It may be that almost none of the other runners in Sunday's Long Island Marathon will be able to keep up with 34-year-old Tara Farrell of East Quogue. Her 17 road racing victories at various distances this year make her a favorite in the women's division.
But almost all of Farrell's fellow marathon veterans surely can identify with her previous takes on the 26-mile, 385-yard challenge.
"I ran Long Island in 2004," said Farrell, a former cross-country and track runner for Westhampton Beach High School and Stony Brook University. "I had trained seriously for that one and had a horrible race. And I said, 'I'm never doing the marathon again. It's too long; there's no point.' "
But when she tried again -- again at the Long Island event in 2007, when her 3-hour, 23- minute finish was only about a minute faster than 2004 -- "I went out just to have fun. I just felt good and had so much fun."
So she cranked up her training again and ran the Hamptons Marathon five months later. "Like '04," Farrell said, "I went out too fast, crashed about halfway. Same thing again, dragged it in to the finish.
"But then, the next day, I felt like I didn't even run. So I said, 'I have to try this again.' "
Six weeks later, she set a personal best of 3:12 at the Philadelphia Marathon, "and I was really psyched."
It is the nature of the beast, of course. The marathon is exhilarating when it isn't downright deflating. And almost always alluring to a serious runner such as Farrell. She and husband Seth, an animal control officer for the Town of Southampton, have two children -- Seth Jr., 3, and Clare, 2. She works part-time at the Gubbins Running Ahead store in Southampton and part- time as a massage therapist, so her training runs typically take place at 5:30 a.m.
"Mostly when everyone is asleep," she said. "But I can take the kids in the job stroller and get in three to five miles that way. I pick scenic routes and we stop and do stuff together."
Farrell originally took up running in ninth grade, when she decided to join the school's spring track team "to keep busy and to stay in shape for tennis and basketball. I realized I was better at running than the other sports. And I loved it."
These days, she consistently puts in 10 miles a day and threw in a 19-miler two weeks ago "to see if I could do" today's marathon. "It was a last-minute decision. I just felt I have enough miles in my legs now. I think I can do this."
Another Tara -- Tara Wilson of West Islip, the 2007 half-marathon runnerup -- could challenge. But with neither 2012 women's champion Lindsey Block nor runnerup Crystal Cammarano-Perno running Sunday, and with 2011 champion Jodie Schoppmann (now Jodie Robertson) entered in the half-marathon, the odds are in Farrell's favor to be leading the parade.
"I'd love to be under 3:20. I knew I'm capable of going faster," she said. "But you never know . . . "