In no way would we consider ourselves runners. We’re hardly even walkers — we’d much rather travel via our trusty, speedy bicycle. We do too much walking in our employ as NYC tour guides to think of the activity as a hobby. So, to run long distances through the city for some sort of charity or personal goal strikes us as, if not demented, certainly peculiar. But run they do, and yesterday was, if not a perfect early November morn for an excruciating, exhausting 26.2 mile spandex parade, at least one that turned out teeming crowds cheering support for the over 39,000 runners as they pounded the pavement.
In 1970, New York City held its first ever marathon. The New York Road Runners hosted a 26.2 mile race looping around Central Park. One hundred twenty-seven runners each paid a buck to race it, and just under half of the racers crossed the finished line. The marathon as we know it today is courtesy of Frank Lebow, who redrew the map in 1976 so that it stretched the 26.2 square miles throughout the five boroughs. That was the year that the marathon truly went global — by uniting the different residents of all five boroughs, Lebow in essence united the world, because if the various nationalities found in our city don’t represent the global experience, we don’t know what does. From 2,090 participants in 1976 to 9,000 runners two short years later, the New York marathon became the road race upon which all others were based.
Along with being a marvelous metaphor for life in general, a picture-perfect postcard for ethnic diversity and all-in-it-togetherness for New York City, the marathon acted as a natural platform for the injustice of Apartheid. In 1992, the international sanctions against runners from South Africa were lifted, and racers soon proved their substance and stamina on the streets of New York. The wheelchair division was added in 2000, and a very special, very patriotic race was held less than two months after 9/11. The prevailing color scheme of that particular race? Stars and Stripes, of course. ING Banking took over sponsorship in 2003, and that brings us to the race of today.
With over two million proud New Yorkers lining the streets, and a television viewership of 315 million, the New York City Marathon is certainly something special. Special for us in that we have a friend who owns an apartment just a few miles from the finish, on the corner of 92nd Street and First Avenue — close enough for the runners to listen to our cheerful and positive hollering out her living room window. But we wouldn’t deprive ourselves of hollering on the street — so that’s what we did, with spiked apple cider in hand, supporting every Grandma, Penguin, Elvis, Blues Brother, papier mache lighthouse, tourist and local. Go! Go! Go! You’re almost there!