Kenyans take NYC marathon by storm

Over 50,000 runners participated in the annual New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 1. Both amateurs and elites from around the world traversed the 26.2 mile course spanning all five boroughs starting at Staten Island and concluding in Central Park. Millions of spectators lined up along the race path to cheer on the athletes whether they were friends, family members or just enthusiastic supporters. Still, the world’s largest marathon had humble beginnings.

Fred Lebow, a Romanian immigrant and member of the New York Road Runners club co-founded the race alongside Vincent Chiappetta in 1970. The inaugural NYC marathon started and ended in Central Park with 127 runners entering and only 55 completing the four-lap event around the park. Prizes included cheap wristwatches and recycled baseball and bowling trophies, according to the TCS NYC Marathon’s website. One dollar was all that was needed to enter the race and crowds were sparsely populated. Lebow became president of the NYRR organization in 1972 and by 1976. The course featured all five boroughs as 2,090 entrants were treated to the sights and sounds of the city.

As Lebow’s creation grew in size and popularity year after year, so did the money. Present-day processing and entry fees are over $200 for U.S. residents and over $300 for international competitors, but the cash awards lessen the sting on their bank accounts. The top-ten finishers in the men and women’s division earn between $2,500 and $100,000 with the champions receiving the top prize, making an already impressive accomplishment all the sweeter.

Its globalization has allowed international athletes to shine in the Capital of the World. Norwegian Olympian Grete Waitz won while setting a world-record time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 20 seconds in 1978. She went on to win eight more times in an 11-year span, a feat that still stands on its own.

Kenyan runners have dominated the competition, taking home more first-place medals than any other country. The trend continued this year as Stanley Biwott and Mary Keitany crossed the finished line in 2:10:34 and 2:24:25, respectively. For Keitany, it was her second consecutive victory in New York after giving birth to her second child in 2014. Their compatriot Geoffrey Kamworor took second in men’s while the reigning Boston Marathon champion from Ethiopia, Lelisa Desisa, finished in third. Aselefech Mergia and Tigist Tufa, also Ethiopian athletes, earned the remaining women’s medals.

While the top U.S. men and women competitors both finished seventh, their marathon experience could not be further apart. 40-year-old Meb Keflezighi was one of the most decorated participants in the field, having placed second in the 2004 Olympics and first in the 2009 NYC Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon. The Eritrean-born star remains the last American to win both legendary events.

26-year-old Laura Thweatt made the most of her marathon debut, completing the course in 2:28:23, the seventh fastest time ever for an American in New York. A member of the University of Colorado track and field team from 2008-2011, Thweatt won the USA Cross Country Championships this past February, but had never ran a marathon. In an interview with Runner’s World, Thweatt expressed her commitment to short distance competitions even after her successful outing in New York. Thweatt’s efforts in this year’s NYC Marathon will make her a name to remember, especially as she prepares for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

The professionals were not the only runners used to the spotlight. Brooklynite and iconic director Spike Lee served as grand marshal for the proceedings. Local superstar singer Alicia Keys, Academy Award-nominee Ethan Hawke and former-Giants running back Tiki Barber all endured the five-borough trek for charitable causes. Former professional tennis player James Blake also ran the marathon just two months after being tackled and falsely arrested by a New York police officer outside a Manhattan hotel.

Blake was interviewed mid-race, not about the arrest, but about the contrast between training for tennis matches and a long-distance run. The former tennis star pointed to the explosive burst needed in his former profession and pacing himself for the treacherous slog. Running for his cancer research foundation, Blake told the New York Daily News he would “never again” try to run the 26.2 miles as his wife and daughter greeted him at the finish line.

The city’s roads welcomed racers of all ages and abilities, whether covered in neon sweatbands or rocking a plain T-shirt and shorts ensemble.

Runners embraced the familiar polyester-aluminum wrap, though the unseasonably warm weather may have caused some to shrug it off. The finishers’ medals proudly hung from their necks, garnering admiration from pedestrians and straphangers alike, perhaps inspiring the next crop of athletes.