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CHICAGO (05-Oct) -- After a three-year hiatus, pacemakers will be back again at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon here on Sunday when the race is held for the 41st time. Executive race director Carey Pinkowski had dispensed with pacemaking in 2015, hoping that it would spur better head-to-head competition. But after three years of relatively slow winning times of 2:09:25, 2:11:23 and 2:09:20, respectively, Pinkowski decided to go back to his previous formula of using limited pacemaking which helped produce memorable late-race duels AND fast winning times.
"I kind of went back to the old playbook that I would use," Pinkowski said at a press conference here today. He continued: "Part of it is listening to the athletes. Talking to some of the athletes that are competing, they wanted to get going. This is a fast course."
For Olympic medalists Mo Farah of Great Britain and Galen Rupp of Portland, Ore. (former training partners) Pinkowski's decision is just fine with them. Rupp --the race's defending champion who has demonstrated his racing chops in unpaced races like the 2016 Olympic Trials and Olympic Games-- is looking forward to tucking in behind the two rabbits who will lead the men's race through halfway in about 62 minutes. That would put Rupp, the USA 10,000m record-holder, on pace to break Khalid Khannouchi's USA record of 2:05:38 set in London in 2002.
"I'm so happy there's pacemakers," Rupp told the media here today. "It's going to go out honest (and) you're still going to see a great race in the second half." He added: "There will be lots of good guys there in the second half."
At last year's race, Rupp was content to dawdle through the first half in 1:06:11. Indeed, there were still 10 men in contention at the 30-K checkpoint, and Rupp didn't really hit the gas until 35-K when there were still four men challenging him.
"You know, I hadn't really planned out when I was going to go," he said in his post-race television interview last year. "I definitely wanted to wait, at least 20 miles (32 km), 22 miles (35 km). The longer the better. I've made the mistake in the past of going too hard, too soon; you've still got a long way to go, several miles. So, I really wanted to wait."
But this year, Rupp is excited about the possibility of running his second fast marathon of his career. After dropping out of cold and rain-soaked Boston Marathon last April, he re-booted his training and ran the Volkswagen Prague Marathon 20 days later --a paced race-- winning in a personal best 2:06:07. He'd love to run faster.
"Definitely Prague was a little bit of unusual circumstances, but it gave me confidence," Rupp explained. "My goal for sure (here) is to hopefully try to win tomorrow (Sunday), but hopefully get a good time as well." He added: "I think, almost, having pacers really takes the guess work out."
Farah, who has four Olympic gold medals but has only completed three marathons, agrees with Rupp. He ran a national record 2:06:21 in London last April off of a too-fast 1:01:03 first half. The 62-minute pace Pinkowski is calling for is more to his liking.
"In my mind I was like, what will be, will be," Farah said of what he was thinking during the first half in London. He continued: "I definitely want 62; I'm happy with that."
Here in Chicago, he has a good chance of breaking the European marathon record of 2:05:48 set by Norway's Sondre Nordstad Moen in Fukuoka last December. He did most of his training in Ethiopia and Flagstaff, Ariz., under new coach Gary Lough, and said he was satisfied with the work he had put in.
"I'm definitely confident," Farah told reporters. He added: "I think I'm definitely in great shape. I've worked hard."
During their careers, Farah and Rupp have faced each other at distances of at least 3000-meters 23 times. Farah has beaten Rupp every time, but one: their 5000m heat at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow where Rupp was fourth and Farah was fifth. They haven't raced each other since the 10,000m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics where Farah won the gold medal and Rupp finished fifth. Since both men are fully committed to the marathon now, they race sparingly.
"I'm excited that I'm going to be racing against Galen," Farah said, smiling. "I know him well and he knows me well."
Of course, it is entirely possible that neither Farah nor Rupp will win here on Sunday and take home the $100,000 first prize. Fourteen men have run 2:09:18 or faster, and five have run sub-2:06: Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:04:00, Birhanu Legesse (ETH) 2:04:15, Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:04:32, Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:05:04, and Kenneth Kipkemoi (KEN), 2:05:44.
"Overall, the field is strong," Farah observed. "I don't think I've ever seen a stronger field than this (in Chicago)." He added: "I'm eighth-fastest (in the field)."