Considering the talent in this year's elite field, Koech's 58 minute, 41 second performance—which is also the fastest half-marathon time ever on U.S. soil—could be matched or bettered on Sunday. Topping the field are Ryan Hall, the only American to break the one-hour barrier in the half-marathon with 59:43 and a two-time Olympian in the marathon, and Dickson Chumba of Kenya, this year's Tokyo Marathon champion.
Matt Turnbull, the event's elite athlete manager, thinks Hall is ready for a big race and that Chumba can improve greatly on his personal best.
“Everyone in racing wants Hall to get back to his best,” Turnbull said of the injury-plagued runner, who began his comeback with a 20th-place finish at the Boston Marathon in April and was the second American finisher at Monday’s BolderBOULDER 10K. “He wasn't 100 percent going into Boston. Now, if he can run a good half marathon, he can build from there. He's had a long-term foot issue that’s been plaguing him for the last few years. But things seem to be going well now. He's healthy and feels he's in shape to run well.”
In 2012, Hall finished second to San Diego-native Meb Keflezighi in his first Rock ‘n’ Roll appearance in America’s Finest City. That race seemed to fit perfectly into Hall's preparations for the London Olympics, where he was forced to drop out near the 11-mile mark with a hamstring injury. In 2013, he was slated to run the Boston and New York City marathons, but withdrew because of injuries. Now, he feels he's ready to run well again.
“I ran San Diego in 2012. I did not have a great race there, but did have an incredible experience,” said Hall. “I loved the race organization. I used to live in San Diego and trained there. We just love the city. It's not too far from Big Bear, so I'm racing it because I love the SoCal feel. I love the vibe. I love the course. I think I have the potential to run pretty well.”
Chumba, meanwhile, has become a world-class runner after once serving as the gardener for Kenyan Martin Lel, one of the world's premier distance runners. In the past four years, he has improved rapidly. In 2012, he ran his half-marathon best of 61:34 in Den Haag and produced his marathon best of 2:05:42 at Tokyo in February.
“After a while, Lel persuaded him to join the running group,” said Turnbull. “Tokyo is not the quickest course, but San Diego is a great course. Sunday’s race will give him the opportunity to bring down his time.”
Other highly regarded entrants include Cybrian Kotut of Kenya, as well as Tilahun Regassa and Tsgabu Gebremariam of Ethiopia. Kotut, 22, is Lel's younger brother and made his breakthrough at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia last year, finishing second in 59:59. Regassa ran the half-marathon in 59:19 in 2010, the world junior record at the time. He was highly regarded going into Boston this year, but dropped out after 10 miles. Gebremariam, the younger brother of standout distance runner Gebre Gebremariam, will be making his U.S. half-marathon debut. His half-marathon PR is 61:28.
The other leading American contenders alongside Hall include Shadrack Biwott, Stephen Shay, Gabriel Proctor and Tyler McCandless. Each of the USA quartet has run the half-marathon under 1:03:30.
In the women’s race, three-time Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo was ticketed to face London Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya in a showdown on Sunday, but Kiplagat has scratched from the race.
Nevertheless, Jeptoo will still have some strong opposition, including Birhane Dibaba, a rising 20-year-old Ethiopian who finished a strong second in this year's Tokyo Marathon in 2:22:30. Amone Golena, 31, from Ethiopia, is the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon champion with a half-marathon best of 1:08:16. Eri Hayakawa, 32, and Yuko Watanbe, 26, of Japan, and Americans Lindsey Scherf, 27, who won the Publix Gasparilla Half Marathon this year and Sara Slattery, 32, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Colorado, are also in the field.
“If people are in good shape, they can run fast over this course,” Turnbull added.
Event weekend kicks off on Friday with a two-day Health & Fitness Expo at the San Diego Convention Center. The Expo, which is free and open to the public, takes place from 11 am to 7 pm on Friday and from 9 am to 5:00 pm Saturday, May 31.
As part of the weeklong celebration honoring the 50th Anniversary of his historic high School sub-4 minute mile, Jim Ryun will serve as the grand marshal for the marathon. Both the marathon and half-marathon take place on Sunday, beginning on the west side of Balboa Park. The marathon begins at 6:15 am and the half-marathon starts at 6:45 am.
The race route incorporates a scenic tour of San Diego’s neighborhood charm, passing through Little Italy, Old Town, University Heights and Normal Heights, before ending at Petco Park at 13th and K streets, with a finish line festival. The weekend experience concludes with a post-race concert inside the stadium headlined by Billboard chart-topper Aloe Blacc.
In addition to Blacc’s performance, runners will also enjoy the sounds of local live bands playing along the course as motivation and entertainment, along with cheerleaders and thousands of encouraging spectators. For more information or to register for the event, visit RunRocknRoll.com and follow the event on Twitter @RunRocknRoll.