Winning couple makes own sweet music
Yesterday's royal vetting, a thorough inspection of fitness levels among more than 8,000 participants in Long Island's largest running event, gave us the happy couple of Jodie Schoppmann and Aaron Robertson.
She, a 26-year-old elementary school band director in the Herricks school district, not only won the women's full marathon but also qualified for next year's Olympic trials in the process. He, a 33-year-old middle school music teacher from upstate Altamont, was first in the men's half-marathon.
They're engaged. They met at a race (of course) in Potsdam. Both had attended the state university there, though, given the age difference, not at the same time.
They often train together, which eliminates the need for any sort of electronic distraction, such as those ear buds increasingly worn by mostly younger and mostly slower runners. As a music teacher, Robertson noted, anything that might be in an iPod "is all up here," tapping his temple. He simply thinks "rock 'n' roll, fast stuff" when running.
Besides, covering a 26-mile, 385-yard marathon in 2 hours, 42 minutes, 54 seconds -- as Schoppmann did Sunday, when only two men ran faster -- or the half-marathon in Robertson's winning time of 1:10:05, "is all business," she said. No wandering mind; listen to the body, pay attention to the weather conditions, the competition.
"You're trying," Bellmore's Alex Cuozzo explained, "to tune out" anything beyond running, "not tune in." The 1986 Long Island Marathon champion who has completed either the full or half-marathon in this annual spring parade more than 30 times, Cuozzo, at 53, Sunday ran the half in a businesslike 1:36:05. Without musical accompaniment.
There are rare exceptions to this low-tech preference among the elite racers. Kate Mullen-Most, a 40-year-old lawyer from Bayport, finished fourth among the women with a nifty 3:14:32 marathon Sunday -- listening to her iPod. "I had to," she said. "The course is too boring."
Eminem and Lady Gaga were among the 50 artists who entertained Mullen-Most -- "Fast feet stuff," she said -- but by and large, the most competitive runners eschewed the modern version of elevator music. "You want to get into some sort of groove, make it stress free," said women's half-marathon winner Lyndsey Cunningham of Babylon.
Serious racers create their own world. As 1980s marathon champion Bill Rodgers once said, "After 17 miles, you may as well be running on the canals of Mars." Sunday, those 8,000 runners could understand both the Rodgers' analogy and being highly taxed in Nassau County.
But willingly. Men's marathon winner Shaun McGrath, 33, from Lynbrook, kidded after his 2:39:43 victory that he had to whip younger brother Dan in a wrestling match to make Dan -- the 2008 and 2010 champion -- sit out this race to give Shaun, twice a top-10 finisher, his chance to win.
In fact, Shaun McGrath merrily has followed Dan's lead in the sport. Dan was a high school and college running champ; Shaun played hockey until rehabilitation from double Achilles surgery 12 years ago put him on a treadmill and introduced him to a love for running.
Which brings us back to Schoppmann and Robertson. Last year's Long Island half-marathon winner, she had planned to defend that title and take her shot at the Olympic trials marathon qualifying standard next month in Ottawa. Robertson convinced her to take advantage of the cool weather forecast and the comforts of racing near her Levittown home.
So now Robertson, who didn't become a competitive runner until college "to relieve stress," is aiming to qualify for the men's Olympic trials. Might the pair wind up at the 2012 Olympic Games in that city of fairy-tale romance -- London?