The NYC marathon has come a long way since its first iteration in 1970. Organized by Fred Lebow and Vince Chiapetta, the first marathon took place entirely in Central Park and had just 127 entrants. With an entry fee of $1 and a total event budget of $1,000, it’s amazing to think that the marathon now draws over 50,000 runners, 99% of whom finish the course. The total prizes awarded add up to $705,000 plus potential time bonuses, with the men’s and women’s champions each receiving $100,000. This year, on Sunday, November 1, runners from all over the country – and from all over the world – will gather to run 26.2 miles through the five boroughs. It is estimated that 2 million spectators will cheer them on, in person and from their televisions at home. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the most notable and inspiring people who have run the marathon, and who will be running this year.
On September 19, 1971, Beth Bonner became the first winner of the women’s division on the New York City Marathon, and at the age of 19 remains the Marathon’s youngest winner. She finished the marathon in 2:55:22, making her the first woman to finish a marathon in under three hours. Earlier that year, she broke the record for the AAU Eastern Regional Championships, finishing with a time of 3:01:42. Bonner passed away in 1998, and each year a 5K run is held in her honor in her hometown of Arthurdale, West Virginia. She was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame in 2008.
Fred Lebow was one of the founders of the NYC Marathon, and he ran the inaugural race in 1970. Over the course of his life, he completed 69 marathons in 30 countries, but his last NYC marathon was on November 1, 1992. He was celebrating his 60th birthday as well as being in remission from brain cancer after his diagnosis in 1990. He finished with a time of 5:32:35, with long-time friend and nine-time winner Grete Waltz by his side. Lebow died from brain cancer in 1994, and a memorial service was held at the finish line of the New York City Marathon to celebrate his legacy. The memorial drew a crowd of 3,000 mourners, who gathered to celebrate his legacy as a founder and continuing champion of the New York City Marathon. In 1994 a sculpture of Lebow was unveiled in Central Park, and each year the statute is moved to a spot in view of the marathon finish line. Lebow was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame in 2011.
Just two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001, Deena Kastor (then Deena Drossin) completed the NYC Marathon in 2:26:59, the fastest-ever finish by an American woman. While the marathon has always fostered community spirit, the race in November 2001 gave New Yorkers a much-needed bit of hope and joy during a time of mourning. Deena went on to win the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics, and is an eight-time national champion in cross-country as well.
Paralympian and 2014 NYC Half champion Josh George will compete in the professional men’s wheelchair division this year after finishing in seventh place last year. The 31-year-old from Champaign, IL has already won the 2015 London Marathon, and placed third in the 2015 Bank of America Chicago marathon earlier this month. George is the founder of Intelliwheels, Inc., a company that makes affordable, lightweight wheelchairs, and he has blogged for the New York Times.
This year’s defending champion for the women’s division hails from Kenya and finished the 2014 NYC Marathon in 2:25:7. She finished second in the 2015 London Marathon, and set the record for second-fastest in history with a time of 2:18:37 in 2012. Her personal best of 1:05:50 for a half-marathon is the second-fastest of all time, and she has been shattering world records throughout her entire career.
Last year, ex-Marine Jonathan Mendes ran his 13th NYC Marathon at the age of 93 years old. Mendes ran his first marathon at age 57, and claims he would be running in this year’s NYC marathon if his family hadn’t insisted otherwise. Mendes attributes his ability to run even at his age to “good planning and self care.” Though Mendes took about eight hours to finish the marathon, the fact that he competed at the age of 93 is beyond impressive. He will certainly be missed among this year’s lineup.
NYC native and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys will run this year’s NYC Marathon to raise money for her charity, Keep a Child Alive, which offers support to children and families affected by HIV. This won’t be Keys’ first marathon – she ran one in Greece in 2007, and will be running with her brother this year. Keys likes to listen to audiobooks while she runs, and has maintained a rigorous training schedule despite being a busy mother of two and internationally renowned pop star.
The 2015 TCS New York City Marathon will be televised live on Sunday, November 1 from 9am – 2pm on WABC-TV (Channel 7) for the Tri-State area. Friends and family members can watch their runners cross the finish line with the Find Your Finish Cam from 10am to 5pm, and if you want to cheer this year’s runners on in person, you can head to the TCS NYC Marathon website and choose from one of their recommended locations.