With a record number of applicants, the ING New York City Marathon is set for what could be its biggest year ever, and athletic companies are racing to keep in step.
"It's amazing when that many people want to run 26.2 miles — and pay to do it," said Ann Hinegardner, senior vice president of business development and marketing strategy for the New York Road Runners Club, the organizer of the event.
About 93,000 people signed up for the 37,000 available spots on Nov. 5, and although Asics and Footlocker are official sponsors of the race, athletic companies are in their own competition to equip participants and fans with shoes and apparel.
Activewear companies are shipping in treadmills and technicians to offer free gate analysis in order to fit runners with customized shoes. Asics will offer the service at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center; Nike has bases both at Javits and closer to the race at Nike Town on 57th Street; Adidas is doing it out of its SoHo store — to which it is busing people from Javits — and Fila is using a mobile running unit that will trade a pair of its customized shoes for free in exchange for the shoes the customer is wearing.
As a sponsor of the marathon, Asics runs the 19,000-square-foot Marathon Store at the ING New York City Marathon Health & Fitness Expo at Javits from Nov. 2 to 4. More than 80,000 people came to the shop last year and bought more than $1 million of goods, according to Asics and the New York Road Runners Club.
"It's an incredible three days of shopping," said Gary Slayton, Asics vice president of marketing. "It's Macy's the day after Thanksgiving times five."
For the first time, official marathon gear will also be sold at Grand Central Terminal on Nov. 3 and 4 and at the finish line in a tent near Tavern on the Green the morning after.
Asics has been involved with the New York Marathon since 1988, but 2006 is "a particularly special year for us," said Slayton. Asics has doubled its marketing funding and peppered the city's subway stations and billboards two months earlier than normal with new "Challenge and Reward" ads.It cites the formation this year of the "Big Five" series of marathons — New York, Chicago, Boston, London and Berlin — as one reason for the enthusiasm. With 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Castor, also an Asics athlete for the last five years, coming off a 2005 Chicago and a 2006 London win, Asics has high hopes going into next week's race.
Nike has its own seasoned winner, though chances are he won't place in the marathon. To mark the 10th anniversary of Lance Armstrong's cancer diagnosis, the Tour de France legend kicked off on Oct. 2 the "Run Like Lance Challenge," which extends through the marathon. As he trained, Armstrong called on his "army" to help him log 50,000 miles via nikeplus.com, for which Nike donated $1 for each mile to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
When the total was met, Nike extended the challenge for another 10,000 miles. Runners can donate miles to the borough of their choice, and the check is presented in the name of the area with the most miles — Manhattan currently is ahead, according to a Nike spokesman. The company is marketing the alliance with a billboard ad, yellow running shoes and two old-fashioned taxis in high-traffic running areas.
Fila is also using the race to help those with cancer. Since 2004, the brand has sponsored and outfitted Team Continuum, a group that runs the New York Marathon to raise funds and awareness for cancer care. This year, the team has a record 312 members and projects it will raise more than $1.4 million, according to founder Paul Nicholls. Fila is selling a pink velour track suit, retailing at $90 for the jacket and $70 for the pants, of which 25 percent of the proceeds go to Team Continuum.
Adidas focuses its energy on April's marathon in Boston, which it sponsors.
"[The New York race] is another company's marathon, so we want to be in it in an appropriate way," said an Adidas spokeswoman.
For people inspired by the marathon, Adidas is launching the Urban Running Plan here the week after the marathon, with twice-a-week runs from Chelsea Piers.
Reebok is focusing its New York marathon marketing efforts on promoting the Paris marathon, which it sponsors. Reebok will have a booth at Javits to soft-launch its Pump Paris Trainer, and with each pair of Pump Paris Trainers tried on, consumers can enter to win a trip for two to the Paris marathon in 2007.