This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Christine Chung and Jesse Coburn and Michael O’Keeffe. It was written by O’Keeffe.
Ralph Suarez said he felt beat up after he crossed the Long Island Marathon’s finish line at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow Sunday, amid cheers, music and clanging cowbells.
His giant schnauzer Hazzard, however, was ready to keep running.
“I wasn’t as well-trained as I could have been,” the 48-year-old Harvard Medical School instructor from Boston said, after he and more than 3,600 other runners competed in the annual event’s 10K race, half marathon and 26.2-mile marathon. “But Hazzard is fine. He ran the course with me and he looks like he is ready to do another one.”
The race began at 8 a.m. near the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, but a festive crowd of about 5,000 family, friends and curious spectators lined up hours earlier along the route and start and finish lines to cheer on the runners.
Earlier at the starting line, runners bounced on their heels to keep warm as they waited for the marathon to begin.
Garden City resident Lauraine DiLeonardo, 32, sported a sleek trash bag as she lined up for the half marathon.
“I don’t care what I look like!” she said as she stood near the start line eating a banana. “It helps with the wind.”
The marathon may be the oldest on Long Island, according to marathon director Jason Lipset, who said the event was first held on the Island in the early 1970s under the moniker Earth Day Marathon.
“It’s a big race,” Lipset said. “But it’s also always been the hometown race. If you live on Long Island, this is in your backyard.”
The sun danced in and out of scattered clouds as race organizers counted down the minutes over a loud speaker. And then they were off, as a throng of 474 runners embarked on the 26.2-mile course.
They were later joined by 2,073 runners, including Suarez, who participated in the half marathon, and 1,105 who ran the 10K.
Timothy Milenkevich, 35, of Connecticut, and Danya Perry, 45, of Manhattan, were the first male and female finishers in the marathon.
Many of the runners participated in Sunday’s races to raise money and awareness for their favorite causes. Suarez’s aunt, Olga Heller of Commack, ran for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. Heller, 54, wore a picture of a friend’s daughter, 19-year-old cancer survivor Gabriela Frank, on her back as she competed in the half-marathon.
Some runners, meanwhile, came to celebrate personal milestones. Kate Lewis traveled to Long Island from Minnesota to celebrate her 49th birthday by running the 10K.
“It was a beautiful race and course,” Lewis said. “We couldn’t ask for a better post-race party.”
Others joined in simply because it was fun. Jamie Kahan of Levittown, and her husband, Adam Kepnes, both 38, ran the 10K dressed as Mouseketeers.
“We know we’re never going to win a race, so we might as well have fun with it,” Kahan said.
Volunteers and vendors handed out snacks and all-important fluids — including beer — to racers as they fought off cramps, thirst and exhaustion. The steady breeze kept the air crisp before the race — a chilly morning for anyone out for an early stroll, but near-perfect conditions for a marathon. After the race, runners received silver heat blankets to warm them up amid temperatures in the mid-50s.
Misook Lee, 33, of Manhattan, said she was proud of herself for finishing the 10K in about 48 minutes.
She held a bag filled with bananas, bagels and cookies, and said she planned on “carbo loading” immediately.
Tom Licata, 36, of West Hempstead, waited at the two-mile mark for his father, Joe Licata, 63, to pass by — and when he did, his son had some good-natured ribbing ready.
“I told him to pick up the pace!” Tom Licata said. “It’s really emotional for me. I’m proud of him.”
But whether son will ever follow dad in the marathon remains to be seen.
“Every year he wants me to run, and after I stop laughing I go raid the fridge,” he said.