Central Park and the New York City Marathon Through the Years

As the leaves start to turn, it will mean—among other things—that Marathon Sunday is almost upon us! The TCS New York City Marathon has always had a deep connection to Central Park.

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Central Park has been a part of the New York City Marathon since its founding in 1970—here’s the event from above in 1992.

The first race

Even before the marathon, Central Park was the heart of the running community in New York City. It got a boost when Mayor John V. Lindsay closed the Park Drives to traffic for the first time ever in the summer of 1966.

Runners upped the ante four years later when the first New York City Marathon was run on September 13, 1970. Organized by Fred Lebow and Vincent Chiappetta of the New York Road Runners, entrants had to find the men in person and hand them the $1 race fee. On the day of the race, 127 runners lined up at Tavern on the Green; only 55 successfully finished the course, comprising one trip around the Park’s 1.7-mile lower loop, and four of the entire Park Drive circuit.

After that, the marathon grew rapidly. In 1976, Lebow expanded the course to take that year’s 2,090 entrants through all five boroughs. Still, runners would continue to cross the finish line in Central Park.

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A statue commemorating original race director Fred Lebow is typically at Engineers' Gate on 90th Street and Fifth Avenue, where runners enter the Park on the day of the marathon—but on race day, the sculpture is moved to the finish line.

Memorable moments

In 1994, some excitement shook up the front of the pack: Mexican runner German Silva, running alongside countryman Benjamin Paredes, was only seven-tenths of a mile from the finish line when he took a wrong turn on Central Park South, following a television truck into the Park. It looked like his lead was lost, but he quickly figured out his mistake, reversed course, and somehow overtook Paredes in the final stretch, winning by two seconds. Thus ended one of the most dramatic races in history.

The marathon brings New York City together, and that power was more apparent than ever in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Scheduled for November 4—just a few days after the storm wreaked havoc across the region—the race was canceled. But on that day, thousands of runners gathered in the Park, while others traveled to the outer boroughs to help with recovery efforts, exemplifying that event really is, as New York Road Runners calls it, “an exercise in community spirit.”

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There are several spots in Central Park to watch the NYC Marathon. Here’s a peek at the finish line in the Park’s south end in 1993.

Where to watch

Experience the excitement of race day by spectating from the Park. We recommend these viewing areas:

  • Fifth Avenue from 90th to 110th Street
  • East Drive from 59th to 90th Street
  • West Drive from 59th to 90th Street
  • 59th Street from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West
  • Columbus Circle

Where to run (every other day of the year)

While most of us will be watching from the sidelines come Marathon Sunday, there are plenty of ways every other day of the year to enjoy running in the Park at your own pace! A true running hub, the Park is full of unique routes to jog and explore—find them on our official running guide.

• The Stephanie and Fred Shuman Running Track surrounds the Reservoir and is one of the most popular running destinations in the world. If you’re more of an evening athlete, you may be tempted to pause your workout and photograph the stunning sunsets.

• The bridle path offers a softly packed dirt surface that loops around almost the full length of the Park, as well as the outer boundary of the Reservoir. Formerly the sole domain of horses, today they kindly share their space with dogs and humans.

• Looking for some serious distance (and want to pay homage to former home of the entire marathon course)? The paved drives that circle the entire Park might be for you. Keep an eye out for the notorious hill on the loop’s northern tip—if you run that, you can run anything!

Whether you’re watching or running the marathon, or going for a jog on your own, we hope you remember that running in Central Park is more than a hobby—it’s a community with a storied history that brings all New Yorkers together.

Learn more on our running guide.

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Dedicate a Paving Stone

Commemorate the completion of a marathon or race with a paving stone on Gilder Run, located on the steps of Bridge No. 24, which connects the East Drive with the Reservoir running track.