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How to track runners at the New York City Marathon 2021

a photo of runners at the new york city marathon
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Today 33,000 runners will take on the 50th New York City Marathon. The 26.2-mile course takes runners from Staten Island, through New York’s five boroughs, finishing in Central Park in Manhattan (Inspired? Here's how long it takes the average person to run a marathon).

Whether you’re hoping to track a friend or family member, or are looking to spot Christy Turlington (who is returning to the New York City Marathon, representing her charity, Every Mother Counts), we’ve got everything you need to know about tracking runners at the New York City Marathon without leaving your sofa. 

Last year, the New York City Marathon was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so for many runners, Sunday’s race has been a long time coming. The iconic marathon is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, along with the London, Berlin, Chicago, Boston, and Tokyo Marathons. 

The New York City Marathon starts today November 7 at 8:00 am ET with the wheelchair division. The handcycle category gets going at 8:20 am, then the elite women at 8:40 am, the elite men at 9:05 am and the mass-participation waves from 9:10 am. This year there are five waves of mass participation runners, with wave one setting off at 9:10 am and wave five at 12:00 pm. The waves are based on the runner’s projected finish time, so it’s a good idea to check with your runner which wave they are in to get a better idea of when to start tracking them.

How to track mass-participation runners at the New York City Marathon 

The easiest way to track mass-participation runners in the New York City Marathon 2021 is to download the official app, which is free on Android and iOS. To track a runner, simply head to the tracking section of the app ‘tracking’ section of the app, where you will be able to search for them by name, or bib number. There is no limit to the number of spectators tracking one runner, so get the whole family involved. 

To add a runner, click the plus (+) symbol above their bib number. It will then display a tick if you have added the runner successfully. On Sunday, you will be able to see your runner’s live progress on the course. The tracking will capture your runner's time every 5K, halfway, and when they cross the finish line. 

From the app, you’ll be able to see your runner’s pace and splits, their expected finish time, and their expected finish time of day, based on when they started running. You’ll also be able to share the live tracking with family and friends and pre-order race photos (a great holiday gift idea). 

The app also has a number of other extras to keep you entertained on race day, including elite runner profiles, an interactive map, and weather updates. If you accidentally add the wrong runner to your tracking, you can swipe left to delete them. 

If you aren’t able to head out to the course, you can also watch the race on TV to try and spot your runner in action. Local coverage starts from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm ET on WABC-TV, Channel 7. 

How to track runners doing the virtual New York City Marathon

This year, there is also a virtual New York City Marathon, with runners completing the 26.2 mile distance from anywhere in the world. Some runners will have purchased guaranteed entry virtual spots, which will give them a guaranteed place in the 2022 New York City Marathon, others are running for the love of running, or to raise money for charity. 

All virtual marathon runners have between October 23 and November 7 to complete the marathon distance. To find a virtual marathon runner, simply search their name and add them to your tracking. The event should read ‘Virtual Marathon’ and virtual runners will have a red glove logo underneath their number, instead of a blue icon of a runner. Like the mass-participation participants, once the virtual runner starts running you’ll be able to see their splits and a graph of their run. 

Which celebrities are taking part in the New York City Marathon 

If your favorite thing about race day is spotting the celebrities running the race, we’ve got good news — this year’s NYC Marathon has a killer line up. Mumford and Sons’ band members Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovet will be running for charity. TODAY Show and Morning Joe co-host Willie Geist is running for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Many stars of Bachelor Nation will hit the streets of the city, including Matt James and Tylor Cameron, and The Bachelorette’s Tayshia Adams. Legendary fashion model Christy Turlington will be returning to the NYC Marathon, after running the race ten years ago, plus U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team teammates and Olympic gold medalists Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Kate Markgraf, and Leslie Osborne will be running and supporting the JLH Fund. 

Other ways to track New York City Marathon runners 

There's one drawback of the official NYC Marathon app — with thousands of people using it on race day, it can sometimes be a little glitchy. There are other ways out there to track your runner, both by their running watch or fitness tracker and with certain running apps. 

Firstly, if your runner is wearing a Garmin running watch, and carrying their smartphone, they can turn on Live Track via their Garmin Connect app on their phone. This allows runners to share their live location with friends and family via email, Facebook, or Twitter. The downside here is that it also relies on a phone GPS signal, so might be temperamental on race day and won't be an option for runners leaving their phone in their kit bag. The Garmin Forerunner 245 LTE also has live tracking, and can relay a runner's position without needing a phone.

If your runner has an Apple Watch SE or an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, they will be able to share their live location with you before setting off. To do this, they'll need to add you in the Find People app on the Apple Watch and tap share my location. Once they've chosen you as a friend, you'll be able to see their location for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely (depending on which option they chose - we'd recommend the middle one). This too will require them to carry a smartphone with them, unless they have a cellular version of Apple's Watch. 

Another app that works with most modern Garmin running watches and Apple Watches newer than the Apple Watch Series 3 is Strava Beacon. Strava Beacon allows runners to send a live tracking link to three different contacts. This is usually a safety feature on the app but comes in handy on race day — check out our full Strava app review here.

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.