In its second year, the 5-mile Portugal Day race, scheduled for Sunday at 8:00 a.m., will celebrate that nation’s lively culture of food and music. The 4,641 runners who finished the inaugural race last year are still proudly wearing their colorful, Portugal-themed technical shirts all over the city.
If the ING New York City Marathon has been known as the race “where the world comes to run,” the series of six nation-themed races organized by New York Road Runners is “where the world comes to the runners.” In the past year, more than 36,000 finishers—not counting the youngsters in the accompanying kids’ races—got glimpses of not only Portugal but also of Scotland, Japan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway.
“We’re really celebrating that spirit and diversity of culture,” said Ann Wells Crandall, NYRR's executive vice president, business development & strategic partnerships. “Runners love it. Plus, they love to travel and they love to combine travel with running, especially if they can do a destination race and bring along their family. We ask the countries that come to us, ‘What elements of your country are most important to you?’ We want them to take their race and make it their own.” Prizes at the post-race raffles often include trips to the host country.
It all started in 1995, with Grete Waitz. That year, the women’s half-marathon held each fall became known as Grete’s Great Gallop to honor the nine-time New York City Marathon champion. It and a companion race, the 1.7-mile Norway Run, have been sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Consulate.
“They really re-created the feeling of Norway,” said Crandall. “They brought salmon, they brought bagels, they brought crepes, all these fun foods and activities so that people would really get the sense of Norway.”
Last year, Grete’s Great Gallop had 4,973 finishers, with another 1,583 runners completing the shorter Norway Run.
In 2004, the Scottish embassy in Washington, D.C., told Crandall that the Scottish government wanted to put on a race, and the Scotland Run was born. Held each year in early April, during the American-Scottish Foundation’s Tartan Week in New York City, the race is popular with spectators eager to see the many runners who wear kilts. Post-race entertainment is provided by a popular local Scottish rock band. In 2012, 7,920 runners finished the Scotland Run 10K, on April 7.
A year after the Scotland Run began, the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. wanted to launch a race in honor of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan to benefit the National Kidney Foundation. The sheikh, who was the first president of the United Arab Emirates and a kidney transplant recipient, had received treatment in the United States. The UAE General Women’s Union has showcased traditional Emirati crafts and applied henna art designs to runners’ hands in a Bedouin-style tent near the finish line.
“These races are a great opportunity to educate people,” said Crandall.
The UAE Healthy Kidney 10K is the only “nation” race that features an elite field, which consists of about 20 top male distance runners, and its $25,000 first-place prize is the largest in the world for a 10K. On May 12, the race had 7,937 finishers.
A few years after the first UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, Crandall and Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of NYRR, were asked to consult on the Tokyo Marathon, and out of that experience came the first Japan Day race, in 2007. The next year, two-time IAAF World Championships Marathon medalist Reiko Tosa ran the race for fun and won the women’s division. Japan Day @ Central Park 2012 took over the Naumberg Bandshell and Rumsey Playfield with its festival of entertainment and Japanese delicacies, and at this year’s race, on May 13, the Ambassador and Consul General of Japan in New York, Shigeyuki Hiroki, expressed his appreciation for the 2011 Japan Run for Hope, held as a fundraiser soon after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated his country. “Today we share joy and happiness with our partners at NYRR and all New Yorkers,” he said. “It gives us great pride to share our Japanese traditions and heritage with New York City.”
This year, 4,985 runners completed the 4-mile race.
In just its second year, the NYRR Celebrate Israel Run Presented by The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, also a 4-miler, saw 5,136 finishers on June 3. The race was followed by a festival, after which many runners and spectators head over to Fifth Avenue to watch the annual Celebrate Israel parade.
The international flavor continues during the week of the ING New York City Marathon, with both the International Taste of Travel reception and the Parade of Nations on Friday night. This year, the Cayman Islands will join Wonderful Indonesia as sponsors of International Taste of Travel.
“We have people coming from 100 different countries, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we celebrate that during marathon week?’ said Crandall.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg