The sun at first was a welcome sight to Shaun McGrath and the thousands of long-distance runners at Eisenhower Park Sunday. But as they embarked on the final leg of their journeys, the intense rays made the trek all the more grueling.
The warmth, however, wasn't enough to slow down the Lynbrook resident. McGrath won his first marathon Sunday, a year after his younger brother Dan claimed the top spot in the Long Island Marathon. His time of 2 hours, 39 minutes, 43 seconds was enough to beat out Brooklyn's Armando Ramirez, 31, who finished second in 2:41:14.
"It was a little rough, got a little warm on the way back up, but I just fought through," said McGrath, who kept a pace of 6:06. "I hit [Ramirez] at mile 21 or 22 and just tried to hold on."
McGrath's hopes of a strong 2010 marathon finish were dashed when "he fell apart" after his leg cramped up near mile 16. But he put that eighth-place finish from a year ago out of his mind with the help of cheers from his family and his girlfriend, Kristen Rath.
The top female finisher, Jodie Schoppman, 26, of Levittown, qualified for the Olympic trials after crossing the finish line in 2:42:54, almost three minutes ahead of men's third-place finisher Felipe Vergara (2:45:23).
The marathon -- a 26.2-mile loop that started on Charles Lindbergh Boulevard in Uniondale and ran along the Wantagh State Parkway before finishing at East Meadow's Eisenhower Park -- concluded the day's events, which began with a 10-kilometer and half-marathon. More than 8,200 registered for the two-day event known as the Festival of Races, which began Saturday with the mile, 5k and kids fun run.
"It's just a wonderful day for Nassau County," County Executive Ed Mangano said. "I couldn't be more happy to have it right here in Eisenhower Park."
Schoppman's fiance, Aaron Robertson of Altamont, N.Y., won the half-marathon in 1:10:05. Merrick's Chris Mammone, 27, finished second (1:10:21), followed by 31-year-old Michael Nehr of West Babylon (1:10:46).
"I like to hear everything that's going on," said Mammone, who never listens to music when he runs. "I could hear [Nehr's] feet hitting the ground, I could hear him breathing heavy or him breathing not at all . . . When you have music, I feel like it takes you out of the race almost."
Nehr said he was "just going for the ride" as he tailed Robertson and Mammone. But 10 miles into the race, he fell behind. "These guys were just too good for me," he said.
The half-marathon field also included Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR Realty, one of the primary sponsors of the races, who finished in 1:53:33.
"I think it's about more than sponsorship," said Rechler, a resident of Old Brookville who has participated in the event seven years in a row. "This is a way to bring the county together. It's one of my favorite days."
Lyndsey Cunningham's 1:22:23 was the top women's time in the half-marathon. The 28-year-old Babylon resident -- who held the previous course record before Schoppman's 1:17:15 last year -- said she is training for the Vermont City Marathon later this month.
Liza Grudzinski of Newburgh, N.Y., came in second (1:23:26), followed by Woodbury's Sharon Kapusta (1:28:08).
Demesse Cefera, 29, of New York City claimed the top men's spot in the 10k with a time of 32:34. Brooklyn's Angel Confesor, 26, finished second (34:26), followed by Peter Francis, 20, of Jackson Heights (35:36). Twenty-year-old Petra Fasungova of Lynbrook was the top female runner in the 10k, completing the course in 38:46.