NEW YORK — Geoffrey Mutai owns the course record at the New York City Marathon, where he will defend his title Sunday. His goal is to go even faster. The Kenyan won two years ago in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 6 seconds. That was the last time the NYC Marathon was held, and much has changed since that day Mutai describes as "perfect."
The 2012 race was called off because of the destruction of Superstorm Sandy, but not before the week's events enraged many residents and runners. City and marathon officials initially said the race would go on, but many New Yorkers recoiled at the idea of possibly diverting resources so soon after a natural disaster.
The decision to cancel didn't come until a day-and-a-half before the scheduled start time. By then, many overseas entrants had already arrived.
Then in April at the Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
The increased security in New York on Sunday will be most evident near the finish line in Central Park. There will be barricades around the park to limit entry points, bag checks and bomb-sniffing dogs.
More than 47,000 runners are expected for the 43rd running of the NYC Marathon. A handful will be competing for the $100,000 prize for the men's and women's champions.
Five races within the race to watch:
— Mutai has run the fastest marathon in history, 2:03:02 in Boston in 2011. It didn't count as a world record because the course is too straight and downhill. The official world record was lowered in September to 2:03:23 in Berlin by Wilson Kipsang. New York is a difficult course, unlikely to produce a world record. A windy morning is in the forecast for Sunday, which may also keep Mutai's course record safe.
— Stephen Kiprotich's personal best time is 2:07:20, slow by today's standards. But he keeps proving he knows how to race. The Ugandan was the surprise gold medalist as the 2012 London Olympics, then he won a world championship in August. New York is a championship-style setup, with no pace-setter, which bodes well for Kiprotich. Kiprotich and Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede, the reigning London Marathon champ, are also competing for the World Marathon Majors title, a $500,000 bonus.
— A year ago, Meb Keflezighi planned to run the 2012 NYC Marathon and the 2013 races in Boston and New York, and then retire. New York was canceled, and he pulled out of Boston because of injury. Now the 38-year-old Keflezighi is flirting with the idea of competing through the 2016 Olympics.
"Can I squeeze a little more out of it?" he said. "Otherwise, I feel content where my career has been."
He took silver at the 2004 Olympics, the first American man in 28 years to win a marathon medal. And at the 2009 NYC Marathon, he became the first American champion in 27 years.
— Kenyans Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo train together and expect to work together for the first part of Sunday's race. The two are competing for a second prize: the World Marathon Majors title. If either wins in New York, she will earn the $500,000 bonus. Kiplagat is the two-time defending world champion, and Jeptoo won the London Marathon this year. Kiplagat, who won in New York in 2010, is a force in championship-style races.
"This is one of the best courses — it's not a flat course," she said. "It needs a lot of strategy and a lot of mental strength. And I'm happy when I'm on it. It's still very fresh in my mind, the whole course."
— Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba grew up together in Ethiopia, and they were reunited at the last NYC Marathon, in 2011. They worked together to chase down Mary Keitany, who had pulled away to a big lead. Dado won and Deba finished second, in breakthrough performances for both. Now Dado returns as the defending women's champion, and Deba is trying to win in her new hometown. (AP)