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Gary Muhrcke: The man who won the first ever New York Marathon

Gary Muhrcke won the first-ever New York Marathon.
Gary Muhrcke won the first-ever New York Marathon.
Pankaj Sharma
Modified 18 Sep 2020, 17:22 IST

Fire in the belly

When it comes to bravery coupled with resolve, a soldier can only be matched by a firefighter. Putting one's life at risk to save others is the best a man can do. So when a fireman gets ready to compete for glory, seldom can anyone match his spirit. The same probably happened on a fine morning in 1970, when Gary Muhrcke won the first ever New York Marathon in Central Park.

Gary Muhrcke crossed the finish line with no competitor in sight for more than 2 miles. With no professional training and working a shift the night before the race, weathering the heat and beating 127 competitors was no mean feat. The New York Marathon has come a long way since then, however, the memories are etched in the minds of participants to this day.

Gary Muhrcke: A firefighter and a runner

Gary Muhrcke, an American runner and a former New York City firefighter, won the first New York Marathon in 1970. He also won the first Empire State Building Run-Up in 1978 and was a two-time winner of the Yonkers Marathon.

While his victory at Central Park brought few laurels, Gary Muhrcke's victory in the first Empire State Building Run-Up led to a lot of criticism.

Muhrcke retired from the fire department in 1973 after he injured his back in a burning building. A departmental enquiry was set up, as people were unable to digest his achievements despite the injured back, which entitled him to a three-quarter disability pension.

The former fireman, however, was victorious on the other side of the enquiry.


First ever New York Marathon

On the morning of September 13, 1970, the first ever New York Marathon took place in Central Park. Looking at the numbers, the race was not a big success as only 127 people took part and there were only 55 finishers. The entry fee was $1 and the total budget was $1,000.

The legacy, however, was set for the running boom, which started in the late 1970s. Among the ranks were Gary Muhrcke, w ho was considered as the best local runner at that time, and Ted Corbitt, an Olympian who had won several marathons and ultra marathons

The hilly course included 4 loops of the Central aPrk and the race started at around 11 AM, which led to an afternoon finish on a hot and humid day. Moses Mayfield, a long distance runner from Philadelphia, looked strong from the beginning as he got a lead early and kept the same for 20 miles.

Muhrcke surpassed him at 24th mile, as Moses dropped his pace because of dizziness and ultimately completed the race in the 8th position.

Gary Muhrcke cruised past the finish line in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 39 seconds. Tom Fleming, a college student, came second with a timing of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 44 seconds. Muhrcke got a trophy and a watch for winning the New York Marathon. The prize today is more than a hundred thousand dollars.

Nobody cared about the New York Marathon

Hours before the race, Gary Muhrcke himself wasn’t sure of participating because of his night shift and the possibility of a humid day at 85 degrees. He agreed to take part at the last moment, only because on Jane’s (his wife) persuasion.


Central Park was crowded and it was like any regular Sunday and it seemed like everybody from the city was at the park. There were people walking freely on the road and some cyclists, who didn’t even know there was a race going on.

Even after Gary Muhrcke won the New York Marathon, there was not enough media to capture the finish. The race results, along with pictures, were only covered by Daily News and The Times. The fact, that most of the races during that time were held in the Bronx, near Yankee stadium didn’t help the event gather more spectators.

80 and going strong

Five decades after Gary Muhrcke made history at Central Park, the legend returned on September 13, 2020 with his grandson, to complete a ceremonial lap of the park. The day marked 50 years of New York Marathon - a prestigious race for United States of America.

According to the press release from the New York Road Runners, Muhrcke clocked 58 minutes and 21 seconds for 6 miles, which is great given he was an 80 year old runner.

The octogenarian, according to a few regulars of the park, is still strong enough to tackle the hill workouts with ease as compared to many young runners. Gary Muhrcke still exercise every day and believes he will probably die if he stops running.

Even in these testing times during the COVID-19 pandemic, he believes this pandemic has given everybody an opportunity to focus on themselves and everyone can get fit without going to a gym. Needless to say, running has immense health benefits and Gary Muhrcke is a perfect example of it.

Published 18 Sep 2020, 17:22 IST
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