NEW YORK — Hosting the U.S. men’s Olympic marathon trials and with a record number of applicants for the ING New York City Marathon, Gotham is preparing for two big races this weekend.

“The marathon only gets better,” said Ann Hinegardner, senior vice president of business development and marketing strategy for the New York Road Runners Club, the organizer of the event. “We are going through another running boom, because there’s a lot of focus on health and fitness, and the sport of running is accessible. Plus there is a cachet to our race because not everyone gets in.”

More than 100,000 people applied for the approximately 37,000 slots to run Sunday in the 38th annual event. In addition, on Saturday morning, about 130 men will loop around Central Park to compete for three 2008 Olympic spots.

The Olympic race added six new sponsors to the existing 25, including Hugo Boss, which is doing the race’s business attire, eyewear and fragrance, and which is hosting a marathon-day event in its store at Columbus Circle, where the race ends.

After renewing its contract for five more years, Asics — a sponsor since 1988 — is taking over the entire 19,000-square-foot Marathon Store at the ING New York City Marathon Health & Fitness Expo in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from today to Saturday, where runners must pick up their bib and orange long-sleeve technical shirt designed by Asics. Last year, more than 81,000 people visited the expo and about $2 million in merchandise was sold.

Other brands at the expo include Foot Locker, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Mizuno, Brooks, Saucony, Garmin, Timex, Paragon Sports, Oakley and Crocs — many of which are doing their own campaigns and grassroots events around the city for the race.

“There’s no retail location on the planet that would have that many people come through their doors on a three-day span,” said Gary Slayton, Asics’ vice president of marketing. “It’s almost claustrophobic, but we will have 24 checkout lines to manage the feeding frenzy.”

This year Asics has also taken over all the co-branded licensing merchandise, including the souvenir licensing (like mugs and shot glasses) that was done by the New York Road Runners Club in past years.

This story first appeared in the November 1, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Asics is upping its marketing spend on the event by 30 percent this year, after doubling it last year. Its campaign is a tribute to the host city, as well as a take on its “My Running Partner” campaign. For the marathon, the idea is that “New York City is my running partner.” Depictions of a cab driver, police officer on horseback or Chinese food delivery man on a bike handing the runners a drink will be adorning the city, including on red double-decker buses.

“There’s a lot of folks behind the scenes that make the race special,” Slayton said. “We are paying homage to the city and people involved in the race, officially or not.”

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