Eighty-eight years ago this month, Charles Lindbergh climbed into the cockpit of his single-engine, custom-built plane -- the Spirit of St. Louis -- and, bolstered by a group of curious onlookers in a Garden City field, took off to complete the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
When he took off, he was an anonymous aviator with a dubious goal. Now, Charles Lindbergh Boulevard traverses that field.
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"We're on the ground where Lindbergh took off, and that's where the runners are taking off," said David Katz, who will score today's Long Island Marathon. "It's a great, great connection and a great, great heritage . . . It's a hometown race . . . There's no payday involved, and it's probably going to be a local guy and a local gal who's going to win this race."
Now in its 35th year, the Long Island Marathon has a long-standing tradition of honoring the island's aeronautical past. Both the full marathon and the half, scheduled to start at 8 a.m., take off from Charles Lindbergh Boulevard ("if you look on Google Earth, you can still see the runway," Katz said) and the course passes near the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
Runners can send a nostalgic wave toward Nassau Coliseum, pass by the Mitchel Athletic Complex and finish at Eisenhower Park.
It doesn't have the cache of its urban brethren -- the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and the like -- but it's also not supposed to, Katz said. For one thing, since there's no prize for a first-place finish, it doesn't attract big-name runners, because "world-class runners mean world-class money," Katz said.
"It's the people's race," he said.
He would certainly know. Katz, who's been scoring and measuring the marathon since the late 70s, is about as well-traveled as Lindbergh himself. In 1978 he founded the Port Washington-based Finish Line, a road race management and technical services firm, and he has worked about 3,000 races. His list of events is exhaustive, and includes a number of Olympic Games and trials.
And even with all that background, he called the Long Island half marathon one of the best he's ever seen. The course isn't overly-grueling, he said, it's scenic and it highlights some of the best parts of Nassau County. "It's a classic type of course," he said, "and the start and finish are only a mile away from each other."
The full marathon has similar hallmarks, but also includes the grueling 13-mile stretch around Wantagh Parkway. "Some people call it boring," Katz said, but others see it as freeing. There's plenty of space to move, "and you don't have tens of thousands of people to fight against."
For those who choose to take on the challenge, "this is world class for them," Katz said. "We don't have a clue who will win. With these races, everybody has a story."
And a chance at a small bit of history, too.