The 38th Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on Sunday (9am) is set to be a record-breaker in more ways than one.
The event, held for the first time on a Sunday, has attracted a massive total of over 18,000 entrants including 4700 for the main Marathon and 2400 five person relay teams.
The men’s race has been won for the last 16 years by African athletes and this year is expected to continue the pattern with a particularly strong Kenyan contingent although Irish star Sean Hehir is an interesting addition.
Three former winners head the entry with defending champion Eric Koech (pictured), 2017 winner Bernard Rotich and Joel Kositany chasing his fourth success following 2013-15 and 16 wins.
Gideon Kimosop is a regular performer in Ulster and has taken the major honour three times in the Belfast Half Marathon.
Sean Hehir has twice been the leading Irish finisher in the Dublin Marathon. He competed in the Europeans but was disappointed in his London run.
Gideon Kurgan is in his first Marathon but has run 63:19 for the half distance and will feature along with Moroccan pair Mostaffa Channi and Abdel El Mouaziz, both regulars here, and Worlds performer Ignas Brasevicius of Lithuania
With the new faster,flatter course starting at Stormont and finishing at Ormeau Park, the fastest ever winning time of 2:13:41 set by Ursa Negewo in 2012 will be under threat.
The ladies time of 2:36:49 standing to Nataliya Lehonkova of Ukraine since 2013 can also go, although there is disappointment at the withdrawal of 2017 winner Laura Graham with an infected foot.
Defending champion Caroline Jepchirchir of Kenya will fancy a repeat. She was recently 10th in Barcelona.
Gladys Ganiel leads the home performers. She came 12th in the 2014 Commonwealths and ran in last year’s Eoropeans.
Radka Churanova from Czech Republic, Edna Kimetai, Vira Ovcharuk of Ukraine and Shewaye Wolde Meskel of Ethiopia should also be in the leading group.