With water and running shoes at the ready, this weekend is all about the runners.

More than 8,000 entrants are expected at the starting lines for five different races over RXR Long Island Marathon Weekend: Organizers say about 800 are registered for the full marathon and three times that for the half-marathon at Mitchel Field. Others will run in the 10-kilometer, 5k and one-mile runs.

As always, the event has a party atmosphere, with fireworks shooting off at the start of the marathon, bands along the route to encourage the runners, and corporate and volunteer tents at the finish line for refreshments and giveaways.

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A pasta party at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, hosted by The Main Event restaurant, is free for registered runners (reservations needed). But Sunday's "after-party" at Eisenhower Park, featuring refreshments, music and vendors, is open to everyone.

"Between the race and the music, and hopefully some good weather, the people will hang out after and have a good time," says Jason Lipset, Long Island Marathon director.

Non-runners can take in the action from the sidelines, or cheering sections, at nine places along the route, including mile 3 at Merrick Road at Stewart Avenue and the 12 1/2-mile mark at Wantagh Parkway at Hempstead Turnpike.

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Registered runners' ages range from 14 -- the minimum age to run -- to 88. Young kids can sprint with Ronald McDonald at the Kids Run on the track at Mitchel Athletic Complex on Saturday.

While other big races feature races with runners from all over the world, the LI Marathon is a pretty local event, Lipset says. "We have a few people who have come from other countries, some from South Africa and Ireland," he says, "but mostly it's Long Islanders."

 

WHY THEY RUN

Often, runners link their athletic achievement with their charitable endeavors, by raising money for different organizations. These runners have stories about why they do what they do:

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Fran Rothstein, 62, Cedarhurst

RUNNING 5K FOR "Friends of Karen"

Rothstein lost her son Eric to acute leukemia in 2007, and says that this organization, which helps families dealing with children who have life-threatening diseases, was "just amazing" during that difficult time, taking on the costs for train tickets to the Manhattan hospital, meals and even lodging. "It blows my mind that every day they help another family; paying partial salaries and mortgages," she says.

 

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Jennifer Kunz, 37, Malverne

RUNNING 5K FOR: American Lung Association

This is the second year that "Team Borkowski" will run in honor of Kunz's parents, Alice and Lou, who both died of lung cancer within two years of each other. Last year, the team had 19 runners and raised $5,000. This year's team is larger with 30 people and on target to raise $2,500.

"Last year was a big thing," says Kunz, who was not a runner before she trained for last year's race. "It was seeing my parents suffer, and being a mother myself, I decided to be in better health."

 

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Leeana Costa, 35, Suffolk County

RUNNING HALF-MARATHON FOR: "I Run 4"

Costa is part of a not-for-profit which matches developmentally challenged people with runners, who "run for them." The WKJY/98.3FM radio station DJ runs for an a boy from Virginia with Down syndrome named Landon. Costa sends him videos, photos, medals and bibs from the races.

"The founder has a slogan, 'It's your legs, but their hearts,' " says Costa, who started running only two years ago. "To be able to do this for a purpose bigger than yourself . . . It's truly humbling, and gives you a lot to think about when you're out there running those miles and hitting the pavement."

 

Michael LaForgia, 49, Smithtown

RUNNING HALF-MARATHON FOR: "Companions of Courage"

LaForgia runs each year for the charity founded by former Islander Pat LaFontaine that builds gaming rooms in pediatric hospital units. Having contracted bacterial meningitis 10 years ago, he had his right leg amputated below the knee and lost his left foot, as well. "It's the physical challenge, and of accomplishing something and getting your exercise, as well as bettering your community at the same time," he says. "It makes you feel good to be able to do that."

 

Correction:  An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the medical condition of the Virginia boy Leeana Costa runs for.