Runners to watch at Zazzle Bay to Breakers

Two-time Zazzle Bay to Breakers winner Sammy Kitwara will not vie for a three-peat this year due to scheduling conflicts, race organizers said. In fact, none of last year’s top three men’s finishers are competing Sunday.

But the 100th running of the 12-kilometer race has hardly lost star power, race organizers said.

Remember Meb Keflezighi? In 2009, the megastar runner was the first American man to win the New York City Marathon since 1982. On Friday, the 20-time national champion said he didn’t want to miss the 100th running of the world-renowned footrace. Keflezighi, 36, will be running the Bay to Breakers for the first time in his storied career.

“He’s the greatest athlete in the field,” said Josh Muxen, the elite-race coordinator.

On the women’s side, no one can forget Lineth Chepkurui. The 23-year-old Kenyan phenom not only won last year’s Bay to Breakers, her time of 38 minutes, 7 seconds set the course record and world record for the 12K distance. Her pace per mile was 5 minutes, 7 seconds.

Is she ready to break records again?

“Until Sunday morning, I can’t tell,” Chepkurui said at a Friday news conference with the elite runners. “I’m waiting for Sunday.”

Chepkurui said runners are going to have to be extra careful on this year’s course. Rain forecasted for Sunday morning will make the roads slippery, she said.

“It’s going to be challenging,” said Keflezighi, who added that his training runs have been up to 120 miles each week, twice per day. “The course is challenging.”

Among other technical difficulties of the course, the notoriously difficult Hayes Street Hill, which has runners climbing up the steep Hayes Street Hill at about the 2.5-mile marker, is a challenge in any weather, the elite runners said. That leads the field open to any top runner having an extra-solid day.

On the course, watch out for Ethiopa’s Direba Merga, 28, who won two half-marathons this year and placed third in the Boston Marathon last year, along with fellow Ethopian Tesfaye Sendeku, 27, who was fourth at last year’s Bay to Breakers.

In the women’s field, pay attention to Ethiopa’s Mamitu Daska, 27, who placed third in last year’s Bay to Breakers and won the Houston Marathon this year. Also, Oakland resident Magdalena Lewey-Boulet, 37, remains a favorite. She placed seventh last year in the Bay to Breakers.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

AEG, organizer of Zazzle Bay to Breakers, shares the same owners as Clarity Media, which oversees The Examiner.

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