By  on October 26, 2006

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.

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