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Forty Years of Traditions

Forty years ago, the New York City Marathon unveiled a new course spanning all five NYC boroughs. While the notion seemed crazy to some, this was an idea with legs. Today, the race is part of the fabric of the city, and it’s made as deep an impact on the runners who come back year after year.

Brooklyn native Fred Abramowitz (pictured above with Peter Ciaccia, NYRR's President of Events and Race Director of the TCS New York City Marathon, and Michael Capiraso, NYRR President and CEO) was among the 2,090 entrants who lined up in Staten Island on October 24, 1976. “I always wanted to run a marathon, because it was considered crazy,” he says.

Abramowitz felt good until the final five miles, when he hit “the wall.” After finishing, he chucked his shoes into a garbage can and asked a favor of his friends: “If I ever think of doing anything like this again, just take a gun and shoot me.”

But Abramowitz came back the following year and trimmed more than 50 minutes off his time. Now 64 and based in Steamboat Springs, CO, he’s run the New York City Marathon 11 times, including today in 4:39.

Paul Fetscher, 70, was also there for the inaugural five-borough run. “The start was very exciting,” he says. “There were helicopters overhead, and it had a feeling of getting ready to invade Normandy.”

Fetscher has run the New York City Marathon 45 times. He’s seen many changes—wave starts, chip timing, increased security—but when he hits the streets, he can still feel the spirit of the original event.

“For me, even though it’s 50,000 people, it’s the small, personal moments that define it,” Fetscher says. “Talking to friends in the corrals, seeing someone I know in the crowd, the little details of the course.”

David Laurance, who made his 39th straight New York City Marathon appearance today, knows all about the unique camaraderie of this event. For the 64-year-old owner of the race’s second-longest streak, the year that most sticks in his mind is 1980, when he first broke 3:30. “I got to Columbus Circle and realized I was going to do it and yelled at my wife in the crowd, ‘I’m going to break 3:30!’” Laurance says. “And all the runners around me all started yelling, ‘He’s going to break 3:30!’ I’ve always remembered that.”

The spectators can give as much of a boost. “I love the crowds—that’s what makes New York special,” says Marie Wickham, 61, who’s ran her 25th straight New York City Marathon today. “I have friends in Brooklyn, friends on First Avenue, friends on Fifth Avenue, and they’re always there, always.”

With so much love and excitement along the course, today’s runners naturally like to whip out their phones and snap photos for posterity. Even 72-year-old Connie Brown, the female runner with the longest New York City Marathon streak, will take some snaps today. “I resisted for a long time, but now I do it,” Brown says. “I love having photos of my journey. I love seeing people take pictures with their families along the way. We’re all so much more connected now.”

For many runners, family is a huge part of the race. When 77-year-old Joe Puglisi set off today on his 36th consecutive New York City Marathon, he wasn’t be thinking about the finish line. Recently diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, he planned on stopping somewhere in Brooklyn. As one streak ended, though, another began. This year, his grandson Pierce made his marathon debut.

“I could probably complete the course by walking, but that’s not what this is about for me,” says Puglisi. “I’m excited for Pierce. He’s going to carry on the tradition.”

By Ken Partridge