NEW YORK -- Fred Lebow, 62, a key figure in the running boom in the 1970s who built the New York City Marathon from a small race to a massive event, died here Oct. 9. He had cancer.

Mr. Lebow first started running to improve his stamina for tennis. His love of tennis eventually gave way to his love of running. He founded the New York City Marathon in 1970. The first race, a four-loop circuit around Central Park, attracted only 127 runners; Lebow placed 45th out of the 55 finishers.

Now, the race attracts more than 25,000 runners worldwide, and many thousands more are turned away. It is one of the biggest and most popular marathons on the international circuit. The 25th New York City Marathon is scheduled for Nov. 6.

"The marathon is a charismatic event," Mr. Lebow once said. "It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism.

"Every jogger can't dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon."

Mr. Lebow ran marathons all over the world but in his hometown race largely stayed out of the competition, concentrating on organizational tasks.

He dropped out of the second marathon and did not compete again until 1992, two years after his cancer was diagnosed. He doggedly completed the 26 miles side-by-side with nine-time women's winner Grete Waitz, who slowed her pace to be with him. When he crossed the finish line, in 5 hours, 32 minutes and 35 seconds, "New York, New York" blared over loudspeakers and a crowd of thousands gave him a long ovation.

Mr. Lebow built the New York Road Runners Club from 270 members in 1972 to the largest organization of its kind in the world, with more than 28,000 members. The club organizes more than 120 events a year, including community service programs.

He also started the Advil Mini-Marathon, the first women-only long distance event in the world and now the world's largest with more than 7,500 runners, and other competitions including the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Mr. Lebow, who was born in Romania, lived in Ireland, Czechoslovakia and several other European countries before coming to the United States. After moving to New York, he became successful in the textile and garment industry.

In 1979, he gave up the garment industry and became affiliated with the New York Road Runners Club full-time. He also promoted the sports of road racing and track and field.

Survivors include three brothers and two sisters.