Essential New York running races – according to a North Brooklyn Runners captain

From one mile to 50, it's time to start filling up that race calendar
The NY races runners need to know about

Living in a city has its pros and cons for runners. Sure, you have no choice but to inhale smog, dodge traffic and – every runner’s nightmare – avoid tourists weaving across the pavement while staring at their phones. But the upside is you have some of the world’s greatest races right on your doorstep.

For New York, there’s one event in particular that is known throughout the world, so we haven’t included the marathon in our picks. But aside from the big day in November, the race schedule is packed throughout the year, with plenty of 5ks, 10ks and half marathons winding their way past some of the city’s best sights.

To help narrow down your options, we asked James Gray King, a team captain for running club North Brooklyn Runners, to recommend some of his favourite road races in the city.

And for those who love to hit the trails, we’ve also picked a handful of off-road events worth adding to your calendar. Granted, you’ll have to travel out of the city centre to find them, but they’re all around an hour away, and in the miles of countryside surrounding Manhattan you’ll find some truly stunning National Parks, with even the famous Appalachian Trail passing nearby.


Road races

NYC Half

When: March 2020

The best races to run in New York
Credit: New York Road Runners

A big one to tick off if you live in NYC (or even if you don’t), this 13.1-miler takes in a smorgasbord of New York’s iconic landmarks – we’re talking Times Square, Central Park, the Hudson River… Not one to target for a PB as you’ll be too busy swooning at the sights.

King says: “An amazing run from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the Manhattan Bridge and through a closed-off Times Square, finishing in Central Park. An epic experience.”

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Pride Run 5m

When: June 2020

A five-miler that winds its way around Central Park, this year, with 10,200 runners, it officially broke the Guinness world record for the largest Pride charity run. It’s a celebration of the LGBT community and is packed with colour, plus the race is followed by a host of parties around the park and city.

King says: “The largest Pride run in the world with more than 10,000 participants running Central Park in all manner of amazing outfits.”

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Popular Brooklyn Half

When: May 2020

The best races to run in New York
Credit: New York Road Runners

With more than 25,000 runners, securing a place on the start line could well be harder than running the 13.1 miles itself. The course is relatively flat, and many people log a faster time in this than the NY Half. You’ll finish at the Coney Island boardwalk, with salty air in your lungs and an ice cream just metres away.

King says: “A home race for our running club. It’s the largest half marathon in the USA, running through Prospect Park and finishing on the Coney Island boardwalk. There are great after-parties on the beach, too.”

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Take The Bridge

When: Ongoing

The idea is simple – an out-and-back sprint across one of New York’s famous bridges. The actual distance changes with each event, but they are usually under 5k. The specific bridge the race is set to take place on is emailed to competitors two days prior to the race, and it’s up to you to decide on your own route to the checkpoint and back again, dodging pedestrians and traffic.

King says: “One of the cooler underground events. These are typically announced only a week or two in advance, and comprise out-and-back courses on NYC bridges. Super-competitive and a great vibe.”

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Brooklyn Mile

When: June 2020

The best races to run in New York
Credit: Angelo Calilap

A perfect entry point for those new to running or those wanting to push themselves and aim for a mile PB. The Brooklyn course is filled with street art as it winds along the river and under the Williamsburg Bridge to the finish, where you’ll be sucking air on Kent Avenue.

King says: “An increasingly busy and competitive run that also features masters and family races. A huge coming together of NYC teams and individuals, organised by Brooklyn Running Co.”

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OSR Midnight Half

When: May 2020

Another one that rewards local knowledge. Vice labelled this secretive event “the world’s greatest underground urban foot race” – the unmarked race starts and finishes in Brooklyn late at night and follows a circuit through lesser-known streets, so those who know the way have the best chance of victory.

King says: “A point to point unsanctioned half. This is run at night on open streets, local street knowledge carries you further than speed, though there’s plenty of that on display, too.”

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Al Goldstein Summer Speed Series

When: Every two weeks on Wednesday evenings, from May to August 2019

Essential New York running races – according to North Brooklyn Runners captain
Credit: Marek Stępniowsk

A regular series of 5k races on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park run by Prospect Park Track Club that cost only $7.50 to enter. These races, named after the club’s 97-year-old former president, will help you hone your 5k times in the beautiful surroundings of Brooklyn Park.

King says: “This is a great series of 5ks run every two weeks through summer. A good opportunity to perfect your craft on certified courses.”

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Jingle Bell Jog 5k

When: 14 December 2019

Every city needs a Santa-themed Christmas race, and this is New York’s. A chance to burn off some of the holiday season’s calories by wearing a totally unbreathable costume to sprint 3.1 miles.


King says: “A heavily costumed Christmas run in Prospect Park, one of the more fun events on the calendar, with a significant portion of proceeds going to charity.”

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New York trail races and ultras

The North Face Endurance Series: New York Bear Mountain State Park 50 mile

When: May 2020

The best races to run in New York

If you’re looking to push yourself a little further than marathon distance, this ultra from North Face’s Endurance Challenge Series could be what you are looking for. The race takes you out of central NY, starting in Bear Mountain State Park and heading south, winding through the highly Instagrammable hiking trails in Palisades Interstate Park.

And if the 50-miler seems too leg-destroying, there are different race lengths down to 3km.

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Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra

When: June 2020

From the brain of Barkley Marathons’ Gary Cantrell, aka Laz Lake, the concept of this race is, unsurprisingly, designed to break runners’ minds and spirits. About 50 miles north of Manhattan sits the stunning Mountain Lakes Park. Within it is a 4.2 mile loop of footpaths where you can test your mettle over more than 24 hours.

The question is, how many loops can you do before your legs buckle under you? The last runner standing is the winner. As Laz says, it all comes down to who has the strongest will. Sean O’Connor claimed victory this year by doing 32 laps (to save your maths, that adds up to 129.27 miles).

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Bigfoot Dash 5 miles

When: 5 October 2019

The best races to run in New York

A five-mile race through the Cathedral Pines Country Park on New York’s Middle Island – just don’t get too distracted trying to spot Bigfoot in the woods. This race is part of a wider weekend of mountain-biking fun, meaning if you’re a biker too you can bring your steed and race through the mud on two wheels.

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A Mild Sprain

When: June 2020 (TBC)

Not named after terrain that may cause a sprain, but rather the Sprain Brook Parkway you need to drive along to get to the start of this 5-mile trail race and the race’s location in Sprain Ridge Park, Yonkers.

It’s a family-friendly event, with shorter races for kids, and all abilities of runners are welcome.

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Main image credit: New York Road Runners

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