If you really want to get technical about it, there really is no Long Island. It is not a city, county, commonwealth or province. You could say it is a geographical entity, but that would have to include Queens and Brooklyn (site of the Revolutionary Battle of Long Island), and those are officially in New York City.
That is why the Long Island Marathon is such a welcome sight every year. It is a living, breathing witness to the fact that Long Island really does exist. There is precious little else that ties us together: a railroad, an expressway, the way people who don't live here make fun of the way we talk. Still, when we are asked where we are from, most of us don't say "Nassau" or "Suffolk" or "New York." We say "Long Island." We are fairly proud of it, too.
"I always think I'm going to move away and then I drive around and I say, 'Why would I?' " said Lindsey Block, who has lived all of her 25 years in Huntington and yesterday saw the Island on foot, winning the women's marathon in 3 hours, 41 seconds.
The marathon is another of our common threads. It reminds us that the Island is a state of mind, and the state always looks good on the first Sunday in May. The marathon is Long Island's version of a town hall.
"People were shouting my name and I didn't know who they were," Block said. "It's just the camaraderie. It's 'You're a Long Islander.' People saw my name in the paper yesterday and they just made the connection."
Tom Nettuno of West Babylon, the girls track coach at Babylon High School, has run 39 marathons, including many in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and London. But to him, there is nothing like the festival of runs that make up the Long Island Marathon weekend.
"The best thing about this race is it's ours," he said, after finishing in just over 3:10, quite good for a 42-year-old father of three. "It's home. New York has got the glamour, but this is ours."
It is gracious on Nassau County's part to let the race be called "Long Island." The thing is held completely in Nassau, it ends in Eisenhower Park, which is a Nassau facility. The thing is, "Long Island" has a unique cachet that takes in Southold and Baldwin, Point Lookout and Montauk Point. "I'm proud of every Long Islander today," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said near the finish line.
Developer Scott Rechler welcomed runners from a bandstand near the starting line (as chief executive of RXR, the title sponsor) then raced to the line to compete in the 10K race. "This gives me a chance to do community service, get my exercise, tour my properties and see a lot of my friends," he said. More important, he added, "This probably is the most prominent event to bring Long Islanders together."
It was interesting to think that the Long Island Marathon is 40 years old, just like Nassau Coliseum, which isn't as spry as the race. "When I was getting ready [to run], I was looking at the Coliseum, thinking to myself, 'What's going to happen?' There's just no clarity," said Rechler, who had been a partner in the abandoned Lighthouse project.
The Island itself seems a sprightly, hopeful place on marathon day. Block did not run just for a medal, but to raise money for pediatric cancer research. About 100 people, under the banner of Companions in Courage, ran to raise funds for high-tech playrooms in children's hospitals. "It has turned into a real family event. Listen, it's one thing Long Island can put its arms around," said Companions in Courage head Pat LaFontaine, the Hockey Hall of Famer, who ran Sunday.
Nettuno loved hearing cheers in diverse Nassau neighborhoods even more than he once enjoyed racing past the Tower of London. "The best thing about London is the accents," the West Babylon man said, unafraid to admit that we have accents, too.