On Sunday September 13, 1970, the day before he started his senior year at Long Island City High School, Larry Trachtenberg was one of 127 athletes who lined up in Central Park to run the inaugural New York City Marathon. He was one of the 55 finishers.
On Sunday, November 7, 2021, Trachtenberg, now 67, will run the marathon again, as one of 33,000 athletes lined up at the foot of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island.
He will be the only runner to run the inaugural New York City Marathon and will also compete in this year’s event, the 50th Marathon Marathon.
“I wouldn’t go through all of that to Boston or London or anything,” Trachtenberg said on the phone from his home in Eugene, Oregon. “It’s just that it’s New York.”
In 1970, Trachtenberg was a talented cross-country athlete who saw an advertisement for the race in the pages of the New York Times. He took a second look. He used to train for races closer to two miles, not 26.2 miles. Could he run that long without stopping, he wondered? Could he run that long without drinking water?
He signed up. Why not? He was always looking for new ways to test his endurance, and he still has newspaper clippings from his victory in a fitness competition in 1969.
“I had to think outside the box to do the marathon in the first place,” he said. “It’s not like there’s someone else in the housing projects in New York City running marathons.”
Two weeks before the race, he took the subway to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx with the goal of running what he considered to be a half marathon. It seemed easy enough, he said. He figured all he had to do was double the distance. The day before the race, he decided to run the course and ran seven and a half miles through Central Park.
“I find the training logs hilarious,” he said of his 51-year-old grades from the weeks surrounding the race. He did almost exactly what a trainer would tell a marathoner not to do until race day. “I had no idea!”
But Trachtenberg was not too worried. The marathon just wasn’t a big deal, he said, and he still doesn’t know who exactly knew what he was doing on that damp September morning.
“My mom had to know I was going to do this because I was going to be away for a long time,” he said. “But she didn’t remember that I did it or anything unusual during the day.” It wasn’t that remarkable.
He finished in 32nd place with a time of 3 hours 22 minutes 4 seconds – enough to be awarded a plaque – not stopping for any liquid throughout the race. “I remember there was free soda on arrival and I could have as much as I wanted,” he said. “I remember drinking six cans of soda on arrival, it was my treat.”
After a day off, Trachtenberg returned to cross country training. He would win a race 13 days later, and he continued to run for Princeton University.
It wasn’t until 10 years ago that he realized that his participation in the 1970 marathon was something, as he put it, “worth mentioning”.
A former colleague of Eugene’s running mecca was shocked to learn of his running past. “They told me I should be treated like a king,” he said. “I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t think it would be something someone would do a big deal about 50 years in the future.”
The modest Central Park race with its 127 participants turned into a five-borough marathon in 1976 and has since grown into the world’s largest marathon. There were a total of 1,283,005 finishers in 49 races, cheered on by millions of spectators and thousands of volunteers.
This explosion in popularity is still a shock to Trachtenberg, who hasn’t run in Central Park since 1975 and hasn’t run a marathon since 1978.
“The show is overwhelming – obviously it’s going to be extremely moving for me,” he said. “I cried a million times.”
Trachtenberg talks about racing like a true New Yorker, with the same reverence as Bronx-born race director Ted Metellus.
“When you think of an event that has lasted for 50 years, it’s 50 years of heritage, of community,” said Metellus. “And it’s not just the runners, it’s the volunteers, it’s the community, it’s the partners.”
“Everyone has a story, big or small, at the New York City Marathon,” he added, “and this year will be the biggest alumni party in the world.
It is a party that Trachtenberg could not let pass.
At the start of our conversation, he called the race a big reunion and perhaps a big farewell. He is approaching his 70th birthday and he is not sure he will be able to finish the race.
He really wants to run on the Verrazzano Bridge, he said at first. Oh, but he would love to find his old shots in Queens, he added. But if he’s that far away, he might as well cross the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, right? And how cool would it be to end up in Central Park again?
In the end, he had changed his tone. Maybe he’s doing the New York Marathon again, he said, his own excitement catching up to him. He’s planning to have a heart valve replaced, and wouldn’t it be fun if he could compare his times before and after the surgery?
Spoken almost like a 16 year old entering the inaugural New York City Marathon on a whim.