The application deadline for the New York City Marathon is March 15, and the odds of drawing an entry in the generallottery are brutal: about one in six (ingnycmarathon.org).But you can gain automatic entry (and often coaching help, training plans, partners, and VIP transport to the start)by raising $2,500 and up for one of 80-plus charities, including Team in Training, the Lance ArmstrongFoundation, and Team for Kids. Or redirect to one of these other top marathons: Chicago (October 10; chicagomarathon.com), Twin Cities (October 3; mtcmarathon.org), Philadelphia (November 21; philadelphiamarathon.com), St. George Marathon, St.George, Utah (October 2; stgeorgemarathon.com), Portland(October 10; portlandmarathon.org), or the Nike Women'sMarathon, San Francisco (October 17; nikemarathon.com).
MILE 0: Take energy bars and a sports drink to the starting line. The wait is so long, you'll get hungry.
MILE 1 2: Start slow. Really slow. If you charge up and down the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, it will haunt you later.
MILE 3: Bring a bottle. You need 4 to 6 ounces of salty fluid every 5K or so, but the first stations can be congested.
MILE 6: Soak up the great crowd support along Fourth Avenue. This is the essence of New York.
MILE 8: When there's no center divide, run in the middle of the road. It's flatter.
MILE 9 11: Bed-Stuy and South Williamsburg can be quiet. The slight downhill will keep you moving, as will the bands in North Williamsburg.
MILE 13: The midpoint is a few steps from Queens, but treat Mile 20 as the real halfway.
MILE 15: The Queensboro Bridge is the most challenging hill on the course. Keep your heart rate in check, take in the view, and don't hammer the downhill.
MILE 16.5: Play the First Avenue crowd for energy: Pump your fists, smile for the cameras. Just don't start sprinting yet, or stop for autographs.
MILE 18: Gel station! Eat one. You'll need the boost.
MILE 20: The Bronx: The real work starts here. Trust your training.
MILE 23: Stay positive: The long climb up Fifth Avenue breaks champions; it won't break you.
MILE 24 25: Power through the hills in Central Park, and run tangents on the many curves.
MILE 26.2: No matter how you really feel, raise your arms at the finish. You deserve it.