Participatory sport exists. And the most obvious evidence -- amid a gluttonous week of local World Series and early-season NBA, NFL and hockey spectating -- is Sunday's 45th New York City Marathon.
The annual Running of the Humans -- 26 miles, 385 yards through Big Town's five boroughs -- will feature the usual 50,000 players, about all of whom are just folks taking the dare to follow the handful of professionals.
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To the event's New York Road Runners Club organizers, the display of this enormous citizen race is just one more billboard for their cause, which is promoting a public on the move.
The marathon's leadership has changed hands after 17 years under the direction of Mary Wittenberg, whom Road Runners board chairman George Hirsch called "a larger-than-life human dynamo." But the two men who make up the friendly two-headed monster that has replaced her -- race director Peter Ciaccia and Road Runners CEO Michael Capiraso -- are carrying on the plot to physically motivate the masses.
Ciaccia cited a plan to place mile markers in parks around the city as "visual stimulation" to promote exercise. Working with Tatyana McFadden, who is bidding to again win the women's wheelchair division of all four major world marathons -- London, Boston, Chicago, New York -- the Road Runners are planning to buy a dozen racing wheelchairs to make available to children because "a lot of kids in wheelchairs are not getting enough exercise," Ciaccia said.
On Monday, the Road Runners announced their first "youth invitational," allowing 1,000 kids to run the last 1.8 miles of the marathon course early Sunday morning, right through Central Park's finish line, just as the 50,000 marathoners line up for the Staten Island start. This will allow, Ciaccia said, a next generation to "directly experience the magic of this event."
Not that the marathon has been losing its drawing power. Hirsch, who remembered when "we used to worry about how much safety pins cost" to attach the runners' bib numbers, estimated the race's budget to be in the $20-million region now. A new visitors' pavilion, a massive temporary structure adjacent to the Tavern on the Green at the finish line, opened Monday, and Capiraso announced an estimated economic impact from the 2014 race to be $415 million.
Both 2014 men's and women's champions, Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany, will be back to defend their titles. Also in the pro field is the enormously popular Meb Keflezighi, 40, winner of 2009 New York and 2014 Boston and considered by Hirsch "to be with Joanie [Benoit Samuelson], Bill [Rodgers] and Frank [Shorter] as one of the great American marathoners."
Still, the emphasis is on luring all comers to join the galloping, trotting, rushing crowd.