Hometown History: Off and running — The Cross-Island Marathon from Port Jefferson to...

Hometown History: Off and running — The Cross-Island Marathon from Port Jefferson to Patchogue

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Runners tackle the lung-bursting grade on Port Jefferson’s Main Street during the Cross-Island Marathon. Photo from the Swenk Collection

The Cross-Island Marathon was a former Port Jefferson to Patchogue road race. Attracting a record 1,175 runners in 1979, the annual event originated a decade earlier with a field of only 18 competitors.

In 1969, the Patchogue Jaycees and the Cavalier Athletic Club co-sponsored a “Marathon Run” from Broadway Avenue in Holbrook to the ferry dock at the Patchogue Sandspit. Not a true marathon of 26 miles and 385 yards, the June 21 race was to cover slightly over seven miles but was shortened to a 5.5-mile event to avoid major thoroughfares.

The co-sponsors extended the 1970 “Marathon Run” to 14 miles, starting the June 20 race at Nesconset Highway (Route 347) in Port Jefferson Station and finishing at the Rider Avenue entrance to Shorefront Park in Patchogue.

The 14-mile distance remained the same in June 1971 and 1972, but the race was renamed the “Cross-Island Marathon.” In addition, the Village of Patchogue’s Recreation and Parks Department joined in sponsoring the event, later becoming the key organizer of the run.

In June 1973 and 1974, the marathon’s course was stretched to 15.5 miles. The race still finished at Shorefront Park in Patchogue but began near the waterfront at the intersection of Broadway and Main in lower Port Jefferson. With this change, the run lived up to its name, became a true “Cross-Island” event, increased in popularity and drew more competitors.

Sandra Swenk was Port Jefferson’s mayor when the marathon was brought to the village’s downtown. As she fired the starter pistol signaling the beginning of the race, the runners charged up Port Jefferson’s Main Street passing a number of businesses that have been lost to the passage of time — the Elk Hotel and Restaurant, Grammas Sweets, Woodfield’s Men’s Wear, Cooper’s Office Supplies, Mac Snyder’s Army and Navy Store, Gristedes Supermarket, Cappy’s Carpets, Ringen’s Luncheonette and many more. 

Runners set out from Port Jefferson’s Main Street at the start of the marathon. Photo from the Swenk Collection

Seasoned runners easily handled the climb from the village’s waterfront up the hill to the LIRR crossing where the course finally leveled off, but the lung-bursting grade often proved quite challenging for first-timers unfamiliar with the terrain.

Over the years, the run’s start in Port Jefferson and end in Patchogue was a constant, but the length of the race was not: 15.6 miles, 1975-1977; 20.8 miles, 1978; 19.6 miles, 1979; and 20 miles, 1980.

In 1981, the Cross-Island Marathon was scrapped and replaced with the 13.1-mile Patchogue Half Marathon, prompted in part by a desire among some in greater Patchogue to have a strictly South Shore event and growing concerns about the race’s impact on road traffic.

Although the Cross-Island Marathon underwent frequent changes throughout its history, one outstanding athlete dominated the run despite the disruptions. From 1969-1980, Justin Gubbins won each race, often with blistering times, except for 1972 when he was away for Olympic Trials and in 1977 when he ran second to Louis Calvano.

Local residents also performed well in the Cross-Island Marathon. Steve Heinbockel of Belle Terre placed third in 1976 and 1977. His father, William, a math teacher zat Port Jefferson High School, won the age 41-50 division in 1978, a year with 924 finishers.

Among Long Island’s original road races, the bygone Cross Island Marathon was a unique run, linking Port Jefferson Harbor on the North Shore with Patchogue Bay on the South.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.


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