NEW YORK (AP) – Gary Muhrcke was an amateur when he became the first runner to cross the finish line in a New York City marathon, and none of the 54 men who followed him were a pro. more.
Which doesn’t mean they weren’t serious.
“They turned off the clock at 3:59 am,” he recalls this week.
The race’s debut in 1970 – held entirely in Central Park – hardly resembled the five-borough track that has drawn millions of people to the streets of the Big Apple on the first Sunday in almost every November since. Adaptation, however, has apparently always allowed the world’s second-oldest major marathons to do more of what it does best – inspire and celebrate.
The 50th edition of the New York Marathon will certainly test it.
On Sunday, a limited field of 33,000 runners will leave the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and head to Central Park as the 26.2-mile race returns after being wiped out in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers have reduced the field by nearly 40% and are demanding that runners be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of the race. Additionally, spectators will be encouraged to maintain social distancing, and some elements of entertainment adjacent to the race will be scaled back to accommodate this.
The start format has also been changed, with a fifth wave added to space runners as they take the bus or ferry to the start line on Staten Island and the finish near 67th Street, on the west side of Central Park.
No stopping after four hours this time – the last group won’t take off until noon, four hours after the professional wheelchair division is the first to take to the streets.
“The classic line of ‘We’ve always done it like this’ was not going to be an option,” said race director Ted Metellus.
Over the past 21 months, the streets of New York City have gone from eerie silence amid a crippling COVID-19 outbreak, to heartache and rage as tens of thousands of people have parade after the murder of George Floyd, and finally to a regular flowering of reopens since the spring.
Nothing, however, has brought residents out of their homes en masse for a celebration like Sunday’s marathon should.
Organizers hope this year’s run will impact the city in a way similar to the 2001 marathon, when New Yorkers filled the course less than two months after 9/11.
“When I think about this year, I’ll be excited, I’ll be full of energy,” said Metellus. “But I also realize how much this means to everyone in the city.”
Several Olympic medalists will compete in the open division, with the male and female champions winning $ 100,000 each. The most anticipated by local fans will be Molly Seidel, an American who won bronze in the Tokyo Olympics marathon in her third race over the distance. She was the first American woman to win a medal in this event since Deena Kastor won bronze in 2004.
Seidel’s medal race took place just 13 weeks ago, a short timeframe for marathon runners. Seidel said she entered Sunday with no expectations. His top competitor, Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, is coming off the same limited rest after winning gold in Tokyo.
It’s a big turning point in the spotlight for 27-year-old Seidel, who has never run a marathon in the midst of this kind of fanfare. Spectators at the 2020 US Olympic Trials created energy, but not on a New York scale, while the 2020 London Marathon took place behind locked gates in St. James Park. Some locals lined the streets for the Olympic Marathon in Sapporo, Japan, but Seidel said: “It was very low-key, kind of like golf applause.”
His family will also be able to watch his race in person for the first time since US testing.
“I can’t wait to see the crowd, to regain that energy,” she said. “And I don’t know, I mean, this is my dream job, every time I go out and do a marathon.”
Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia is the headliner of the men’s race. The four-time Olympic champion is one of the most decorated long-distance runners of all time, and at 39, he could compete in his last race on American soil.
The top American in the men’s race is expected to be Ben True, a six-time national champion at other distances who is making his marathon debut.
American Daniel Romanchuk is aiming for a third straight victory in the men’s wheelchair race, while former champions Manuela Schär of Switzerland and Tatyana McFadden of the United States lead the women’s wheelchair division.
There will also be gold medals in the non-competitive waves: United States National Women’s Football Team alumni Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Kate Markgraf and Leslie Osborne are among the celebrity contenders this year.
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber runs for the seventh time, while two members of British rock band Mumford & Sons run for the first time in New York. Tony Award-winning actress Kelli O’Hara will perform the national anthem, then take to the course, and former “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” contestants Matt James, Tyler Cameron, Tayshia Adams and Zac Clark also participate.