Running Man: Is the NYC Marathon the World's Greatest Race?

Oct 31, 2009
Outside Magazine

Since seeing firsthand the spirit New York puts into its marathon, and hearing the marketing slogan over and over, the question has been on my mind: Is the New York City Marathon the world's greatest race? I want to hear what you think.

The evidence for:
*The prestige. It's one of the five most important marathons in the world, along with Boston, Berlin, London, and Chicago.

*The size. Among those, and all marathons in the world, the NYC Marathon is usually the largest, with over 37,000 finishers. 

*The venue. It's held in the streets of one of the largest cities in the world.

*The openness. It's a democratic race. It's not just for elite pros, like the Tour de France. In addition to many of the world's best, there are about 40,000 regular runners and joggers like you or me. And not just the faster ones. There is no qualifying time--unlike Boston, which only lets in relatively speedy recreational runners. And since it's running, it doesn't involve expensive gear or any equipment more complicated than a pair of shoes and a lot of grit. Whether you're Edward Norton, Alanis Morissette, Anthony Edwards, Olympic speed skater Dan Jensen or the Prince of the Netherlands, Christiaan Michiel (all of whom are running this year), you are just one of the pack.

*The lack of barriers. There is very little separation from the event and the rest of us. There are very few barriers along the marathon course. The stars are within reach. This morning, as I warmed up for the race in Central Park with about a thousand other runners, I stopped and shook hands with Ryan Hall, who was just one of many people doing their last pre-race run. I also spotted American stars Dan Browne and Jorge Torres doing light jogs and strides, simply more faces in the crowd. A woman running next to me gushed that she had just spotted Lance Armstrong warming up.

*The crowd. There are an estimated 2 million spectators along the course, making it one of the largest one-day crowds for any sporting event in the world.

*The world field. It's is truly international, with over 100 countries represented. There are about 195 countries in the world, depending on how you count them, so more than half are represented in New York.

*It does not involve motor vehicles, or horses. 

The case against:

*It's not the oldest marathon — besides the Olympic event, that's Boston.And a few people from Beantown is sure to bristle at the suggestion that the BigApple's 40-year-old contest would have surpassed theirlegendary, 113-year-old race in glory.

*It's not the largest footrace. The Bay to Breakers in San Franciscohas the world record there, with over 100,000 participants.

*It is not the fastest major marathon course. Right now, that honor goes to Berlin, where the world record has been broken the last three times. London is right up there, and Chicago is close. Boston, New York—not so much.

*It's grueling. But if greatness is defined by extreme of human endurance performed en mass, it's not even close to the podium. See Badwater, RAAM, etc.

*The Olympic Marathon certainly has the toughest field in the world (especially when Haile shows up), and nothing carries more weight than a gold medal.

*The Tour de France. Hey, that's a pretty great race.

Sound off. Let me know what you think.


Filed To: Fitness

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!