11 Fast Facts About the New York City Marathon

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Thousands of runners will converge on New York City to race the New York City Marathon on November 4, 2018. Here’s everything you need to know about Gotham’s most iconic road race.

1. THE RACE'S MASTERMIND JUST WANTED TO IMPROVE HIS TENNIS GAME.

When Fred Lebow first laced up his shoes, he didn’t set out to help turn distance running into a national craze. He just wanted to up his stamina when he played tennis. He fell in love with running, though, and in 1970 he organized a marathon in Central Park. With a total budget of $1000—$300 of which came out of Lebow’s own pocket—Lebow gathered a small pack of runners to pound 26.2 miles’ worth of loops in the park on September 13, 1970.

2. THAT FIRST GROUP STRUGGLED A BIT.

Lebow’s first race featured a field of 127 runners, but only 55 of them managed to complete the course. Gary Muhrcke won the first race with a time of 2:31:39. Muhrcke’s feat is all the more impressive because he had worked the previous night as a firefighter in Far Rockaway, Queens. In 2009 he told Runner’s World that he was tired and nearly bagged the race entirely: “I had called my wife at about 8:30 in the morning and said, ‘You know, I don't really want to go [to Central Park], I think I'm going to come home and take it easy.’ I don't want to run a marathon on September 13 [with] 85 degrees possible. I heard a disappointment in her voice, because we had three little children. I said, ‘Alright, we'll go, let's go, pick me up, we'll go.’"

3. ONLY ONE WOMAN COMPETED IN THE FIRST EVENT.

The vast majority of those first 127 runners were men. In fact, there was only one woman in the race! She became ill during the run and never crossed the finish line.

4. A REVOLUTION BEGAN TWO YEARS LATER.


By Steven Pisano - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why were there so few women in that first race? Blame running’s old governing body, the Amateur Athletic Union. The AAU had long banned women from running marathons; Runner’s World noted that part of the justification for this ban came from junk science that indicated female distance runners were prone to infertility. In 1971, the AAU agree to allow women to run the distance if their race start was staggered 10 minutes away from the men’s race or from a different line.

The plan for the 1972 race was to have the six women in the field take off from the starting line 10 minutes before their male counterparts. However, when the women’s gun sounded, instead of taking off, the six runners—led by Boston Marathon champ Nina Kuscsik—sat down on the starting line. For 10 minutes, they held signs jeering the AAU with slogans like “Hey AAU, this is 1972. Wake up.”

When the gun sounded for the men’s race to begin, the women got up and ran. The protest cost them a 10-minute penalty, but it was a major victory in women’s effort to run the same races as men and changed running forever. Last year, more than 21,000 women finished the New York City Marathon.

5. THE RACE VENTURED OUT OF CENTRAL PARK IN 1976.

The United States celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, and everyone was looking for a way to ride the national wave of patriotic sentiment, including local runner George Spitz. Spitz thought that taking the race out of its looping course in Central Park and running it through all five of the city’s boroughs would be a great way to harness some local pride. He had run the Boston Marathon, and he reportedly asked his friends, “If Boston can have a marathon on the city roads, why not New York?”

Spitz doggedly worked to get the support of Mayor Abraham D. Beame and raised the funds necessary to close down the streets. That first cross-city race was a smashing success, and the course has passed through all five boroughs ever since.

6. IT'S GOTTEN QUITE A BIT MORE EXPENSIVE.


Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The entry fee for the 1970 marathon was just $1. It’s safe to say the price has outpaced inflation in the last several decades. U.S. residents running in the 2018 marathon paid an entry fee of $295 apiece, while non-residents paid $358.

7. THE SPOILS HAVE GOTTEN BETTER, TOO.

When your entry fee is just a buck, you can’t afford to be too lavish with the race prizes. According to race organizers, the top runners in 1970 received “inexpensive wristwatches and recycled baseball and bowling trophies.” It’s gotten a little richer since then. For this year’s race, the total prize purse is $825,000, with the fastest man and woman running away with $100,000 apiece.

8. WHEELCHAIR RACERS GOT THEIR OWN DIVISION IN 2000.


Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2000 race marked the first year that wheelchair racers had their own formal, competitive division following 20 years of racing as an exhibition event. That first formal race went to Kamel Ayari in a time of 1:53:50, and the division has only gotten faster since then. The current course record belongs to Australian Kurt Fearnley, who roared through all five boroughs in 1:29:22 in 2007.

9. THE FIELD HAS GROWN OVER THE YEARS.

Lebow only found 127 runners for the 1970 race, but the 2017 edition of the marathon will include more than 50,000 racers.

10. RUNNERS RAISE A SERIOUS PILE OF MONEY FOR CHARITY.


Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Many runners are doing more than just getting in a good workout—they’re also raising money for a good cause. One of these charities is named for Lebow, who passed away in 1994 following a fight with cancer. Since 1995, the charity that bears his name, Fred’s Team, has raised more than $70 million for New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

11. THE RACE HAS ONLY BEEN CANCELED ONCE.

Since 1970, the only marathon that didn’t go off as planned was the 2012 running. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially insisted that the race would go on as planned before pressure from other local leaders led him to cancel the marathon. Some disappointed runners gathered in Central Park to run their own unsanctioned race, while others volunteered to visit hard-hit Staten Island to lend a hand to recovery efforts.

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
iStock.com/Rawpixel

While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
iStock.com/alexeys

Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
iStock.com/hroe

Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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