When the Debbie Green Memorial 5K takes to the streets of Wheeling Saturday evening, race director Ron Green expects the total number of participants to be up from past years.
On top of that, he also foresees the competition for the top male and female finish to be some of the best in the 16-year history of the 'Race for a Reason.'
"It's going to be fun to watch," Green said. "The best of the best run this race to see how good they are as a runner or walker. If you're fortunate enough to earn an award at this race, even if it's in the age groups, you're earned it."
That will be especially true this year as Green has already received commitments from some of the top runners in the world.
So, the big question is why do world-renowned runners come to Wheeling to take part in a 5K?
"They like the idea of a certified course and it's a quality event every year," Green said. "They can look at the past times online and see that it's usually a really fast competition. Plus, these elite runners like to beat each other and they want to run these races just to see where they stack up."
Green was especially excited when he received the registration form of Keven Casteel, who is one of the top 40 and over Master's runners in the United States. He's ranked in the top five in the world.
He's run 14 minutes for 5K and 28:53 for 10K during his career. This season, his fastest 5K is 14:22. The USATF Master's all-time national record is 14:20, so Green believes on the Wheeling course, if the weather conditions cooperate, Casteel could certainly flirt with that time.
Will Christian, who was the first American finisher in last year's Green 5K, will return to Wheeling.
Kenyan Patrick Chepok, who was second in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, will take part along with Mourad Marofit. The Moroccan owns a 5K time of 14:37. Kenyan Simion Chirchir has posted a 14:08 personal best at 5K.
Kiprono Kurgat, who won the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, has also entered.
"We probably have five or six more who are under 15 minutes in their careers," Green said. "We could have 15 or 20 runners break 15 minutes. That would be impressive because, though I think it's a fast course, it's a tough course, too."
Along with the national competitors, Green always stresses the local runners, including Martins Ferry's Cedric Robinson, who won the Betty Zane Days 5K and Sam Mumley Memorial Race last week.
Also in the field is current West Liberty cross country coach Eric Laughlin, who is one of the top master's runners in the field.
The women's event features former West Virginia runner Clara Grant-Santucci. She was the first American finisher last summer and was an alternate for the USA Olympic Team in the marathon.
Alissa McKaig, who runs professionally, will be in the field. She's ran a 15:28 personal best for 5K and was a member of the 2011 World Cross Country and Marathon teams.
Jessica Ondorcic is also back in the mix. She's previously been the top American runner at the Green Memorial 5K.
Another former Mountaineer runner, Megan Wright, who competed in the 2008 Olympics for Team Canada is in the field.
Others to watch include Lyudmila Stepanova, Meseret Tolwak and Hellen Jemutai.
"Having this caliber of competition is getting my sister's name and this race out all over the world," Green said. "How great would it be if someone set a national master's record on our course?"
The entry fee has gone up to $25 and if you register on raceday, the cost will be $30. The Green Mile gets things under way on Friday night. The entry fee for that race is $15.
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