the whole route – a scintillating mix of crowd hum and the patter of sneakers and clanging cowbells – were more emboldening than any of the songs on my marathon playlist. Okay, maybe not as much as Hotline Bling. Or Work. Those two really get me going.

9 New Yorkers Are the Best One of my favorites was the runner dressed as Elvis, who accepted a can of beer from the crowd and proceeded to chug it much to the amusement of those nearby. Including me. I also loved seeing another New Yorker receive from her family members a foil-wrapped loaf of steaming warm bread just before taking on the Queensboro Bridge. And yes, I’m assuming that both of these women were New Yorkers. But I’m 101% sure they were. And there were others: the throngs of folks packed onto brownstone steps in Brooklyn; the officers who let me know my ride home on the subway was free because of my accomplishment, and not before chatting me up about the race, wanting a full breakdown; the public works fellas who had many jobs to do logistically with keeping the course safe and secure, but not able to resist shout outs of encouragement as they worked. New York surely is a special kind of race.

The beer chugging Elvis runnerNew Yorkers with signsNYCer with sign

10 Star Struck – Not No celebrity sightings for me (I believe the stars start right at the beginning giving them a head start from stalkers and photo seekers like me), but right before I finished, I heard the announcer say that Carole Radziwell of New York Real Housewives fame finished. Ten seconds later, when I made my way across, I quickly forgot to try to find her, too overwhelmed with joy that I was indeed done.

Finished! Running Running

Shopping Spree

11 I stopped myself from buying everything I wanted because a) I didn’t have much extra suitcase space and b) I didn’t have much extra money. But I did take home a few items from the Soho location of & Other Stories , a place that brings a boutique-y feel to a small chain. This spot also offered a nice resting place for my husband. I’m excited to get over to the South Coast location when I come upon some extra money.

Interior of & Other Stories

12 Thanks to Artists & Fleas, I lost track of time on our last day in the city and barely made our flight. The stress of getting to our gate proved worth it, with my finds at this outpost of crafty merchants and pop ups in Soho among my favorites (I’d been to the Chelsea location before, a little more crowded but just as fun – I’d been wanting to go back, remiss that I’d not purchased a canvas catchphrase pouch from Pamela Barsky when there before). Next time, I’ll visit on Day One. [As with many of the NY locales I visited, I later find out that there are LA versions nearby that I can get to within 30 minutes without traffic.]

13 Similar to Fleas, Canal Street Market gave me a place to drop dollas on Etsy-ish finds. I left with a few pimped out, rap inspired greeting cards.

14 We ducked into Brooklyn Industries on the chance that they’d have hats. According to my phone’s weather app, the rain wasn’t supposed to arrive until later in the evening, not at 3:00 when I’d just gotten my hair done. So I hadn’t worn my jacket with a hood. Or brought my umbrella. Or carried with me a hat. (I’d done all three of these things the day before when the forecast promised rain but only spat out a couple of hazy drops as we traipsed through Harlem.) The knit cap my husband took off his head for me would be pointless in minutes, easily soaking up the shower ready to dump inches of rain from then until late in the night. Thankfully, I found for myself two hats – one for the immediate rain protection, and one that was cute and on sale. Too cheap to by an umbrella (I already had two back at the hotel!), I ended up wearing both hats just to be extra super safe with my nearly pressed hair. Which is probably why salespersons in the other Williamsburg shops we visited slapped me with a little side eye as I browsed. I get it. I looked a little cray. Can’t wait to revisit Brooklyn Industries on a Sunday day next time I’m in town – they offer a funky, fun collection of clothing and accessories that I may have appreciated more without the rain stress.

Diane wearing two hats

Me Time

15 If you can catch a Knicks Game while you’re in town, I highly recommend it. New York is my husband’s favorite team, and he’s talked for years about watching them play at Madison Square Garden. With this experience, he got himself an early birthday present that I benefitted from too.

At the Knicks game

16 The week we visited happened to land on the New York Comedy Festival. And so we caught a show at the New York Comedy Club, an intimate venue that featured Josh Johnson and Shane Torres. Thankfully, we survived unscathed from any unwanted attacks by both comics, though that two-drink minimum did a number on us. Glad we made it home safely.

New York Comedy Club

17 I mentioned earlier the fresh hair that almost frizzled out. It came courtesy of Melinda Bouldin at Heritage Hair in the Lower East Side, a young lady adept with the scissors who also magnificently covered my grays.

Inside of Heritage Hair

Tourist

18 I’d been before, but a stop at the Empire State gave me a special kind of glee (despite the biting cold on the observation deck, made colder by whipping winds). The views are, of course, spectacular. But what I like most are the exhibits one floor below – not just because they were indoors (but that helped), but the history of the place is intriguing.

The view from the observation deck Taking pictures on the observation deck

19 I’m a bona fide Hamilton freak. I’ve seen the show three times and have listened to the songs from the soundtrack countless times. This is relatively new for me, however – I only jumped on the bandwagon in August after my husband surprised me with tickets to the LA show at Pantages. Even well into the first act, I was skeptical thinking Hamilton couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype. But at some point, I drank all of the Kool-Aid. More than my fair share, and multiple flavors of it. I hadn’t been thinking of Ham when we landed in New York (although I did enter the $10 lottery while there), but was reminded my love for it as we walked Soho and crossed Mercer (and the early lyrics from The Room Where It Happened hit me “Did you hear the news about good ol’ General Mercer?/No/You know Clermont Street/Yeah/The renamed it after him. The Mercer legacy is secure/And all he had to do was die.” And then it hit me squarely on the chin – New York was filled with Hamilton history… Including Trinity Church, where Hamilton was buried, along with Angelica (“She’s buried in Trinity Church near you”) and, I learned after visiting, his wife Eliza, and son, Phillip (though no one is exactly sure where Phillip lies). Right in the prime of my Hamil-love, this stood out as a highlight, an unexpected one as the day when I went was just supposed to be filled with food and relaxation, as the marathon was the next day. An added bonus was a walk through the church itself, a wondrous and beautiful chapel, where I lit a candle and said a prayer for my mom, a prayer warrior who would have enjoyed visiting there, Hamilton connection or not.

Votive candles in Trinity church Alexander Hamilton's Grave next to Eliza's Interior of Trinity Church

20 As my husband napped, I departed on a secret mission on behalf of my teenager to find Swatch at Mood Fabrics. My apologies to the staff, who no doubt are over the people they hope to help find a hearty tulle in navy or a vivid print only to have them inquire about the whereabouts of the dog made famous on Project Runway. I found him.

The inside of Mood Swatch the dog asleep at Mood

Supper Time

21 Friedman’s was my choice for a post-race dinner. A dinner for one, as my husband had left the city to tour DC for the day (his intention was to cram as much of the East Coast in to our trip as possible, and I told him that I didn’t need the support along the route – fears of not finishing danced in my head). Their Hells’s Kitchen location was right around the block from my hotel, a place whose menu I’d studied for weeks, craving their fried chicken and cheddar waffle offering. That I didn’t select. Instead, I opted for their Korean chicken wings and turkey burger. Both good, but I’m still curious about that cheddar waffle.

 

22 Pies n’ Thighs was my husband’s pick (he gets one every now and then), our only Brooklyn spot (of which I had, like twelve). But with its downright hominess (especially with the brewing storm outside), it proved a great pick for the middle of our day. I’d already had a little bit of fried chicken that morning, stealing a bit of my husband’s breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company (number 23 below), but I couldn’t be mad a little more. So I ordered their fried chicken box – three pieces of chicken, a side, and a biscuit (my second of the day), which made for a hearty, tasty lunch. And though I’m not a big pie fan, it wouldn’t have been right to leave without a bite. Again, I stole a bit from my husband. They tend to come in handy like that.

23 I mentioned Clinton Street Baking Company, one of my favorite places of the trip, definitely worth the short wait that met us. In my post about Sweet Chick, I noted it as the answer to my weekday brunch dream. That was kind of a lie – I totally forgot about my tie at Clinton, where I had the buttermilk biscuit sandwich and a mimosa. I’ll chalk that error up to brunch amnesia – it certainly was memorable, a place I’d love to return to on my next visit.

24 What I hadn’t forgotten about from my 2016 trip to New York was Jane, a place my friends and I couldn’t get into (unless we wanted to wait five hours). So this time, I made a reservation on Open Table, one that had us seated by their front window where I was free to people watch as we supped. My French toast could hold its own with the best – a great way to load in those valuable carbs for the race.

25 Okay. Husband got two picks. Of course he wanted to try a soul food classic when we stepped into Harlem. So Sylvia’s was the place. Wanting to save a little room for other spots I had in mind, I ordered nothing but a side of mac n cheese. And it was fabulous. Across the street at Corner Social we shared a plate of nachos that I quite enjoyed as well, and for a nice happy hour price. The chill ambience there was free.

Husband's greens, salmon, and green beans from Sylvia's

26 Okay, so I have several sorts of food amnesia. My husband had a third restaurant pick in Katz’s Deli. He’d heard about it because it’s touristy, but it’s also a classic that even locals appreciate. What I hadn’t realized when we got there was it’s Hollywood connection – it’s the When Harry Met Sally spot. I had pizza on my mind so didn’t order anything on my own, but the bite I stole from my husband (are you seeing a pattern?) said all that it needed to. It was purely and plainly delicious. I’m glad he had so many say-sos in our restaurant choices.

Outside of Katz'sInside of Katz's

26.2 Only 0.2 because I visited the airport location of Baked By Melissa with just five minutes to spare before my gate boarded. Melissa’s is a must-have for me on any NYC visit, even if means a sweaty dash to the end of the terminal (see 12) to catch up with my husband (who wasn’t as indifferent about missing the flight back to California as I was).

The TCS New York City Marathon
Lottery opens mid-January
Race in the fall