Two very self assured Kenyan athletes flew into Belfast at the weekend with a mission to break the 24-year-old Belfast Marathon record set by the great Marty Deane back in 1985.
Veteran athlete John Mutai has clearly established a close affiliation with the city following his victories in the past two Belfast Marathons. However on each occasion his record attempts were thwarted by inadequate pace making support.
He said: "I know the course is quite difficult but it holds no fears for me. I now know it well and the only factors which might work against me are the wind and running on my own. At the minute I am in good form." (He ran an impressive 2 hrs 15 mins Marathon in Mumbai in January)
The former Dublin Marathon winner explained that he was planning to reach the half way point on the notorious Antrim Road hill in 66 and a half minutes — a very ambitious time which would certainly make him odds on favourite to smash the record of 2.15.51.
However, such a hectic pace is by no means impossible as Mutai has agreed with housemate Zach Kihara that they will share the lead until halfway and then simply see what happens.
The 24-year-old Kihara is a full 18 years younger than Mutai and is equally capable of taking the victory spoils himself today. He ran a 2 hrs 16 mins Marathon three months ago in China and three weeks ago he broke the course record when running the Redcar Half Marathon. Kihara's running has clearly reached a new level following his runner-up spot in Belfast three years ago.
Such friendly but intense rivalry was also evident in a discussion with the two favourites for the women’s race.
Joyce Kandie who took the Belfast title in 2006 will renew her battle with Joyce Kirui whom she defeated at Redcar recently. However, while Kandie has a string of half marathon victories to her credit Kirui got the better of her by some 20 seconds in January's Mumbai Marathon.
This all adds up to a neck and neck tussle over the latter stages of today's race with the winner impossible to predict. Kandie, who said she would run with Kirui until at least halfway, has probably the greater incentive to secure victory following her nightmare ran last year when a leg muscle forced her to drop out at halfway.
There is no denying the determination of these four Kenyans to ensure that the winning times in Belfast remain among some of the fastest in UK marathons. Unfortunately the windy weather forecasted may disrupt these ambitions.
Marathon organisers have been faced with some last minute changes in the male elite field. Ukranian bronze medallist from last year Vyacheslav Prykhodko has withdrawn because of visa problems.
He is replaced by Danish athlete Hendrick Jensen who has a Marathon PB of 2 hrs 22 mins. Clonliffe's Robert Malseed is also a late entrant — he finished 8th in Edinburgh last year in 2.31.26.