The first New York City Marathon was organized in 1970 by Fred Lebow and Vince Chiappetta, and held entirely in Central Park. Of 127 entrants, only 55 men finished (the sole female entrant dropped out due to illness). Winners claimed inexpensive wristwatches—and recycled baseball and bowling trophies. The entry fee was $1 and the total event budget was $1,000.
In 1976, Lebow and 2,090 entrants took the New York City Marathon to the streets of the five boroughs in a moving celebration of sport and diversity. The course included five bridges, and winners Bill Rodgers and Miki Gorman shattered the event records.
Two years later, Grete Waitz of Norway, a track Olympian who’d never run farther than 12 miles, ran a world-record 2:32:30 in her first marathon. Rodgers overcame 75-degree temperatures to become the race’s first three-time winner, and he added a fourth the next year, when Waitz broke her own world record. In 1980, NCAA track champion Alberto Salazar boldly predicted that he would run sub-2:10 in his first marathon. He made good on his promise by winning in 2:09:41, the fastest-ever debut by an American, while Waitz captured her third straight victory and set another world record.
The 1992 race produced perhaps the most touching and poignant moment in New York City Marathon history when Lebow, in remission from brain cancer, crossed the line in 5:32:34 with Waitz by his side.
Shortly before the race's 25th anniversary in 1994, Fred Lebow succumbed to cancer and Allan Steinfeld became race director. Gérman Silva famously took a wrong turn into Central Park in the 26th mile, but came back to win. Women’s champ Tegla Loroupe became the first female African winner of a major marathon.
The marathon has always been an exercise in community spirit, and that was especially true in November 2001, less than two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The race became a symbol of hope and renewal for participants, spectators, and all New Yorkers. Patriotism ran high as Deena Drossin (Kastor) ran 2:26:58, the fastest debut by an American woman, to win the national title.
ING, a global financial services company, became the marathon’s title sponsor in 2003 and joined with NYRR to initiate grassroots running and fitness programs among the city’s youth. Margaret Okayo of Kenya broke her own course record, running 2:22:31.
In 2004, world record-holder Paula Radcliffe won the women’s race by three seconds over Susan Chepkemei in the closest women’s finish in race history. Edith Hunkeler set a women’s wheelchair course record by six minutes.
The ING New York City Marathon 2005 saw yet another close finish as world record-holder Paul Tergat of Kenya edged defending champion Hendrick Ramaala by a mere three-tenths of a second. Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa set a course record of 1:31:11 in winning the men’s wheelchair race, but it was smashed the next year by Kurt Fearnley of Australia, who set the current record.
Martin Lel of Kenya won a second laurel wreath in 2007, the day after Ryan Hall ran 2:09:02 to win the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, hosted by NYRR in Central Park. In a front-running tour de force, Radcliffe led from the start and finally dropped Ethiopia’s Gete Wami with 400 meters remaining. In the women’s wheelchair race, Edith Hunkeler returned to competition after a career-threatening injury, and smashed her own 2004 course record.
In 2008, Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil won his second title (he’d been a surprise winner in 2006), and defending champion Radcliffe again took the lead from the gun; only Grete Waitz has more titles. Kara Goucher, in third, set an American marathon debut record of 2:25:53, and the next year, Meb Keflezighi became the first American winner since Alberto Salazar’s third win in 1982.
Still more records were set in perfect conditions in 2011. Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya blasted away from the fastest field in race history and sliced two minutes and 31 seconds from Tesfaye Jifar’s 2001 record; Emmanuel Mutai (no relation) of Kenya and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia were also under the record. Amanda McGrory cut two minutes and 14 seconds from Edith Wolf-Hunkeler’s women’s wheelchair course mark with her 1:50:24, and Masazumi Soejima became the event’s first-ever Japanese champion when he took the men’s wheelchair race in 1:31:41. The total of 47,323 finishers was a new record, too.