The Long Island Marathon Festival of Races is expected to draw almost 8,000 runners to central Nassau's streets this weekend and at least as many spectators cheering from the sidelines. The race may go to the swiftest, but it wouldn't be the same without the family members, friends and neighborhood residents who line the route, organizers say.

"We're very much a spectator race," says Jose Lopez, a triathlete and deputy commissioner of Nassau County Parks, Recreation and Museums.

Unlike marathons in New York City and Boston, Long Island mainly attracts local athletes, although some are world-class runners. But what it lacks in international star power, it makes up for in hometown spirit. "It's a people's marathon," says Pete Cimino of the county's race management team.

Here are three reasons, old and new, to come out and champion athletes who've been training all winter for this moment in the sun.

IT'S POPULAR AGAIN

From a high of more than 10,000 runners in the 1980s, the marathon and half marathon suffered a dip in participation in ensuing years, to as low as 3,500. However, organizers say, it's been on the upswing for the past four years. Participation has gone up by adding races, which are geared to runners of all abilities, Lopez says. About 1,000 people are expected to run the full 26.2-mile marathon on Sunday.

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THE RACE IS STEPPING UP

New racing technology is being used for the first time on Long Island, Lopez says. This year, a chip inside the number on a racer's bib replaces the chips runners used to tie to their shoelaces. "It helps promote accurate results, and you don't have to worry about losing your chip, as in the past," Lopez says. And to keep runners on track, clocks will now be stationed at every mile instead of every three to five miles, as in years past.

Also new: Two trophies will be awarded this year. A Town Challenge trophy goes to the Nassau or Suffolk township represented by the most runners. It will be awarded the week after the race for display in town hall. The Charity Challenge trophy will honor the nonprofit with the most running shoes hitting the pavement.

VOLUNTEERS ARE STILL NEEDED

About 900 volunteers have signed up to distribute water at 20 stops along the 26.2-mile route. Many come from local high school track teams - some even dress in mascot costumes. No matter what the volunteers wear, though, runners need help hydrating. Lopez says the race is always looking for more help. To lend a hand, call ahead or go to the expo beginning Thursday to get an assignment.

Long Island Marathon Festival of Races

HEALTH & FITNESS EXPO (AND LATE REGISTRATION): 6-9 p.m. Thursday, 4-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday at Mitchel Athletic Complex, Uniondale. Vendors and giveaways, plus late registration for runners. 516-572-0248, thelimarathon.com.

THE RACES

SATURDAY: 8 a.m. 5K race and 1-mile run; 10:30 a.m. KidzFunRun, all on Charles Lindbergh Boulevard in Uniondale

SUNDAY: 8 a.m. 10K, half marathon and full marathon start on Charles Lindbergh Boulevard

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BEST SPOTS FOR SPECTATORS

MERRICK AVENUE: From Charles Lindbergh Boulevard to Old Country Road

POST AVENUE: From Railroad Avenue to Jericho Turnpike

JERICHO TURNPIKE: From Post Avenue to Brush Hollow Road

BRUSH HOLLOW ROAD: Jericho Turnpike to the Wantagh Parkway

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OLD COUNTRY ROAD: At the Wantagh Parkway entrance (where half-marathoners exit)

CARMAN AVENUE: Hempstead Turnpike to the entrance to Eisenhower Park

WANTAGH PARKWAY: At Sunrise Highway, the turnaround for the full marathon - and anywhere along the parkway, because marathoners need your support