Amanda Eccleston breaks the tape in the women's division of...

Amanda Eccleston breaks the tape in the women's division of the Long Island Mile in 4 minutes, 32.48 seconds, on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at Bay Shore High School.   Credit: George A. Faella

Kyle Merber wasn’t happy with the way he ran Wednesday night. As for everything else, though, he could not have been more pleased. Merber, a Dix Hills native and professional runner, oversees the Hoka One One Long Island Mile, a yearly gathering of locals and pros alike for a nightlong celebration of the sport that bonds them all.

Held at Bay Shore High School, the event begins with community races, sprinkles in some lower-level professional events, then caps off with an elite men’s and women’s mile, pitting some of the top runners in the sport against each other, each vying for a $3,000 first prize.

High school runners, past and present, roam the infield, some as part of the event staff and others looking to catch a glimpse of the sport at its highest level. That level is one even the best of the best upperclassmen only dream about.

For Merber, that’s part of the beauty of the night — showing kids that a running career isn’t entirely unattainable.

“I think when younger runners are introduced to what the professional side of the sport is, they realize that it’s a potential in their own career,” said Merber, 28, who starred at Half Hollow Hills West High School once upon a time. “That’s how we create fans for ourselves and the sport, by nurturing it on the ground.”

Now in its fifth year, the event keeps growing, almost acting as an unofficial kickoff to the fall running season.

“We put it on because we want the Long Island running community to get real excited about running,” said Merber, who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson. “I think that we keep doing that. There were a couple great races tonight. I think people got really excited about it and hopefully move forward into their school year really pumped about it.”

Merber finished 13th in a 14-man field, running a 4:07.29. Injuries forced him to slow down at points this year and, if not for his involvement as an organizer, he said he probably would not have run Wednesday night.

“It wasn’t necessarily about my performance tonight,” Merber said. “It was making sure that the crowd had a good show and I think they still got that.”

Men’s winner Morgan McDonald of Australia used a hard kick to win in 3:54.63.

“I loved it so much,” McDonald said of his Long Island Mile debut. “This is everything I love about the sport. Having all these kids here supporting. I’m just here with a bunch of friends. It’s a great time.”

McDonald, who hadn’t raced in nearly a month thanks to a sore foot, said he wanted to get a race in before the IAAF World Championships in Qatar later this month.

“There’s no substitute for racing, so I just wanted to get a race,” McDonald said. “I think it was an awesome way to ease into it. It wasn’t super high pressure or anything. It was a lot of fun. I think I got everything out of it that I really wanted.”

Women’s winner Amanda Eccleston of Michigan jumped in front of Minnesota’s Heather Kampf with 10 meters left to win in 4:32.58. It was Eccleston’s third Long Island Mile victory. She also holds the meet record, a 4:26.87, set in 2016 at St. Anthony’s High School in Melville.

“I love this race,” Eccleston said. “There’s really good energy and a really good atmosphere. It’s the end of the season. For some reason, I always seem to peak at the end of the year. I just get really excited for it.”

Greenvale native and 2017 champion Emily Lipari was fourth in 4:33.61 and Northport native Lianne Farber was 10th in 4:37.56.

Eccleston has seen the event grow firsthand. She’s attended all five runnings, laced it up in four of them, and won the first two.

“The first year was really fun because we didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to get any crowd … We were really pleasantly surprised at how much people have engaged in it. It’s been building every year and I’ve [seen] kids that have been coming every year.”

Eccleston continued: “Bay Shore has been great. I feel like they have given us a lot of reception and they really seem to love having it here. Every year, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger tradition. This is a legit meet. This is a fast place and a great place for America’s top milers to come.”

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