Why Run New York? Pro Athletes Share What They Love About the TCS New York City Marathon
The TCS New York City Marathon is tough, hilly, and not designed for PRs. And yet, professional marathoners—folks who race 26.2 for a living, traveling around the world to battle for a spot on the podium—would rather come to New York than almost anywhere else. In fact, they rave about the experience of leading the field of 50,000+ through the five boroughs.
Why do these runners love New York, with all its challenges, daunting logistics, and intense competition? Switzerland’s Manuela Schär, the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon women’s wheelchair champion, called New York “the toughest race of my life.” And yet, Schär and other pros eagerly return, year after year. Here’s a look at why.
FOMO, 1970s Style
In 1976, the New York City Marathon moved out of Central Park and into the streets of the five boroughs—a big gamble for a city on the brink of bankruptcy with no real blueprint to follow. Still, two-time Olympic medalist Frank Shorter didn’t hesitate when race director and NYRR president Fred Lebow invited him to run. “I just wanted to show up and see how the police would clear the streets,” Shorter recalled. “That alone would be an accomplishment.”
Fame and (Sort of) Fortune
Shorter ended up placing second that year to his rival Bill Rodgers, whose victory made headlines around the world. To Lebow’s delight, word quickly spread among elite distance runners that a top performance in New York put them on the world stage. In that pre-prize money era, fortune didn’t yet follow this fame, but it was a start.
“In one race, I achieved what many others would call instant fame,” said Alberto Salazar after winning the 1980 New York City Marathon, his first of three consecutive victories. “I had won national championships before, but all those races combined did not give me the exposure or media attention I received from the New York City Marathon.”
Orlando Pizzolato, the 1984 and 1985 New York City Marathon champion, remembers the coverage in his native Italy after his first win: “The first story on the news was the pope. And then Reagan’s election. And then there was me,” said Pizzolato, who was inducted into the NYRR Hall of Fame in 2017.
Back in the New York Groove
Top runners who returned to New York year after year found themselves embraced by a city that’s always been a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. “Sometimes I feel more like a New Yorker than a Norwegian,” said Grete Waitz after her sixth New York City Marathon victory, in 1984—and she still had three more victories to go!
Tiny Tegla Loroupe of Kenya—all 4 feet, 10 inches and 88 pounds of her—was cheered by name en route to her second consecutive New York City Marathon victory, in 1995. “All of them were calling my name,” she recalled. “They said, ‘Go, Tegla, you look strong,’ even though I was feeling tired.”
Competition, and More
Even if a run through the five boroughs doesn’t end with a spot on the podium, the pros know they’ll compete against the best in the world in New York. “I always look for an opportunity to be in a competitive field like this and to fuel from the caliber of the athletes,” said 2016 U.S. Olympic marathoner Jared Ward, who placed 12th at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon.
The pros also know that like any other runners, they can use the off-the-charts energy of the city and event to fuel greatness. “The level of enthusiasm of the people of New York is second to none,” says Michael Wardian, a three-time U.S 50K champion who’s run more than 200 marathons all over the world, including the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon in 2:46:49. “New York is so electric—the vibe is just surreal—and if you can tap into that, it’s pretty powerful.”
And that energy is about more than just race day. Amanda McGrory, the 2006 and 2011 New York City Marathon women’s wheelchair champion, finds that while she has tunnel-vision during the marathon (“To be completely honest, what I focus on is the backside of whichever athlete is directly in front of me”), the New York energy definitely infuses her performance. “All week, you can feel that everyone is so excited,” said McGrory, who finished third here in 2017. “So many people are here specifically for the race and there’s such a great energy.”
By now, you want to experience that energy and excitement yourself—right? So don’t delay—apply to run the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon by Thursday, February 15 at 11:59 p.m. This race will move you—we’re sure of it.