New York Marathon

The history of the race

The New York City marathon is one of the most famous, and popular, races in the world. The first marathon to be run on the streets of the city changed the face of athletics forever. Although it was not particularly popular, with only just over 120 runners choosing to pay the dollar needed as an entrance fee, the 1970 race was certainly symbolic and the start of something huge. Not even half of the runners who started the race managed to cross the finish line after struggling with the route which looped around Central Park several times.

Fred Lebow and the New York Road Runners worked together to form the New York marathon. However, despite the initial excitement during the early 1970s, Lebow decided that changes needed to be made. Six years after the first race, he devised a new route, which took runners through all five boroughs in the state of New York. By this point, the race had gained in popularity and over two thousand runners chose to take part in the exciting event. The new route took athletes from the start in Staten Island, through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The end of the race was situated in an iconic setting in downtown Manhattan.

The new route proved to be more attractive to both the athletes and those watching the race. The media were thrown into a real frenzy and television cameras were placed along various parts of the route to catch all the action as the race unfolded. Furthermore, the city was united by the marathon and inhabitants of the five boroughs came together to line the streets of their beloved city and provide support for those pushing the limits of human endurance.

This community spirit would be evident decades later during the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Held a couple of months after the attacks on the city, the 2001 New York marathon was an emotional event as the race was transformed into a symbol of hope and endurance.

Whilst the mid-1970s saw the marathon gradually attracting attention from around the world, the closing years of the decade saw an explosion in popularity. Over 9,000 athletes decided to enter the marathon in 1978 and numerous world records were set during the subsequent years.

The decades that followed saw New York develop a reputation for providing a marathon with worldwide appeal. However, it gradually gained another reputation, as a place for people to prove themselves. Willie Mtolo competed in the race in 1992, after international sanctions against his country of birth, South Africa, were lifted. Later in the 1990s, Tegla Loroupe managed to hold off tough competition from fellow competitors and her victory was a real triumph for African athletes across the world. In 2002, a separate start was created for professional women.

Today, the New York City marathon continues to increase in popularity and has managed to maintain its worldwide appeal. This year’s marathon held a particular interest for British athletics fans, as Paula Radcliffe dominated the women’s race, marking a successful comeback from her failure in Beijing.

The route

The course starts on Staten Island near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This is one of the most famous moments of the race. The bridge, usually heavy with cars and lorries crossing from the island, accommodates runners on marathon day. Television channels across the world beam pictures taken from helicopters hovering above the bridge and this is always one of the most iconic moments of the race. The first couple of miles are relatively steep but the course becomes flatter at approximately the 3 mile mark. Other steep parts of the course are located between the 8 and 9 mile marks and the 15 mile mark.

Once the athletes have crossed the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, they run through Brooklyn for twelve miles, passing through numerous neighbourhoods including Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. The Pulaski Bridge is not quite as iconic as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge but it does mark the halfway point of the race, as well as the entrance to the borough of Queens. By this point, spectators can really gain a feel for how the race is going to develop during the closing stages.

The Queens stage of the race sees runners cross yet another bridge. The famous Queensboro Bridge takes athletes into Manhattan, where they are, without fail, greeted by massive cheers from the gathered crowds. The area just before the entrance to the bridge is also popular with spectators. This bridge is an extremely difficult part of the marathon as a result of its gradient. Once in Manhattan, the runners head north on to First Avenue before competing in The Bronx for just one mile. The Madison Avenue Bridge takes athletes back to Manhattan.

From here, the route heads south down to Harlem (where there are always large crowds cheering enthusiastically) before trailing through Fifth Avenue and ending in Central Park. This is a particularly iconic part of the race, especially when viewed in the light of the marathon’s history. The first race was focused around the park and it therefore provides a fitting ending to the event. At the southern section of Central Park, the runners find themselves heading into the final mile of the race. Tavern on the Green is the famous location of the New York City marathon’s finish line.

Past results

New York has been the scene of numerous famous results over the past few decades:

  • Willie Mtolo: Mtolo ran the marathon in 1992. Mtolo, who was born in South Africa, was allowed to compete after sanctions against the country were lifted. He ran the race in a time of just 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 29 seconds. His victory has widely been regarded as the greatest international sporting achievement by a black South African athlete. The relatively poor sporting hero from South Africa was awarded $50,000 and a Mercedes for his impressive feat.
  • Tegla Loroupe: Loroupe became the first African woman to win the New York marathon. She has won the event twice and has also been victorious in the London marathon. The 1994 event was her first major race and she fought off tough competition to win. She became an instant idol across Africa and proved that women could compete at the same level as men. 1995 also saw the athlete run a successful race and she is now a global spokeswoman for peace, women’s rights, and education.
  • The race in 2003 saw Margaret Okayo beat her competitors and finish in first place. The Kenyan athlete has proved inspirational to fellow athletes and young people all over the world.

How to enter

Make sure you enter in plenty of time, as the application process will start in early 2009. Take a look at the website for the New York Road Runners Club. This site has plenty of information to help you apply. Alternatively, check out the official New York Marathon website. However, you should be prepared to be disappointed as most applicants are picked through a frustrating lottery system. If you have a disability, have a look at the Achilles Track Club website for advice on applying.