The road was long and wet and sometimes lonely on Sunday morning as runners smashed their way through rain and puddles and sticky bogs of mud. But for Alyssa Salese and Dan Gargaro, it was perfect.
This year’s Long Island Marathon was Salese’s first, and as she completed her fifth mile, she noticed the horde of half-marathoners making their turn, leaving her as the sole woman still running. That’s when the bike spotter riding next to her let her in on a bit of surprising information: Salese was first.
She worried a little — she must be going too fast — but the 26-year-old from Huntington trusted her training and instincts as a seasoned half-marathoner. Later, she found out the details: Not only was she the first woman to cross the finish line, in a tidy 3 hours, 2 minutes, 7.6 seconds, but she did it with about 10 minutes to spare. Her parents, Al and Maureen, awaited with hugs and shrieks of disbelief.
“Effortless,” her father said as he looked at his daughter, who wasn’t even out of breath moments after completing the 26.2 miles. The woman who was using this race in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon had won the whole thing on her very first attempt.
“When the people running the half went on their own, Dave, the guy on the bike, said, ‘You’re ahead,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to slow it down,’ ” she said. “I didn’t want to run out. But the pace was pretty good. It was like a 6:50 pace. I feel good.
“I was almost not going to come,” Salese said, referring to the nasty weather that she ended up liking so much. “I was really [angry], actually, but the weather ended up being so perfect for it. I’m just really happy . . . I don’t even know what to say right now. Wow.”
Salese, who works for New York Road Runners, can’t run in the New York Marathon because that organization runs it and it’s a conflict of interest. That meant shifting her schedule and missing Boston this year. Now she can run in Boston in 2020.
Men’s winner Gargaro, 29, of West Islip — who broke the tape in 2:30:15.7 — also was something of a marathon novice. This was only his third.
He improbably has won two of the three, a winning percentage anyone would be glad to have. He won his first attempt in 2016, the now-defunct Central Park Marathon.
“I just stayed relaxed, stayed within myself, ran an almost six-minute [per mile pace], so a great day, a great event,” Gargaro said. “I’m excited for what’s next, but I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.”
Gargaro, who ran for the College of Saint Rose in Albany, said he spent the last year making up for some deferred goals in 5-kilometer races. His college career, he said, was riddled with injuries, but in the last year, he hit a 14:56 personal record in the 5k and turned his eyes back to distance running.
Manhattan’s Narciso Mejia, 33, came in second for the men for a second straight year (2:36:52.1). Momo Picciotto, 19, of Brooklyn, rounded out the top three (2:44:18.1).
Molly Hanwright, 24, of East Moriches, was second among women (3:12:15.8). Long Island marathon veteran Tara Farrell, who won in 2014, was third. The 40-year-old from East Quogue finished in 3:14:48.5.
Peter Hawkins, 55, of Malverne, won the wheelchair race in 2:29:14.1.
Though Gargaro and Salese have nothing to compare it to — this being the first time each has run the Long Island Marathon — the winners had nothing but praise for the re-routed course, which cuts down on a formerly brutal stretch of the Wantagh State Parkway. What the course did retain, though, was the flat terrain, much-loved by previous LI Marathon runners.
“I’m from West Islip, so I live in pancake village, and you know what it is? That’s what you train for,” Gargaro said. “You train for it to be flat. It’s good, it’s flat. You’ve got to get the legs used to going the same motion all 26. Really rough toward the end, but held on and I’m happy to be here. It hasn’t really hit me yet.”