Three is the magic number for Duncan Koech as he approaches the RheinEnergie Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in Cologne on Sunday (13).
This will be his third appearance in the German city, he is the third-fastest entrant for this year’s race, and he finished third in Cologne last year. He also finished third earlier this year in Dusseldorf where he ran 2:09:10, which is the fastest season’s best of any athlete on the start-line for Sunday’s race.
He ran his lifetime best of 2:07:53 in Cologne last year in a race where fellow Kenyan Albert Kering broke the course record with 2:07:37.
A relatively minor improvement of 17 seconds would see Koech rewrite that record and his confidence will be high after a good spring campaign. Just three weeks after finishing third in Dusseldorf, he won the Nordea Riga Marathon and broke the course record in the process.
The 31-year-old, who made his first appearance in Cologne in 2009 with a 10th-place finish, is a familiar face at German Marathons; nine of his 15 outings over the classic distance have been in Germany.
But despite his familiarity with the surroundings, there will be no guarantees for Koech who will line up against two other Kenyans with superior PBs.
Jackson Kipkoech Kotut set his personal best when winning the 2010 Barcelona Marathon, clocking a course record of 2:07:30. One year prior he also broke the course record at the Tiberias Marathon with 2:08:07.
He hasn’t broken 2:10 in the past two seasons, but at 25 years old he is still young enough to recapture his best form. The Cologne Marathon will be his first race of 2013.
Although his 2:07:38 PB is marginally slower than Kipkoech’s, at 30 years of age Nicholas Chelimo is more experienced than his younger compatriot. Twice a former winner of the Honolulu Marathon, this will be Chelimo’s first race on German soil.
Earlier this year he finished third in Los Angeles in 2:10:44, his fastest time since setting his PB in Eindhoven three years ago.
Uganda’s Philip Kiplimo could also be one to watch. The World mountain-running champion, who has a Half-marathon PB of 1:01:54, is making his Marathon debut.
Although the course record of 2:25:34 looks safe this year, the women’s race should at least be a close one as little more than half a minute separates the top three contenders.
Janet Rono hasn’t raced for more than two years, but her 2:33:42 is the fastest of the female entrants. She has finished in the top two in all of her six Marathons to date, winning half of them. Most of those have been held in difficult conditions too, in places such as Hongkong, Mazatlan and Mexico City.
At 36, Poland’s Agnieszka Gortel is the oldest of the elite women. She has a PB of 2:33:48 set two years ago in Dusseldorf, but the three-time national Half-marathon champion has not yet dipped below 2:40 this year.
The athlete with the quickest season’s best is Ethiopia’s Alemtsehay Mesfin, who clocked 2:35:18 in Karlsruhe. However, that race was just three weeks ago so the 27-year-old may be running on tired legs.
Mesfin, who set a PB of 2:34:22 in Rome last year, is hopeful of recording her first victory over 26.2 miles.
About 7000 athletes are expected to take to the streets of Cologne to run the Marathon, with another 20,000 taking part in the associated Half Marathon.
Among the competitors in the latter race is Sabrina Mockenhaupt. The home favourite has won the Half Marathon in Cologne three times and the Marathon twice.
Mockenhaupt, who holds the course record with 1:08:51, is using the Half Marathon as a test for the New York City Marathon next month and is looking to break 70 minutes.
After a nine-year hiatus, the races will once again finish in front of the city’s famous cathedral.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF