Wins New York City Marathon
In 1978, Waitz was considering retiring, but her husband convinced her to try running a marathon. Waitz was reluctant at first, but eventually called the New York City Road Runners Club to get an invitation to run the event. She was turned down. Although she was a champion, she had never run the 26.2-mile distance. Waitz was disappointed, mainly because she and her husband, Jack Waitz, were hoping to have a vacation in New York but could not afford to go unless they were sponsored by the club.
However, soon after this, Fred Lebow, president of the club, called with an offer. He suggested that she run as a "rabbit," setting a fast pace for the elite women, She would not be expected to run fast for the entire distance, but only for a portion of the course.
Up to that point, the farthest Waitz had ever run was 12 miles, less than half the marathon distance. She had no idea what to expect, so when the race began, she went out fast. By the 19th mile, she began to tire, and she had lost track of how much farther she had to run because she was used to reading distances in kilometers, not miles. Nevertheless, she continued to run. Like everyone who runs the New York City marathon, she looked desperately for any sign that she was close to Central Park, where the finish line was. Each patch of trees in the distance gave her hope, then despair when it turned out not to be the park.
Finally, she reached the finish line. She had registered so late that her bib number was not listed in the official guide to the runners, and no one knew who she was. When Fred Lebow asked who had won, all anyone could tell him was "Some blond girl," according to Peter Gambaccini in Runner's World. Mobbed by reporters, she had no idea that she had won. In addition, she had set a new women's world record for the distance with a time of 2:32.30, two minutes faster than the old record.
Back home in Norway, Waitz returned to her teaching job, but her students had trouble comprehending how far she had run because they were not used to distances expressed in miles. When she told them it was 42 kilometers, they still did not understand. Finally, according
to Sandrock, she told them it was the distance between Oslo and a town that was 26 miles away. They were shocked.
In 1979, now a running star, Waitz quit teaching in order to run full-time. She knew that, if she could set a world record in the marathon despite being totally unprepared for the distance, she could do even better if she trained for it. She went on to win the New York City marathon eight more times; she won 13 of 19 marathons that she entered between 1978 and 1988. In 1979, 1980, and 1983 she set new world records in the event. She won the World Marathon Championships in 1983, beating the second-place runner by three minutes. In that same year, Waitz founded the 5-km Grete Waitz Run in Oslo, Norway; 3,000 runners participated.