When it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve in New York City, some people love dressing up and attending a swanky open-bar affair with their whole crew. Others enjoy an intimate prix fixe dinner with their significant other or a couple of friends. And then there’s a few thousand people who prefer to ring in the new year by literally running into it.
Since 1979, nonprofit running organization New York Road Runners has hosted the Midnight Run in Central Park as its final race of the year, always kicking off with a countdown at 11:59pm on December 31 and the race beginning at the stroke of midnight.
Despite the late start time and frigid temperatures, the four-mile race draws all levels of runners to the event as a fun, healthy, and unique way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. “We love being able to provide those ‘resolution runners’ with access to an early start on their goals and hope to see them back running with us throughout the year,” says NYRR President and CEO Michael Capiraso.
If you’re participating or interested in signing up, here’s everything you need to know before going.
A running party
With the NYRR Midnight Run celebrating 40 years of races, it’s clear that the run is one of the most popular ways for New Yorkers to ring in the new year. “It’s a huge part of New York Road Runners’ heritage, and a sought-after tradition by the local and international running community,” Michael explains. “This is one of our longest running events, and we’ve seen a lot of runners return to the event year after year.”
Michael adds that although he likes to think of all of NYRR’s races as a celebration, it doesn’t get more impressive than the Midnight Run. “People of all ages get to kick off the new year with their fellow runners in a secure area of the park as the ball drops a few blocks down and the fireworks in the park go off,” he says. “This race provides runners of all ages and abilities with a fantastic chance to start 2019 off on the right foot and begin fulfilling their New Year’s resolutions during the very first minutes of the new year.”
The race begins on Central Park’s 72nd Street Transverse near Bethesda Terrace and takes runners on a journey along the park’s inner loop. Throughout the run, participants will ascend the long upward challenge of Cat Hill, cruise through a series of three rolling hills, go past the reservoir, and end with a downhill and flat section of the loop before crossing the finish line west of Bethesda Terrace.
Sure, that might sound like a lot of running, but there is plenty of fun to break it up, like the halfway point drink stop. Runners can grab water if they choose, but there is also the option to grab a cup of sparkling cider to ring in the new year.
If you’re new to running, fear not. Although professional athletes will be out there leading the pack, there will still be many people running for fun. You’ll never be alone out there, either — nearly 5,000 people are expected to take part this year.
If you’re in it to win it, keep in mind that the top three men and women will go home with cash prizes and eternal bragging rights.
The race may not kick off until almost midnight, but a pre-race festival gets the party started at 10pm. Live DJs will give runners an excuse to warm up by dancing along in a club-like atmosphere in Central Park. The night’s festivities before the race also include fun giveaways, photo opportunities, and a resolution wall where runners can put their goals for the new year in writing for all to see.
Many people show up with party hats, glasses, and creative costumes to wear, but even if you just come out in plain old running clothes, you can take advantage of the neon face painting station to get your race face on and ready.
No matter what you decide to wear, Michael says that the most important thing is for runners to dress warm and in layers. A bag check on-site makes it easy to store any pre-race clothes you don’t want to wear for the run.
You’ll see fireworks
The first 15 minutes of the race will fly by, thanks to a fireworks spectacular kicking off the race with a bang. The display takes place from the center of Central Park at Bow Bridge-Cherry Hill, making the show visible to runners for the first leg of the run.
“We have the only New Year’s fireworks display in Manhattan,” Michael says. “So, if you want to ring in the new year with fireworks, you’ll have to join us for four miles.”
With a light show like that going on, you don’t have to be afraid of the dark at all as you make your way through the course.
After the race
Once runners cross the finish line, they are treated to post-race bagels, water, and an assortment of other snacks. The DJs continue to keep the beats going for those who aren’t too tired to keep on dancing, so take advantage and go wild with the friends you came with or the ones you just met that night!
Once the festivities officially calm down, soak in the fresh air of the new year and be proud you started it on the healthiest of notes.
If you still have the energy to rage when the post-race party ends, remember that this is New York City, where people will ring in 2019 at New Year’s Eve parties until the sun is almost up. Go home, take a shower (or don’t, we won’t judge), and head back out to another party or your local bar for a night cap to toast the new year!
How to get there
The pre-race festival and starting line for the race are located at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. Runners can enter Central Park only at West 72nd Street and Central Park West or East 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue.
Runners are allowed to bring along one guest, and everyone will have to wear a wristband and go through security screening before they can enter the pre-race festival. Give yourself plenty of time, since several thousand people will make the same exact journey!
Keep an eye on the NYRR Midnight Run race page for more details on the pre- and post-race festivities, as well as exciting events happening in the lead-up to race day at the NYRR RUNCENTER featuring the New Balance Run Hub.