Koech faces former winners in battle to retain Belfast crown
Reigning champion Eric Koech will clash with two former winners in this Sunday's 38th Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon, which has broken all entry records and is fast approaching some 5,000 participants.
This is a clear result of both the historic switch from the Bank Holiday Monday to the Sunday, plus the attraction of an entirely new faster course which eliminates the old tortuous lengthy climb up the Antrim Road.
Koech will return to defend his title after enjoying a two-minute victory margin over fellow Kenyan Dan Tanui last year in a time of two hours, 18 minutes and 19 seconds.
That victory made up for the 37-year-old's runner-up spot in 2016 when he lost out to Joel Kositany. Koech has not raced since his Belfast win and he is determined to repeat last year's result.
However, this is far from a foregone conclusion such is the calibre of the opposition - quite probably the highest-quality field Belfast has seen.
It includes three-time winner Kositany, who took the title with some ease in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
However, he has bitter memories of last year when he was joint leader with Koech and looking comfortable with less than three miles to go.
He then suffered the athlete's ultimate nightmare of a pulled hamstring, after which he painfully struggled to the finish for third - over five minutes behind the winner.
This experience has made him more determined to achieve a record fourth victory and finally surpass the three wins recorded by John Mutai over 10 years ago.
The 31-year-old certainly has the pedigree, given the fact that he has the fastest marathon best in the field of under two hours and 10 minutes.
Koech and Kositany will, however, have to keep an eye on yet another Kenyan, Bernard Rotich. He is also a former winner from 2017, when he secured victory in two hours, 16 minutes - the third fastest time on the old course.
Rotich (32), who was also second in 2013, is possibly the biggest danger of all as he has the best recent form. He followed up his Dublin Marathon victory of 2017 with a very useful 2.14.18 in the same race last October.
Gideon Kimosop, a Kenyan from the Rift Valley, easily has the most experience of racing in the province. He is a treble winner of the Belfast Half Marathon and was second over the full marathon distance in 2015.
In his most recent win here in the Belfast Half last autumn, he explained that the prize money in races went a long way towards supporting his huge extended family of 10 back home.
With this quality line-up, Belfast Marathon organisers are quietly hoping for very quick times on the new flatter course and perhaps a fastest ever marathon here, lowering a record which currently stands at two hours, 13 minutes and 41 seconds.