Raised to Run: Mary Wittenberg

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Running
Tags: , , , ,


You can find Mary early in the mornings running with her friends in Central Park. She’s a wife and mother raising two boys in Manhattan.  And along with loving her family and her sport, she’s passionate about her job.  Mary Wittenberg is the President and CEO of the New York Road Runners. She runs the largest, most influencial running club in the world. 


Mary catches Amy at 5th Ave. Mile

The thing I love most about Mary is that she loves to cheer on runners – from the first time racers to the elite athletes crossing first. Here’s a picture she took of me just seconds before the 5th Ave. Mile — she was there to watch racers take off from the start line… like she is at every NYRR race!  

Based on her efforts with NYRR and the ING New York City Marathon, an article in the New York Times stated that Wittenberg “has transformed the New York City Marathon from traditional to competitive to innovative.”

Recently I spent the day with Mary and got to know her better.  We ran in Central Park where she starts every day with her running partners at a little after 5AM. She then spends the work day split between the two NYRR offices in Manhattan.  Chances are good that even if you have seen her on the race circuit, there are few things you may not know about her!


Mary Wittenberg’s Family

As the oldest of 7 children growing up in Buffalo, NY – she was not a runner.  She told me, “I actually tried track and was slow and couldn’t make the team.”   MaryKidsCropMary did NOT find her running groove until she was in college. She had been on the rowing team and had run to stay in shape but it was actually in graduate schoole where she ran cross country with men’s team because there was not a women’s team.  While at Notre Dame Law School, she got fast at running and tried her first marathon in Chicago.  “I loved the marathon instantly.. most amaing experience.  It was scary.  I was at mile 13 and you are thinking, whats gonna happen, I havent’ been there before.  Then overcoming the fear at each turning point was exhilarating.”  The rush made  HER  fast.  She even won the Marine Corps Marathon!  Mary was quick enough to qualify for a chance at the Olympic trials… but injury led to disappointment.

Mary told me about her qualifying race.  “I was the frist drop out of 1988 trials at miel 2 wasn’t abl to run with my back… but life goes on.” Mary+prokop_mar05_EH

Her profesional life as lawyer landed her in NYC where she is the mother of two energetic boys.  Her law career merged with her hobby in 1998 when she became CEO of NYRR.  

Mary only races these days to support road runners. But her job description does include chasing down elite runners. “We work hard to bring the best runners in the world here to NYC to race,” Mary says. 


Haile and Mary NY City Marathon DirecterMary considers her best recruits Paula Radcliffe’s win in 2004 and the First American win of the 21st century with with Meb Keflezighi… Beyond snagging headliners… she’s BUSY this time of year.  Two NYRR offices.. and organizing nearly 10-thousand volunteers who will help with the marathon.  

An organizaton once of hubmle roots started by Fred Lebow, the orgianla marathon race has just 30 runners… the race is now exploding… with a field of more than  40K runners THIS YEAR.  “We have officially transdenced our roots.”

Yet in a City of 8 million.  Even WITH her 50 advertised running events each year, Wittenberg insists there’s much to be done.  She’s not looking to make everyone a marathoner,  but her mission is to give everyone a chance to run.  What starts with just one step, Wittenberg believes can begin a lifetime of running.

What does Mary think about the habit of running, is it the journey or the destination?

Mary says, “it is the journey for sure … its all the training,,, it’s the journey… not just one day for on finish line.” 

But even with the opportunies of the journey she is on, she is keenly aware of the finish.  The Reward.  The Destination.  And for the people all over the world coming to NYC who do make it to NYRR’s biggest race the ING  NYC Marathon… the CEO has memo.  Mary told me “I promise when you get to the finish line every second will have  been worth it!”

554714_456042461092220_2019341625_nBy Amy Freeze


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