In June of 1958, NYRR was founded as the Road Runners Club–New York Association with about 40 members. The founder of the Road Runners Club of America, H. Browning Ross, encouraged the group, which met at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx and elected 1952 Olympic marathoner Ted Corbitt its first official president. Through the 1960s, NYRR remained a tight band of committed runners; there were about 250 members in 1970 when the group staged the first New York City Marathon in Central Park.
Marathon co-founder Fred Lebow took over as president in 1972 and helped lead the “running boom” that was sweeping the country. In 1976, spurred by Lebow’s vision, NYRR took the marathon out of the park and into the streets of the city’s five boroughs with a field of 2,090 runners. NYRR also launched the Fifth Avenue Mile, the Empire State Building Run-Up, the NYRR New York Mini 10K (the first all-women road race), and the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge. In 1978, Lebow hired Allan Steinfeld to assist him in planning, organizing, and executing NYRR events. NYRR membership topped 31,000.
Lebow and Steinfeld recruited the world’s best athletes to headline races, including Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Alberto Salazar, Lasse Viren, Mary Decker Slaney, and Grete Waitz, who eventually won the New York City Marathon a record nine times. Leading the way in professionalizing running, NYRR was among the first groups to offer open prize money in races.
Along with success and popularity, the 1990s brought heartbreak to NYRR. In 1990, Lebow was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought heroically, working with doctors at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and inspiring cancer patients worldwide by running during chemotherapy. With his cancer in remission, Lebow produced perhaps the most poignant moment in NYRR history when he completed the 1992 New York City Marathon in 5:32:34 with Waitz by his side. On October 9, 1994, just four weeks before the 25th New York City Marathon, Lebow succumbed to the disease. Steinfeld took over as president and marathon race director.
NYRR dramatically increased its commitment to youth programs, which in 1998 brought running and health programs to some 30,000 children in New York City and elsewhere.
Mary Wittenberg was hired as NYRR’s first director of administration. An attorney and the winner of the 1987 Marine Corps Marathon, Wittenberg oversaw NYRR’s business, administration, and operations.
NYRR showed the world how running can heal and transform a shattered city and country when it staged the New York City Marathon in the wake of September 11. Held just two months after the attacks, the race unified the city and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for relief efforts.
NYRR signed a multi-year deal with ING, one of the world’s largest financial service companies, to be the first title sponsor of the New York City Marathon. NYRR continued to grow—membership reached 40,000—and to extend its services and influence locally, nationally, and internationally.
Wittenberg was named Steinfeld’s successor as president, CEO, and New York City Marathon race director. The first woman to hold these positions, Wittenberg now oversees NYRR’s 160 full-time employees; more than 70 races annually; classes, clinics, and lectures in running and fitness; four websites; a quarterly magazine; and NYRR youth programs.
The New York City Marathon joined four other leading marathons—Berlin, Boston, Chicago, and London—to form the World Marathon Majors, a two-year series showcasing the sport’s top athletes and awarding an unprecedented $1 million champions’ prize. (The group expanded to six with the addition of the Tokyo Marathon in 2013.)
NYRR hosted the USA Cross Country Championships in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park, and inaugurated the NYC Half, which starts in Central Park, continues through Times Square, and finishes in lower Manhattan. The inaugural race had some 10,000 finishers.
NYRR hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials Men’s Marathon, which determined the U.S. team for the 2008 Beijing Games. On a course comprised primarily of loops in Central Park, Ryan Hall broke the U.S. Olympic Trials record with his 2:09:03. The next day’s New York City Marathon had 38,607 finishers, the most in any marathon to date.
World record-holder Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain won her third New York City Marathon in as many tries. NYRR youth programs reached a landmark by serving 100,000 children weekly.
The 40th running of the New York City Marathon set an all-time marathon finisher record at 43,660 runners. The first of them was Meb Keflezighi of Mammoth Lakes, CA, the first American to win the race in the 27 years since Alberto Salazar won his third title in 1982.
NYRR entered the social media realm with an array of Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds.
In response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, NYRR and the Department of Parks & Recreation co-sponsored the four-mile Run for Haiti, which raised more than $430,000 for New York’s Haiti Relief Fund; with 9,423 finishers, the race was the largest four-mile in history.
NYRR launched Running Start, a free collection of online fitness videos developed by NYRR to help teach youth the fundamentals of running through age-appropriate games, activities, and drills.
NYRR introduced the Official NYRR New York City Marathon Training Program, a revolutionary online plan that is personalized based on a runner’s experience, age, sex, race times, and current training, and that adapts as the training progresses. One-on-one e-coaching is available from NYRR’s experts. The race’s 47,340 finishers were another all-time marathon record.
NYRR signed an historic five-year deal with ESPN/ABC7 for a comprehensive year-round national and local television package, the cornerstone of which is the New York City Marathon, which was televised nationally in 2013 for the first time in almost 20 years.
On the Run, the organization’s first-ever weekly running lifestyle show, debuted in September.
The program offers insider access to pro athletes and inspirational local heroes and reports on community running programs and the running industry.
For the first time in event history, the New York City Marathon was cancelled. In the week before the race date, Hurricane Sandy had damaged much of the East Coast and left many New Yorkers without electricity and some without homes. Thousands of runners gathered for informal marathons on November 4 in Central Park, and many assisted with recovery efforts in hard-hit areas like Staten Island and Coney Island. NYRR made a donation of $1 million and, together with its partners, a $1.2 million donation of race supplies to the Mayor’s Fund for the Advancement of New York City, to be used for Sandy relief and recovery efforts.
NYRR remained focused on helping the city recover in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Contributions to this cause included the collection of goods donated by runners at events, the donation of race proceeds from the Staten Island Half, and the creation of Staten Island Day (October 13), which included live music, carnival games, a 1.5-mile fun run, and other free family activities. A donation of more than $100,000 was made to Sandy relief efforts after the event.
On May 18, a bigger, better Brooklyn Half entered the ranks of destination races when some 20,000 runners—about 7,000 more than ever before in the race’s 33-year history—ran from the Brooklyn Museum through Prospect Park to a unique finish on the world-famous Coney Island boardwalk. The race was broadcast on WABC7 New York.
The total number of children served per week by NYRR Youth Services reached 200,000.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, NYRR donated $146,000, raised through
the sale of “I Run for Boston” T-shirts, to The One Fund Boston, which was formed to assist victims and families affected by the tragic events at the race. NYRR partnered with one of the world’s top security firms, and continued to work closely with NYPD and state and federal partners, to provide enhanced security measures at its events, with the goal of implementing the needed security features while causing minimal impact on the events. Changes include added baggage inspection areas, prohibition of potentially dangerous items at all race venues, and increased police presence.
A record 50,266 people finished the New York City Marathon on November 3, making the race the largest marathon in history. In its return after the cancellation in 2012, the marathon was a celebration of New York City’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy and an opportunity for runners—and their supporters— to return to the streets of NYC.
NYRR became the title sponsor of the 107-year-old Millrose Games. The country’s most prestigious indoor track and field meet is held at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory and attracts the best professional, college, and high school athletes for an electrifying event that features record-setting performances.
In March, the 2014 NYC Half kicked off the year’s NYRR Five-Borough Series, which showcases NYRR’s renewed commitment to the individuals and communities in each borough. More than just five races, the Five-Borough Series—the NYC Half, the Brooklyn Half, the Queens 10K, the Bronx 10-Mile, and the Staten Island Half—is a celebration of what makes each borough unique, inspiring, and an amazing place to get out and get moving. It’s a runner’s journey through the five boroughs of NYC to experience what makes them special.
The Brooklyn Half became the country’s biggest half-marathon so far in 2014 when 25,646 runners crossed the Coney Island Boardwalk finish line.