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'Rabbit' ready for return to Pittsburgh Marathon

James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jeffrey Eggleston, from Flagstaff Arizona chats with visitors to the Pittsburgh Marathon Expo Friday May 4, 2012. Eggleston was the men's winner of the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012, 12:44 a.m.
 

The “rabbit” has returned. And this time he brought a few friends.

A year after winning the Pittsburgh Marathon despite starting out as a pace-setting rabbit, Jeffrey Eggleston will headline a field of 83 elite runners for Sunday's race that's the deepest — and most talented — in the marathon's history.

“I want to prove that it wasn't a fluke last year,” said Eggleston, who finished with a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes, 40 seconds. “I also want to prove that I can be competitive with a top international field.”

The elite group is about 25 percent larger than last year and includes 31 running the men's full marathon and 25 for the half. Thirteen elite women will run the full 26.2 miles, 14 will stick to the half.

Besides Eggleston, several other notable champions will run.

James Kirwa set the course record (2:12:54) during the 2011 Des Moines Marathon; Folisho Tuko won the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon in 2:19:16; and Malika Mejdoub, who finished first in the women's half-marathon here last year, will bump up to the full, with the hope of earning a qualifying time for Morocco in the Summer Olympics.

“Every time you put on a race and have a deep field — whether you have Ethiopians, Kenyans or how Jeff won last year — it's huge,” said Meb Keflezighi, who won the 2009 New York City Marathon, the first American in 27 years to do so. Keflezighi will watch Sunday's race and was at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Friday for an elite runner “roundtable.”

“A good group of runners can make or break the race,” he added.

Race director Patrice Matamoros called attracting elite runners “synergy.”

The more that run, the better the competition. The better the competition, the more impressive the times — and the more those times mean.

“The better the field, that's the context I want to find myself in for a race,” Eggleston said.

Some runners not expecting to contend for the title will race to push those who are. The talent of the upper crust then pushes the bottom of the elite field, a win-win situation.

“I knew there would be some really good international runners coming in, so my focus is helping them run a great race here,” said Greenville native Jed Christiansen, who's running the half-marathon. “Do that and see what kind of time I can get.”

Dick's Sporting Goods is offering $10,000 to anyone who breaks the course record. More money also has become available for winners — in excess of $80,000.

“I've talked to a lot of people who live on the course, and they are so excited,” Matamoros said. “They say they can open their door in their bathrobe, and they have world champions running by their door.”

Jason Mackey is a freelance writer.

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