The first New York City Marathon was a humble affair. In 1970, 127 runners paid the $1 entry fee to NYRR to participate in a 26.2-mile race that looped several times within Central Park. Fifty-five runners crossed the finish line.
When Fred Lebow redrew the course through all five New York boroughs six years later, not everyone could appreciate his vision. But 2,090 runners lined up at the start for the chance to run from Staten Island through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx to Manhattan. The expanded course attracted two-time Olympic marathon medalist Frank Shorter, along with reporters and television cameras. Thousands of spectators lined the streets and cheered the runners. By reconfiguring the course, Lebow had drawn the city together and attracted recognition around the world.
The New York City Marathon’s unique mix of athletics, neighborhood spirit, and international media attention soon attracted the world’s best runners to the annual fall race. By the late 1970s, the running boom was exploding and New York was at the center. More than 9,000 people participated in 1978 when Norwegian Grete Waitz set a women’s marathon world record, finishing in 2:32:30.
Several men’s and women’s records fell in the early years, but the New York race was soon about more than speed. When international sanctions against South African athletes were lifted in 1992, Willie Mtolo chose to run New York. He bested the field and garnered media coverage around the world. When Tegla Loroupe broke the tape at the Central Park finish in 1994, her win proved that African women were on par with the African men in their ability to run the 26.2-mile distance. She did it in New York, and the world took notice. Soon Kenyan women were invited to other major distance races.
New York has continued to lead in race management. In 2002, NYRR created a separate start for the professional women as a way to highlight the most competitive women’s field in race history. In 2003, ING became the title sponsor of the race and joined with NYRR to fund grassroots running and fitness programs among the city’s youth through the ING Run for Something Better program.
NYRR hosted the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Men’s Marathon in Central Park on the same weekend as the ING New York City Marathon 2007. In 2008, the marathon was successfully staged with three wave starts. The 2009 race was the marathon’s 40th running and hosted the USA Men’s Marathon Championship. In 2010, the marathon expanded its reach to friends, family, and fans with the I’M IN theme. There were more than 45,000 finishers, the most ever.
Forty years after its start, the ING New York City Marathon continues to grow in size and to be the leader among marathons around the world.
Source: NYC Marathon