Anyone who has witnessed Gete Wami’s gutsy trademark runs knows that this is one athlete who has no fear of digging deep to get the best out of herself.
That is why, when the field lines up on Sunday morning in Newcastle for the annual Bupa 13.1 Mile jaunt to the seaside in South Shields, that the compact Ethiopian will be the one to beat.
It is almost a year since the 33-year-old impressed the world with her double marathon feat of winning in Berlin before engaging in an epic battle just 35 days later with Paula Radcliffe through the streets of New York.
Radcliffe eventually won that titanic struggle and her shadow hangs over this race too since she holds the Tyneside course record of 65:40, a time that Wami has never challenged in her long career.
The Ethiopian’s best stands at 70:22 from Berlin two years ago while her best so far this year is outside 71mins when she finished third in Dubai.
Wami has something to live up to since there have been two previous Ethiopian winners of this race, the imperious Derartu Tulu three years ago, and former track star, Berhane Adere. Will Wami make it three out of four for the east African nation?
The only doubt hanging over her is the fact that she dropped out of the Olympic marathon in August. So there is an element of having to prove herself once again despite her experience.
Johnson, Tulu, Pavey… to challenge
If there is any sign of weakness there are plenty of candidates more than willing to turn the screw including former winners, Benita Johnson of Australia and Tulu herself who returns once more to the north-east.
Unlike Wami, Johnson finished the Olympic marathon, though in a lowly 21st, just ahead of Radcliffe, so there is more injured pride seeking a return to form since her glory year of 2004 when she streaked away with the World Cross Country title.
But there is one person who has trained specifically for this race who might trump them all, Britain’s Jo Pavey.
It is four years since the Exeter runner finished fourth here on her debut over the distance and she is determined to make amends for missing out on a top three spot. In the final mile she almost folded, but gathered herself to finish gamely.
After Beijing, where she contested the 10,000m,crossing the line 12th in a personal best 31:12.30, the 35-year-oldhas been putting in the miles to give herself the best chance possible of carrying off the honours on Tyneside.
“My training has been going well,” said Pavey, who suffered a bout of flu after the Games. “I’ve been completely focussed on being in the best shape possible for this challenge.”
Two weeks ago she topped up her preparation with some useful speed work by finishing third in a women’s Hyde Park 5km behind the Olympic 5000m bronze medallist, Meseret Defar (ETH).
Other contenders for the title are another Ethiopian Worknesh Kidane and Hungarian Anika Kalovics who proved she is in shape winning over the distance in Udine last month in 70:08.
Kibet the favourite in the men’s race
The men’s race welcomes the 2007 World Championships shock marathon champion, Luke Kibet of Kenya. It was the unsung Kibet who mastered near impossible conditions in Osaka to record only the second Kenyan World championship marathon victory in 20 years, setting the country up nicely for its first ever Olympic marathon men’s title this year through compatriot Sammy Wanjiru
Former Berlin, Chicago and London marathon champion Felix Limo (KEN), is also in the field while USA’s Abdi Abdirahman could figure prominently. The former Somalian is looking for a sharpener for his New York marathon appearance in a month’s time.
Kara Goucher became the first American women to win this race last year in its 27-year history. Is it Abdirahman’s turn to do likewise for the men?
Michael Butcher for the IAAF