"In running, it doesn't matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say 'I have finished.' There is a lot of satisfaction in that."
If you are running in New York City, you can't ignore who Fred Lebow was. Not only was Fred Lebow the man who founded the New York City Marathon, but he was also the man who believed that running is for everyone.
Sunday's Half Marathon in Central Park celebrated Fred Lebow, and we were there. But who was Fred Lebow?
Back in 1969, running was not a fancy sport in NYC. It was rather hardcore, and people would think road runners were freaks. There was not any room for women running. A lot of runners ran in the Bronx around Yankee Stadium, and most of them ran fast.
Then came Fred. Fred was an immigrant from Romania and a very charming man working in the fashion world. But, as one of his friends say, he was looking for a purpose in life that fashion was not giving him.
By his own words, Fred's love affair with NY began when he discovered Central Park and he ran one lap of the reservoir, 1.58 miles, in 18 minutes. "Fred ran like a duck, except he was slower than a duck. Not many people ran that weren't really good runners, but Fred was running races and finished way, way, way back" Bob Gloves says in the documentary movie dedicated to Fred's life.
Fred went out and ran every day: "I found running like an oasis in my life."
Fred was the one who started suggesting to "take it out from the Bronx and run in Central Park." Why not a Marathon in Central Park? The idea of running in Central Park in what appeared to be their underwear or less was impossible.
He wanted to attract the world, he wanted to take the running scene public and he talked them all into it in 1970. The first New York City Marathon in Central Park cost $99,000 and Fred paid for it (with no experience in organizing a marathon whatsoever).
It was not quite the marathon as we know it now, not many people were watching it, there was no press, no crowds, no water, and no women finished it. It was the first of many to which Fred devoted his life. The Marathon was like a holy grail for Fred.
Once Fred had discovered running, he spent less and less time in the garment industry and more in the Road Runners Club.
Along with the NYC Marathon, Fred also organized the Empire State Building Run-Up, the Fifth Avenue Mile, and the Mini Marathon (a 10K road race), which was the first exclusive women road race and is today's NYRR Mini 10K (he came up with the name "Mini" after the mini skirt that was in fashion at the time).
Fred brought a whole new dimension to the sport: he believed that running was for everyone.
Watch the movie "Run for your life" (2008) and you will discover Fred's vision, his life, the story of the NYC Marathon, the success, some disappointment and how this sport became popular in New York, told by Fred and his friends.
Three runners of the NY World Runners Team ran the half marathon in Central Park on Sunday, on a sunny day with ideal conditions for a winter race, on a course that featured three ascents of Harlem Hill. Hurray for Chiara Pace, Dario Leoncini and Elda Buonanno Foley! We are very happy for our runners, their hard work is showing great results and they must be very proud of themselves (as are we!).