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Next Sunday,  Nov. 7th, over 100,000 runners will race 26.2 miles across five towering bridges through New York’s five unique boroughs in the 40th ING New York City Marathon.

The mega-marathon that began with 55 finishers in Central Park in 1970 and moved to the five boroughs in 1976—starts at 9:10 a.m.  (Eastern time) when the elite women get under way.

The race attracts many world-class professional athletes, not only for the more than $600,000 in prize money (male and female winners each receive $130,000) , but also for the chance to excel before two million cheering spectators and more than 300 million worldwide television viewers.

Last year’s winner Derartu Tulu along with newcomer Shalane Flanagan, Mary Keitany and Christelle Daunay are among the pros competing for the prize purse.

The majority of participants, however, are amateur runners who have two primary goals: to experience the different neighborhoods across New York by foot and to cross the finish line.

The runners come from all over and include more than a few celebs who run to support charities, boost their profile or just test their strength and endurance. According to NY Daily News, the star-studded roster includes fashion designer Rachel Roy,  models Veronica Webb and Selita Ebanks, Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers and Broadway stars Kate Shindle, Shayna Steele, and Sarah Darling.

Like a lot of the racers,  celebs  lace up their sneakers to raise money for a cause. Most of the stars are running for one of the 190 non-profits involved in this  year’s charity campaign of “A Million Dollars a Mile” which aims to raise $26.2 million on Nov. 7th.

The celebrity line-up of runners also includes Today Show television personality Al Roker, former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, actor Ed Norton and Food Network personality Bobby Flay. A late entry could be Chilean Miner Edison Pena who was not sure he could make it to the marathon in time but continued his training while trapped in the mine.

Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, who finished sixth last year (2:32:17)  returns in 2010  to  raise money for the Women’s Sports Foundation and to help fight childhood obesity.

Other Olympians and pro athletes racing this year include snowboarder Tricia Byrnes and soccer star Leslie Osborne.

Past celebs and pro athletes  include Katie Holmes, Alanis Morrissette, Brandi Chastain, Keri Strug, Shannon Miller and Kim Alexis.

Pro or amateur, famous or not,  any one of the more than 830,000 past participants will attest to the fact that crossing the finish line in Central Park is one of the great thrills of a lifetime.

All the runners can rock out this year as the marathon is expanding its course entertainment for participants and spectators with the Miles of Music Presented by New York Road Runners, featuring dozens of live bands.

For those who have more than a passing interest in the race, here’s a preview of the women’s pro field.

American marathon record-holder and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kaster is expecting her first child in March and won’t be competing this year.  Kara Goucher is also taking a pass this year, having given birth to a baby boy last month.  No American woman has won in New York City since Miki Gorman in 1977.

Top American women to watch:

•Somers Smith, 49, of Arroyo Grande, CA, was a 1996 Olympian in the marathon. In 2010, she set the women’s 45–49 10-mile record in 57:09 and placed sixth at the Honda LA Marathon in 2:36:33.

• Katie McGregor, 33, of St. Louis Park, MN, is the 2010 USA 15K champion and has won four other USA Championships. A member of Team USA Minnesota, McGregor set her marathon personal best at the ING New York City Marathon in 2008, finishing 10th in 2:31:14.

• Mary Akor, 33, of Hawthorne, CA, has numerous marathon victories under her belt and the Nigerian-born runner  has twice represented the United States at the World Championships Marathon (2005 and 2007).

• Paige Higgins, 28, of Flagstaff, AZ, was the top American woman at the 2010 Boston Marathon when she finished in 2:36:00. Higgins, the 2008 USA 25K Champion, will be making her ING New York City Marathon debut.

Additional profiles of women runners can be found on the NYRR site.

If you’re not running the marathon, the race offers a great chance to celebrate those who can, and do. So if you’re in New York, join the party on the sidelines and salute the runners effort.

Those not able to be in NY, can watch the race live online.  You can also preview the route in a great interactive tour. Share the experience and celebrate the triumph of each excruciating mile.

Runners, on your mark…

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