Despite a small snag at its starting line, the inaugural Suffolk County Marathon will be off and running without a hitch this Sunday.
The 26.2 mile-long race, which also includes a half marathon, was first announced last October and preparations for the event, including security measures and road closures, have been ongoing ever since.
Among the issues that had arisen recently were how road closures would impact parishioners attempting to attend Sunday mass at various churches along Suffolk’s South Shore.
Anticipating that road closures and parking rules would affect parishioners’ ability to attend Sunday mass, Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center reached out to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office this summer expressing his concerns. On Tuesday, the Diocese released a public statement stating that the road closures would infringe on churchgoers’ rights by preventing hundreds from reaching several Catholic churches: the Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville, the Parish of Our Lady of the Snow in Blue Point, and the Parish of St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue.
Bellone responded to Murphy in a letter on Aug. 27, but Murphy never received it, a county spokeswoman said. The county leader and Long Island’s chief Catholic Bishop spoke over the phone Wednesday to clear up any remaining issues, officials said. Afterward, the pair released a joint statement noting that the Diocese would join Suffolk’s after-action review of the marathon “to make sure that any issues that may arise on race day are addressed for future events.”
“Bishop Murphy did not receive Mr. Bellone’s Aug. 27 letter addressing his concerns–that’s why it was so important that they spoke two days ago,” Vanessa Baird-Streeter, Bellone’s spokeswoman, told the Press.
However, St. Lawrence had already revisited its entire weekend mass schedule so parishioners could avoid traffic delays. A Diocese spokesman did not return a call for comment.
Both the marathon and half-marathon will kick off at 8 a.m. in Heckscher State Park and will take the 3,200 expected runners along Montauk Highway through the scenic towns and beautiful waterfronts of Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point and Patchogue before ending at Heckscher.
Festivities will include a Taste of Long Island Festival featuring local food, wine and music, beginning at 9 a.m. in the park.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a marathon participant, said net proceeds will be used to enhance veterans’ services within the county. The marathon’s website declares that Suffolk has the highest population of veterans in the state. Several prominent local businesses have signed on as sponsors for the cause, including WBAB 102.3, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, and Blue Point Brewing Company. North Shore Long Island Jewish Health Systems is sponsoring the event.
Despite the expected road closures, local businesses have also thrown their support behind the first-ever Suffolk County Marathon.
“Overall, the community response has been very positive, and everyone has been very patient” while the logistics of hosting a marathon are worked out, said David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce. Because most businesses are closed on Sundays, the chamber has not had any complaints about parking regulations or road closures, Kennedy said.
Additionally, local businesses will get a lot of exposure through the Taste of Long Island Festival as well as the booths set up along the routes, Kennedy noted.
Long Islanders registered for the races are also looking forward to the inaugural event.
Veteran marathoner, Heather Ackerly of Selden, will turn 39 Sunday. She has already dubbed Sunday’s race her “Birthday Half Marathon.”
Ackerly said she hopes to beat her personal record of 1:49 in the half.
“It depends on the weather,” she told the Press. “If it’s a million degrees, there’s no way!”
With 11 half marathons and six full marathons under her belt, Sunday’s race is her training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November. Still, the Suffolk race is special to Ackerly.
“All my friends are running on Sunday too, and we are all thrilled that the proceeds will benefit our veterans,” she explained.
As with any marathon event, road closures are necessary. The county executive’s office has prepared a list of 10 intersections that will allow the public to cross Montauk Highway, in effect from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Suffolk County Police Department advised the public to use common sense on race day. The department, which has been working on security for the event since it was conceived, said all possessions are subject to inspection.