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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 Sunday. 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 2017 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 about 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. The 2014 running of the marathon helped raise a record $34.5 million for various charitable causes. 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.

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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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