The course has played host to an incredible seven U.S. all-comers records, four American records, and five world records in its 40-year history. And despite a blip in performance after the Competitor Group reduced support of elite athletes in 2013, the pro fields seem to be back in full force this year as the Nike Oregon Project's Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay will lead the charges in their final tune-ups before the Chicago Marathon this October.
I could begin this preview by listing the very respectable course records of 58:46 and 67:11 -- both significantly faster than their American counterparts. And with Rupp and Hasay already among the top four all-time Americans in this event and both coming off big wins at practically the same distance two weeks ago, one would think that, perhaps, this Sunday could see a big dent in those American record books. But before doing that, we'd be remiss not to grasp the bigger picture: both athletes plan on giving it 100 percent in Chicago three weeks from now, and may be treating this race as more of a 'training run' than an all-out effort. Under the expert coaching of Alberto Salazar and trying to avoid another Prague-like dud for Rupp, the two will likely be looking for controlled winning efforts above all else.
Of course, that doesn't completely preclude a fast time -- anyone remember when Rupp essentially tempoed a 61-minute half two years ago to qualify for the Olympic Trials? He had precisely zero competition aside from his own watch and the lead bike in that race and looked like he was out for a morning jog despite ticking off 4:40 miles:
If he wants to run fast, Rupp will likely have to employ a similar strategy down the Schuylkill River banks of Philadelphia on Sunday. His biggest competition in U.S. Olympian Jared Ward is a very respectable runner, but he has been well beaten by Rupp throughout his career and 'only' holds a 61:42 best. Though he's firmly behind Rupp in the ranks of U.S. marathoners, that's not saying much when an Olympic medalist is your competition, and the master tactician in Ward has done well for himself in recent years, culminating in a sixth-place finish as the second American in the Olympics last year. He has yet to win a race since then and was only 10th in Boston this April, so anything close to his PR would be a great step forward for Ward. Tyler Mueller and Marty Hehir of NAZ Elite round out the U.S. contingent in the top five, and while both hold 63-minute half PRs, Hehir has the better track speed with his 28:08 10K best this year.
One thing that's certain is that if anyone will be pushed to the line in Philly, it will be Hasay. There is some true world-class talent on the women's side, led by Meseret Defar of Ethiopia. Though Defar is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 5K, her last global championship medal on the outdoor track came four years ago (a gold in the Moscow 5K) and she's raced surprisingly sparingly on the roads since then. If she's anywhere near her 29:59 10K PR shape from 2009, she should have this race in the bag, but there are too many questions surrounding her fitness to be certain about it. Her 2016 season was nearly flawless with a win at Carlsbad and a World Indoor silver in the 3K, but she didn't race at the Olympics that year, and her most recent race -- a 31:14 road 10K for third in May -- showed some vulnerability. Regardless, she still holds a 66:09 half-marathon PB, the fastest in the field, and could pull Hasay to a scorcher if the conditions allow for it.
Two other credentialed East Africans in the women's field are Kenya's Caroline Rotich and Ethiopia's Buzunesh Deba. Despite being from different countries, Rotich and Deba will face esentially the same challenge in Philly: can they return to top form for the first time since their respective Boston Marathon victories? Deba, the 2014 Boston champ, has yet to break 2:30 since 2015, and her last half-marathon showing of 74:39 was less than encouraging. Deba won last year's edition of this race, but the fields were vastly weakened and her winning time of 71:49 was the slowest since 1995. Similarly, the 2015 Boston champ in Rotich earned a DNF in her most recent marathon and is coming off a 72:09 half for ninth this March. On their best days, these women are both capable of sub-68 halves, and Philly will provide us with a nice glimpse into their fitness against Hasay and Defar.
Behind the big guns, a formidable Japanese contingent will be hoping to pick up the scraps and maybe sneak to podium positions. On the men's side, Muryo Takase could battle Ward for runner-up honors on his best day, as he owns a 2:12 marathon and 61:57 half bests, both just seconds off Ward's PRs. The women's Japanese contingent is more of an unknown. The race will serve as the half-marathon debut for Miyuki Uehara, who competed for Japan at the Olympics and Worlds in the 5K and 10K respectively and could pick up one or both of Rotich and Deba if her true strength lies in the roads. Meanwhile Reina Iwade has already run well at the marathon (2:24) and half (69:45) distances, and though that half PR dates back to before her 20th birthday, she looks in shape to PR if the race gets out hot.
MEN'S ELITE FIELD
|Galen Rupp||05/08/86||USA||Olympic Silver and Bronze medalist from the 10000m and marathon respectively.|
|Jared Ward||09/09/88||USA||Finished sixth at the Rio Olympic Marathon running a personal best of 2:11:30.|
|Muryo Takase||01/31/89||JAPAN||Has a personal best of 1:01:57 set in Marugame in 2010.|
|Tyler Mueller||10/01/91||USA||Has a best of 1:03:21 set at the USA Half Marathon Championships in 2015.|
|Marty Hehir||12/19/92||USA||Has set PR's over 5000m, 10000m, and 10K on the roads so far this year.|
|Yuki Sato||11/26/86||JAPAN||Has a best half marathon of 1:04:23.|
|Gebrekidan Abadi||10/07/84||ETHIOPIA||Winner of last year's Rock 'n' Roll Denver Half Marathon.|
|Mark Leininger||02/28/91||USA||Has a personal best of 1:04:26 set in Jacksonville last year.|
|Trevor Hofbauer||03/08/92||CANADA||Has a personal best of 1:04:28.|
|Patricio Castillo||02/17/92||MEXICO||Set his personal best at Rock 'n' Roll San Diego this year running 1:05:31.|
WOMEN'S ELITE FIELD
|Meseret Defar||11/19/83||ETHIOPIA||The 2010 race champion, 'Mezzy' has won 2 Olympic Gold medals over 5000m.|
|Jordan Hasay||09/21/91||USA||Has a personal best over the half marathon of 1.07.55 set in Prague.|
|Caroline Rotich||05/13/84||KENYA||Winner of the 2016 Boston Marathon. Personal best half is 1:08:52.|
|Buzunesh Deba||09/08/87||ETHIOPIA||Winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon. Personal best half is 1:08:59.|
|Reia Iwade||12/08/94||JAPAN||Has a personal best of 1:09:45 set in Okayama.|
|Miyuki Uehara||11/22/95||JAPAN||Debut. Represented Japan at the Olympics in Rio last year.|
|Sasha Gollish||12/27/81||CANADA||Canadian Cross Country Champion has a personal best of 1:11:05.|
|Bethany Sachtleben||02/09/92||USA||Finished 4th at 2017 USATF Half Marathon Championships.|
|Amanda Marino||10/19/89||USA||Villanova University graduate has a personal best of 1:13:44.|
|Christine Ramsey||11/13/82||USA||A member of the Philadelphia Runner Track Club with a 1:14:58 PB, she'll be a top hometown hope.|