PARKERSBURG - The News and Sentinel Half Marathon has proven during its 26 years that it is one of the most organized, well-run races in the country. The reason that the 13.1-mile race has earned that reputation is because of the hard work and dedication of a committee headed by veteran director Chip Allman.
"I feel very comfortable about where we are at this point," explained Allman while helping other committee members painting the finishing touches on the Market Street finish line. "When you have a group of people with this kind of experience on a committee, things get done and run smoothly."
The only things that can make Saturday's 8 a.m. start better will be a large number of entries during tonight's final registration and for the predicted cool weather to become a reality on race day.
"Right now, we are sitting a little over 800 for the half," said coordinator Art Smith. "Part of that can be explained by the recent series of bad storms that hit our area and part of it can be attributed to the unusual hot weather that we have endured over the past couple of months."
One thing that has not been affected, however, is the elite field of runners.
"This may very well be the toughest field that we've ever had here," said Allman. "I know it is the deepest."
Beginning with the men's division, Allman will welcome back the race's last five champions. Defending champion, and course record holder (1:01:47), Julius Kogo will be back to try and become only the third male to win three times while Ethiopian Alene Reta, who won in 2007, 08 and 09, will attempt to become the race's first four-time winner.
That duo alone would make this a race worth watching, but the field includes three other runners that have eclipsed the 1:02 mark-Kenyans Fred Kosgei (1:00:59), Philip N. Mburu (1:02:09) and Daniel Kipkoech (1:02:49). And, as if that were not enough, Ethiopian Tariku Bokan (1:03.0) captured the Ogden Half Marathon back in May and 25-year old Folisho Tum, also from Ethiopia, crossed the finish line ahead of the pack in the Philly Marathon.
The women's field is just as deep.
Defending champion Malika Mejdoub returns to try and make it two in a row, but the 30-year old from Morocco may very well not be the pre-race favorite. As many as eight entrants have posted times better than Mejdoub's winning time of 1 hour, 14 minutes and 44 seconds and the field includes 2009 champion Hellen Jemutai.
Ethiopians Yesimebet Bifa (1:11.05) and Aliyu Aziza (1:11.15), Asami Kato (1:11.21) from Japan and Russia's Livbov Denisova (1:11.25) have all covered the distance in under 72 minutes. But, those times pale in comparison to 44-year old Irina Permitina from Russia, who has posted a personal best of 1 hour, 9 minutes and 56 seconds.
Saturday's other race-the 2-Miler-will have its normal large contingent of runners and walkers including former-Warren Local standout Tyler Cantley, who will be looking to tie Vincent, Ohio's Jason Linton with six victories. The former-Ohio University runner has captured the last five while Linton, who set the course record of 9 minutes and 19 seconds in 2002, was the race's top finisher from 2001 until 2006.
Also looking to set another record number for entrants will be the Junior Races and Tiny Tot Trot. Entries for both races are running ahead of last year's record pace and the predicted cooler weather could bring out even more competitors for Sunday's 1 p.m. start at Stadium Field.
Runners and walkers looking to register for any of the races can do so beginning at 2 p.m. at the Parkersburg Municipal Building at 1 Government Square. Registration, and packet pickup, will continue until 9 p.m. There will be no race day registration for either of Saturday's races, but parents will still be able to register their children for Sunday's events starting at 11 a.m.