NAIROBI, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Former winner Agnes Kiprop and star runner Ernest Ngeno of Kenya will return to the Chinese city of Hengshui to compete for the women's title at the Hengshui Lake International Marathon on Sunday.
They will be up against Ethiopia's Aberu Mekuria, who clocked a course record of 2:26:07 to win the race in 2013, her personal best time at that time. Two years later Kiprop claimed the tile in 2:25:43, which has stood as the course record until now.
"It is a fast time and many athletes have tried without luck to break it. I am in good shape and will try to improve on the time this time around. However, the main target is to win the race," said Kiprop in Nairobi.
Kiprop, 39, holds a personal best time of 2:23:54 set in Frankfurt back in 2011. She hasn't come close to 2:26 since her 2015 Hengshui victory. She clocked 2:29:04 to finish fourth at the Dongying Yellow River Marathon in April, which was her fastest time in more than four years.
"Injuries saw me lose form, but I have recovered and ready to go for the fast time again," she added.
Mekuria, on the contrary, has been enjoying a second wind in her decade-long career, achieving a PB of 2:24:30 to break the course record at the 2019 Chongqing International Marathon. It will be her third race in Hengshui as she also clocked 2:32:53 to finish eighth in 2015.
The organisers have assembled the deepest women's field in the eight-year history of the race, as other race favorites also include Marta Megra of Ethiopia, who set her PB of 2:22:35 last year in Toronto, as well as her compatriot Tirfi Tsegaye, the fastest woman toeing the line with a PB of 2:19:41 from her massive victory in Dubai in 2016.
The men's field also contains a former champion. 24-year-old Ernest Ngeno of Kenya took the top honors in Hengshui four years ago with a winning mark of 2:07:57, which was his PB at the time and 12 seconds shy of the course record set by Markos Geneti in 2014.
Last year, he improved his PB to 2:06:41 when finishing third in Paris, which makes him the second-fastest entrant in the field.
Although Ngeno is keen to end a three-year title drought following his victory in Milan in 2016, he could face a serious threat from Aychew Bantie. Ngeno will have the duo Dominic Ruto and Ismael Boshendich Chemtan to team up with.
The rising Ethiopian, who turned 24 this month, trimmed more than two minutes off his career best to finish third at the Prague Marathon in 2:06:23 four months ago and is still pursuing his first title since debuting over the classic distance in 2017.
Bantie's compatriot Fikadu Kebede, who turns 33 on Friday, also arrived in Hengshui in high spirits. He set a PB of 2:08:27 in Dubai in January and came close to that mark three months later with a second-place finish in Dongying in 2:09:38. Enditem