Looking for a different way to explore New York City? You can see a wide swath of the city by running the NYC Marathon. Even just coming out as a spectator exposes you to a side of the city usually not seen by tourists. So lace up those shoes, get on a running schedule and plan to tackle the most amazing 26.2 miles.

NYC Marathon

The start of the NYC Marathon; the Verrazano Bridge. Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

Seeing NYC by Marathon

Normal people see a city by taking a hop on / hop off tour bus. Or buy a pass to ride unlimited times on public transportation. Sometimes they drive around the city. The ambitious might bike around.

The crazies run.

Count me insane. I ran my first NYC Marathon in 2016 and even as a life-long New Yorker, I discovered a lot of new things around the city.

Out of towners who run the marathon don’t get this benefit, but as I trained, running longer (and longer, and longer) runs, I found new places, places that I then returned to under my ordinary means of transportation.

NYC Marathon

The entrance to Green-wood Cemetery. Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

One was Bush Terminal Piers Park, a waterfront park with tide ponds and restored wetlands. The park, just past Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, opened in 2014. I only live two and a half miles away, but in New York City terms, that could be a lifetime (in NYC Marathon terms, of course, it is barely a tenth of the 26.2 miles I ran. In one morning. Just saying.).

National Historic Landmark

Another place little known to me is Green-Wood Cemetery, which is funny because it actually is only a couple of neighborhoods away. The National Historic Landmark was once the second biggest tourist attraction in the world. (Niagara Falls was number one). Granted, this was in the 1860s and Pokemon Go hadn’t been dreamed up, but it is still quite the place to be, even if most of the people there are, um, dead.

I have a complicated relationship with cemeteries.  They freak me out. But I did find it inspiring to run by (you aren’t allowed to run, bike or frolic here). I took my husband, who had never been, on a Trolley Tour to see some of the permanent residents: Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Horace Greeley.

Green-Wood is free, has Instagram-worthy vistas, lovely specimen trees and interesting architecture.

Do you want to run the NYC Marathon? Just making it through the 26.2 miles is an accomplishment in itself. But there's a little-known side benefit: The route tours you through all five boroughs of the Big Apple. Find out what you'll see along the way.The Five Borough Tour

The NYC Marathon winds through all five boroughs, starting in Staten Island, and going through Brooklyn, where I live, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and ending back in Manhattan, in Central Park.

Staten Island is the borough that even many native New Yorkers never visit. I took the Staten Island Ferry (also free) this summer for the first time in 20 years, to see a minor league baseball game. To get to the start of the marathon, at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, you take the subway to the ferry to a bus.

Then you spend a couple of hours at Fort Wadsworth, part of Gateway National Recreation Area. This 226 acre park actually offers urban camping; you can pitch a tent and stay in NYC for just $30 a night.

Next up, Brooklyn

NYC Marathon

Running through Brooklyn. Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

The bulk of the marathon, about 12 miles, is in Brooklyn, First, you run through Dyker Heights, where after Thanksgiving, neighbors compete to rent the biggest and brightest holiday displays. Touring the holiday lights is another great free NYC attraction (just take the subway. Or run!) but be sure to dress warmly.

Then you run through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights, Park Slope, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. If you don’t know these neighborhoods, then you definitely need to visit! In Fort Greene, several churches had gospel choirs singing as we ran by; in Williamsburg, hipsters having brunch did line dances and shouted encouragement.

Park Slope should be on any family travelers’ list; it is next to Prospect Park, which has a historic carousel; a children’s zoo; the Children’s history museum, Lefferts Homestead; and seasonal ice skating and surrey and pedal boat rentals. And of course it’s near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Brooklyn Museum.

Crossing the tunnel into Queens

NYC Marathon

Checking in in Queens. Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

We ran over the Pulaski Skyway, above cars lined up for the Queens Midtown Tunnel. It’s sheer joy to run faster than the traffic. Once we were in Queens, we cruised around Long Island City, where several restaurants and cafes caught my eye. M. Wells Steakhouse may seem an odd choice for a vegetarian, but there’s a whole roasted cauliflower with truffle that has my name on it. There are also a couple of breweries here: LIC Beer Project, Rockaway Brewing and Big Alice Brewing.

If you aren’t running, you might want to stop at PS1, an outpost of the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the Moving Image, where you can see an original pair of the sparkly ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, and an outdoor museum, the Socrates Sculpture Park.

Into Manhattan

The 59th St Bridge (aka Queensboro, or “Feeling Groovy”) takes you from Queens to Manhattan. Usually on a fall Sunday, the bars along First Avenue are packed with football fans drinking their brunch. On marathon Sunday, they wear their jerseys and cheer on the runners first.

East of First Avenue, we ran past Carl Schurz Park, home to Gracie Mansion and the mayor of New York City (side note: the current mayor actually owns a house around the corner from me). We also passed near Asphalt Green, a huge sports oriented complex that has a few annual free events, like a snowman building contest and Halloween festivities.

Finally, the Bronx

Brooklyn-ites often complain about how long it takes to get to the Bronx, and vice versa, but I only spent three hours and I was running. Imagine how quick it would be by bike, car or subway? We go to the Bronx for the excellent zoo, of course, and the huge New York Botanical Garden, but our favorite place is Wave Hill, a public garden that has family tours and art projects, along with free admission on Saturday mornings.

Our brief time in the Bronx was mostly punctuated by salsa music and a large drumming circle. Believe me, after 20 miles you need this energy. There was also a crew of supporters, chanting ‘last damn bridge’ as we ran back into Manhattan.

NYC Marathon

A sight for sore legs: the finish line! Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

Final stretch

Of the few times I’ve been to Harlem, most have been for organized runs that take you past the grand brownstones and mansions of this vibrant area. It had a number of lean years, but Harlem was built as an upper middle class suburb and today many of its private homes sell for millions of dollars.

If you want to explore Harlem, check out the Studio Museum, which features contemporary African-American artists, Hamilton Grange National Memorial, and the Apollo Theater.

Central Park at last 

NYC Marathon

We made it; in heat blankets after the finish line. Photo: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

One of my daughters and my niece met me in front of Mt Sinai Hospital, appropriate since they were born there. We glided, or stumbled, past the reservoir, the gateway running path that starts many a New Yorker on the road to marathon running.

For now, I think I’ll stick to my bike, the subway or a car. But think; all that running can help counteract the great food you eat in New York, or at holiday parties.

Have you run the NYC Marathon? What was your favorite sight along the way?