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This Sunday, Nov. 6th, over 100,000 runners will race 26.2 miles across five towering bridges through New York’s five unique boroughs in the 42nd 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.

The 2010 winner, Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, was forced to withdraw with a knee injury but there are plenty of other contenders among the pros competing for this year’s prize purse.

American Lauren Fleshman is making her marathon debut this weekend. She was seventh at 2011 World Championships 5000m, a 15-time NCAA All-American at Stanford University, and the USA Outdoor 5000m champion in 2006 and 2010.

Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba, who now resides in the Bronx, is the fastest-ever female New York marathoner and a favorite for this weekend’s race. She set a PR of 2:23:31 in San Diego this year  and was 10th at the ING New York City Marathon in 2010.

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.

Famous Faces

This race’s finish line is never short on star power.  The star-studded roster running this year includes the following celebs.

Eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno knows a thing or two about winning. But how will this speed skater perform on the 26.2-mile course? Considering his first-place performance on Dancing with the Stars, treading unfamiliar territory shouldn’t faze him.

Olympic medalist and softball star Jennie Finch is running for a good cause. She’s starting this year’s race in last place and for every person she passes, Timex will donate $1 to the New York Road Runners Youth Program. This proud mama welcomed her second son just this past June and has been training hard with her coach, Ironman athlete Susanne Davis, to bounce back after baby.

Grammy-winning artist Mya will be pounding pavement for puppies and kittens, running with 50 other pet lovers to benefit the North Shore Animal League, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization.  You can help Mya make her personal goal of $5,000 by donating here!

Supermodel and mom of two Christie Turlington is ditching her stilettos and lacing up her sneakers to raise money and awareness for Every Mother Counts. This organization, which she founded, aims to improve maternal and child health. If you’d like to contribute or learn more about their cause click here.

The past celebrity line-up of runners included Today Show television personalities Al Roker and Meredith Vieira, actor Ed Norton and Food Network personality Bobby Flay. Last year, Chilean Miner Edison Pena who continued his training while trapped underground for 69 days, was a late entry.  Pena has returned to run  Sunday, after a year in which he suffered delayed psychological trauma from his ordeal.

Not surprisingly, a lot of athletes like to take on the marathon challenge. Lance Armstrong, Keri Strug, Shannon Miller, Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne are among those who have run in prior years. From the entertainment ranks, Katie Holmes, Ryan Reynolds, Sean Diddy Combs and Alanis Morrisette have also run New York.

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.

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

Memorable Moments

A lot of memorable moments have happened over the course of the New York City Marathon’s 42 years. There have been close races, tumbles by top runners, wrong turns, a short course and even a dust cloud that obscured the top men as they neared the finish.

Perceived social injustice prompted a sit-in at the 1972 race. The Amateur Athletic Union, then the governing body for marathoning in the United States, thought that women should not run more than 10 miles. The A.A.U. also thought that women should start at a different place or time from the men in a marathon. In New York in 1972, that was to be 10 minutes before the men.

To protest, the six women who officially started the race sat down on their starting line, with a few other women, for 10 minutes, then started with the men. As a penalty, 10 minutes were added to their times. After the protest the A.A.U. allowed women to run with men.”

In a twist, in 2003, New York became the first major marathon in the United States to start women ahead of men by 35 minutes to better showcase their race.

By the time Joan Benoit Samuelson made her New York City Marathon debut in 1988, marathoning had become popular among women, in large part because of Samuelson’s success. She won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and the 1984 Olympic marathon in Los Angeles. After she won the Chicago Marathon in 1985, injuries and the birth of a daughter sidelined Samuelson from competition until New York in 1988, where she was set to duel the eight-time winner Grete Waitz, who finished second in Los Angeles.

Samuelson and Waitz ran together through the halfway point. Samuelson was still contending at Mile 21, until she fell after colliding with a child trying to give water to another runner.

Samuelson finished third, four minutes behind Waitz, and has never won New York. She has run it a few other times, but only one other time in her prime, finishing sixth in 1991.

 Watching the Race

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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