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Kenyan Kirwa returns in his bid for Pittsburgh Marathon supremacy

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 9:51 p.m.
Kenyan James Kirwa separates himself from Stephen Njoroge during the 2013 Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Sunday, May 5, 2013.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Kenyan James Kirwa separates himself from Stephen Njoroge during the 2013 Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Sunday, May 5, 2013.

James Kirwa promised after winning the Pittsburgh Marathon for the second year in a row in 2013 that he would be back to defend his title.

On Sunday, Kirwa will attempt to become the first person to win the Pittsburgh Marathon for the third time. He will have competition. The native of Kenya won last year in 2:13:37, faster than his 2012 winning time of 2:14:09 but slightly slower than his personal best of 2:12:54 set in Des Moines in 2011. At least two of his competitors, Ethiopians Gebo Burka and Negash Abebe Duki, are capable of running faster, with personal records of 2:10:18 and 2:11:14, respectively.

The men's record for the Pittsburgh Marathon is held by John Kagwe, who won with a time of 2:10:24 in 1995.

When the Pittsburgh Marathon returned in 2009 after a five-year absence, Kassahun Kabiso was the fastest man at 2:22:51, the slowest time by a winner in the history of the race.

The total prize purse that year was $34,600. It is now a record $47,000 for the 26.2-mile race alone, with $8,000 going to both the men's and women's winners. The more money offered, the more competitive the field has become.

“It's just adding that extra incentive in terms of cash,” Pittsburgh Marathon CEO Patrice Matamoros said. “We're also the largest prize purse (among spring marathons) after Boston on the East Coast. We have a really competitive prize purse.”

The top women competing include Clara Santucci, who ran for West Virginia University, lives in Dillimore and was the first American woman to cross the finish line at the 2013 Chicago Marathon. Her personal best is 2:29:54, and she will be up against Ethiopian Yeshimebet Bifa, who set her PR at the 2013 Seoul International Marathon with a time of 2:26:18. The women's record for the Pittsburgh Marathon is 2:29:50, set by Margaret Groos in 1988.

Last year's winner, Mary Akor, crossed the finish line in 2:37:35.

In the men's field for the half-marathon, defending champion Julius Kogo is back after setting a record in 2013 with a time of 1:02:32, and the women's side will be led by 2011 half-marathon and 2012 marathon winner Malika Mejdoub.

The half-marathon overall prize purse of $34,500 is also the biggest in the history of the race. Including extra incentives for American runners, the marathon has added nearly $100,000 to its purse since its return.

“The fields for the marathon and half-marathon are a little deeper, and I think part of that is that the message that the prize purse has increased has gotten out to agents and athletes,” said Ryan Lamppa of Running USA. “It's not going to happen overnight where you get really deep fields, but they are building on that. And athletes and agents talk about events. If you take care of the athlete and it's a good experience, that helps sell the event, too. Boston, New York and Chicago all had to start someplace, and I think the Pittsburgh Marathon is heading toward that level where they're up there with Houston and Twin Cities.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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