When Larry Trachtenberg ’76 realized that this year’s New York City Marathon would be the 50th anniversary of the race — it was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic — he recalls thinking, “If I only have one marathon left in this aging body, I’m going to do it in New York.”
In 1970, Trachtenberg was one of 127 runners to compete in the first New York City Marathon. This month, he became the only person to finish both that first marathon and the 50th.
His friends and family took up spots in Brooklyn, Long Island City, and at the finish line to cheer him on. In addition to his two sons, two granddaughters, a niece, a nephew, and some cousins, cross country teammate Tom Hartshorne ’76, Thomas Fink ’76, and a Harvard cross-country runner against whom he once competed were there. Trachtenberg was energized by the cheering from those who knew him and those who did not.
“Beforehand, I had some doubts about my ability to finish, but the energy of the crowd took my mind off what I was doing and how far I had left to go. There were all these people cheering and yelling, and I’m slapping hands and pumping my fists,” says Trachtenberg, who finished in 5 hours and 9 seconds. Despite a cramp in his calf that had him running gingerly for the last couple of miles, “the five hours seemed to just zip by.”
He entered the first city marathon as a 16-year-old standout on the cross-country team at Long Island City High School in Queens — and the race’s youngest competitor to finish, he recently learned. At Princeton, he often was one of the top five finishers for the varsity cross-country team, which went to the national championships three times during Trachtenberg’s tenure.
Only 55 runners finished the first New York City Marathon, which consisted of several laps through Central Park. Trachtenberg placed 32nd with a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, and 4 seconds. He still has the plaque he was awarded.
He ran just two other marathons after that first one — in Oregon in 1977 and 1978 — before the 2021 marathon on Nov. 7. Running has been more of a hobby than a competitive pursuit for him. After moving to Eugene, Oregon, where he worked for decades helping special-education students transition from high school to training programs or jobs, he participated in 5K and 10K fun runs and did a couple of half marathons in his 50s. A knee operation two years ago kept him away from running for several months. After that, he began doing 3 to 4 miles a few times a week. “I love the exhilaration I feel when I run,” he says.
Despite some health issues — doctors say he will likely need an aortic valve replacement in the next few years — Trachtenberg, 67, says he might not be finished running marathons: “I’m already thinking I’ve got to come back and do this again.”