Favorites face elite challengers

Here's a quick guide to runners to watch in Sunday's New York City Marathon. The men's race could result in a new course record, and both races will decide who wins the $500,000 World Marathon Majors title.

Men's field

The Heavyweights
Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya)
PR: 2:04:15 (Berlin, 2012; 2:03:02 on point-to-point Boston course, 2011)
Need to know: Mutai took more than two and a half minutes off the course record when he ran 2:05:05 to win New York City in 2011. He was the prerace favorite then, and he is again this year. Mutai's training group includes Wilson Kipsang, who set the world record in Berlin in September, and Dennis Kimetto, who set the Chicago course record in October. A 59:06 half marathon in his last tuneup race shows that Mutai is as fit as his training partners. Will he push hard from the start to bring his course record into the 2:04s?

Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia)
PR: 2:04:38 (Chicago, 2012)
Need to know: Kebede is one of the great racers in recent marathon history. He has won London twice and Chicago once and has a bronze medal from the Olympics and world championships. Count on him to ration his resources over the entire distance and still be running hard the final few miles in Central Park. The big question is whether Kebede is tired from a year that includes winning London in April and finishing fourth at the world championships in August.

Keep An Eye On
Stanley Biwott (Kenya)
PR: 2:05:12 (Paris, 2011)
Need to know: New York City has a history of surprise winners. We nominate Biwott as a possibility this year. He has a solidly world-class PR, and he's not afraid to be aggressive, evidenced by him pushing the pace at London in April after hitting halfway under world-record pace. Biwott ran the fastest half marathon in the U.S. this year, 59:36, at Philadelphia in September, so he's fit. He's a good candidate to surge to break the field in the 17th mile on First Avenue. The question is whether he can hold a move to the finish or would fade like he did when finishing eighth in London.

Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda)
PR: 2:07:20 (Enschede, 2011)
Need to know: It seems weird to say the reigning Olympic and world champion would be a surprise winner, but that's the reality. Kiprotich has proved himself to be an excellent championship racer and at the Olympics and world championships beat several men with PRs. That should be an asset on the New York City course, where place matters more than time. Like Kebede, Kiprotich probably isn't fully recovered from the world championships in August.

Peter Kirui (Kenya)
PR: 2:06:30 (Frankfurt, 2011)
Need to know: Kirui has yet to translate his shorter-distance prowess (59:40 half marathon PR, former Kenyan 10K champ) into world-beating marathon form. Like Biwott, he doesn't have tons of experience at the distance but could break through in New York. If the pace is fast from the start, Kirui will know what that's like, because he paced Patrick Makau to a then-world record at the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

Martin Lel (Kenya)
PR: 2:05:15 (London, 2008)
Need to know: Lel has been a man of marathon extremes over the past decade, often either withdrawing before races with injury or winning them. He's a two-time New York and three-time London champ. One of those New York victories was in 2003, and it's fair to wonder if Lel, 35, is the threat he used to be. Still, even someone as formidable as Mutai will want to be clear of Lel by the final mile, as he's one of the best kickers in marathon history.

Wesley Korir (Kenya)
PR: 2:06:13 (Chicago, 2012)
Need to know: Since winning the hot 2012 Boston Marathon, Korir has improved his PR but has also spent increasing amounts of time on charitable work in Kenya. In addition, he won a seat in Kenya's parliament in the spring. Has the University of Louisville graduate become too busy with his nonrunning activities to take on singularly focused runners with better PRs?

Yuki Kawauchi (Japan)
PR: 2:08:14 (Seoul, 2013)
Need to know: Kawauchi is a legend in elite circles for holding down a desk job while racing more than perhaps any other world-class marathoner. New York City will be his ninth marathon of the year; three of his previous eight were sub-2:10, and five were victories. Kawauchi won't get another win in New York, but it won't be for lack of effort. In contrast to many elites who look daisy-fresh moments after finishing, Kawauchi will look to be in need of medical assistance.

The Top Americans
Meb Keflezighi (San Diego)
PR: 2:09:08 (Olympic Marathon Trials, 2012)
Need to know: Keflezighi, the 2009 New York champion, once again leads the American men. At age 38, Keflezighi has had some injury problems in his buildup, including a fall that led to a gashed knee. But Keflezighi almost always has training hiccups leading into New York, and he almost always finishes in the top five.

Jason Hartmann (Boulder, Colo.)
PR: 2:11:06 (Chicago, 2010)
Need to know: Hartmann has been the top American (and fourth overall) in the past two Bostons. He got a good tuneup recently when pacing high school teammate Dathan Ritzenhein for the first part of the Chicago Marathon. Hartmann will avoid any fireworks up front, patiently run his race and likely move up over the final 10K to place well.

Ryan Vail (Portland, Ore.)
PR: 2:11:45 (Fukuoka, 2012)
Need to know: Vail, 27, is a good candidate to be the next breakthrough American marathoner. He quietly set his PR in December after originally scheduling to race New York. He set a 10K PR earlier this year and has been hammering solo 150-mile weeks.

Women's field

The Heavyweights
Priscah Jeptoo (Kenya)
PR: 2:20:14 (London, 2012)
Need to know: Jeptoo won London in April, and she's the favorite to pick up the New York City title as well. She has been one of the top marathoners in the world the past few years, including silver medals at the 2011 world championships and 2012 Olympics. In September, she showed that she might be even fitter now, running a 1:05:45 half marathon to beat Ethiopian legends Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar. The main thing not in Jeptoo's favor is that almost all of her marathons have been on flat courses as opposed to more rugged routes like New York's.

Edna Kiplagat (Kenya)
PR: 2:19:50 (London, 2012)
Need to know: On paper, Kiplagat should be a co-favorite. She has won the past two world championships and won New York City in 2010. But that most recent world title came on Aug. 10, less than three months ago. Kiplagat hasn't had time to fully recover from that effort and then resume a good marathon-training block. That said, she should be highly motivated, because a win at New York would net her the World Marathon Majors title and the $500,000 prize that goes with it.

Keep An Eye On
Valeria Straneo (Italy)
PR: 2:23:44 (Rotterdam, 2012)
Need to know: Straneo, who was second at the world championships in August, is also making a quick turnaround from her last race. Straneo was one of the aggressors in that race; whether she pushes the pace against Jeptoo and Kiplagat will likely depend on how fresh she is. Her PR is more than three and a half minutes slower than those of her Kenyan rivals, but the fastest runners aren't necessarily the ones who come out on top in New York.

Lisa Stublic (Croatia)
PR: 2:25:44 (Zurich, 2013)
Need to know: Stublic is on the upswing, always a good place to be coming into the unpredictable New York City Marathon. A native of Connecticut who ran for Columbia University, Stublic knows New York racing. She had a breakthrough third-place finish at the NYC Half in March before winning the Zurich Marathon later in the spring.

Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine)
PR: 2:23:58 (Osaka, 2013)
Need to know: If there's someone who might have journalists scrambling for their media guides late in the race, it's likely to be Gamera-Shmyrko. She moved up significantly in the closing miles of the 2012 Olympic Marathon to place fifth and has since lowered her PR with a win at Osaka in January.

Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia)
PR: 2:22:56 (Osaka, 2005)
Need to know: Prokopcuka is an intriguing entrant. She won New York in 2005 and 2006 but soon after disappeared from the racing scene. Now 37, she resurfaced with a 1:08 half marathon last year and wouldn't be in New York if she didn't think she was ready to race. If the time since Prokopcuka's peak seems too long, remember that Rita Jeptoo won Boston in April seven years after her first victory there and followed that up with a sub-2:20 win at Chicago earlier this fall.

Buzunesh Deba (Ethiopia)
PR: 2:23:19 (New York City, 2011)
Need to know: Deba was the surprise second-place finisher in New York two years ago. She's noteworthy not only for that accomplishment but also for living in the Bronx. She's won the majority of her marathons. We always advise picking race winners over runners with fast times, but most of those wins haven't been against fields the quality of New York's.

Kim Smith (New Zealand)
PR: 2:25:21 (London, 2010)
Need to know: Smith's many American fans are still waiting for the four-time NCAA champ at Providence to pop a marathon that matches her prowess at shorter distances. As usual, she enters New York City race-fit, having recently wrapped up the $100,000 three-race B.A.A. Medley title with a win at the B.A.A. Half. Her highest finish at New York was fourth in 2010.

Firehiwot Dado (Ethiopia)
PR: 2:23:15 (New York, 2011)
Need to know: Defending champion Dado set her PR when she won New York in 2011. Other than winning the NYC Half in March 2012, she's done little of note since. She withdrew from last year's race with injury before the marathon was canceled.

The Top Americans
Amy Hastings (Providence, R.I.)
PR: 2:27:03 (Los Angeles, 2011)
Need to know: Hastings is the fastest American in the field, unless you want to count Joan Benoit Samuelson's 2:21 from 1985. A 10K Olympian in 2012, Hastings has twice run 2:27, although the last time she did was to finish fourth at the Olympic Marathon Trials in January 2012. Since then, she's switched coaches and moved to Providence to train with New Zealand Olympian Kim Smith. Given that Smith has been racing well at shorter distances, Hastings should be entering New York fit as well.

Janet Bawcom (Flagstaff, Ariz.)
PR: 2:29:45 (Olympic Marathon Trails, 2012)
Need to know: Like Hastings, the steady Bawcom was a 2012 Olympian at 10K. Fifth at the 2012 Marathon Trials, she rarely has a bad race and has won several U.S. titles at nonmarathon distances on the roads. She could pick off Hastings for the top American spot if Hastings is having a bad day.