Mapping the terrain for Sunday's Long Island Marathon and attendant "festival of races" - a mile and 5-kilometer Saturday; the marathon, half-marathon and 10-kilometer Sunday - is tricky business. Not because the well-beaten paths of the 38-year-old event won't be obvious enough. The difficulty is in identifying championship favorites among the battalions of neighbors, friends and relatives - an expected 8,000 in all five races - who will take this annual physical dare.
Maybe Dan McGrath, the 2008 marathon winner, can repeat in that 26-mile, 385-yard challenge. Terry Bisogno, the runner/race announcer/promotor, certainly has his eye on McGrath, as well as two of McGrath's Lynbrook club teammates, Keith Forlenza and McGrath's brother, Shaun.
McGrath's victory two years ago, in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 38 seconds, stands as the record for the course that has been used since 2004. (The all-time Long Island record of 2:19:53 was set in 1979 by Carle Place's Lou Calvano, when the race was run from Eisenhower Park to Jones Beach and back.)
In the half-marathon Sunday, 2004 L.I. Marathon champ Mike Nehr will be a strong threat, along with Mike Petrina, Franklin Diaz and Mike Rolek. And maybe the Bellmore Striders' Chris Mammone - unless Mammone runs the 10k, in which he would be among the favorites.
But, as Bisogno said, "There's always the intriguing factor of a star out-of-towner coming in that we may not know is coming."
For instance, three-time marathon champion Felipe Vergara - one of a handful of elite New York-area runners who wear the colors of the Mi Tierrita Colombian restaurant - was not among the preregistered participants.
Vergara's club, which included multitime half-marathon winner Felipe Garcia, typically enters shortly before the Saturday evening deadline.
So only this is certain of the weekend races: The women's marathon winner the past three years (and four times since 2004) will not add a fifth title.
"I don't think I've missed one in the past seven years," Jessica Ramsay (formerly Allen), a middle school art teacher in the Sachem school district, said in an e-mail, "but I'm six months pregnant with our first child and a marathon [especially racing one] would be too taxing."
Then again, Ramsay, said she is "debating running the half-marathon just for fun this year, because I think 13 miles would be a much more comfortable distance for me at this time."
Ramsay's absence - along with the other top four 2009 finishers likewise missing on preregistration lists - leaves the women's marathon wide open.
Brendan Barrett, whose Sayville Running Company will have a handful of contenders, including himself, in the half-marathon, said he'll be watching Nehr, the 30-year-old coach of Syosset's girls track team.
"Mike just ran the East Islip Jigsaw Run and whipped on me," Barrett said, "proving he's in way better shape than I am."
In the women's half-marathon, Bisogno said he would be keeping an eye out for defending champion Christine Kenney, Jodie Schoppmann, Christina DeRosa and - though she has had some hamstring problems - Noni Accentturi. And thousands of others.