A look at Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon.
Boston may have done it first, but the way Run For Your Life
tells it, it was the New York City Marathon that put the idea of the big city road race on the map, in the process adding immeasurably to the popularity of running in general. When it began in 1970, the New York event consisted of four circuits around Central Park, where a few hundred participants shared the roadway with baby carriages and hansom cabs. In 1976, when the race expanded to include all five of the citys boroughs, it attracted some 2,000 athletes, including Olympians Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers (who went on to win it four years in a row); in 2008, the number of runners had grown to 40,000. All of this was due to the vision and persistence of the marathons founder: Fred Lebow, "a slight, bearded, transplanted Transylvanian" who "ran like a duck, only slower." Born Fischel Lebowitz, Lebow emigrated from Romania to Brooklyn in the 1950s and, following a stint in the garment industry (where he was skilled at copying expensive designs and selling them on the cheap), became a long distance running nut. The many folks--friends, foes, family, politicians, athletes--who talk about him in the course of producer-director Judd Ehrlichs film describe Lebow as everything from a brilliant promoter and entrepreneur to a "chaos creator" and a master manipulator, but they all agree that without him, the New York City Marathon would never have hit its stride. It was Lebow who wooed the sponsors, attracted the best runners (also including Grete Waitz, who won the womens division an astonishing nine times, and Alberto Salazar, another multiple winner), browbeat the city into closing bridges, streets, and such along the route, and dealt with the notorious Rosie Ruiz, who allegedly cheated in the New York race before achieving lasting infamy by "winning" the Boston Marathon in 1980. In fact, Lebow did pretty much everything except compete in his own race, at least until 1992, when he took part a couple of years after being diagnosed with brain cancer (he died in 1994). The documentary includes directors commentary, deleted scenes, and more. --Sam Graham