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Suffolk County Marathon runners brave miles, rain

Runners pound the pavement at the start of

Runners pound the pavement at the start of the 2019 Suffolk County Marathon and Half Marathon in Patchogue on Sunday. Credit: James Escher

Racers ran, trekked and walked across the finish line in wet clothes and soggy shoes Sunday morning to the cheers of spectators on Patchogue’s Main Street.

Despite intermittent pouring rain and gusty winds, organizers said more than 2,000 runners competed in varying lengths of races, including a marathon, a half-marathon, a 10-kilometer and a 5-kilometer, of the fifth Suffolk County Marathon to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. 

Bryan Buttigieg stuck his tongue out as he ran through the banner in heavy rain, winning the 26.2-mile marathon with a finishing time of two hours, 53 minutes, 9.5 seconds.

“The rain wasn’t a problem. … I flew in from Seattle, where it rains all the time,” said the 26-year-old Massapequa native who lives in Seattle. “This was a beautiful day in Seattle.”

Tim Steiskal, who came in second after Buttigieg passed him one mile before the finish line, said the rain was mostly refreshing except for the last stretch of the race.

“Right when you're in the most tired run [at] two miles out, it was pouring out, and the wind was howling,” said the 29-year-old who wrapped himself in a foil heat blanket. “It was tough because it was right in your face. ... It wore on me a little bit.”

Even though Steiskal didn’t win the race, he said he had achieved his goal, which was to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

“I'm a little bummed out about getting passed so late in the game,” the Patchogue resident said. “But that's racing, and I'm happy with my performance. It's all about self-control and being happy with whatever you got.”

For most of the runners, Sunday’s marathon was more of an occasion to honor veterans, stay healthy and have fun.

Howard Kestenbaum, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran of Plainview, finished the 10k race by walking.

“You gotta keep moving. You can’t let it catch up with you,” he said. “I can’t run anymore. But I’m walking. I’m moving. That’s the important thing. … And it’s for  a good cause.” 

Organizers said net proceeds from the event will go toward enhancing veterans’ services in the county.

Denise DeMattia, 36, and Bob Carter, 49, ran a half-marathon Sunday wearing little orange hats with glitters. The two running partners said the hats tended to draw cheers and comments from spectators, which helped them keep going.

“There's a lot of people cheering us, either saying nice hats or whatever. We high-fived some little kids. It kept the miles going and flowing,” DeMattia of Riverhead said. “We sang a little bit. We were just keeping ourselves entertained out there. We had our little party.”

Carter of Coram ran through his high school La Salle Military Academy, an Oakdale-based school that closed in 2001, pointing out buildings and reminiscing with DeMattia about the things he did in high school as they ran by the buildings.

“Now it's been sold, and it's not the same anymore,” Carter said. “But going through there brought back a lot of memories.”

Roger Belz, a 53-year-old Marine Corps veteran, started racing last year for his sister Donna Messina, who was diagnosed in 2010 with ALS, a rare neurodegenerative disease that weakens body muscles.

“If I don't want to be running, I just think … my sister gets up every day and goes to work,” the Lake Ronkonkoma resident said. “She's a warrior. With a perfectly healthy body, there’s no excuse to not go out and run.”

Brooklyn’s Leiba Rimler, 35, won the women’s marathon with a time of 3:09:29.8.

With Jordan Lauterbach

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